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Thursday, June 03, 2004

Thoughts of the redevelopment project ...

dominate my memory bank right now. Can't seem to press them back into wherever they've been stored for all these years ...

I'm thinking of the excitement on the day when -- after seven years of organizing and debating before three successive city administrations -- the razing of the site began. There was the unmistakable sound of huge trucks on the move. We rushed to the front of the store to stare out of the windows at the sight of that hummongous claw machine chewing its way through that infamous house directly across the street. A crowd was beginning gather...

I thought of how many times I'd had people say to me, "...it will never happen. You'll never get it done. THEY'LL never allow it!" All the time I'd been plodding along identifying the steps and making the moves and drawing others along despite the protests. And here it was, HAPPENING before our eyes on this day.

Within only a few days the entire site had been neatly cleared and ground smoothed evenly. The homes behind, on Stanton Street, were now fully visible from the main street. This would take some getting used to. Q Martin's home had been chewed up in less time than it would take to tell it. I felt a deep sadness despite knowing that his family had been adequately compensated for the loss and would be eligible to relocate when the new homes were completed. We were dealing with a totally new landscape. It would take some getting used to.

In the days that followed something began to evolve that was completely unanticipated.

It was on a Saturday morning. I looked out and saw three kites flying high against the clouds. There was a family; mom and dad and several children having the time of their lives in this marvelous new play space with no obstructions in the way of pure delight! We'd never seen such innocent fun in this infamous former stretch of miserable crack houses (shooting galleries), and dens of inequity ever. It was like a lovely exorcism that announced silently and gracefully an end to evil. I cried as I watched. Traffic slowed and people stopped to smile at one another. With the utilities undergrounded not long before, there were no power poles or other obstructions to capture those beautiful kites!

A few days later there was the distinct aroma of smokey barbecue sauce and the smell of charcoal ablaze. When a customer motioned me to come outside for a look, we both laughed at the wonder of it all! There was a flatbed truck parked on the newly cleared site, with people gathering around. In a little while the blaring of a sound system ringing out the sounds of an electric guitar playing gutsy blues through loudspeakers, and the party was on! People were engaged in good fellowship for the entire afternoon, with great music and impromptu blues contests drawing everyone in from the streets. Spectators were few, everybody was a party guest! Neighbors went home to return with chairs and umbrellas and leftover potato salad from the fridge and red jello and pitchers of punch...it was pure umpromptu joy of a kind that embraced everyone within sight and sound of it.

I wasn't sure that I'd fully understood the language of the kites, except in the context of the exorcism theory, but the blues party was clearly a celebration of the triumph over misery and in anticipation of more good times ahead, though no one gave words to any of that. It was a 'feelin' thing. I locked the door and joined the party!

About four days out there was a new sound that drew me out to curbside. This time we watched in dismay as a huge truck from the City's Public Works Department noisily unloaded huge rolls of wire fencing material. My heart felt heavy for a loss I couldn't quite identify. In short order the new playground was fenced off from public use. There were no keys to the service gates mid-block -- except for city staff.

How do I respond to this? One call downtown was all it took to learn that this was something that the city must do in order to be protected from lawsuits. But of course I should have known that. It could not be left unguarded and free to community use for "insurance reasons." The reasonable logical part of me surely understood this to be an important consideration, but there was a deep sadness that fell on the neighborhood as the glow was diminished in the name of progress and safety and common sense.

Where oh where had these folks been when there was no safety to be had in my 500 feet, and when one quarter of the city's homocides had occurred in that block? Where were they when we'd witnessed four young men -- at different times -- shot dead within sight and sound of our store? Where were those "insurance considerations" when that stray bullet whizzed through our front window on a Saturday afternoon -- narrowly missing David's head as it embedded in the shelves above us? And where were they on all those times when young black sons and fathers were being hog-tied and carted off to serve time for questionable reasons, and while I watched in troubled silence?

Where was the logic?

What had been lost?

Where was the sense of it, and at what point do we balance risk against an exuberance that has been too long delayed?

Those answers are illusive. I've still not found them, though I've surely adjusted to the conundrum. Maybe I've also lowered my expectations over the years. I'm not as apt to recognize irony when I see it because I've now spent too much time among the "reasonable."



Meanwhile, MSNBC just called to announce that I'm to appear at the Old Ford Building for that interview tomorrow morning at eleven. Guess they've decided to go with this dissonant Rosie. I'm presuming that it will be a few sentences carved from a brief interview and that there will be other women of the period doing the traditional pieces about "The Good War."

I guess that I've yet to witness a "good" war.

I have, however, witnessed great moments in everyday life that may be cause enough to defend.

Let me know if you catch the coverage, will you?

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