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Saturday, November 18, 2006

On safety, from the "bad" side of America's Most Dangerous City

Tonight, our fridge died. It was only a $30 fridge, but we just went to the store late last night, so we had a lot of perishables in there. It sucked.

At the point when it became clear to us that the fridge really was not going to get cold again, I started calling neighbors, with the intention of at least giving the food away to someone who could use it. No sense in wasting it, right?

Two different neighbors (and for the record, two other awesome central City dwellin' friends) offered to let us store the food in their fridges. I insisted that they just take what they wanted, but no.... They insisted we store the food at their houses, in their fridges. So that's where it is. The visit to drop off groceries at the first neighbor's house blossomed into an hour of stimulating conversation about civic issues. The second neighbor actually showed up unannounced at our door to help me carry the groceries to his house. I persuaded him to take some cookies in exchange for the favor, but then he insisted on giving me freshly harvested tomatoes from their backyard.


Last week, I woke up feeling sick. I went to work and all, but I found myself just sitting there. I tried to get myself going.... but I'd find myself.... staring for minutes on end at my opened inbox, not reading any messages. Or I'd catch myself shuffling the papers from tray A to tray B and back to tray A, and then staring off into space.... and again, I wasn't getting anywhere. I was feeling worse and worse and achieving nothing, so I headed home. Because it was an unplanned bus excursion and I couldn't plan it based on bus schedules (spontaneous Metrobus trips = ha), I just barely missed my bus connection and had to walk (still sick) 20 minutes down a very muddy Saint Louis Avenue sidewalk before I caught another bus.

As the bus approached my stop, I rifled around in my bag to find my keys and discovered I didn't have them. GREAT. I AM A GENIUS. I got off the bus not knowing what to do. But there, there was my neighbor who works at the ONSL Restoration Group. I explained and asked her if I could some sit down in the ONSLRG office while I made a phone call. She went in with me and gave me a drink. I called Michael and found that he absolutely could not leave work then, and so my neighbor drove me Downtown in the middle of her work day to get the keys. She then took me back to the house and watched me go inside before leaving.

In the past few weeks, I have heard a lot about my beloved hometown being a dangerous, crime-ridden hole, and I have heard lots of people say "It's just because of North City." I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on this issue, but they're not the point of this particular blog entry, so I'll just say here that accusatory one-sentence explanations of any complex phenomenon are almost always incorrect just by their very nature.
One thing I do know for sure about the neighborhood where I live, about my North City and my St. Louis, is that it is a place where people honestly do help each other out. I now know that if our fridge dies and we're about to lose a bunch of food, neighbors will be there to help us out. I also know that if I'm locked out of my house, again, a neighbor will be there to help me. Neighbors have fed us when we've showed up unannounced on their doorsteps in the middle of house-related disasters. They've lent us tarps, car keys, and house keys. They've kept their shops open for us after closing time to get us out of emergencies. One neighbor drives me to work and home every day, since we work near each other and I can't drive; together with Michael, she has been giving me driving lessons.
The place where I live is not perfect, but it is a place populated by a surprising number of amazingly generous people who feel a genuine duty to each other. Is your neighborhood safe like that?


Anonymous said...

I lived in ONSL during "rougher" times (1991-94) but I never really felt unsafe. The neighbors were all wonderful as you demonstrate.

Later when living on the southside but working near Union & 70 I biked to work often and passed through many neighborhoods most people wouldn't dare drive through much less bike. I'd see the same folks -- they'd wave and I've wave. Again, I never felt unsafe. Many of the northside neighborhoods, in fact, are quite nice and the housing stock can rival anything on the south side.

We do have social issues that need to be resolved to combat crime. Ignoring entire sections of town is not the correction solution. Be proud that you two are helping make a difference!

Anonymous said...

I wish I could say that the neighbors on my actual block were that friendly and generous, but they all stick to their own and do not speak unless spoken to usually (except for the neighbor who begs for money and beer - that just annoys the hell out of me!). There are several very good residents in my neighborhood as a whole though and for them I am quite grateful.

Anonymous said...

We've got space in our fridge, too, should you guys (God, forbid) ever need it!