Friday, May 07, 2004

It Happened On Monroe Street

I slept in this morning, then played with kitty on the bed for a while. By the time I rolled out and looked out the door, it was 10AM. Imagine my surprise to find two enormous (but neat) piles of furniture and possessions on the sidewalk out front and two news reporters prowling the complex!

Turns out that the landlord finally evicted the drug dealers out back. This street has always had a lot of turnover, folks moving through. Along with older buildings, being right next to Union Avenue and in a poorer Midtown neighborhood, the closure of public housing downtown has driven a lot of dangerous types out farther East. It's occasionally made for trouble. The quality of the street tends to go in cycles, sometimes good, sometimes bad. We've had long periods with a lot of children and families, where it was a nice place to live. Lately, it's been Hell.

Used to be, we only had a single hooker working. She lived in my building and was pretty low key. If you didn't know her, you might not suspect what she was. Recently we've had as many as six hookers working this one block! The building out back was taken over by a drug-dealing woman who was once heard to holler, "This is my motherfucking dope track!" to a would-be competitor. The buidling across the street housed a bunch of guys and cross-dressers who did nothing but dope-dealing and hanging out. Two buildings down the block were full of drug dealers.

Now, we've had drug trade on this street since I moved here about eight or nine years ago. But landlords acted pretty quickly to clean them out. Several of the properties on the street are owned by one person/entity and were passed between three new owners in a short period of time. The most recent before the new ones got caught by the damage of the 2003 Summerstorm (Hurricane Elvis) and couldn't afford to do anything with the properties. He let them slide.

The street foot traffic was impressive. We've always had a lot of walk-throughs because of where we are, and many of my neighbors like to hang out front on the steps or yards just talking and relaxing. But lately, you can tell the difference. Two to four young men just standing in the drive, looking constantly up and down the street, not taking much, just standing there. Folks who come up the street, disappear out back or inside the other buildings on the block, only to walk briskly back out a few minutes later. Cars constantly up and down the block, in and out if the complex pretty quickly.

Some faces you begin to recognise after a while. Pinched, focused, hurried, angry or unhappy. Walking fast. Haggard and too skinny; dirty clothes or the same clothes day after day. Hollering up and down the street to folks they think they know, or think might know who has some dope. Furtive glances all around; hushed conversations that stop when you walk by. Getting into the shadows when cars appear; scattering when the car is the cops.

It was getting really bad. I lost three neighbors because of the drugs. One had a family and didn't want his kids near it. One was a mother of a new-born with the same fears. The third had a hooker doing business right outside her door (soliciting, not performing) with a lot of unsavory types hanging around her, or doing lookout work. My neighbor was frightened for her life. Potential new neighbors would see the "For Rent" signs and inquire. I'd talk the place up, because it can be nice here, but they would come back at night, see the drug trade, and never call back.

We've complained to the new landlord for some months. He told us he was trying to do something, but we never saw much action until today. Police patrols had increased in the past few weeks. They would stop the usual suspects, talk to them or roust them, shine spotlights into corners at night. It helped some, but didn't really do much effectively. Those of us who are law-abiding and just want a safe neighborhood were despairing.

There was even dark talk of police or judicial conspiracy. I watched the new hooker get rousted by a cop one Sunday morning. Saw the whole thing. She kept waiting for the cop to look away, then she'd scoop out some crack from her clothes and swallow it. The cop finally caught her and worked her jaw for a good fifteen minutes trying to catch it. An ambulance came and took her away. The hooker was back in the neighborhood two days later! I later heard the big suspected neighborhood drug kingpin boasted he'd sprung her. How, with a drug charge, I don't know, but we all worried about this guy. We'd see folks get picked up and then return to the neighborhood days later, regardless of the charges.

I'd see cops come through and want to talk with them, but there were too many eyes for that. When I watched the hooker get rousted above, I so wanted to talk to the cop, but the drug-dealer from out back was standing there watching everyone and everything, along with her flunkies, so that wasn't safe.

The good ones on the street were pretty sure we were watching the death of our neighborhood. Until this morning.

I missed the evictions and the early television news arrivals, but I'm told Channel 3 was here and gone before 10AM. WPTY 24 had a reporter still scouting around at 10AM, and she wanted me on camera. I declined, as some of the drug neighbors still living here were watching everything. No use getting a reputation as a snitch, especially a middle-aged white guy. Things happen. The WPTY reporter got an on-camera interview with someone down the street, who is involved in the drugs on the street! She finally left around 11:30.

Channel 13 did a live broadcast during their lunch news, then left. I saw an SUV with a couple of white guys pull up; one got out and ran into the back for while. Then they left. A few minutes later, WMC Channel 5 showed up to do a report. I think the SUV guy was the same as the newsvan driver, but not positive. It seemed to take them forever to set up. I don't think they interviewed anyone -- actually, most folks had moved along by this point -- but did a report and left.

A while later, the drug kingpin guy came out with a video camera. Now, this guy weighs a good 400 pounds. He rarely is seen beyond the drive of the apartments he stays in. He puts on friendly "Yo! Wassup?" airs, but we know. I leave him alone, way alone. So, when he comes up to the front of my building with a video camera, trying to talk with a homeless guy who hangs around on our street (Norman is his name.), I was suspicious. One of my neighbors was too. Both of us went inside while he was there. He mostly photographed the piles of stuff out front, but I have to wonder what else he shot. And why. Am I worried? Yeah, a little bit, but the word today is that he's next to go. We'll see.

So far, as of this afternoon, only WMC Channel Five has a story online about this. Some of their story doesn't seem to conform to the facts I know. It says that Attorney-General Bill Gibbons is the one who told the landlords about the drug problem, but we've been complaining in person to the landlord and the property manager for months. And the guy quoted about the problem just moving around is also true. A couple of the druggies just moved in with friends on the block.

One last thing. The story notes that the tenants had already moved out by the time the cops, etc., showed up. That had to have been in the early hours, as I was up to just after 1AM last night and heard/saw nothing. It was business as usual last night.

But, the really bad ones are gone now and we're promised more will go soon. I hope so. The landlord is serious about improving the property, and the three or four property owners who run the apartments on the block are coordinating their efforts. When things are going well here, it's a nice street to live on. I can walk to pretty much everything I need to live my life, and Midtown is loaded with good eating places.

I'm watching the news this evening to see how it's covered. If you see this story, look for a big, fat, bald, white guy in a dark green t-shirt and grey-green shorts upstairs. That's me! Channel 3's 4:30 broadcast didn't have the story. More tonight, after I see the 5PM news.

INSTANT UPDATE: Just finished watching the evening news. My apartment was visible in some shots. All three neighbors interviewed for the various broadcasts (over several stations) are drug users! One woman appeared with two different names on two stations. They were hypocrites! The home they stay in was sold to a cop years ago under the "Live in Town" program. He converted it into apartments instead and has rented it out ever since. It's another drug problem.

I slept through the early going, apparently. AG Bill Gibbons was here -- for the cameras. So were some sherrifs. My landlord was here and stayed through lunch hour, talking with another landlord. The cleanup was quick. The apartment insides that appeared in some reports wasn't the dealer's apartment; the shots didn't convey just how nasty it was either.

Aaron Diamant (I misspelled that above) was apparently here early in the morning, as his report included shots of the cleanout. He just did a live stand-up. I stopped over to introduce myself and he asked some general neighborhood questions. The WPTY reporter I talked to this morning (I forget her name. Sorry!) was also polite and nicely tried to cajole me on-camera. The FOX13 reporter was nearly done by the time I came out and didn't seem to be doing much interaction with neighbors by that point.

How 'bout that? Blogging a happening story's coverage. Only in the blogosphere. Makes me wish I hadn't stayed up so late last night and missed it all this morning. And it makes me wish I had a digital camera to have recorded all this for you. Ah well....

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

What's Goin' On

My time away hasn't been a total loss, even though there's a huge pile of papers on the desk waiting to be gotten to. I finally uploaded the Movable Type software to the domain and configured it so that it works correctly. Now, I have to create a CSS style sheet for it that looks like this page. Shouldn't be too hard; just needs doing.

I've got more good news down below. How y'all been?
Good News #1

I've been reading, and occasionally commenting at, for quite a while. It's a self-described "sinister cabal of superior bloggers on music, books, film, popular culture, and technology." Pretty wide-ranging cultural coverage that's always interesting and leads me to new stuff on a regular basis.

Yesterday, I received an invitation from Eric Olsen to join. Talk about floored. So, yes, I joined! I'll be bringing some of the greasy, funky, Memphis mojo to a wider world. The new link is up there on the left at the top. I posted my DVD review of Tokyo Godfathers as my inaugural entry. Surf on over and check them out. When I move to the MT blog, I'll have a spiffy graphic link.

I never expected to be asked, but man, talk about a milestone. It's up there with the first Instalanche, first finding out Memphis media folks read the blog, getting mentions in the Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer, the first time daily traffic went over 100 hits, and my email from Jackson himself. It's a feeling of arriving somewhere you want to be, I guess, but not having exactly aimed to get there.

Thanks Eric, and all the other Blogcritics. I hope you enjoy my contributions and my blog as much as I've enjoyed y'all's.
Good News #2

I had a delightful lunch today with Peggy Phillip. Being bloggers who read each other, it made the initial stranger-nervousness fade immediately. We hit it off and the hour sped by. She didn't give up any newsroom secrets -- drat it! -- but we talked all kinds of subjects and Peg was never less than knowledgeable or enthusiastic.

For a big-city newsroom director, she's amazingly regular. I never got a self-important vibe from her, nor any sense that I was some lesser form of life under the microscope of her examination. The biggest thing I felt from her was strong curiousity. She has a surprising, realistic view of her field and its limits and problems; she also shows real dedication to standards, which was nice.

I'm hoping we get a chance some time after the insanity of May sweeps to have a longer lunch, as we barely scratched the surface. Peg promised to make the next Blogger Bash. Should be fun!