I live in the building and the neighborhood that the term “gentrification” may as well have been coined to describe. The building is 109 years old, my security door is half-inch beveled glass in oak, the foyer has a gorgeous mosaic tile and ceramic brick-front walls. When the rest of the city is shivering, I’m toasty and warm, soaking in an original cast-iron claw-foot tub and wrapping myself in a towel and a robe that have warmed on the radiator. I have tall ceilings so the worst heat rises to them in the summer, and I plan to make them tin, eventually.
The building that dominates the view out of my bedroom window is a white-shoe law firm, but across the street is not just the Cristo Rey Catholic high school, but part of that campus is Redemptorist Social Services, the place where Catholic Charities puts your dollar donations into action. They operate a food bank, and a clothing bank; they also have social workers who get people help with medical bills and utilities, and find mental health beds for people who have had psychotic breaks and rehab beds for addicts.
The north-south surface street that runs alongside my building doesn’t cross the arterial street that my building sits on and that provides our mailing address. Catty-wompus from my apartment, across the arterial street from me and directly across the surface street from the Catholic Social Services is the Salvation Army shelter. Because of the queue of needy people outside Redemptorist in the hour before they open every morning and the Salvation Army shelter, I actually heard a drug dealer say he wouldn’t live up here. He obviously never looked at the police blotter in the KC Star, because charities make good neighbors, while he lived on a block with a lot of actual, for-real gun and knife crime (38th & Wyandotte).
My apartment sits between Main and Broadway. Down Broadway you will find the free clinic, the plasma centers and the dollar store. At Main and Linwood is the Costco and Home Depot that so vexes professional douchebag E. Thomas McClanahan. If I need to do laundry and the machines are busy — or if my internet is down — I go a block down Main to a laundromat that has WiFi. It’s where Ray’s Play Pen used to be. The buses that run up and down Broadway, and east-west across the city, are regular Metro buses. The buses that run up and down Main, that serve Waldo, Brookside, UMKC, the Plaza, Crown Center, downtown and the City Market, are sleek hybrid Max buses. Yesterday, I had to run a couple of errands, and at every step along the way I engaged in activity that would pissed off the right-wing. I started on a 31st Street bus at Broadway and Linwood, and had an animated conversation with four people on the bus about how stupid the right wing idiots are for getting bent out of shape over that Coke commercial.
I got off the 31st Street Metro and caught the Troost Max (Troost got a Max because the UMKC medical and dental schools were on the Troost route, and there was enough passenger load to justify it) to Truman Medical Center, the public hospital that is the primary teaching hospital for the UMKC School of Medicine. I took care of my errands there and caught another Max into downtown, where I went to the grocery store, then I caught a 47th Street out of downtown and got off at the same place I started.
Now, I was making my way without a cane, and I looked at the ice barrier that the snow-plows created at the crosswalk with the trepidation of someone who has had a stroke. Before I had a chance to take a step, tho, I was being helped by an Hispanic gentleman named, I found out after we were across the street, Paulo. He didn’t know I had a CVA, he didn’t know anything about me. He just knew that there was a woman at the crosswalk who was uneasy about stepping over the ice and he could help her, so he did.
It kind-of reminded me of the story of the poor widow from Sunday school. He made sure I made it across the stretches of sidewalk that hadn’t been cleared and saw me to the gate of the iron fence around our front yard. That’s when I found out he is staying at the Salvation Army shelter across the street.
I have been thinking about him ever since. Last night as I walked the dog about 10:30, I looked at the few windows that still had lights behind them at the shelter, and wondered if he was one of the people still awake. And I thought about what a risk he took when he helped me, since it involved touching me. Okay, I was on the bus, and my soy milk was in a “friend of the library” bag, and my outer layer of clothing was a MMF hoodie and carrying a cross-body bag made of patchwork peace-signs, so the visual picture does move the needle into the “she’s probably safe to talk to” zone when I’m considered. But still…I’m a white woman, obviously over 40 (I’m 51) and the prime age to be a xenophobe. Well, sorry to disappoint anyone. I’m the opposite of a xenophobe. I realize that this country embraced my family not all that long ago, and I was moved; first by the multi-lingual, stronger-together message of the Coke commercial, then by the generosity of spirit of a man who has nothing, who has fallen and is thankful for the net that was there to catch him, and I am thankful for it, too, for his sake. It was really cold last night, and tonight it’s supposed to be even colder. I’m glad my new friend has a warm place to sleep.