Monday, January 28, 2013

Two Hours In The City

Writing, working in coffee shops, thinking, all part of the plan this morning when I set out to find the new local coffee shop opened in the city's north side.

I am not from here, in that I did not grow up here, left at the ripe old age of seven and didn't return for decades.  I need GPS and before that, Mapquest, to guide me anywhere outside the nine-mile-confines of my west county suburb.

Grand, I know that boulevard, it houses my late grandmother's church, it runs past both highways that take me east, and it goes to Powell Symphony Hall.  Finding something near Grand Center shouldn't be that hard, I thought, even as Chronicle Coffee, didn't show up in any local searches on my phone for coffee shops.

I had a full tank of gas and my passenger seat overloaded with all my work for the day.  It was to be a good long morning of undistracted work and hopefully, good coffee.

Driving past Delmar found me in a very different St. Louis.

We read about what decaying buildings, dark and dreary streets, even in the day time, that make the heart palpitate and one slide the purse under the seat and push the locks on the door, but it is very different when driving past one unfamiliar block after another.  I didn't know when it safe to turn off and ask directions or simply to keep driving.

I kept driving past Cote Brilliante - my father once lived there when he came to St. Louis from Michigan, past Palm - my late aunt lived there, past MLK, past Cottage, past all these other streets until I drove past Natural Bridge and saw the big, white, water tower circle in the middle of Grand Avenue...I gave up my quest and turned around.

Driving back South on Grand I saw more blight and decay, dusty and dirty streets, and hopeful souls at the bus station waiting for the transportation to another place, if only to work or go to school.  I thought how frightened I would be as a woman living here alone, just feeling the grip on my own heart as I drove through unfamiliar places.

Chastising myself as I drove back south past SLU and finally past the highways and Arsenal, Cherokee, and a lot of streets named after states.  What made the south side any different than the north except that I breathed a sigh of relief when I spotted I-55 and jumped on heading South and hoping I was going in the right direction to find I-270 so I could just go back home.

Growing up, my father made deliberate efforts to afford my siblings and I the opportunities and life we had.  We were surrounded by books, had enough food to eat, clothes, and travel.  Education was our middle name and while my step-mother was extraordinarily strict in our endeavors, we were secure in our comings and goings.  It was a different era and time and we were far from the city, tucked away in a big house in the middle of the state, on a street with older white people for neighbors.

As I drove closer to familiar surroundings and my breathing began to regulate, I thought of what it would take to renew and energize the North side.  Fear is real, but fear can also be a catalyst for action.  President Obama spoke during the inauguration that all children had the right to live without fear, to feel safe and secure and cared for it their surroundings. I know there are children that live along the path I drove today that feel nothing like that.

When I reached my home, I hurried to my kitchen to start a pot of water for coffee - my chosen comfort beverage.  I made an early lunch and thought about the bravery of the young man who opened Chronicle Coffee in the North Side and the statement he was making.

He opened the first coffee shop, the kind where writers and artists hang out to work, on the city's north side, the abandoned side.  He signaled to those who live there and to all of us that it matters and that he is staking a lot on rebuilding right there, one latte at a time.

I spent two hours driving around the city today. I saw a lot.  I will go back. Next time with an exact location and the familiar in my sight.

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