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October 3, 2005
And now a new Wild Card, from a recent Inner City Press
venture to San Diego, dubbed "America's Finest City" (by then-mayor Pete Wilson
in the early 1970s) but increasingly subject to gentrification, disparate lending and
stratification. Arriving late at night, one's forced to take a van; one company is
called Cloud-9 and its signs announced "franchise opportunities" as well as
"Go Padres." The driver, if asked, expresses concern about having to take her
daughter to the dentist. Where does she live? In Clairemont, which if one takes the 50 bus
through it, consists of relatively down-at-heels low-rise houses, and chain restaurants
like Chili's and Denny's. It ain't La Jolla, in short. And what is La Jolla? A fancy-pants enclave built around an
undeniably beautiful cove, complete with undersea park, sea lions and birds who're not to
be fed. There is body surfing, yes, on small strips of beach where the waves break
directly on the shore. There's a manicured lawn and a free bathroom and changing place.
Otherwise, there's no much inviting of homeless or even lower income. There use to be a
trolley coming here from San Diego, but the locals got it closed. There's sprawl out by
University Town Center - a mall and a bunch of financial services sweatshops, from Smith
Barney to New York Life - and some housing for students at UCSD (which still has a Ché
Café along with the Gregory Peck-founded La Jolla Playhouse). It's time to venture back
to San Diego, and even Tijuana. But how?
The 50 bus leaves from the mall, blasts through nowhere zones where poorer retirees wait for hours at bus stops. After Clairemont it gets on Interstate 5, into downtown San Diego. There's the Pickwick Hotel, the courthouses, and Lucy's (fine) Tacos. On the street the talk is of escalated rents. Even the cops can't afford to live here; they commute two hours for example from Temecula. Someone says the salary's higher to join the force in Chula Vista. Imperial Beach down by San Ysidro is lower income.
Next to the Gaslamp Quarter, which used to be skid row, a new stadium has risen. The Moores Padres got a boondoggle, ten square blocks into their own faux Camden Yards. There's $5 general admission, and you can sneak into seats behind home plate. There's not-bad barbeque named for ex-Padres Randy Jones. The Padres clinch the division, despite a .500 record. There's much greater injustice, however, south in Tijuana.
And back in the South Bronx, heres four lines, composed on the Bx41 bus:
La Jolla is quiet
but right on the beach.
The Bronx is full of life
Is a beech. ..
February 18, 2002
The Queen City in the Second Person: Charlotte, NC, 2002 © Inner City Press
If you move around Charlotte, for an hour, a day or a week, you'll see the Bank of America tower from every possible perspective. Glittering jagged and angry over a foreground of boarded-up factories; rising high and lying over forgotten expanses of shotgun shacks; spry and cosmopolitan at the end of a string of Waffle Houses on South Boulevard. So you'll venture to the crossroads, Tryon and Trade Streets, where expensive coffee is for sale to the select few who have a reason to enter the banks... Some history:
Charlotte was founded in 1769. Two Indian trading paths crossed here, Tryon and Trade. During the Revolutionary War, General Cornwallis called Charlotteans hornets, and they've clung to this image since, most recently as the mascot of their apparently soon-to-depart pro basketball team. They had a gold rush in 1799; all of it forgotten, nothing but footnotes.
In 1983, Charlotte became a regional hub for airplane flights. Countless layovers, the stores in the airport the same as anywhere else, except you can smoke cigarettes in the bars, and buy stock-car racing mementos. Let's say you need to go into town. There it is, a cluster of a quarter-dozen high-rises at the end of Billy Graham Parkway. Rent yourself a car and set off. The woman behind the car rental counter, when you tell her you want to see the city, shrugs. "The stadium, right?" she asks. They built a football stadium in the 1990s, Home of the Carolina Panthers. It comes to life precisely eight times a year. Nine, if the Panthers make the playoffs. But head into town. Past Burger King and Kinkos and a lone Charles Schwab; past Wachovia, Bank of America and BB&T; now going out of town on North Davidson, past the Amtrak station, past sad factories with their windows smashed, quiet neighborhoods with a few homes boarded-up. In a strip mall there are payday loans; there's an outlet for Trojan Labor, "workers when you need them." And when you don't need them, no workers. It's very convenient. Unless you're a worker.
So try the other direction. Tryon turns into Camden Road, a lower-income neighborhood now besieged by condominiums for third-tier bank executives. Here's the one story office of the Charlotte Post. "The Voice of the Black Community," the sign painted on plywood tells you. We recommend this newspaper. Soon you'll be on South Boulevard, a string of strip malls selling Italian tiles for the bathroom, a Waffle House with its tall yellow sign, a Cash America pawnshop. Turn right on Tyvola, past the empty parking lot of the Charlotte Coliseum, from which the town's NBA team the Hornet seeks now to decamp. Right again on West Boulevard: there's a public library with a parking lot, with a full collection of the history of the civil rights era. Every book has its place, and the past is neatly placed, just here. The troubles elsewhere are here confined by the Dewey Decimal System. The Polk Directory -- president James K. Polk was born here, don't forget, there'll be a quiz -- will tell you that the Department of City Planning is on East 4th Street, in the shadow of Bank of America.
So head there, past Chinese take-outs with hand-painted signs, past the unused football stadium, and into the municipal parking lot on East 4th. The elevator's fast and the people are friendly. A census tract map on the house, courtesy of the Queen City. Leave the car in the lot, and walk up the hill toward the prong that dominates the city. There's a bus station; there's a historical sign-post about Stonewall Jackson, and an in-land Confederate Navy Yard that made ordnance for the Confederate troops. Now there's a Starbucks; a performance center named for the heir of Liquid Wrench and Gunk, a crafts museum and a neat public library where the Internet is free. Year-old banking books are for sale for a quarter. Bland jazz seeps from the bar of the Dunhill Hotel. Four blocks west on Trade, there are cheaper accommodations. A five-story Travelodge with its hallways outside, across from the Greyhound bus station and the Presto Grill. Presto! You've seen downtown -- they renamed it "Uptown" in the 1980s, to jump right over all the problems of other American cities. Down the hill, cowering under the banks' towers, is the two-story Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The bank examiners desperately want to get a job up the hill, and they'll sweep problems under the rug to accomplish their goals. Derivatives fiascoes in Singapore? No problem. Predatory lending in Greensboro? No problem. Hire me and let me swill Starbucks in the clouds, high over Piedmont, and all problems will disappear.
Head east now, as the bank executives do, to the Victorian homes of Myers Park. Here the churches are big, the strip malls have French bakeries and the streets are named for colleges in the Northeast and England. Radcliffe; Oxford; even Bucknell. The bank executives say the lifestyle is sweet here; the golf is year-round. The centrifugal force of the city is somehow troubling; the city feels centered on its crossroads of naked greed... But there is more, beheath, and it's worth seeing.
September 25, 2000
Cincy in Two Takes
© Matthew Lee, 9/20/00
Here in the heartland, too
The corporate titan citadels:
Proctor & Gamble, Firstar and Fifth Third
Towering over the streets, stamped out
In familiar fashion: Starbucks, Wendy's
Local branches of global hotels
Businessmen on convention junkets
Crossing decaying bridges at night
To view "The Finest Ladies in Kentucky"
At the Lap Lounge in Covington
The decrepit skid row five blocks in
Where temporary industrial workers stand ready
To earn their thrift store wardrobes, grateful
The Food Mart takes welfare cards
From each of the three states here joining--
By day the Queen City's forefathers' gift
Displays the development of African American art
Overpriced chairs our obese once-President
Crackled in cackling counting grain
Four blocks of the levee now plated in Astroturf
Streets named for each cog of the Big Red Machine
Northern Kentucky mourns the dissolution of Pete Rose
Condemned now to advertising mufflers, the bitterness clear
Yearning for the simpler Ty Cobb days, of racism and the glinting
Of raised spikes: high and hard, thus the banks' towers rise
The white fortress of the Federal Reserve branch, smooth and window-
Less, sculptures that cannot be defaced, armored cars
Swooping in off Walnut, stomping the now-pacified Race Street:
The strong echoing of Munich, here in the heartland
As seven blocks of Fifth are jammed, actuarial leiderhosen
Grease spattering at the Kaiser's Bratwurst stand
As prospective brokers or bombers buy chicken hats
Health and menace pulsate in Fountain Square
The old and infirm are taken care of, invisible
This is an unself-conscious freedom as solid as Paul Brown's hat
Hating football is unAmerican, dying for the Who
Is just a piece of the puzzle, the entire town franchised
A walking poll, only slinking at night
To the Licking River...
Take Two: Now Salivating in Sincinnati
A Queen City? We all want To like it. As elemental as milk,
The grain barges mysteriously disappeared
Replaced by convention centers, luring middle-
Management to this hilly playground of domesticated
Libido. Like the passage into the id, over the Ohio
River a practice attempt at the Brooklyn
Bridge spans the murky waters now neon
Huck Finn replaced now by Hooligans
Tropical drinks substituted for moonshine
We're all grown up now, Twain's epithet
Taboo now, as racial profiling mounts
In Northern Kentucky like a horse
Known for fine breeding, the Lap Lounge
Promises "Kentucky's Finest Ladies," pacing
Conventioneers teeter on the edge of chaos
The cops ready to impose a surcharge
Their perversions now a matter of interstate commerce
Down at Hoolihans the victims of welfare reform
Dream of the security that only Proctor and Gamble
Can provide. Vacationing in the Ozarks, fish
Replacing the dreams of youth, Ken Griffey a newer model
Of George Foster, sleeker, while Pete Rose tries to jimmy
Open the door to the Hall of Fame. Shameless, the region's
German Americans celebrate their heritage, The Kaiser's Bratwurst
Is mobbed by sweaty students with wrist-bands
All subsidized by Anaheiser Busch, which intones, Think
Before Your Drink. This is the Buddhistic moderation
At which we've arrived: to pace, hungry, before the Lap Lounge
But finally forego, anything that might weaken the purity
Of our world-historical role as hegemon. The Ohio
River flows past the mausoleum of our obese ex-President
This is Neilson's state, this is the Nelson Grip
Salivating in Cincinnati, we stand to be counted
As the Rapture invades, from Northern Kentucky:
We are IN Starbucks, but not OF it
Because our God has a special, delicate lust
For this city of inhibited heroes, this muscular town
Of latent refuse-niks, this explosive moment
Of born-again actuarials flirting in Hoolihans
Before drifting down the clean brown river
Back to the ruler-straight streets of the moral capital
Of the New World Order: Sincinnati....
August 2, 2000, Philadelphia: The World According to Citigroup
by Matthew Lee, c. 2000
We closed down Market
Street in Philly, with only a bull
Horn, a banner, and sets of sunglasses
Green like a dollar bill: this is how
Citigroup sees the world, seeking to suck
Profit out of civil wars, bankrolling
Slave labor in pre-fab prisons
Like over the river in Camden
Across the seas on U'wa land
It might have been Chase
Calling for counter-insurgency
In the name of investor confidence
But the new kid in town
Was formed in Ninety-Eight
When Greenspan blessed the wet dream
Of Sanford I. Weill, he of the hospital wings
The superstar of penny stocks
Hard-selling funeral insurance over kitchen tables
Squeezing what's there, from oil to whatever an old
Woman's paid on her mortgage
See how the markets can make your head
Spin as riot cops move in
Seizing houses, fencing off the fund-
Raising barbecue, where pimply Senators
Are treated like Archangels, to lap dances
By the pimps of the Fortune Five Hundred
Bankrolling the shameful tastes
Of venereal lawmakers, pot smoking
Puritans, all driven in air-conditioned
Digital busses to the virtual summit
Where compassion is lip-synched
Milli Vanilli's invested in emerging markets
Judges arrive in Black Hawk copters
Of course the drug war's spread to here
Didn't you hear? Ecuador's merged
With a Caymans-based hedge fund
Greenspan approved the whole thing --
Didn't you hear? Or are not the salmon
Colored pages of Financial Times
Your Bible and bedtime meditation
Outmoded, you are, reading the Gospel in hard
Copy while stock tips scuttle the Internet
Like the porno of greed, believe,
Why don't you, that commerce's
Not ascendant, that Cendant
Don't matter more that Buddha
And Mohamed combined, arbitraging even
The call to prayer, selling burgers in Burma
From seeds that refuse to reproduce
For a thousand years -- climactic millennium
Even Bush dances to Ricky Martin
In sneakers, sewn, abolishing death
Taxes, "powerful imagery," the flock of flacks
Gush, like oil, cerebral but finite--
Those who can pay
Will fly off into space one day
The sucked-dry stubble they'll leave
To us to clean, or starve
Under a sunless sky
These airless days
On a trashed planet...
* * *
May 30, 2000
Pittsburgh, 2000, in the 2nd Person: Forbes and Fifth To Fall
... Descending out of the clouds, suddenly there are rolling, tree-covered hills, then a modern cement airport in the middle of nowhere, nothing like what youd heard of Pittsburgh, like suburban farm land, chain stores lining the airports corridors...
The 28X bus will take you to downtown Pittsburgh for $1.95. The ride is hardly slower than a taxi would be -- the only stop between the airport and downtown is a sprawling mall, with Wal-Mart, Ames and other big box stores, Robinson Town Centre, they call it, using the British spelling, no smoke stacks or steel mills in sight.
Suddenly you come through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, back out into day light, the towers of downtown Pittsburgh filling the sky before you, one of them with spikes sticking up from the top, crenelated and mediaeval, the corporate signage on another for Mellon Bank, a long eight story building under construction, PNC, the new, non-place-specific acronym of Pittsburgh National Corporation. At the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet, theres a park, with a fountain shooting water up in the air. Across a bridge is the circular coliseum of Three Rivers Stadium, with the toothpick skeletons of new stadia going up on either side. Its a New Pittsburgh, theyve told you, Renaissance Three, the third attempt to find another industry beyond steel and ketchup.
Theyre ripping up the roadway along the Allegheny River; cars are inching forward between cement meat-shoots, itching and twitching to turn into the city streets, which finally they do, at Stanwix Street, which in an old map was called Pitt Street.
Before arriving, youve read the bromides, the thumbnail histories, explaining among other things this h at the end of the towns name. The history of the victors claim that no Indian lived here; they only arrived, temporarily, in 1745, fleeing the disease the Europeans had brought to the Atlantic shore. George Washington surveyed this joining of rivers in 1754, and declared it a perfect place for a fort. But it was the French who acted first, throwing up Fort Duquesne. As the British advanced, the French burned their fort, and retreated into the rolling hills... In 1759, the British built Fort Pitt at the point; the town that grew up behind it was called Pittsborough, soon corrupted down to Pittsburgh. In 1891, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (a bureaucracy long since dead, or subsumed into some obscure building and department along the Mall in Washington) ordered that all city and town names ending in burgh should synchronize themselves at burg (for mapmakers sake, the history books tell you). Pittsburg complied, but persistently petitioned to get its h back, and finally did.
The histories proceed, to smokestacks and Pinkerton guards, firing into crowds of unionized Slavic workers -- but theres no time for history, now the bus has turned into the canyons under the towers of corporate headquarters, Westinghouse has left, U.S. Steel has changed its name to USX and still no one know what they do, perhaps they work for the CIA, perhaps they produce the television show the X-Files, maybe theyve found a way to securitize algebra into a stock to be traded at midnight in Singapore -- here is Alcoa, sometime to do with tin foil, and in the past, even larger sheet of hot metal; heres PNC Plaza, the overpriced corporate steak houses, the half-empty streets of downtown Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon. The bus turns toward the point, Point Park, past a sign memorializing the first corporate urban renewal project in the country, by The Equitable, drab gray buildings where once, the books tell you, a slum had stood. Somehow like Five Points in lower Manhattan, but that they replaced with a jail and a courthouse, and a park with a pagoda in it, where elderly Chinese lithely stretch in silent concentration, you wonder if theyre affiliated with the new subversive religion, those subject to round-up in Beijing... The bus make a U-turn, heading back on Liberty Avenue, stopping at 6th and then 7th, where you get off, before the bus speeds to its final destination, the University of Pittsburgh out in Oakland.
The streets are not all corporate: here on William Penn, we find some broken down curio shops, then come to the raised up Mellon Park, surrounded by the over-large storefronts of stock brokerages... Here's Forbes Avenue, which is supposedly slated for demolition, to be replaced by big box stores of the national chains, Renaissance Three, the Nordstrom Era. At the bottom of Mellon Park, theres a plaque memorializing the banking titans of this city, Andrew Mellon 1855-1937, Richard Mellon 1858-1933, they had the alacrity to back Andrew Carnegie and his Satanic mills, Andy Mellon parlayed this into the post of Secretary of the Treasury, or so youre vague memory of banking history instructs...
At 314 Forbes, theres what used to be a bank branch, now empty and abandoned. Theres a tavern, apparently still open, the Chart Room Cafe. At 240 Forbes, theres a book store, with art books through a plate glass window, dark inside, impossible for a New Yorker to believe that no one smashes through this window and makes off with the moldy art books, to display them on the urine-smelling sidewalk by the train...
Down in Market Square, theres a place that sells fried oysters. For fifty cents, youre given access to a stack of yesterdays newspapers, containing a map of the Mayors urban renewal plan -- half the buildings you see will be demolished, if all goes well, and the City Council approves the tax breaks. To remain is a library on Wood Avenue. The fate of the old office buildings, the Arrott and dowdier Bank Centre (again this Britishized spelling -- two blocks east you find Olde Discount Stockbrokers, and the Anglicization is complete)... Fourth Avenue is empty; a building with signs for the Pittsburgh Information Technology Center tells you its roof is perfect for satellite dishes, you better hurry, because the building is slated for extinction, if youre reading the map correctly. 337 Fourth is a temple, the headquarters of the Engineers Association of Western Pennsylvania; some entrepreneurial yuppies are trying to put in a nightclub, Tatis Studio 2000... Theres a brown stone bank branch, Dollar Savings, built a hundred years ago. Two blocks east on Smithfield theres a newsstand, the only store open this late Sunday afternoon. Down narrow First Street theres a Cambodian Restaurant; Smithfield ends abruptly at a bridge, over to the empty green hills behind station square, the limits of settlement still neatly marked. Downtown Pittsburgh ends with a slew of high way, passing under a crumbling twenty story Civic Building, an American flag hanging limply in the light breeze. Here are the courts and the City-County building, along Ross Avenue; an interim jail is fenced off, a sign announcing renewal, but none apparent.
Pittsburgh By Day
by Matthew Lee, c. 2000
Where three rivers meet, nine generations meat
Have built a city, laying bricks on river-fronting slopes
Burnt-orange row houses where labors reproduced
The sons replacing fathers in the blast furnace of history--
Arriving in the Why Two Kay, a tunnel named for British
The green replaced by darkness, a sudden glint of glass
Capitalism elaborated in a chess board of towers, Alcoas queen,
The knight of PNC, the stoic rook of USX--
They say it sways, and by design, as wind along the rivers
Some smoke no steam-clean can remove, and so, again, the wrecking ball
Down Forbes and Fifth is set to swing, sing Kaddish for the haberdashers
They turn the soil for franchisees, tying their future to virtual retail--
Here in the gift of the profit-thirsty Scot, the reading
room of widows
They carefully catalog the daguerreotypes of Pinkerton crackdown
The echoes of Homestead still defend Old Birmingham
Where mothers prayed the plants would take their sons, and yet not take--
Soot on the headstone of Homewood, the richs tombs in
Imperious Frick and his bankers, all dead now, each with his name on a park
Where the children of unionists listen to rap, pierce their lips on Carson Street
The row house chic is marketed, authentic worker housing all the rage--
But voices die, by Panther Hollow Lake, the green and
At once protect and isolate, the Post-Gazette is rarely seen
In Harrisburg much less the Coasts, revivers toiling in silence
As once the muscled arms pushed ore translucent in the fiery pits--
The Bessemer converter, like an alchemist, gave form to
For days the Homestead mill stood conquered, silent, starved
Then Carnegie and Frick sent hired troops, marching under stars and stripes
The week-long utopia became one kind of killing field, and then another--
The ships of World War Two would never be replaced
And soon steel was cold rolled, in Korea and other slave states
Labors home court went the way of Forbes Field, fully erased
From Schenley Park, and bitter men told their kids to study math--
No more production, only the circle-jerk of information
The high school athletes as senseless as muscle cars in traffic
Join the nerds or check in at the Allegheny County Jail
Indicted and condemned on Ross Street, in the shadow of Mellon Bank--
And through the slit-like jailhouse windows, the hum of the
Steelcity, USA, emasculated and hyper-linked, sold out to Nordstroms
Glad-handing tax breaks to any vulture with an R.E.I.T.
A case study in capitulation, the vultures lure and then convert--
Leaving you watching your Pirates on your
Over pirated cable in the remnants of the South Side Flats
Where sadly trains scream empty by,
Excluded by the rivers three...
* * *
Pittsburgh By Night
by Matthew Lee, c. 2000
The smell of the smoke is only in your mind
History, yes, can be demolished and rebuilt
Through unreported space nine generations move
One expecting factory wage, the next collecting credit cards
Fire-belching midnight, carbon veil of corporate power
Empty gothic stone accountants, counting rolls of cold-pressed steel
Somehow Roman, this Sunday blood-lust at the line of scrimmage
A frail cadre in ashen suits, commanding a generations battle with iron ore--
I sing of the flood, the Alleghenys ill-will sweeping
away the workers huts
File clerks domesticated by the whiz of Pinkertons bullets
Come read ethnic history through the beneficence of those
Who sucked your forefathers blood
Where have they gone, those swash-bucking shopfloor neer-do-wells
Enslaved by a paycheck and biologys call
Fancy ants, in jump suits, with slide rules
Laughing at tabloids that question the ruling class
Snookered to buying the latest novel turning screw
The promise of ease, an illusion in the rats warren of bureaucracy
Primal potatoes smothered in heart-stopping cheese
I sing the song of Franco Harris, his immaculate salary cap
Vicarious pig skin smoking break of asbestos--
I feel pig irons firmness, the tendrils of my brain
Enslaved by the hieroglyphic echoes of strikes put down by the gun
Strike three, the struck-out smiles of the Pirates' Brian Giles
Deferring compensation into the Third Millennium, the pineal eye
Monongahela bleeding, pronunciations urban renewal pleading
A fried oysters just a zepole with a heart of fish
Yes I am cold, I am nylon, I deceive workers against my will
My works are written in cancerous lungs, the diagnostic pencil
Of Gnostic negotiators, making the bottom line sing arias in airshafts--
Let me fly, away from Deaths blast furnace
Let me dance, on the graves of the creators
Let me sing, of another set of streets on which Ive Pittsburgh-seared my brain
Which makes an interim music, a dirge preliminary to the end of thought
Where computers generate our emotions, following the cow-trodden paths
Where Hooters replaces a paycheck, translating itself for a minimal fee
Regulated and disclosed, the annual percentage rate of hungers
Multiplied by a mystical factor x, the relative worth of the ethnic tribes
Peoples nauseating fear running a marathon to the crematorium
Where, peaceful, stone angels fly with vandaled wings
The Egyptian temples of capitalisms mistrust
Trussed up like the greedy beef of decadences desire
Singing the song of the city of steel, much later
When oxygen becomes rare, and the streets blur
Under historys laminated plastic ---
Under the smoke-filled skies of memory....
* * *
April 17, 2000
From Brickell to Liberty City:
Miamis Two Worlds, Festering Still
Too apathetic to riot, too diffuse to coalesce -- conventional wisdom confines the last wave of American civil unrest to the Sixties: the days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.; the National Guard strutting with bayonettes down Woodward Avenue in Detroit; flare-ups with Newark trigger by a corrupt mayor. But Miami has its own history, which is ongoing.
In 1980, Miamis Liberty City neighborhood erupted, after four police officers beat and killed African American insurance agent Arthur McDuffie. Eighteen people died; the National Guard was called in, and near-martial law declared, for three days. In the aftermath (and after another riot in 1982, in adjacent Overtown), then-mayor Steve Clark agreed to fund an entity called the Metro Miami Action Plan, which adopted as its motto, a communitys commitment to itself. The plan was amorphous: MMAP would encourage businesses to hire African Americans; housing code enforcement would be stepped up, police would be subject to sensitivity training. An issue left unaddresses was disinvestment by banks, and redlining by insurance companies. It was a fatal flaw.
The 1989 Super Bowl was held at the Orange Bowl, in Miamis Overtown neighborhood. During the media-hype week leading to the game, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed African American motorcyclist. Another riot erupted; 11 people were shot, and 400 were arrested. More plans were proposed, MMAPs funding was increased.
At the cusp of the millenium, Miami is still a tale of two (or more) cities. A snazzy light rail system carries business people from downtown to the adjacent Financial District, along Brickell Avenue. While most of Floridas banks have been acquired in the past decade, the new owners still have local headquarters here: First Union, Bank of America, SunTrust, Colonial Bank, even Memphis-based Union Planters. There are also the U.S. offices of Latin American banks: Banco Industrial de Venezuela, Espirito Santo Bank, Banco Santander. There are also outposts designed only for the rich: Mellon United National Bank, Northern Trust, among others.
Few of these banks do anything in Overtown or Liberty City. The vista over these two neighborhoods (and the intervening and musically-named Allapattah) is one of dusty streets of one-story houses, school yards with brown and fading grass, Booker T. Washington Senior High School, the citys waste transfer station, an abandoned stadium named after local baseball hero Bobby Maduro. The Miami Dolphins no longer use the Orange Bowl, having moved further out of town to Pro Player Stadium. The professional basketball team, the Heat, have moved from the Overtown / Arena to a newer facility facing Biscayne Bay, named for American Airlines. Where was the wider communitys commitment to Overtown and Liberty City? And why are the banks and insurance companies, that have their glass headquarters facing the turquoise sea, not called to account?
This is a story -- or Action Plan -- that needs to be developed...
* * *
Liberty City by Matthew Lee, c. 2000
Two miles from the turquoise bay, the dusty streets are dry
Pastel paint is peeling on the barracks-like homes
Even the palm trees are suspects, from radio police cars
Sham freedom of a bantustan: Liberty City
Light rail north from Overtown, away from the temples of banks
Out past Allapattah, past the garbage stations stink --
Its historys stench, eighteen dead, the National Guard called in
Arthur McDuffie was beaten and killed, and no insurance helped
And Eighty-Two in Overtown, and Eighty-Nine, the Super Bowl
Where cameras film the burning streets, the Great Black Way in final fire
Four hundred citizens of Liberty end on lock down
They wall the whole swath in, and move the Dolphins to the other town--
By Brickell, where the moneys laundered: Cali, Quito, on the line
By South Beach, calling Eurotrash to wallow in its turquoise kitch
Renaming Biscayne Jorge Mas Canosa, a counter-revolutionary tip
Of the hat while by Vizcaya the swmming pools shimmer--
Back in the ghetto, the bail bondsmen wait
And Flaglers just a dog track now
And, location being everything,
The smoke-scarred Orange Bowl sits empty
Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium
Its eyeless light towers ready for riot
Or to pen in those resisting arrest
In Liberty City, nothing has changed
Again and again, burning the wrong blocks
Two miles stretch of toothless mouth
While whole migrations surf the Cold Wars wake
The death rates higher here than in Havana
All false, the promises, in Liberty City
Where freedoms just two sylables of music
The turquoise salsa worlds away
While Rambo jet-skis on the bay
Theyre just a short train ride away:
First Union, SunTrust, Mellon Bank
The money moved by wire, and before three--
At seven the areas locked down, like us, in Overtown
Things happen: cops kill unarmed men
And knee-jerk lash out, secret arms
And decades of surveillance follow
While to the East the party flows--
Jim Crow lives in Y Two Kay
And counts the rent on Biscayne Bay
And moves the stadia away --
From Orange Bowl to Pro Player now
From Overtown to seaside Home
Of Your Miami Heat -- thats who?
Bal Harbor landlord sniffing glue --
On rent you paid for two small rooms
Two miles from the ocean blue
Where cargo boxes stacked by cruise
Liners like the junk they sell
Eating dust, denied a name
Its all fenced off from Biscayne Bay
Until the next time it explodes
To build a world that has no walls...
* * *
February 14, 2000
From LAX to Shacks:
Los Angeles Camera-Eye
by Matthew Lee, c. 2000
Dont even try to use the subway in Los Angeles, they say. Its like a train to nowhere. But how else to get around? When they built the Green Line, they could easily have built a station right in front of the airport. But its a city built around cars, and reportedly the parking lot concessionaires didnt want their business undermined. So you have to take a ten minute shuttle bus ride out to the nearest station, Aviation / I-105. The bus is used almost entirely by airport employees.
Theres no turnstile to pass through: you buy a ticket from a machine outside the station, $1.30, then go up on the platform to wait for the train. It works on the honor system, it seems, though signs command you to keep your ticket, quedarse con su boleto. The Green Line runs on the median strip of Interstate 105, the Century Freeway, slashed through Inglewood and Watts. Theres a Northrup Grumman factory. At the Imperial / Wilmington Station, re-named for Rosa Parks, you can transfer to the Blue Line, which will take you to downtown Los Angeles, 7th Street and Figueroa.
The view from the Blue Line is of an endless expanse of one-story houses, some no more than the size of a single room, on streets lined with tall, thin palm trees, with only a few leaves at the top. It runs along Long Beach Avenue. Near the Slauson Avenue station, theres a string of junk yards and scrap metal plants, then some bleak two-story housing projects, with curtains flapping out of broken window. On the horizon, through the smog, you can see skyscrapers, rising on a hill, lettered at the top: Wells Fargo. KPMG. A shorter, older office building says: Transamerica. Closer by: Winston Mortuary.
The Blue Line turns off Long Beach Avenue and onto Washington Boulevard. Again, scrap metal is the theme: Mid-City Tubs, Felix Used Radiators. The train runs at street level, and stops at traffic lights, like a street car. There are a few strip malls: El Pollo Loco, USA Checks Cashed. Theres a compound of buildings: Los Angeles Trade Tech, a school. The train turns onto Flower Street, by the Convention Center and the newer Staples Center. Theres a run-down hotel, the Oviatt, and another, slightly fancier, the Figueroa. Taller than either, the ten-story Patriotic Hall of the County of Los Angeles. Another: La Curacao. The train goes underground, and hits the last stop: 7th Street, Metro Center.
Up an escalator, youre into the few gussied-up blocks of downtown Los Angeles. One office building says Arthur Andersen; another says, Washington Mutual. Merrill Lynch. Ernst & Young. Taking Figueroa, walking toward Bunker Hill and its newer glass skyscrapers, from 5th Street you see the Public Library, fixed up after a fire in 1986, with Latin words carved over the door, something about Et Quasi Cursores... Vitai Lampad.... Theres a fountain, with a sculpture of an iguana skeleton in it. Inside the library, the walls are painted yellow. On the second floor, theres an exhibit about the history of the Tweety Bird cartoon character. In the bathroom, the stalls have no doors, the toilets have no seats. Every doorway you walk through, a camera set on the side clicks, counting your entry and your exit. Could you limbo under one of them, so their math didnt work out at the end of the day? Doesnt seem to work. Click - you enter. Click -- you leave.
Facing the terrace of the library, theres a coffee shop, and a counter for fast-food Chinese, Panda Express. You can take your coffee out onto the terrace, but the chairs are all chained together. You can sit on the steps. Yuppy office workers are streaming into a restaurant next to the library, Cafe Pinot. Behind that, theres a skyscraper, easily the tallest in town. The Library Tower, home of the law firms of Latham & Watkins, and White & Case. Theres a steep staircase, with water running down it. Ah, fancy urban renewal. Real estate developers were allow to violate zoning with the Library Tower, in exchange for helping renovate the burned-out library. At the top of the stairs is another tower of power: Mellon Bank. There are more security cameras than pedestrians.
Cutting back down the hill to Pershing Square, you can follow 5th Street into Skid Row. It starts off slowly: Broadway was and is the main shopping street, although its no longer the Great White Way of this city: now the signs are for Jugos Naturales, Llamadas, pupusas from El Salvador. At 5th and Broadway, theres an old office building, the Jewelry Trade. At 5th and Spring, theres the Alexandria Hotel, with a counter covered with plexiglass. The Frontier Hotel on 5th and Main promises, HBO in Every Room, but its mostly panhandlers out in front. 5th and Los Angeles Street has the King Edward Hotel, and, on the corner, the King Eddy Saloon. 5th and Maple has a half-abandoned shopping center, letters missing from its sign, so that the original (Winston Plaza) now read: WIN O PLAZA. Theres a three story apartment building, with a For Rent sign, General Relief Welcome. On 5th and Wall is the rebuilt and ever-larger L.A. Mission, that Barbara Bush visited in 1992. The day of her visit, they moved all of the homeless off the streets. Its not so bad here, she commented. Today, theres no Barbara Bush. You lookin for weed? Nah. Press forward. At 5th and St. Julian Street, there a cluster of Single Room Occupancy hotels: the Panama, the Florence, the Golden West. Enough already.
Turning left of San Pedro Street, theres a cluster of stores selling silk flowers. There are big parking lots, then the stucco entrance to the Little Tokyo mall. Above it rises a building with a red circular logo on it, like the Ying-Yang symbol. The New Otani Hotel. The one-block mall is named Onizuka Street, for a Japanese-American astronaut. Turning on to First Street, youre approaching the Civic Center. Next to a parking lot, theres a storefront, Byrons Bail Bonds, and next to that, a stand selling Kosher Burritos. Theres the building of the L.A. Times, and the City Hall, appearing in the Superman movies at the headquarters of the Daily Planet newspaper. The courthouse appeared in the Perry Mason television series, 1959 through 1965. Then theres a silence: another freeway cut through.
El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles is closed for renovation, but the one block theme park, Olvera Street, remains open. Across Alameda Street is Union Station, a mix of Art Deco and Spanish Mission architecture. Inside, the ceilings are of wood, and they charge two dollars for a one pint bottle of iced tea. You can get back on the subway here, take the Red Line out to Hollywood. Fifteen Minutes to Tinseltown, the sign says...
The subway stop at Hollywood and Vine, the end of the line, has film reels and metal palm trees on the ceilings. The streets outside are decidedly more run-down than the subway station, built in 1996. Across from the subway entrance is the Pantages Theater, with no show until three weeks from now. Theres a small storefront, Dos Burritos. Three of the four corners of Hollywood and Vine have twelve-story office buildings: the Taft, the Broadway, and the Equitable, now with a savings and loan in the storefront. Between Vine and Ivar, the fictional base of Philip Marlowe, there are wig stores, and Le Cave, a sex show parlor. Under your feet are the two foot high stars, for Edward R. Murrow, and Marlene Deitrich. The old billboard of a theater, now converted to a church, screams in big letters: Pare de Suffrir. Stop Suffering. Past a few tattoo shops, and others pitching Body Piercing, there are building for Scientology, with clean cut teenagers outside, trying to recruit (or save, depending on your perspective) all passers-by. The Egyptian Theaters now run by a non-profit, but its gates are closed. Manns Chinese Theater is bright red. The Roosevelt Hotel is surrounded by scaffolding. Across the street is a construction site, and a sign promising a 300 room hotel, and a theater custom-built for the Academy Awards: $60 million in city subsidies, for a one-night a year event. Recapture the Magic, the sign says. The last redevelopment effort, the Galaxy, sits half unused, a few more blocks toward La Brea. Theres an abandoned bank branch, with its Bank of America sign still in place. At the end of the Strip, theres a coffee shop with computers, Cyber Java. Brooding yuppies with pierced cheeks brood on the terrace, sipping fruit juice with ecanasia before checking their e-mail and stock portfolios. Theres a church, and theres a motel. This is Hollywood....
....Maybe its just the name -- the Boulevard of Broken Dreams itself broken -- but youre driven to revisit the place, to search for something you missed the first time, or that perhaps wasnt there at all, ever. In the daylight, thought the smog, you can see the HOLLYWOOD sign, up on the hill over Capitol Records on Vine. A failed actress jumped to her death from the H. These are all myths. Today, old folk loiter in front of the Hollywood Plaza Hotel on Vine, while muggers lurk in alleyways, while trade schools run their scams in second-floor lofts over failed savings and loans.
On Ivar theres no sign of Philip Marlowe, or Ray Chandler or Nathaniel Hawthorne. Theres a sign promising the opening of the Museum of Death. It seems like overkill. Down on Wilcox, theres the Hotel Mark Twain. On the roof of the Pacific Building, there are two unused radio transmission towers. Theres a building called The Outpost, another called the U.T.R., with a Spanish-style balcony fronting on the Boulevard. Motel 6, and a Chinese restaurant called Lams Kitchen. Up on Yucca and Vine, theres a single new building: Post Logic Studios -- Film, Video, Audio. It captures it.. Post logic.
* * *
From LAX to Shacks to Tarmacks: Freestyle
by Matthew Lee, c. 2000
...visions of a city thats the death knell of everything that speaks... Listen to the whispering voices of caves, dragging through subway stations, here, the metal can cut you, palm trees, inertia, brain fluid like the endlessly running lemonade of Subway, sandwiches, hard-working arms of braceros, the olive-strewn hills of glossy magazines -- the endless airless corridors of airport terminals, Cinebon is a brand name of brains, the entire nation focused on a single confrontation, on Astro-turf, yes you can clap for our economy, yes you might get the clap while satiating your desires in the lawless zones, charge insanity to your credit cards, membership in this race gives you a free small serving of come-up-ance, dancing with ants in Manns Chinese theater, Americas fixation on the paper tiger of population, we have no time to reproduce and therefore the history of the future passes us by, station to be opened in mid-Millennium, faces frozen and operated on, visions of a city thats the death knell of everything that speaks....
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All contents of this page copyright 2000-2005, Inner City Press/Community on the Move, Inc. and/or, where stated, Matthew Lee. All rights reserved. For further information, or to request reprint or other permission, contact: Permissions Coordinator, Legal Administration, Inner City Press, P.O. Box 580188, Mount Carmel Station, Bronx, NY 10458. Phone: (718) 716-3540. E-mail: mlee [at] innercitypress.org