Saturday, January 07, 2006

Wig's Waukesha Entry

When you place Jim Wigderson's statement next to Jess McBride's series, (links are embedded in this post), there are a few observations which can be made.

McBride's piece is sobering. It's film noire blogging; the young man she spent time and resources working with, talking with, and mentoring/helping is now in jail. He was unable to complete high school--more accurately, unwilling to complete it--and fell in with "bad companions", leading to incarceration. It is a very compelling and very sad piece which McBride believes is all-too-common.

Wigderson deals with more practical issues. He commutes through the city and is, frankly, concerned about the probabilities of becoming a victim of the "bad company" which McBride's friend found. Perhaps Wig's more cautious than I am--I've spent a lot of hours on the near South Side of the city at night and have brought a couple of my children with me. I NEVER encountered a problem in the area, but a crime-location map puts our destination in the middle of a very active neighborhood.

Marquette University students wander about the near North Side. There are a few events in the MU area, but by and large the student population is undisturbed--even though MU borders a very "hot" crime area, too.

The two pieces are "perception" and "reality" items. Wig's piece tells us what the perception is--that the city is simply not a good place to hang around if you don't have to. McBride's shows the reality which creates the perception.

Like Wig, my first home was near Capitol Drive and 27th Street. We moved to the 'burbs not long afterwards--with my father, it was a question of lebensraum, not crime or property values; he just wanted a yard that was larger than 60'x140'. In the 1960's I rode the #43 bus from Capitol and Sherman to school, going past Washington Park to do so. In the mid-1970's, I could be found at the 'black and tan' club on Locust at about 4th. Nice place. But there was a vague sense of "unwelcome" present there at that time--

Recently I drove down North Avenue to visit a business on 27th street. The difference in the North/Sherman area between my bus-riding days and now was startling. And it was not a difference which was pretty. North Avenue east of Sherman is a wreck, with a few exceptions; only a few businesses have survived since the '60's/'70's, and the building stock is in horrible repair. It's an opportunity for a speculator, to say the least--just as was the area immediately west of the Schlitz Brewery in 1985.

Sure, somebody can rebuild North Avenue, and the gentrification of the 3rd/North area will continue (yes, I've been there recently, too.) Schlitz Park will extend Downtown north from the old Wisconsin National Bank building/museum to North Avenue and the area, en bloc, will look good.

But Jessica's story intervenes. Those kids aren't going to go away when North Avenue gets pretty again. They're going to be someplace. Wig and I may share a late night of cocktails and chicanery with Eric Von at Curley's-- just south of 3rd/North on the east side of the street and once known as the worst bar in town--but those kids are going to be somewhere, and they will hurt somebody.

In the end, it's Jessica's story which needs the attention from Eric Von and his friends on the radio. See, Jessica's kids have noplace to go, and they think they'll get there pretty soon--before they are 25. They don't mind taking others along with them to noplace.

And Wig's perceptions won't change until noplace becomes someplace.

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