Journal Entries for December, 2005


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Saturday, December 31, 2pm: Haven't felt much like writing here in the past week. Not that there hasn't been stuff to write about. I've made some notes, as always. A few things come to mind ...

Effective tomorrow, we'll have a new Major for the Central District. Newly promoted Major Dean Palmere. I hate to see another change up on our team, there's always a long get acquainted period, but Major Shepperd tells me the new Major has long drug enforcement experience. God knows that's what we need. So maybe this is a good change. Major Shepperd will be moving to Special Operations, which includes the marine unit. We wish him well.

Many readers here have caught up with my entries and are surprised to hear we may be selling. I appreciate the good wishes and understanding. I think most everyone thought we'd be here forever. I thought so, too. It's been a tough time adjusting to leaving, but an increase in dealing and dumping have helped make me feel better about giving up. The new security patrol at Pedestal Gardens has been doing a banner job, but it's an endless, and I'm sorry to say hopeless battle. So long as we have Pedestal Gardens and the other Section 8 housing complexes here, this block is doomed. The real enemy here is absentee landlords, big and small, whose only interest in the neighborhood is greed. Without them, the drug dealers and dumpers would go elsewhere.

One good absentee landlord is the guy who owns the apartment house next door at 1710. He called yesterday to congratulate me on the sale and to thank us for what we've done. He said he had a doctor interested in renting from him but now that she knows we are leaving, she's having second thoughts. This is the same guy whose house was vacant for the first couple years we've been here and who told me that our efforts were part of why he felt he could find good tenants. Gratifying. With the exception of one heroin dealer who was promptly evicted when then Major Skinner and crew descended on him, 1710's tenants have been good neighbors. Kids and jobs. Real people.

A couple nights ago, I was watching TV about 11 and heard a loud argument on the street. Not unusual. Too many of my neighbors think nothing of disturbing the whole neighborhood at whatever hour. This one grew very loud. I saw a man and woman, obviously having a "domestic" as the cops call it. By the time they got to the corner it escalated to punching and pushing. I was alarmed till I realized she was holding her own quite well. This was nothing new to either. I called 911 and the Pedestal Gardens security team anyway. It was funny to see the cat and mouse game between responding officers and these two. When the cops arrived, they stopped. When they went around the block, they went at it again. Then the cops came back and they stopped again. She went back to her apartment at Pedestal Gardens. He wandered away across the school yard. No doubt they'll be at it again soon.

Useless fence

Dealers continue to hang out across from the school along side the absentee landlord's apartment house at 1700 Madison. They commute regularly to their stash house apartment(s) at Pedestal Gardens. I've noticed several girls who live at PG delivering the goods to the dealers on the corner. How do I know what they're doing? Come on now, why would they make frequent trips to their boyfriends on the corner, hand them something small that's immediately pocketed, and then walk right back?

The fence has done nothing, of course. Someone always buzzes the dealers in if they don't have a pass themselves. And of course the driveway gate remains open exactly where I've always seen the guys do their rounds. It seems like it was designed to suit them. I imagine the property managers at PG saying "Let's put up a fence but not get in the way of the dealers. We can fool the neighbors and the new police commissioner into thinking we're actually doing something new, that we care." At least they finally have a good security team in place. That's what it takes. An officer supervising that building 24/7 or it goes right back to rampant dealing. The fence and passcard system has proved a waste of time and money. The only hope for this block is getting Pedestal Gardens closed down or at least finding it a property management firm who actually cares about the tenants and neighbors here. Yes, Gary, Michelene and Dan, I've agreed with you for a while, just not on how to do it. There's plenty of honest reasons to close PG. We don't have to fabricate them.

Don't know if the new Major will continue the use of the generator driven floodlamp at the intersection of Wilson Street and Madison, next to the school yard. As I've said before, at first it was effective. Certainly scared the customers, but now everyone's used to it. Both sides thought this might signal other changes. I had hope. I haven't seen it, with the large exception of the new security regime at PG but that has nothing to do with the city. One of those officers told me he appreciates it very much because it allows him to see into the school yard where the dealers hide. If it makes officers safer, I'm all for leaving it there permanently, or just getting the city to change the burned out bulbs on the two huge street lamps on the school grounds. Now, there's an idea.

Was putting out the trash cans Wednesday late, about 1am. Surprised to hear footsteps and turned to see two city officers walking to the substation. I asked where they'd parked. "No, we're on foot patrol." Turns out they were actually dropped off for a four hour walking shift. Officers on foot are a very good thing, though I'm sure a cold cop might not agree. I told them I figure their job is to keep the stats down for year end. They smiled. Our mayor, the would be governor, is very keen on stats. He doesn't want the murder score to get any higher. If there's even a slightly lower number, we'll hear about it in the campaign. Problem for him and the officers is the dealers seem to be scrambling to improve their stats too. From what I see out the window, it appears they have quotas to fill. The never ending war.

We're going to put out some cake and hot cider for the officers in the substation tonight. Likely a busy night for them. I know some read here from their homes. Consider this an invitation.
I'm sure the gesture will be appreciated. The officers are always so grateful. You'd think no one on their beat has ever invited them into their home willingly, to use a toilet, warm up and have some cake. That's a shame. They're missing out. It's actually quite gratifying.

The new year promises big changes for us, but I doubt much will change on this block. Our tour of duty seems near it's end. Four days, 22 hours, eight minutes and ten seconds till closing deadline, not that I'm counting. <g> I wish those who carry on the struggle here some success in the new year. God knows we haven't made a dent. And I wish all who read these rants the best as well. I know some of you are carrying on the very same struggle we have and though we may be retiring, we hope you will not give up. There are places where you're not alone. Where there's a chance for progress, however dismal it may seem now.

Health and happiness to you all in 2006.

Saturday, December 24, 10am: Woke this morning with a smile. It had been a quiet night outside except for when it  became very loud. Foxtrot swooped in with its night-is-day search light. Seemed a hundred sirens descended on the other side of the block. We were flooded with blue and red flashing lights. Vaughn got in his truck to leave and came back looking startled to tell me something was going on.

Four years ago, I panicked when this happened a day or so before Christmas. I think I loaded the shot gun. I can't recall if I dialed 911. I think I called the security patrol from Pedestal Gardens and the city police major to see what it was.

santa

This time I just smiled, after a moment of concern. Then I remembered: It was Santa! Each year he's escorted down McCulloh to Druid House, the subsidized housing building behind this house where so many children live. Seems like every available squad car comes along. They're only here 20 minutes or so, then I think he visits other such places where the kids need Santa most of all. I like that for at least a bit those kids associate police officers not with terror or someone being hauled away, but joy. And joy is what the holidays are all about. Even here.

This seems a good time to concentrate on the many blessings we have. Living here, we've been fortunate to meet many wonderful neighbors from near and far. And we've met many fine men and women in blue, whose bravery and commitment always astound me. We've made many new friends.

By being here, we've seen some the best of humanity, appreciated all the more because, by living here, we've also seen some of its worst.

There have been so many moments of great joy. I've cried like a baby from joy and other times in despair. I've been the happiest of my life here and angrier than I knew was possible.
The contradictions here are so many. I've been touched to the core too many times to count. Sometimes I've written about those times. Some of those moments cannot be shared.

In short, we've been blessed. And have much to be thankful for. Most recently, I'm thankful for some special officers who have helped us all feel safer.

On this eve of Christmas, from a decrepit old house with a toilet for cops in the middle of a drug market, we want to wish everyone who reads here, those who have supported the substation, our neighbors, the many fine officers we see every day, the kids, a few local politicians, even a few bureaucrats ... heck, I'll even throw in the drug dealers and slumlords today (we'll call it our Christmas cease fire) ... the best and happiest Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah to you all.


Thursday, December 22, about 2pm: Just watched as one of the trucks belonging to a special officer sped out of the apartments across the street. Obviously intent to get somewhere quick. I called one of their officer's cell phones to ask what was happening. "A disturbance at McMechen and Eutaw," where the main courtyard of Pedestal Gardens is. I hope it isn't serious, but glad to see them on the ball, as usual now.

Earlier, a city officer left the substation in a big hurry, lights and siren blaring, then I heard the fire trucks starting up. The ladder company always sounds its loud horn twice just before they get underway from their station a block over. Though startling at times, it's been comforting to know they're so close. I always wonder what calamity has happened. What life and death situation they run to at full speed. Takes special character to want to do their work, as it does to be a police officer.

Was pondering this morning the odd fact that few of those who live in the Pedestal Gardens property across the street, park in that parking lot. They seem to prefer the avenue, in front of our house. At times, I've thought that was because they know I look out the window and am not afraid to call the cops. But I don't know. Someone suggested it was to avoid being tracked by the cameras in the compound. Cynical, but entirely possible. Still, I don't believe the cameras are being monitored by anyone, at least not anyone who cares. An opinion it seems is shared by the dealers.

Of course, no progress on the driveway gate. The fence system remains a waste. Clearly shows the fact that Section 8 subsidized slumlords seem to answer to no one, in reality. No wonder so many greedy rich folk milk that gravy train. The only people hurt are those who live in such complexes and those who live next door. Who cares about them?

Haven't felt inclined to put up the Christmas lights. No one else here has, as usual. Watched a couple guys talking in front of 1704 earlier. Could have been investors. I don't know. Though I went to the window a few times to see, I kept telling myself it doesn't matter to me anymore. I have to let go. Starting to ponder packing. Still don't know for sure where most of this stuff will go. Was thinking of making a clock or turning my liquor bottle collection into glasses and stuff to kill time. Anything to keep me occupied as we wait till closing deadline. 13 days and some hours now. This limbo is tough.

Monday, December 19: The car I thought was abandoned has disappeared. Don't know if it was the owner or the city. Just glad to see a burned out car gone. I wish I could say the same for the sofa and rest of the refuse heap in the alley. An investor is clearing out a formerly boarded row house right next to one he just sold on Laurens, the other end of our alley. Seems to think nothing of putting his debris in the middle of the alley for others to deal with. What does that say about how much he cares about his neighbors or the city?

The generator driven floodlamp seems to have been out frequently the past few nights. Saw an officer struggling to get it started Saturday night. Must need a tune up. The side floodlamps at 1715-1717 are out again, too. The PG driveway gate remains stuck open, the fence useless. Who is surprised by the negligence of PG management? I saw less of the new security patrol both Friday and Saturday night. I did see the truck of one officer a couple times, but driving around is not the same as visible foot patrols. It was very cold. Predictably, I was not the only one who noticed all this: Identically dressed guys walked through the parking lot to the apartments and back several times. They're always there, just turn on the light and look and they scatter like roaches.

Was walking back from the market the other day when a little SUV pulled up alongside me. A young mom and her friend with two kids in the back said "hi, Mr. Bryan. How are you?" I don't ask for the mister part, but I hear it from a lot of the kids, including the kid moms. I recognized them, but I couldn't remember their names and felt bad about that, so I just said ...

"Fine, and you? Are things better?"

"Yes, they've fixed some things and I see the officers more now."

"That's good to hear."

"Thank you, Mr. Bryan."

"Why thank me?"

From both young ladies, in unison: "We know what you done."

Talk about a feel good moment.

Time to come clean: We have accepted an offer for the house. About ten times what we paid for it, though no where near what we've put into it. Money has never really been the motive here. We don't know what the new owner plans to do, but I'm sure it doesn't include living here. Of course, we haven't closed yet. Could still fall through. But you know what? I'm hoping we do close soon. He has until January 6 or he forfeits the deposit. Part of the contract includes us staying on for another 60 days. It will be a huge chore moving our personal stuff, but also the tons of architectural stuff I've accumulated anticipating the rehab here, the room full of tools and the copiers, press and cutter I bought for the new nonprofit print/web organization I want to put together. The money from the sale of the house will help seed that, giving me a new outlet for my do gooder needs. And something to fill the time I now spend ranting.

Spent last night at an old house up town. East Lake Avenue. It sounds like it is: A quiet residential neighborhood of owner occupied single family homes, with yards. No trash heaps. No walking dead. No identically suited young men hanging on the corners or doing their circuits.
I couldn't find a single crack vial anywhere. I missed the shiny colorful little things. Last night it was extremely quiet there. Warm and secure. The dogs were there with me. Vaughn, too. No, this was not a dream. For the first night in almost four years, no one was here at 1708. No one but the cops who obviously used the substation at least a few times. I'm back today, of course. Plan on staying here with big dog till the day I hand over the key. This was just a test to see if the place was good for the dogs and us. It is.

What will become of the substation? I don't know. The prospective new owner says he will keep it open. I don't think he really means it. Without someone here to keep it stocked and clean, it won't work. Plus, I can tell you there's no money in operating police substations. No, I think he'll end up turning the carriage house into a nifty little one bedroom apartment using what is now the substation as a kitchen and living room, with bath and bedroom upstairs. That's what I wanted to do with it, but we decided the officer's break room was more important.

Until and if the sale closes, and for at least a month or so after when we turn over the key, we will keep the substation open. Closing will be a very sad day. Hopefully, the officers and those of you who read here and support the substation will understand our giving up. It's been a long road. I know certain Section 8 subsidized housing property managers, especially those in front of this house, will be elated at this news. They'll have a much easier time snowing the police and taxpayers alike. Congratulations, guys, it looks like you may have outlasted and exhausted us ... finally. But don't expect us to go quietly. We may have a few land mines laid for you.

Friday, December 15: There's a nice young officer in the substation. Grateful for decent place to do what looked like several reports. Paperwork is the bane of an officer's work. The snow is falling. I was surprised he had so much "business," because of the nasty weather, but I guess crime doesn't stop for a blizzard. Plus, it's the full moon.

It's 70 in there. I reminded him the coffee was fresh and left him alone.

It was a good moment. Yet another of so many. I don't know why city residents don't clamor all over themselves for the privilege of having a substation in their back yard. It's hugely gratifying to know you're making the day of an officer even just a bit easier. I can see Sergeant Hess reviewing applicants: "I'm sorry, but the standard's been set. You need air conditioning, adequate heat, a microwave and refrigerator and at least a clean toilet for us to allow the officers to use it." <g> Oddly, there's no "keeping up with the Jones'" mentality on our block.

It seems a neighbor has decided to abandon his burned out car in front of the house. He runs an illegal, unlicensed mechanic shop out of the back of his "church," but I've never had a problem with that. I appreciate he provides services to his parishioners and others who cannot afford legal mechanics. We just paid $850 to have repair work done at a legit place ourselves. A nasty setback at Christmas time. Still, I don't think it fair he should abandon this car for the city to take responsibility. After all, he has a tow bar and knows all the junk yards. Another example of someone dumping on the city. And in this case, particularly disappointing because I've come to expect better of this neighbor. Worse, I wonder if he left in front of our house because he knows I'm the one who calls authorities and reports things. That could backfire in this case. We'll see. I have asked an officer to speak to him with some gentle advice about felony dumping.

charades

Watched as yet another contractor on the protracted fence project put in mesh to discourage people from reaching around the fancy pedestrian locks now installed at Pedestal Garden's Madison Ave property. Seems it's taken a dozen different contractors and just as many months to do what we expected done by summer. The driveway gate remains frozen in place. Doing nothing. Making the whole installation impotent. How much longer can this property management firm and owner drag out this charade before someone (HUD?) takes notice, too?

The owner of the new security company at Pedestal Gardens brought us two cases of bottled waters and big can of coffee creamer for the substation. Yes, his guys use the substation too, but he knows this is for the city officers, as well. Such a far cry from the guy who used to employ these officers, SPS Security. That man never worked here, unless you call it work to milk the federal HUD money gravy train to its max. The new owner does shifts here. He asks questions. He seems committed to helping the whole neighborhood resist the bad elements so drawn to this big subsidized housing project. He understands the responsibility of Pedestal Gardens goes beyond its property lines

Friday, December 9: Saw a group of suits leaving the 1715-1717 Madison Ave PG building yesterday. One looked to be the property management company VP I finally dismissed as nothing more than a game player months ago. Possibly the redo inspection of the facility is under way. All the properties of PG are poorly maintained according to the residents I talk to. True to their character, just the barest minimum compliance with HUD rules they can get way with. "See what we can get away with" seems Pedestal Garden's owners and Interstate Property Management Company's mutual theme.  

The gate remains open. A pathetic waste of the fence investment which used Federal taxpayer funds.

Security however does remain better. I see less trouble around the property and the block. Some of that is the new security company being more effective. Some due to the winter weather. Some the fact the boys are dealing out of my line of sight and that of the cameras they still wonder about, as do I.

The generator driven floodlight on the corner remains. Whirring and burning brightly every night. How effective and for how long is anybody's guess around here.

Lost my temper last night to find the substation heat cranked all the way up, the room at nearly 80 degrees and the bathroom fan on, sucking out the heat. I yelled at the walls and cursed the culprit. We live in rooms barely heated to 65. We cannot afford to provide a sauna. The person responsible should be far more considerate. I have a suspect, but since we don't have cameras in there, I can't be entirely sure. He also needs to clean up after himself when he spills hot chocolate all over. We are proud and feel privileged to be able to provide the space, but there's a limit. And that limit includes "when you make a mess in the restroom, clean it up yourself." I have no problem with general cleaning and stocking, but I'm no personal maid. I hope this man is more considerate in future.

I wrote a blistering note to post on the walls about "the rules:" Don't touch the thermostat, 70 is more than enough. Don't leave the fan on when you leave. It sucks out the heat. Clean up after yourself. Even warning that one bad apple can spoil it for the rest. Decided not to post it so as to avoid offending the 95% of officers who treat the space appropriately. This is their "room"  as guests in our house and most understand that. I hope that's enough said.

While cleaning up, I calmed myself down last night with the many memories of officers thawing themselves out in there over the past three winters, grateful to have a warm space for a break. When I think of those times, of the smiles on their faces, there's no question it's been worth it.

Pondering whether to put up those Christmas lights. With the prospect of selling, I'm not so enthusiastic. Absolute dedication to this house and block used to motivate me. Been looking for that motivation lately. Maybe it's the Christmas blues.

Going out now to shovel. I'm not wild about that of course, but realize with a deep freeze in the teens coming tonight, the sidewalk will become treacherous. The back steps and a walkway to the substation are clear. And I'm happy to report the city kept its promise to plow the alley again this winter so the officers could reach their space. I reminded the mayor in an email about that last week. He replied they were already on top of it and this morning they were.

Friday, December 2: It's rather sad. Yesterday morning I found myself happy that I didn't feel compelled to update the death toll on the front cover of this website. I was almost happy it was still two thousand, one hundred and ten. This morning it's 2,113. Not long back, I was teary when I turned that odometer over from 499 to 500. I cry when visiting DC's memorials too, especially the Wall. I guess we'll have an Iraq memorial soon enough. God knows we've spent enough there. I never imagined we'd be where we are now. Yes, you idiot hate mongers out there, feel free to email me that I'm anti American. I still say it's best to fix your own problems first before taking on the problems of others. I agree with Vaughn that you can't change the world, but you can change your own back yard.

OK, enough politics.

Looking out the window now, I'm amused to see a big van parking in front as she always does. It belongs to a charity and the driver is allowed to take it home. She takes good care of it. Makes me smile. More than one have told me they like to park in front of my window under the streetlamp, because they feel I will look out for them. They're right. What happens out my window does concern me. I can't help it. Just one of my many foibles.

There's been a marked improvement in Pedestal Gardens security since the new company took over November 1. There's a statement. I'm almost afraid to say it. Actually I am. Every time I say or write something like this a shooting happens or a rock hits the front of the house or ...  Anyway, I had problems with the security company that was here when we moved in almost four years ago. We had a long history. I never liked the company (it's owner), but had a good relationship most of the time with the men on the street. Some of them are back now with the new company. The difference is clear. These guys know the neighborhood. The know the players. They get out of their damned cars and are visible. Their boss seems motivated, sincere and gets in the trenches alongside his men.

Even though they are "special" officers, they make a difference in people's lives, like all police officers do.
They're proud of their work, and it shows. And they have reason to be proud. They actually work.  The dealers know they're serious. They're commissioned. They are not afraid to chase a suspect down the street and the bad boys know they don't want to or have to stop at property lines.

There is no way to control a property if the bad boys think your jurisdiction ends at the property line. That was a huge bone of contention I had with the city police officer who set himself up as Pedestal Garden's security consultant. He and his off duty officers seem out of the picture now. Not that most of them were visible when they supposedly were working here (with some large exceptions I've noted before). Don't get me wrong, this man is an excellent officer. I have large respect for him as a city police officer. Still do. We just don't agree on how to supervise one big sprawling Section 8 (taxpayer paid for) housing complex. Was walking home the other evening, in the rain. Saw him in his squad car writing a report. Knocked on the window.

"We've certainly had our differences, haven't we?"

"Yes." he said, with a grave nod.

"It was not for lack of respect," I said as I walked away.

This is the man who said to me in the middle of a heated telephone argument "and you call yourself a professional community activist." I guess the word professional is up for debate. I think that means you get paid. Unlike the other players here, we don't get paid. We live here. That's the point many miss. Or choose to.

If the newest security staff stay on top of it, they will have an easy job. Drug dealers and the customers who commit the petty crimes to pay those dealers are not ambitious people. They don't like conflict. They don't like going to Central Booking. Not even the cops like going to Central Booking to submit suspects. It takes two hours at times and keeps good cops off the street. What a stupid bottleneck.

While PG patrols are better and discouraging the dealers, the fence project across the street continues to be worthless. The driveway gate is not operating. It just sits there, open to anyone.

useless

Then Police Commissioner-Designate Hamm promised this fence would help him "fix this block" as he promised this spring. The $100,000 fence system does nothing and all I can see he's done to fix the block is put up the rumbling floodlamps.

don't look into the light

The all night long noise of this generator is getting tedious. This floodlamp does two things: One, it discourages drug customers. That's a good thing. Two, it aggravates insomnia. That's not so good. One night a couple weeks back, about 2am, I couldn't sleep. Seemed the only thing I could hear was the generator. It occurred to me it was an insidious plot by police brass to drive out the guy who complains to commissioners and majors and mayors. I get testy when I'm tired.

The floodlamps clearly do not discourage dealers. They simply hang out near the school fence at night. During the day, they congregate next to the crack house slum that is 1700 Madison, successor to 1704. Directly across the street from the school. Another absentee landlord who does not give a damn because he doesn't live here.

The "developer" selected for 1704 Madison Avenue called to ask if I could help him get the owner occupant requirement taken out of his deal with the city. Imagine the expression on my face as I stood in the yard looking at the former crack house and heard this. He blamed his bank, Mariner, I think. Such a community building organization, obviously. The bank would prefer to be able to chop that nasty crackhouse into three or more pieces he could rent out to the denizens who would be willing to live here so they could all make money. This is the same developer who has told me his interest is in helping this block. In the next breath, he said if he could not double his money, it would not be worthwhile. Why did the city not choose the two guys who wanted to put their parents in the two upstairs floors and put an apartment on the ground floor? Why was a developer chosen behind closed doors by bureaucrats with no grasp of the dynamics of this neighborhood and who did not want to hear what the neighbors had to say?

We've declined the offer we had pending for the house. Now there's another. We'll see. For all the trouble, leaving here would be hard. What would I have to gripe about? What use would this website have? What would I do with all the free time I'd have if I wasn't calling and writing police, council presidents, sanitation enforcement, etc? How boring it would seem to look out the window in a neighborhood where there were no regular crackheads or dealers or floodlamps, ambulances or police officers. How would I indulge my righteous indignation habit? My God, it boggles my mind. <g>


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