I especially like the “used to” part of that title! I found out about this dubious honor this afternoon as I was leaving work. I picked up a copy of the current issue of The Other Paper, and the front-page story was “The Big Casino Gamble.” If Issue 2 passes next Tuesday, there will be a casino on the site (if not the actual building) of the old Delphi auto parts plant on the west side.
Not sure how I’ll vote. I’m enough of a libertarian (the lower-case letter is not a typo) to have a laissez-faire attitude about gambling, and say that people have a right to waste their money any way they see fit. At the same time, I am enough of a Quaker to have issues with unearned wealth.
Less than a third of ZIP code 43228 is occupied. We moved there in the summer of 2000, mainly because I was working full time at Medco Health, which is four long blocks north of the ex-Delphi Plant. I wanted to be able to walk to and from work. This helped especially when I would work overtime after my normal shift; I could leave work and not have a 45- to 60-minute ride on the bus afterwards.
With Susie not quite three years old, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Lincoln Park West. Outwardly, the place was fine. The buildings were structurally sound, we liked the layout of the apartment, and there was a Meijer grocery/department store within walking distance, along with several little convenience stores.
I can’t pinpoint a specific incident or series of incidents that made me think the neighborhood wasn’t safe. We were one of the few Anglo families in the complex, and many of our neighbors were Hispanic or Somali. That limited Susie’s socialization, because we couldn’t break the language barrier. I remember one morning seeing Susie sitting on the living room, half buried in her many stuffed animals and dolls. She hugged several of them and, with a big smile, said, “These are my friends.” That was too close to the truth, I’m sorry to say.
Down in Athens, my mother had heard bad things about the neighborhood, and I remember reassuring her on the phone, “It’s 100% safe. There are cops all over this area all the time.” It wasn’t until after I hung up that I realized I probably didn’t set her mind at ease. Yet I spoke the truth. The police were out in full force the first weekend of every month, keeping parties and other activities under control.
When we lived there, the complex had a swimming pool and a small playground. One summer afternoon, I took Susie to the playground, and she was sitting on the ground and her little hand came very close to the needle of a used syringe. I bent the needle and saved it, and showed it to Lincoln Park West security, who could really do nothing. There’s really no way of knowing if a heroin addict had tossed the syringe there, or if a careless diabetic had done it, but it still unnerved both Steph and me.
While taking Susie to the pool, a loudmouthed girl of about 11 or 12 regaled me with stories about a pervert who lived in the complex. She said he had grabbed her and tried to stick his tongue in her mouth. I had reason to doubt this girl’s truthfulness, but I never felt safe bringing Susie there again.
The kids who lived in the complex were a pretty rough bunch, but they had manners. One morning, I was walking to work on Westport Rd., near where I would cut across Westland Mall’s parking lot to get to Medco. About seven or eight boys, ages six to nine, were on either side of the street throwing rocks at one another. It didn’t look like it was entirely in fun. One of the boys saw me and held up his hand, “Wait! Man crossing!” he shouted. There was a total cease-fire until I had passed, and then they resumed the battle.
In the summer of 2001, I took a part-time job in the stock room and loading dock at the Sears in Westland Mall. It led to some extra money, and the overwork and the stress of two jobs led to my first psychiatric hospitalization. When going from Medco to Sears, I could watch the decline of Westland Mall. (I thought at first that Sears anchored the mall, but this was not true. Sears predated the mall.) It seemed that every week, there would be another storefront that was deserted, another business that had folded. The only time now that Westland Mall shows any signs of life are when the black-helicopter crowd and other Y chromosome-deficient people congregate for the C & E Gun Shows.
More and more empty apartments seemed to dot the Lincoln Park West complex each month. Catholic Social Services rented several apartments as offices, mainly serving the newly arrived Somali refugees and helping them settle into American life. Machines in the laundry room constantly broke down, and management did not issue refunds. The outdoor pool seemed to get filthier as the summer progressed. One of my Medco co-workers who saw it began to refer to it as the Elephant Urinal.
We left Lincoln Park West that fall for Franklinton (The Bottoms), the neighborhood just west of downtown. This meant I had to resume riding the bus to work, but I was happy to be out of that neighborhood. I could stand working there, but living there was demoralizing.
Less than a month after I left Merck for my job with the Industrial Commission, tragedy struck at Lincoln Park West. A fire set by arsonists destroyed one building, leaving 10 people dead and over 50 homeless. All of the residents were Mexican, and the language barrier prevented them from effectively communicating with the fire department and the 911 dispatchers.