Corner of History

A corner.  Just a corner.  Not a fancy corner on a tree-lined boulevard with a landscaped median strip.  No, it was just an ordinary corner, but a happy corner that saw the sort of traffic a corner would see when bordered by busy thoroughfares.  There were streetcars, then buses, and cars, bikes, and pedestrians.  Folks waited for the bus at the corner to take them downtown or across town, to work.  Kids walked by the corner on the way to school.  In the early days, some of the older kids would shoot craps on the corner, until the storekeeper shooed them away.  Don’t you have classes, he grumbled.

Yeah, there was a store on the corner.  Not a fancy store, but just a corner grocery in a plain brick building.  Folks bought things and hung out.  Old men sat at the corner, in front of the store.  They may have gone places in their youth, but now they just sat in front and watched the world go by.  They eyed the ladies and said hi to familiars.  Or they ignored the passersby entirely, enveloped as they were in their own yesterdays.

In the early days, bigwigs even traipsed through the corner.  They were easy to spot.  They always had an entourage of fans or hangers-on or other bigwigs.  (Bigwigs liked to travel in packs.)  Usually the bigwigs did their bigwigging in some other part of town. This trip, I’m playing at this hotel or that hotel, they’d say.  But they always stayed and ate and hung out in the vicinity of the corner.  That’s just the way it was at that time.

But eventually, the bigwigs stopped coming to the corner.  Indeed, over a period of time, the corner saw less and less traffic in general.  Moving vans passed by on weekends full of stuff and the people that owned it.  They did not return.  The old men still hung out on the corner, in front of the store, but they, too, began to disappear.  They began to talk a lot about funerals.

Dirt began to accumulate on and around the corner.  The storekeeper used to sweep regularly, but he was getting older and didn’t do it as often.  The young ones didn’t seem to keen to help.  Nor did the city.

Around this time, or a little after, was when the Big Change happened.  The corner heard talk about the police and how they mistreated folks.  Then something went down on another, similar corner that got people hopping mad.  Finally, like a fire smoldering in the dark, it erupted.

Chaos.  Burning.  Shouting.  Shooting.  Running.  Smashing.  Police cars.  Fire trucks.  Tanks with armed soldiers.  The corner store where the old men hung out was gutted.  Lost forever.  The storekeeper never came to that corner again.

For days it lasted, until finally calm returned.  At first, the corner saw a flurry of activity.  Folks cleaned up, cleared the debris, swept the curb.  The shell of the old brick building, where the little store had been, was taken down.  The lot was leveled and fenced in.  Folks talked about rebuilding, a new store or a group of stores to replace the original.  Kids flocked to the corner in the early hours, sometimes before the sun woke, to catch a bus.  Their parents spoke to each other about something called Transport-A-Child, which allowed their kids to go to schools way on the other side of town, to places that did not experience the Big Change.  The program lasted for a little while, but then the kids graduated, and new ones did not take their place.  Only the nannies and cleaning ladies continued gathering at the corner, waiting for a bus to take them to the big houses across town.  The bus ran one way in the morning and the other way at night, to bring them back to the corner again.

In the end, after the Big Change, the corner wasn’t the same.  Everything it ever knew was gone.  First it lost the bigwigs.  Then many of the people.  Then the old men.  Finally, it lost the little store and the building that housed it.  The vacant lot festered, its chain-linked fence often drooping from neglect and abuse.  Sometimes kids played in the vacant lot, until a stronger fence was built around it to keep them out.  Weeds grew, nesting places for rats.  Talk of replacing the store with a new store or with a group of little stores faded away.

For years the corner remained in this state.  New events large and small washed over the corner, though none as big as the Big Change.  Until that one time.

Twenty-seven years later, the same things started up again.  The corner witnessed loud talking again about the police and injustice.  It heard about how a King had been wronged, a different King than before.  Eventually, one night in late April it exploded again, only this time seemed worse than the last.  More fires.  More shouting.  More broken windows.  More shooting.  More and more engulfed all over town.  The corner sat in dark silence during much of the tumult.  It had nothing to offer this time, other than weeds.  Though even those eventually caught fire.

When it ended, just as before, folks came out and began to clean away the debris.  The corner saw its curb swept and its burnt weeds cleared.  Folks talked about rebuilding again, but that talk was not foreign to the corner.  It had been spoken before, with little consequence.

But then something happened.  Folks kept talking.  News vans came to the corner and reported from its vacant lot.  Bigwigs returned.  It was hard to tell that they were bigwigs, seeing as they wore street clothes and helped with the clean up along side everyone else.  But they still had fans seeking autographs, the telltale sign of bigwigness.  One day a group set up a small podium with a seal in the middle of the vacant lot.  Then a huge entourage came to the corner, car after car.  They all got out and huddled around someone who stepped out of a black limo.  Did someone say the president?  He spoke about the need to rid the corner of the vacant lot and make it a community once again.  Then he hurried back into his limo and sped away.  His entourage followed.  Never before had a president visited the corner.  A candidate for president once walked by the corner, a few years after the original Big Event.  But then later that day, the corner heard talk about him having been shot dead across town.

Well, the corner had heard promises before only to have nothing come of them.  But this time was different.  This time, the fence came down for good.  Tractors and bulldozers ripped up the vacant lot.  Construction began on a new building built around a small parking lot which hugged the sidewalks of the corner.  They landscaped the corner with trees and flowering shrubs.  They built a new bus shelter, stylish and chic.  Newspaper racks returned.  The corner was rebranded:  “Central” fell off the name of its area, leaving only “South.”

When the new little shopping center was completed, it’s little parking lot was decorated with helium balloons arched on a string.  Bigwigs came and gave speeches.  Folks came out and celebrated.  The little corner was in the house!

After many years, the flowers faded and the shrubs died.  The trees were uprooted.  Filth claimed the curb again.  The corner saw tenants in the little stores come and go.  Indeed, recently it seemed that at least two of the four little stores were vacant most of the time.  The parking lot saw more business at night than during the day, business that had nothing to do with the stores.

Eventually, the corner heard the same talk again, about the police and injustice.  It didn’t hear about a King, but a Martin, a different Martin than before.

From the edge of the corner, another corner appeared within eyeshot.  A building once came close to its sidewalk, one that housed a warehouse, then a gym, then an indoor swap meet.  But it was gone now.  Instead, over its sidewalk drooped a familiar chain link fence which apparently had been there for the past twenty years.

© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.