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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cold Sunday Thoughts

A Neighborhood Photo Essay...

I live in a rather dismal sort of neighborhood in some ways. The majority of the people are nice enough, but it's the sort of neighborhood where the police actually TOLD me not to ask my neighbors to turn their stereo down. "We can't guarantee your safety," they said. "To be honest, we don't go into your part of town unless we have backup."

As an example of the kindness evident in my part of town, here's the local church. No sooner had they built this shining new example of Christianity, then they put up a sign keeping people out.

Here's the only flag that flies in the neighborhood. Note the barbed wire. Nice touch.

Dagmar's car after it had been egged a few years ago...

This one's kinda dark, but if you click on the picture
you can see the egg on my shiny motorbike.

I'm not saying that the City of Sioux City has abandoned our neighborhood, but I've seen a LOT of businesses pack up and leave in the past few years. Seems this area isn't conducive to business.

The Dairy Queen next door to where I work...

The old Pie Pan gas station. It had bars on the windows.
I'm not sure if they're tearing it down or rebuilding, to be honest.

This is another abandoned gas station.
Right across the street is yet another abandoned gas station.

I have no idea what used to be here, on West 7th, but it's not here any more.

This is part of an old car dealership that moved out.

Westside Hardware was a staple of the community for years. It's gone now, too.

This was, for years, a laundromat. Then it was a laundromat
combined with a beer store. Now it's empty.

If anyone out there has read my blog for long, they've undoubtedly heard my rants about grocery stores. The Hy-Vee chain bought out locally owned Boulevard Foods a few miles up the road, tore it down, and built a mega-store on that site. Then they closed down the "old" Hy-Vee that was in my neighborhood (which is where the poor and elderly shopped, by the way, as the store was surrounded by low-income apartments), forcing shoppers to either drive or rent cabs to get to their store instead of walking. A few months after the new Hy-Vee opened, our OTHER local grocery store went out of business as well. So now there are NO grocery stores within walking distance of the poorest section of town, which is exactly where people NEED a store within walking distance.

In my opinion the Sioux City city council dropped the ball on this one.
Here's an abandoned grocery store.

An abandoned car lot.

This building on West 7th has been up for sale in English, Spanish and Laotian for years.

Gregory's Rib Shack, right around the corner, went under last year.
The owner told a guy I know he couldn't compete with the two
new chain restaurants that opened in the rich part of town.

This used to be an unlikely combination of a
florist and a motorcycle shop. It's deserted now.

Here's yet another deserted gas station.

This is one of the main buildings in downtown Sioux City. There's not a single
department store left in downtown, now that J.C. Penney's and Younkers have left.
Not exactly my neighborhood, but sad nonetheless.

Back in my neighborhood again, the economic blight shows in myriad ways. From what I can tell, the vast majority of the people in the neighborhood are "working poor." I'm sure there are a good number of people that are on government assistance, but there are also a good number of people that work double shifts at the packing plant, too.

These photos are all taken from the car, or the sidewalk when I was walking to work, over the last few years. In other words, I wasn't poking into people's back yards or anything - this is what the world sees when they visit Sioux City.

This poor schmoe drove around for the better part of a year with no window.

Many houses in my neighborhood have been red-tagged (condemned) and torn down.
This one actually survived. They put a new porch on it, and it's now for sale.

Last year another neighborhood home was abandoned. A well-known slumlord
bought the place and is getting it up to code so he can rent it out.
This dumpster has been sitting on the street for almost an entire year now
The dumpster also starred in another post, well worth reading.

Across the street from work...

This lot, half a block "thick" and a block long, used to be woods. But they tore down all the trees, giving us a wonderful view of the back of this building.

There is, yes indeed, a house in there somewhere.

This is the view from the alley behind my house. (That's not my house, though.)

The same lot, as seen from my back window...

Here's the view from right around the corner of my house.
They've since cut the weeds down, but the abandoned cars are still there.

Last summer my neighbors decided to quit bagging their garbage
and just throw it out the back door instead. It was like this for weeks and

weeks and weeks... Piles of garbage rotting away.

Here's the neighborhood bar.

This guy actually mows his sidewalk.

Here's the "dumpster house," back before they put the dumpster in front of it.
I guess a nice elderly couple lived here until they couldn't afford the taxes any longe
(My taxes and insurance have gone up some $250 a month in the last seven years -
hard enough with two incomes, let alone on a fixed income!)

You'll notice in the next two photos that this guy found a way to save lawnmower gas...

The next phew photos illustrate the economic conditions of the city.

Grocery carts can be found fairly easily in my neighborhood. Many homeless people
use them to haul empty soda and beer cans to the recycling company up the street.

This is just around the corner from our house. (Again, you can click on any of these photos to see them in more detail.)

When I bought my house, there was a tree-lined babbling brook running behind the houses across the street from us. The city came in and tore down all the trees (which really gave us an ugly view of one of the busiest streets in town) and widened the creek. Supposedly they will landscape the area again when they're done, and our flood insurance will go down. I'm not one to stand in the way of progress, but I sure do miss the trees! And last I heard it'll still be five to ten years before FEMA will reassess our neighborhood to see if it's still a flood zone or not.

Here's a picture of the babbling brook as it stood a year or two ago. (It is better now, but it's still not pretty.)

This is my fence. You'll notice the neighbors have let their trees grow up against it.
The city told me there's nothing I can do about it.
The same neighbors have broken some of the boards off. I'm happy they moved away!

Here's my street. Notice the bus. A man lived in it for more than a year.

Here's the neighbor's house - the ones with the fence and the bus in front.
I'm glad they moved away!

They had this blessed basketball hoop. Not only did they have a tendency to set it up in MY driveway, but they often used our cars as backstops. I'm glad they moved away!

I was so excited the day they tore the trees down from beside my fence.
Until I saw what the trees were covering, that is. Notice the topper back in the corner...

Yes, that's a dog in there. One time the neighbors were gone for a week. They left the dog stuck in the topper the whole time.
Again, the city wouldn't do anything about it.

Doin' laundry in the 'hood.

One of the major blights in my section of town is grafitti. The company I work for has been hit six or eight times in the last year or two alone - and some of the places shown below have had it worse. Not only does grafitti cause problems with gangs, it surely depresses the people who live in the neighborhood, it costs the owners plenty of money to repair (and by city code they MUST cover the grafitti in a certain number of days), and I'm sure it's driven some businesses out of the area. They recently caught a couple guys red-handed. One of them is facing some serious fines and penalties. I thought about sending a letter to the judge asking him if I could come over and spank the lad myself before they sent him off to jail...

These next few are in the alley behind my house...

I've got about thirty photos of grafitti on the building where I work. One will suffice.
Let's just say that it happens about every five or six months...

A few more random shots of the neighborhood...

With all that said, I have to admit that things in our particular little corner of the neighborhood have improved DRAMATICALLY since our neighbors moved away. The elderly Vietnamese couple across the street have invited their son and daughter-in-law and little granddaughter to live with them again, the ladies next to them come out and shovel everyone's sidewalks when it snows, people aren't afraid to walk on West 16th Street any more.

But people are still afraid to walk on Silver Street. And Center Street.

While things are easier for the few houses around us, the situation in the neighborhood overall has NOT improved, and has actually been declining for the past seven years. Numerous calls to the police and to the city government were ignored for years (unless shots are fired the police don't come around much). The city council is now showing slight signs of awareness, but they seem intent on tearing things down rather than building the neighborhood up. Instead of rebuilding old houses and renting them to low-income families, the city simply tears the old houses down and lets the vacant lots sit there, weed-infested. In some cases that makes sense, but most of the time I really wish more of an effort were put into rebuilding...

From what I hear, most of the people around here are in the same prediciment we're in, economically speaking. An example is a buddy of mine at work. They couldn't afford a house in the city on their combined incomes, so they bought a place some 25 miles out of town and commute. But now that gas has gotten so expensive, the poor guy often has to pay for gas with his credit card, which simply puts him farther in the hole. "But if I don't buy gas," he told me, "I can't go to work to get the money to pay the credit card bills..."

It's a tricky cycle, and I've seen our local government, our state government, and most of all our federal government simply ignore the problem. And that makes me sad. It's time for a change.

To answer your questions...

I've had a few commentors ask questions in the past few posts. Herein lie the answers:

Birdy questioned if I wrote an entire post in one day. Yes. You see, I write a lot and edit precious little. Quantity over quality... While Birdy's blog is the essence of distilled thought, prose pared to perfect poetry, a philosopher's dream, I on the other hand just type really, really fast. I figger if I get enough words on the page, a few of 'em gotta make sense...

Ellie asked if Artie Lange is the very same Artie Lange that worked for the Howard Stern show. Truth be told, I dunno, Ellie. You can check out Artie's blog, but about all you'll learn about the elusive Artie is that he seems to be fairly intelligent and occasionally dresses up like cupid. He just doesn't say much about himself. I kinda wish I knew more about him, too.

Five years already

On the back of my vest I have a few patches. The big one that everyone notices is the American Legion patch that identifies me as a member of the Northwest Iowa Chapter of the American Legion Riders. I also have a few other patches - one with my "HippieBoy" moniker, my VROC number, one for the Patriot Guard, the American flag, and a map of the United States showing the states I've ridden in. But the very first patch I bought says:

"In Memory of Caleb Jeremiah Pulver,
22 Feb 1976 to 25 Feb 2002."

I never knew cousin Caleb well enough. He grew up in Spain and I grew up in Iowa. He was in the Air Force in Turkey, I was in the Army Guard in Iowa. He moved to Phoenix, I stayed in Iowa... We always got along well, and we both figured we'd have time later in life to hang out together. We both respected the military, we both rode motorcycles, and we both played bass. I think of him often. His life was short, but well lived.

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