Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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LONSBERRY: THE WAR ZONE ON NORTH CLINTON

        First I ran out East Main to see the old boarding house by Jim’s. There was an excavator atop the rubble pile, tamping the beams and wallboards of a hundred years ago into a big scrap trailer. The first arson hadn’t worked so they hit it again, setting fires throughout, and it was so dangerous they pulled the firefighters out and let it burn. It was the usual smell of a house fire with the added acrid, gagging stench of filth.

               As I ran past Jim’s and looked in the windows I didn’t see anybody I knew.

               It was 93 degrees.

After an hour at the headshrinker’s, I ran over toward the Public Market and went north to catch Pennsylvania Avenue, where coming up on a couple of years ago they were having a party and the guns came out and 16 people were hit. The two who died were young and beautiful, a boy and a girl, new graduates, just starting life.

I had a $20 bill in my pocket and I wanted to get to Clinton to get some takeout from Rafael at RR Spanish food, but as I turned onto Clifford headed west in the distance I saw flashing lights, emergency vehicles, but I couldn’t make out what they were. If they were fire trucks it was a wreck or an EMS call and they would probably be gone by the time I got there. If they were police cars it was anybody’s guess but if they were still there it probably wouldn’t be a good sign.

The first ones I came to were troop cars, blocking Clifford. I asked some folks on the corner if they knew what was going on then I ran north and went left and then left again and came south on Clinton toward Clifford where there was police tape and cop cars everywhere. They were clustered at the place that used to be a McDonald’s and that was bad but I couldn’t see the command van or the medical examiner so that was good.

I took some pictures and worked around, running behind the towering basilica of St. Michael’s, a mute testimony of Christ in a lost world, until I came to where the reporters were clustered along the tape as it crossed Clinton south of the huddled cops. I looked for Bello but he’s on vacation and I couldn’t see anyone from the chief’s office and you don’t want to ask random cops what’s up because it just gets them in trouble with their bosses so I stood there for a while at the tape.

Chase, the new guy from Channel 13, was there, and I told him he was doing great and I really liked him as an anchor. Geoffery strutted up with his PRESS vest on looking pretty impressive. A few minutes later he was doing a standup for his iPhone. The cameraman on the end told about how the ladies at El Pilon Criollo call him “Papi” when he stops for lunch.

There were several young men standing behind us in the shade of a building. I walked over to ask if they’d seen anything and they recoiled with fear in their faces, saying they didn’t want to talk, or more likely they didn’t want to be seen talking to a reporter or a cop or anybody. I went down half a block to the Father Tracy center and knocked on the locked door and when the lady came I asked if Rudy was around. She led me to the rear, outside the building, where he was cooking for a later event. Wings and pork steaks and the smell of grilled meat, in the heat of the avenue, and Rudy had a lot to say that probably he ought to be the one to say. About the politicians and the pastors and the bishop and about how nobody gives a damn. Day after day after day. Five people shot within sight of his front door in the last 12 or 15 hours, two of them dead and one of them only barely alive.

I knew Father Tracy and 30 years ago, in his little office next to the big church, we’d sit and talk about the avenue, him telling me who was who and what was what, the strengths and the weaknesses and what he was doing to help. It was simpler then, and a hell of a lot safer. There was poverty, and there was crime, but there wasn't savagery, and there was often love.

Earlier in the day I had gotten a text from a man who, as a teen-ager, had been mentored by Father Tracy and eventually encouraged by him to join the police force.

“Be very careful on your run today,” the man wrote. “This particular beef ain’t over, and there will be more shootings in the next few days."

After I said good bye to Rudy I went back to the press line, tweeted a picture, and resumed my run south on Clinton. Rafael wasn’t open, the gate was closed and locked, but the guys out front said he had just closed for the day, that he wasn’t out of business. I crossed the street to Big Mama Rose’s, where they had grilled meats out front, and where I had seen Mercedes get lunch, and I asked what they had. 

I got an Italian sausage with mustard wrapped in a sheet of foil and the man who sold it to me said, "I appreciate you," and I ran with it back toward downtown, passing the lot by the elementary school where two weeks ago a guy died and three more got bunged up when some folks opened up on a crowd of people having a party. 

And that's my report for today from the war zone, a place where good lives in the shadow of evil.


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