The view from my window is sometimes entertaining and sometimes thought provoking. Here’s what I see when I look out from under the red awnings at the printshop on Poplar Street (brand name omitted to protect the delicate sensibilities of the franchise):
At Gralpharaphics, we call them the Poplar Park Congregation. Their membership ebbs and flows with the weather and the economy. Lately, it’s been growing. It’s not that Poor Richard really minds the congregation that much most of the time. It’s a public park and they have a right to be there. And they’ve been there or somewhere else downtown for a long time. My dad, who has worked in downtown Macon for over 70 years, knows many of them by name. They are loud, profane, occasionally drunken, and mostly harmless to others; if not to themselves.
There is an occasional preacher. There are frequent arguments and brief fistfights. If an event is upcoming, the Macon Police Department will clear them out for a day or so. When the event is over, they come back. My customers have learned to always park on our side of the street to avoid jeers, comments, and requests for money. The money is used to buy a beverages in brown paper sacks from the Poplar Mart, the foodstore on the other side of the street that sells beer by the bottle.
We’ve had occasional fun with the congregation. There was the time when beautiful wife was given plug-in air fresheners by a friend who works at a bath boutique in trendy North Macon (where the congregants dare not tread). Thinking to improve the atmosphere at the printshop, beautiful wife plugged in one of her new acquisitions in the lobby of the printshop during a brief Saturday afternoon visit. What she didn’t know was that there was a reason the trendy boutique had decided to dispose of the air fresheners at a deep discount. It was the fragrance–“Aroma de French Bordello.”
None of the printshop crew had ever worked in a bordello and they found the perfumed aroma somewhat strong for their tastes. With burning eyes, they unplugged the air freshener and transferred it to an outlet in the middle of Poplar Street Park just as the congregation began to arrive for the day. It made for an entertaining morning as we watched the members of the congregation try to identify the source of the noxious odor. One of them finally noticed the plug-in on the column in the middle of the park, and on hands and knees stuck his nose directly above the source of the smell and began to sneeze. The air freshener was removed by one of his fellow congregants, pocketed presumably to take to a location where Aroma de French Bordello would be better appreciated.
Now to the thought provoking part. The Poplar Street Congregation is indicative of a problem that is not getting any better. Macon, our lovely city, didn’t fare too well in the press last week. Forbes magazine published a top 10 article and we made #7. We’re #7 in the list of the top 10 most impoverished metro areas in the nation. That’s not a statistic that does much for civic pride. For the purposes of this short blog entry, it’s not worthwhile to go into the details of the problem . . . high unemployment, low incomes, poor education, etc. Fill in the blanks or read the Forbes article.
The causes of the problem are tough to tackle. The symptoms are visible from my window – the Poplar Street Congregation is a segment of the population that doesn’t even fall into the ranks of the unemployed. They haven’t been employed and they’re not looking for work. Goodwill, the agency whose motto is “Building Lives, Families and Communities – One Job at a Time,” used to operate the store behind the congregants. It shut down three months ago.
It seems that the Macon of my lifetime has always been a town just on the edge of getting it together. There was a time in the 1960s and 70s when we were a music mecca for Soul musicians and Southern Rock bands. We have a great university (Mercer) in town, plus Wesleyan College and Macon State. The cultural scene is really pretty amazing. As is the case in many small cities, real estate and development interests have been allowed to run unchecked, leaving areas of abandoned and decaying buildings in their wake. Before the Decession, Poor Richard was convinced that downtown was on the verge of a renaissance and that may yet be the case. There are still signs of life and a great organization (Newtown Macon) that is devoted to the restoration of the city center. But the view from my window is troublesome today.
It seems that because the causes of the problems are tough to tackle, we don’t try. It’s easier to argue, to blame political incompetence and the inability to make rational decisions on race, to pretend that North Macon is part of another city entirely, to put personal aggrandizement ahead of the best interests of the community. Or perhaps it’s easier to pretend that there are no problems, that it’s all a bed of roses. Poor Richard is afraid that the smell is more like french bordello air freshener than roses.
The Forbes article indicates where we are as a community. It is a warning of where we might wind up. It’s time to get behind the positive efforts to change Macon’s direction. The list is long: improving public schools, keeping the museum district intact, developing the College Hill Corridor, consolidating the City and County governments, reducing the number and improving the quality of our city and county representatives. It’s not impossible, though. Poor Richard is an optimist – I’m sure that there are many like me who don’t want any part of politics, but will be glad to pitch in and help if we can all work together.
I’d like to still be looking out of my downtown window in a couple of years, and I’d like to see a different scene. Instead of the Poplar Street congregation, I’d like to see shoppers and tourists enjoying the park with open stores and businesses behind them that employ people. Instead of the Poplar Mart selling beer, there will be a new grocery store to serve all of the folks who are moving downtown. Grant’s Lounge will be open every night, featuring the best Indie bands, who all want to play in Macon. It could happen, couldn’t it?