August 10th, 2018
Earlier today, I was driving slowly south on Cesar Chavez. It was late in the afternoon. Traffic crawled. I downshifted from second to first gear. I looked up ahead, and I could that the light was still red at the intersection with Greenfield Avenue. There were about ten cars ahead of me. I probably wasn’t going to make it through the intersection when the signal finally turned green.
As I waited, I checked out the stores along the street. One of them had a flashing sign that said, “Abierto”. I tried to read some of the Spanish advertising. I know only a minimal amount of Spanish (“un poquito” ). However, I know what “panaderia” and”carniceria” mean. I like to eat, and bread and meat are of interest to me. The corner of Cesar Chavez and Greenfield is the beating heart of the Latino neighborhood in Milwaukee.
In a way it’s odd that I know this area so well, especially since the people I visit here speak Arabic. My Syrian refugee family lives only a block from the intersection. I was on my way home from a session of reading with the kids. They were glad to see me. I had been gone for a few weeks. Yasmin insisted on showing me how well she could read. Her little brother, Yusuf, sat next to her and giggled. Um Hussein brought me hot, sweet tea. Ibrahim, Nizar, and Nisrin watched TV. They didn’t want to read today. That’s okay. They will probably read the next time I come.
As I sat in traffic, I suddenly remembered a phone call I got a few weeks ago from somebody that I love. As usual, the caller was in a state of utter panic when she phoned me. It’s strange, but I am getting used to that.
The girl called me at home. After I picked up the phone, she cried out,
“I’m lost! And I have to be back at the sober living house in forty minutes, or I’ll miss curfew, and they will kick me out!”
I hate calls like that.
I tried to remain cool and collected. I asked her, “So where do you think you are?”
She yelled over the phone, “I’m somewhere in Little Mexico!”
“Okay…okay…are you outside?”
“Yeah”, she replied sobbing.
“Is there a street sign?”
“Yeah”, more sobbing.
“What does it say?”
“Hang on, let me look.” (pause) “It says ‘Scott Street’ “.
“Scott Street. I know where that is. So, Scott Street and what?”
“What is the cross street?”
“Oh, let me check…”
“Okay, tell you what…call me back when you know exactly where you are.”
“NO! Don’t hang up! I’ll ask somebody!”
There was the sound of muffled voices for a minute or so. Then,
“Scott Street and Cesar Chavez.”
“Okay, you want me to get you?”
“Can you get me to Riverwest by 6:00 PM?”
“Hmmmmm, I get you close.”
More sobbing. “Okay.”
I told her, “Just wait there, I’ll leave home right now and pick you up.”
More sobbing. “Okay.”
I was pretty stressed at this point. I told Karin that I was on a mission. I got in the car and headed toward Milwaukee. Two minutes later, my cell rings. It was the lost girl.
I answered, “What?!”
She spoke calmly, “I got a ride.”
“So, now you don’t need me?”
“No, but thanks anyway.”
I turned around and went home.
Now, whenever I am near Cesar Chavez and Scott, and I cannot help but recall that conversation. It’s burned into my memory.