August 26th, 2020
The two of us were driving this afternoon in my 2005 Ford Focus. I had bought it from Stefan. He had completely rebuilt it from a salvage vehicle. It has a kick ass turbo, but no air conditioning. The car is blue with orange wheel rims. If nothing else, that makes it easy to find in a parking lot. We had the windows wide open as we drove through Grant Park near Lake Michigan. The breeze was blowing the young woman’s hair into her face. She kept pushing it back.
We talked about Kenosha. The young woman has a lot of experience in that town. Because she has experience there, so do I. Both she and I have had extensive interaction with Kenosha law enforcement, which makes recent events cut close to the bone.
I told her, “You know that this shit going on in Kenosha isn’t just showing up in the national news. I read the news online from sources outside the U.S. You know what the lead stories are in the BBC and Al Jazeera? The shooting by the cops in the Kenosha. Kenosha is now known planet-wide.”
She looked at me and replied, “Well, that makes the place’s rep even worse. You know what they say about Kenosha, right?”
“They say: ‘Go there on vacation, leave on probation’. That’s about right.”
We talked some more about the police in Kenosha.
I made the comment, “I guess there really is such a thing as a white privilege.”
She smiled grimly and laughed, “Damn straight.”
Then she asked me, “Do you know how many times I slipped off the handcuffs in Kenosha?”
I paused and said, “I probably don’t need to know.”
She was on a roll, and said, “Twice.”
She looked ahead for a moment and then she asked me,
“What do you think would have happened if I was a black guy and had done that?”
I had no ready answer.
She did. “Probably seven bullets in the back.”
And a city burns.
Kenosha isn’t a bad place. It simply suffers from the same economic problems that other Rustbelt cities do. Kenosha used to be a manufacturing powerhouse. American Motors had a huge plant there. When I was young, AMC built muscle cars in Kenosha, and the company employed throngs of people. Now AMC is gone, and so is a lot of other industry. However, the people remain, and they long for the good jobs that were there.
Kenosha, like other cities on Lake Michigan, is hollowed out. The area right next to the water is beautiful, and it is prosperous. Go a few blocks to the west, go inland, and things change quickly. Poverty becomes apparent. It is only several miles further west, near the freeway (I-94), that business picks up again. The old part of Kenosha struggles. I know this because the young woman riding in my Focus lived there while on probation.
There are places in Kenosha that I really like. My wife and I enjoyed going for breakfast at The Daily Dose Café. It was/is this microscopic coffee shop that served awesome focaccia. Kenosha used to have a heavy Italian influence, and it still shows up at times, especially in the food. The waitresses at the restaurant often wore Daily Dose t-shirts that said on the back: “Yes! I would like a double espresso vodka Valium latte!”
I also loved going to Frank’s Diner. That is a place near the lake that has specialized in soulful breakfasts since the 1920’s. It is built inside of an old railway car. They only take cash there. The employees are friendly and helpful in a slightly obnoxious sort of way. I had one guy come up to our table and say to me, “You need more coffee!” He brooked no contradiction, and filled my cup.
Ah, but my mind wanders. I shouldn’t reminisce while a city burns.
It is hard to read or watch the news, and to recognize buildings that have been damaged or destroyed. It is not that property has more value than human lives. It is just that I know these places.
Hans called me later today. He just finished a 18 hour shift, pumping concrete in eastern Texas. He sounded very tired, and he was just waiting for the hurricane to arrive.
We talked about work. We also talked about Kenosha.
When I spoke with Hans, I mentioned that punk kid from Illinois who decided it was a good idea to to go to Kenosha and fire up a couple guys. I was a bit irate.
Hans took a drag off his cigarette and said, “Well, Dad, if you look at the video of the shooting, those guys attacked him. He fired in self-defense.”
I replied, “That fucker shouldn’t have been there at all.”
Hans paused, “Well, yeah, that probably wasn’t a good idea. But he still fired in self-defense. I mean, he’s still going to get charged, but it wasn’t really murder.”
“Two guys are dead.”
“I know that, Dad.”
Hans thought for a moment and said, “I support police who are not criminals, and I support protesters who don’t loot and burn.”
It got quiet on the phone for a bit.
I told Hans, “I agree.”
Meanwhile, Kenosha burns.
What do you do when you see both sides?