Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Projects

I was 16 when I bought my first car, so I’m not sure how old I was when this happened. I was still living at home in Soulard and working at Duff’s in the Central West End.

I was a dishwasher and my job ended when all the dishes were done. If I worked past 12:20 I was out of luck because that’s when the last Bi-State bus came that went my way. I tried to hitch, but often had to walk. I’m not sure how many miles it was, but in the winter it was awful.

I used to tell my friends I was getting a ride in a $75,000.00, chauffer-driven limousine (a Bi-State bus).

When I did get a bus, I had to take it downtown to 12th and transfer south to Soulard. The bus stop downtown was right in front of the Police Academy and main station. If I got there at 12:00 a thousand cops filled the street as their shift changed.

I was a long haired kid and extremely self-conscious. I always felt somehow illegal and the presence of all these cops was a nightmare. If you had long hair in those days you were harassed. I remember having to open my guitar case for them all the time. I’m not sure what they thought they were going to find.

One night I made it to 12th, but the bus going south never came. I didn’t want to walk from there because you had to go through the Darst-Webbe projects. No one in their right mind would do that. I decided I would. The projects were only about 6 blocks from the police station, but even they wouldn’t go near the place.

I remember coming up to the nine story structures in the dark. It should have been a movie set. There wasn’t a soul in site. Starting at 12th and Chouteau I made my way south. I got half way though and still no one. Finally, I was a block from Lafayette, the end was in site.

Materializing from the ether, I was surrounded by young men about my age. Three of the large buildings curved around us. We seemed to be in a huge amphitheater.

I can’t remember what was said, or how long it took, but they made it clear I wouldn’t be walking away from there.

This neighborhood that seemed empty was now totally alive. The windows were filled with onlookers. I heard a woman yell, “Fu*k him up!”

Somehow I found the resolve to run. The crowd behind me yelled. A wine bottle whizzed past my ear and shattered in the street.

Finally, exhausted, I stopped running. I heard laughter in the distance. I relaxed and started walking.

Just then a car with 3 red faced and greasy haired red necks pulled up along side me. One of them said, “Boy, we’re gonna fu*k you up!” I was going from one racially prejudiced extreme to the other.

Having just faced death, there was no fear left in me. I leaned into their window and said, “Don’t fu*k with me a$$hole!”

I think my behavior caught them off guard. They drove away.

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