WHERE AM I ? by Brian Roper

Posted: April 9, 2006 in Best of file 23, The Roper Files

7th st one.jpgHELP! I’m lost! I don’t have the foggiest notion where I am. I just “borrowed” a newspaper from someones’ lawn; it says FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM on the front page.Fort Worth? That’s where I “grew up” My hometown. But I recognize nothing. There’s not a trace of my childhood left anywhere. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Zero.Let’s backstep. It’s Christmas 2005 My friend Baird Blanton and I are driving down Camp Bowie Blvd.; Fort Worths’ main drag. Baird’s from here but lives in Austin. Looking out my passenger window, he comments on how much has changed. I respond by telling him I LIVE here and I don’t recognize the damn place.And it’s true; I don’t. Almost everything with the exception of the church my mother attends is gone. My parents first house is a parking lot now. Going to the movies is an early childhood memory; every theater I ever went to as a child is gone now.

They bulldoze everything in this town and I swear 90% seems only to aggravate people like me. Recently the 7th Street theater was leveled despite attempts to contact an unresponsive realtor (someone wanted to make a live venue out of it like the Ridglea Theater) They left a burned-out used clothing store next door stand for months afterward but hey, they got rid of that eyesore 7th Street Theater. And now its…a vacant lot.

I’ve lived at my current location for eight years. In that time two fifty-year-old grocery stores have been closed and replaced with drugstores. Which is fine if I need cough drops, but if I need food I’ve got to drive miles out of my way now. Three gas stations I’ve used since I was a teenager have been closed and replaced with nothing. No less than three nearby laundrymats have been closed; now I’ve got to drive miles to wash my sheets. There’s only one DIY carwash close by and it’s fixing to meet the wrecking ball. There’s only two restaurants fit for human consumption within walking distance of my apartment. One is a cafe that’s closed in the evening and the other one just got bought out by someone in New York who’s going to turn it into a bar, so two months from now no more walking up the street for a steak. (my idea of exercise )

A neighborhood that becomes less and less “neighbor-friendly” with each passing day is NOT a neighborhood. This is community? F*** you! This is horse-shit!

Yardless McMansions. Condos no one I know can afford to lease. Narrow streets lined with cars because there’s no place for their guests to park, making every intersection dangerous to cross. A once-familiar skyline obliterated by a wall of look-alike townhomes. The half percent of our population who own everything see progress; I see a spreading cancer. A tumor growing like the Blob. Soul-less pseudo-cities devoid of character or any individuality. A colossus of conformity. The slums of the future.

My mind wanders back (as it tends to do instead of shutting down entirely) to a simpler time. I’m riding in the back of my fathers’ battered blue Volkswagon. Mom and Dad commandeer the front. We’re going to the Parkaire drive-in. My parents had uh…eclectic tastes in films. Cat Ballou. Ballad of Josie. Yours Mine and Ours. Sands Of the Kalihari. Mail Order Bride.

No matter; popcorn and movies under the starry Texas sky on a hot summer night was real fun for me. When I was older I bought a pickup truck for the sole reason of being able to back up to the screen and live the HOLY experience of sitting on the tailgate and watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on that 50-yard screen up with the starry Texas sky as a celestial back-drop.

All the drive-ins are gone now. The last one to close, the Mansfield is a church now. ( Is nothing sacred? ) Prior to that was the Cherry Lane Twin ( now a Sams/Wal-Mart complex ) The only ones that have any trace left are the Fort Worth Twin, whose screens are partially obscured by 28-year-old trees and the Meadowbrook on the opposite side of I-30 which is currently being used as a storage facility by Waste Management to store trash dumpsters. Driving by and seeing row after row of dumpsters instead of cars in front of the screen gives new meaning to the term “trash cinema” The entrance to the Fort Worth Twin has been bulldozed so that you would need a good “off-road” vehicle to access it. It’s also an open campground for the loonies they won’t let in the homeless shelter up the street, so going in there is dangerous and ill-advised.

Oddly enough, many of the multi-screen theaters that helped put the drive-ins out of business are out of business now. I can think of at least four that were amongst the first in Fort Worth that are self-storage facilities, or just boarded-up period. Victims themselves perhaps of cable and satellite tv, improvements in home theater, or both.

On the South Side of Fort Worth were both my grandparents house off Morningside Drive and a bit further down I-35 was Seminary South, a pivotal shopping destination of choice for anyone in North Texas for years. My grandparents house was on May Street. The last time I drove down May St. looking for it angry-looking Latino teenagers stood around in groups and dog-eyed me as I drove down “their” street. Who was this gringo driving slowly down “their” street?

Seminary South has lost all its major retailers, changed its name and now is a sad mess of 99-cent stores, Latino clubs, a Latino cinema and a liquor store. It’s also worth mentioning that wearing the wrong color clothing (red or blue, for example) can get you shot or stabbed by one of the local gangs who loiter there.

Many historic parts of Fort Worth have either become “bad” neighborhoods, or in some cases they seem to think that if they simply keep paving over everything the legions of homeless people will simply go away or morph into Starbucks managers or something. Attempts to gentrify the outer edges of downtown are comical at best. I see them building expensive-looking condos in parts of town I wouldn’t feel safe walking around late at night. Like I said earlier, the slums of the future…

Call me a pessimist, but it’s not an encouraging sign when I see chains like K-Mart, 7 Eleven or Taco Bell pulling up stakes and leaving Fort Worth. Despite their expensive-looking ad campaigns on tv, there’s not one Burger King in Fort Worth. I don’t exactly bristle with confidence about the economy when I drive down the street and have to look at Spanish billboards. Besides not enforcing the immigration laws, the government has allowed Texas to become another slummy suburb of Mexico.

The TABC have time to bust people (with rooms, as in “not driving”) in hotel bars, but they don’t do shit about the Mexican flea markets where 24oz malt liquors are sold for a $1. You don’t think a few people are weaving out of there after a few too many cervezas?

Of course all this is so politically incorrect. Anyone who brings this up or points it out (like me, for example) is a racist bastard SOB blah blah blah…of course if the truth was told in schools, the kids would learn that Mexico surrendered Texas. We didn’t “steal” it from Mexico, nor would we be the first country on earth to “take” land from another even if we did. It would also be interesting for kids to learn how many “rights” non-citizens have in Mexico ( try NONE ) but of course that would be too politically incorrect to teach THAT in schools, wouldn’t it? Before you call me a racist bastard, Google the Web sites for MECHA or LA RAZA, who besides advocating the violent overthrow of the US Government also call for the extermination of all white males over 16(!) So watch who you call a racist, friend, I aint shit compared to these pricks.

Me? I’ve got friends of all colors. I consider myself neither wigger nor redneck. I just happen to be white so treat me nice and I’ll reciprocate. I’m not a monster, dammit.

There’s tons of hate in the world and believe me I’ve done my share of it, I assure you. But I try as hard as I can to get along with everyone, and this too has got me in trouble before without even trying. But I just keep on trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of being angry. It saps a lot of creative energy from me, like a vampire or a leech. I would rather funnel my energy into the verbal tripe you’re reading now instead of trying to figure out how to get even with some asshole…

And it’s funny (almost) how I can get backed into that corner so easily. All it takes is one dickhead who goes out of his way to ruin my day and off I go.

Gonna get you! You’ll see!

And somehow this brings me full circle to my current state of malaise. Driving through a city I’ve lived in for 48 years and feeling like a total stranger. An occasional flicker of the reasonable side of my brain says: what did I expect? Statues of me lining the city streets? To which the stupid (fun) side of my brain responds: “Yes, statues and schools named after me and highways named after me and…”

Unrealistic? Absurd? Perhaps. But living in my own alternate universe is a lot less painful than driving past restaurants I can’t afford to eat at or driving past condos I can’t afford to lease or homes I can’t afford to buy or…

BR

April 2006

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