Tag: poverty

My “local” grocery store is 2.2 miles away, or 4.5+ hours round trip by foot

April 5, 2011

According to Google Maps, I can hop in my car and get to a nice Homeland Supermarket in 8 minutes.

Lucky me.

Not all my neighbors are that fortunate, and I got a real clear picture of that last Friday.

Getting ready for fundraiser on Saturday, on Friday, which was April 1, I headed for the printer and at pretty close to 12:30 pm, on 13th Street N. just east of the 235 overpass, I noticed an older man pushing an empty shopping cart, heading west, as I was. Since I only saw him from the rear, I couldn’t discern much except that some gray hair was visible, and faded clothes. It was just a glance, and while such sights are not completely rare, for some reason I noticed him and gave him a second or two of sympathetic thought. The cart was empty, not like most homeless people, so I kind of wondered what his story was.

Then I forgot about it and continued on with my business of dropping off my last-minute print job.

At almost 5 pm, I headed out the same route as before, to pick up the job before they closed. Remarkably, at almost the same spot — a bit further east but not much — I saw a gray-haired man pushing a shopping cart eastward, this time with 5 or 6 full plastic grocery bags in the cart. I’m convinced it was the same guy, and he had just spent 4 1/2 hours (at least, since I don’t know exactly where he lives) getting groceries, probably with his monthly check. I suspect he went to Homeland on Classen and 18th; from my apartment in Lincoln Terrace, that’s 2.2 miles away. That doesn’t sound far to a car owner, does it?

If I had not had to get to the printer post haste, I would have stopped at offered to drive him at least the rest of the way to his destination, but the pick up at the printer took longer than I would have liked, and when I went back along that road there was no sign of him — hopefully because he had made it home and was resting his poor feet. As I drove slowly along 13th, to see if there was any sign of him, I imagined picking him up and driving him to the store every month. He might be a Vietnam Vet, I thought, or maybe he digs Willy Nelson, who he kind of reminded me of. Maybe he would have refused my offer, maybe it would need to be arranged to seem less like charity for a proud man to accept such a suggestion from a stranger. Maybe a local church could institute a shuttle. Well, my imagination started churning out a dozen remedies to this unacceptable situation in the city I’ve adopted and historic neighborhood I love.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in a neighborhood and city where some old man has this task to look forward to every month so he can eat on his meager income.

Now let me say that it’s great that there is an expanding and thriving medical complex two blocks from me. It’s pretty damn handy if I accidentally try to cut off my finger (which I kinda did a couple months ago, though I didn’t end up having to go to the emergency room), and it’s contributing a great deal to the economy and academic development of the city and state.

But really, how can you hold your head up as a medical community, a civic entity and a decent neighborhood when a poor old guy has to spend 4 and a half hours getting a few groceries that might last him two weeks if he’s lucky or, more likely, really careful.

You can’t, that’s the answer to that question, not while meeting any standard of civilized behavior.

Now let me say a few words about the OKC City Council. It is and has been for some time made up of probably nice enough people who think they are doing right by giving tax breaks and outright bribes to corporations and sports owners to get them to locate here or stay here. I’m sure all the people they see at church and social events they attend are pretty jazzed about their public service. But there is more to living in and managing a city than corporations and rich people who cater to them.

Maybe Charlie Swinton would feel a heart tug seeing that old guy. But would he talk about him at a council meeting and try to convince his colleagues to help a small but health-conscious grocery go up somewhere in the shadow of OU Medical Center? I can’t conjure up that picture in my mind. Not his ward, you know. There are some really good banks right there, though, he might say.

But I don’t have to use any imagination to see Ed Shadid doing that. I know for a fucking fact it would happen, and it wouldn’t have to wait for the eve of the next election when he’s looking to work up some warm fuzzies.

Ed Shadid cares about PEOPLE, and especially about the people that live in his city. He cares about their kids, and about their grandparents. He doesn’t just look at people for what they can do for him, he SEES and HEARS them and what they love, what they might fear, and what they might need. ALL OF THEM, not just those who need bankers.

Please help get Ed Shadid elected today. Somebody’s quality of life depends on it.

Correx: Added missing work to the third paragraph to make it read “NOT completely rare.”

Studs Terkel interview with Mary Owsley and Peggy Terry about Oklahoma City during the depression

November 8, 2008

Just by chance today I caught This American Life program on NPR when they were noting the recent passing of Studs Terkel by playing a few of the pieces from his radio series, Hard Times, which was recordings of folks who lived through the depression. The TAL retrospective focused on 1971 recordings from a mother and daughter, Mary Owsley and Peggy Terry, who lived in Oklahoma City from around 1931 till 1936.

I was literally leaning over the car radio and barely able to do my errands while listening, frustrated when I had to leave the car. So I am overjoyed to have found the full (?) Hard Times interviews with Mary and Peggy, and many others, on studsterkel.org. Bless the Internet!

Terkel interviewed hundreds of people across the United States for his book on the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1973, he selected several interviews that were included in his book to be broadcast in eleven parts on the Studs Terkel Program on WFMT radio (Chicago, IL). This gallery includes the interviews in those programs.

Terkel questions people about their recollections of employment problems, the crash of 1929, organized labor issues, “farm holidays” where crops were destroyed, and U.S. President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. He asks them how they managed financially and personally through the economic slump and what personal qualities surfaced as a result. In particular he seems interested in exploring the relationship between their personal plight and values and their awareness of national issues and society’s values.

Mary’s husband was a bonus marcher in 1931, and from what she says about him, he suffered from what we now call PTSD from being a machine gunner in WWI. She explained that there was a big oil boom in Oklahoma in the 20’s, bringing folks from all over to work. Then the crash came and depression went on and on as Hoover did nothing. The suffering was just horrendous, and these interviews really give the listener a sense of what it was like for the migrants, the homeless, the hungry children.

Mary and Peggy talk about not just poverty and hunger, but their personal feelings about despair, economic injustice, and racism. Their stories are so compelling and demonstrate why Studs Terkel, who understood their value and was so skilled at these kind of interviews, received the acclaim he did, in life as well as death.

But the stories are most inspiring because of the examples of kindness and community spirit that were so often found with, or maybe because of, the overwhelming want. Peggy says that there was a community garden in OKC where the residents of a Hooverville grew fresh food. And some of the better off people did share what they could. Mary tells how a black family gave them a ride, and, since they could not eat in restaurants because of Jim Crow laws, they brought food with them, stopping to prepare and eat it. When Mary describes that meal that was shared with her, you can still hear how fondly she remembers it, how good the chicken, sweet potatoes and biscuits tasted.

You know people talk with tangents that are sometimes more interesting that their main point, and in one such aside, Mary tells of being in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott, and seeing Martin Luther King Jr. being beaten on the sidewalk near the jail. This episode isn’t depression era, but helps to give you an even broader sense of her fascinating life.

Peggy (the daughter) at one point makes one of the most moving cases against racism I’ve ever heard, while recounting her own transformation in thinking about blacks.

And she talks about how much she identified with the epic story of noble migrants, The Grapes of Wrath.

… just like my life. I never was so proud of poor people before … Just reading that book has made me a better person. I think that’s the worst thing our system does to people is to take away their pride, and it prevents them from being a human being. And they’re wondering why Harlem and why Detroit and they’re talking about troops and ‘law and order.’ You’ll get law and order in this country when people are allowed to be decent human beings and be able to walk in dignity…

Well, I could go on and on, but your time would be better spent listening to the recordings yourself. The Hard Times page has many I’ll explore later, but here are the ones of Mary Owsley and Peggy Terry (they aren’t in order on the page like they are here):