now playing: matt sevier, “the hills above wilshire”

last night, a little past midnight – after watching the broncos upend the colts and being subjected to the whinefest that is peyton manning not getting his way, i was standing on penn avenue, waiting for the tow truck to come and retrieve my ailing van from the parking space we’d managed to glide it into at the point it decided it had had enough late saturday night.

i live in west reading, pennsylvania…across the schuylkill river from reading, a city i have decidedly mixed feelings about. i’ve lived there before, lived there for a big chunk of the six years that have elapsed since my first marriage dissolved. not long after i moved into my first apartment there, i bought a bicycle and used to take a lot of joy in riding around reading late at night, when the city was largely quiet. for a city with such an urban persona, reading was largely subdued in the wee hours when you’d expect to see the symptoms of unrest. there were the occasional clusters of ominous-looking characters here and there, but usually nothing more menacing than that.

granted, my van and my apartment were broken into, and someday i’ll tell that story in its entirety here…but for the most part, i never experienced any serious hostility during the time i lived there.

reading is a city that seems to be falling down around itself with a whimper.

those in position to create the illusion of trying to salvage the city are doing just that – creating an illusion. the new civic center project spent a lot of the city’s money and hasn’t made much back, and most of the projects of that nature seem to have been conceived to put money into people’s pockets, as opposed to contributing to the community. the community itself is largely apathetic about its fate, almost resigned to it in ways. reading has a huge welfare roll, and exacts a serious tax toll on anyone foolhardy enough to invest in property there.

as was pointed out in an alternet article that i posted here before, reading is on track to become the first latino majority city in pennsylvania, with numbers that already total forty percent of the total population. many of the people who decry reading’s apparent fate cite this as the reason. i think that’s bullshit. an easy answer, an easy target, but a smokescreen.

during the depression era and the period after, reading was a town of collected neighborhoods – the polish section of town, the italian section of town, and so forth. at that time, it was all understood and accepted that this was the way it was. the “wops” lived here and the “pollocks” lived there and that was the reality of it. so maybe it’s not entirely surprising that the separatism that existed then has endured and manifested itself into a general mistrust of the latino community. not entirely surprising, maybe…but sad, nonetheless.

what’s happened in reading is happening in cities across the nation – fear is driving affluence from the cities and leaving dilapidated buildings and demoralizing fates in its wake. someone on NPR referred to it recently as ‘white flight’…i’d never heard that term before, and it’s chillingly fitting.

west reading, where i ended up after looking for a house big enough to hold my stuff (at that particular point in time), is a few and a million miles away from reading. as i stood there on the sidewalk last night, it was so quiet that i could hear the sound of the television from one of the upstairs apartments across the street from where i stood. i’m not sure what reminded me of it, but i thought back to my later teenage years at home in savannah, tennessee, and how quiet it used to be there when i’d go for walks through town.

the truck came eventually, and we strapped the van to the back and he made his way off into the distance, and i began the short walk home…

…it was so quiet you could hear the buzz of the traffic lights.

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