Saturday, August 11, 2018

We interrupt this Civil War blog with reflections of Nashville

A scene in Nashville, 2018. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
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Like scores of other American cities, Nashville eagerly erases the past and puts on a shiny, new face. Within yards of my apartment building, three hotels are quickly rising, the tatter of their construction  the background noise of life soon after sunrise. “They call it the ‘City of Cranes,’ " a Lyft driver told me as we glanced at the skyline one afternoon.

But amid honky-tonks and tourists on Broadway, the impressive Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum at the corner of 5th and Demonbreun and partiers chugging beer and swaying to music on the obnoxiously slow Pedal Taverns in the arts and entertainment district, another Nashville exists — a city hidden in plain sight.

You’ll find the "Other” Nashville gathered in a small park, just down the street from the grand, old Hermitage Hotel; sitting on a bus stop bench opposite a Panera, wrapped in rags and garbage bags; and near the gloomy underpass at an I-40 exit, holding a plea for help. Impossible to miss but largely ignored, the many homeless of this booming city carry on with vacant stares or pleading eyes.

How can this be?

In America?

In 2018?

Each Wednesday morning about 11, the "Other" Nashville gathers outside the back door of a Lutheran church on 8th Street. “Good morning, brothers and sisters,” a volunteer says before entering the building. “God bless you.” The words are heartfelt but perhaps ignored. Marijuana smoke wafts through the air.

In the basement in the church kitchen, lunch is prepared for the "Other" Nashville” by volunteers. Chicken, cabbage, mashed potatoes and banana bread — all donated -- are the fare this day. Eager for a good meal and a cool place to rest, the city’s unfortunates sit at tables in the basement. Some shower in a small room or clean their clothes in the lone washing machine. Others stare at a TV playing a videotape of Forrest Gump. Each has a need — and a story.

A woman says she is pregnant with her ninth child and wants a ride to the doctor. (Sorry, no rides available here.) A man asks for a pair of pants. Another wants a plastic bag for his meager belongings. “I need some soap,” demands another. A small man with a gray beard and bedraggled clothing wants hot water put in a plastic cup for his cereal. Others ask for toothpaste.

Plates of food are scooped up by the "Other" Nashville as soon as they are served on a small table near the kitchen. Some ask for seconds, and they all are accommodated. A California native with long, slick hair — homeless for years, he insists — praises the volunteers. “What a meal,” he says after he's done eating. Asked what life is like on the streets, he says he has no worries. A prayer is offered for him anyway. A woman with interesting tattoos and a purple streak in her hair thanks a volunteer, who offers her a firm handshake, a blessing and good vibes. And so it goes ...

Obsessed with the scourge of poverty and hunger in the United States, Robert Kennedy visited the downtrodden of eastern Kentucky 50 years ago, months before he was assassinated. “They’re desperate and filled with despair,” RFK told a television reporter of his visit, according to the Washington Post. “It seems to me that in this country, as wealthy as we are, this is an intolerable condition. It reflects on all of us.”

And so, too, the "Other" Nashville reflects on all of us today. In America, in 2018, it shouldn’t be this way. The need is great. Do what you can to help.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

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