Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's not the panhandlers keeping people away from 9th St.

Some tell me 9th Street is my second home.  I make my way over to the Bean Traders everyday to drink tea of coffee, sit on that amazing leather couch and write until I can’t take it anymore.  I go because of the people there.  Sarah, Sydney, baristas at Bean Traders, and the rest of the gang are like family to me.
I also go because of the panhandlers on 9th Street.  I’ve built a bond with Slim, Concrete and the others who hang out hoping to pick up bits of change from those willing to rid themselves of a buck or two.  Each of them blends in with the rest who come hoping to see a familiar face.
My time on 9th Street inspired me to use my home away from home as the backdrop for the short story I wrote for 27 Views of Durham: The Bull City in Prose & Poetry.  The book features 27 writers, who in poetry, essays, short stories, and book excerpts tell the story of life in the Bull City.  Authors include Steve Schewel, Barry Saunders, Jean Anderson, Katy Munger, David Guy, Ariel Dorfman, Pierce Freelon, Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, Andre Vann, John Valentine, Shirlette Ammons, Jim Wise, and others.
My contribution is titled Home is a Cup of Coffee. It’s a work of fiction that tells the story of one of the homeless missing during cold weather.  Customers at the Bean Traders are concerned as the weather worsens.  It’s a story of love and support that transcends economic barriers.  The care for the panhandlers on 9th Street is one of the things I love most about living in Durham.
So, when I hear that business owners on 9th Street claim potential customers stay away because of the panhandlers, I’m forced to object to their claim.  I’m told it’s the topic of heated conversations during those meetings held by business owners designed to fix community problems. 
Those disgruntled by the assumption of panhandler sabotage need to take advice from those who hang out on 9th Street.  We’re not concerned about Concrete and Slim.  Few people stay away from 9th Street because of panhandlers.  If a business is not making a profit, it could be because of what they have to offer. 
I love Vaguely Reminiscent.  It’s the place I go whenever I want to pick up a gift for Connie.  They know her taste, and whatever I get makes her smile and gets me out of long periods in the doghouse.  The ladies at the store always greet me with a smile. 
I love picking up books at the Regulator.  I get a good feeling when I support a locally owned bookstore.  Besides, the always keep a stack of my novels (Preacha’ Man & Backslide) on hand for those who want to read the story of the Preacha’ Man.
I’ve noticed Hunky Dory while making the quick walk to Chubby Taco to pick up a shrimp taco, but I have no desire to go in.  It’s an old school head shop, and, given my past, I stay away from places that remind me of getting high while listening to Jimi Hendrix.
I love Ox & Rabbit, but my desire to reduce my midsection forces me to fight the urge to get one of those floats every time I pass the place.  It takes prayer and dedication to fight the temptation.
I’m troubled that Francesca’s has decided to leave 9th Street after so many years.  My love for their homemade ice cream stacked on top of lemon pound cake used to be part of a weekly tradition.  I miss those Sunday evenings when I would go there to celebrate a day of worship.  I had to let it go.  Help me Jesus.
I do miss Specs and George’s Garage.  Other changes are coming that will alter life over on 9th Street.  New construction will change that small community vibe that draws hippies and bohemian types. For now, there’s enough to keep me coming back, but with the revival in downtown Durham and the Brightleaf District, it’s not the businesses that have me there every day.  It’s the people who meet me there. 
So, business owners may want to reconsider blaming panhandlers for the decline in their business.  I suggest they rethink their plan to get greater police presence to rid the street of my friends who share the place I love so much.  I can’t speak for other customers, but I’ll be certain to find a more affirming place to get my coffee and tea.
Home wouldn’t be the same with Concrete and Slim9th Street isn’t 9th Street without reminders of those who need a helping hand.
That’s what it means to be community.
Book launch will be at 7:30 on Thursday, Sept. 27th at MOTORCO (732 Rigsbee Ave.) Sponsored by the Regulator Bookstore. 
7 Views of Durham
The Bull City in Prose & Poetry
Introduction by Steve Schewel
Eno Publishers
$15.95 paperback
6 x 9        
240 pages
Fiction | North Carolina | Poetry


  1. Nice that you have a 'relationship' with the panhadlers. I wouldn't say they keep me away from 9th St, but I do find them a big turnoff. I really don't want to waste time having a conversation that is strictly about asking me for money. Alternatively, I have to be a little rude to say that I'm not interested in having a bullshit conversation or shaking a hand. I do not want to support someone whose 'job' is bothering people.

    1. The word is HELP and maybe you have not ran across HARD TIMES you will one day with that attitude .Mr not interested in a bullshit conversation not to want to shake a hand , beside in these days we don't shake hands we give them a pound or some dap go figure .

    2. The regulars that are charismatic make that stretch of pavement more than just another road. I genuinely enjoy Slim's loud greating from a half a block away. True, sometimes Concrete can be hard to follow, but I'll never forget overhearing him tell my wife to let him know of anyone bothered her while she was out on 9th. I may be wrong, but it would seem to me that a person that can't bother with a few coins for these guys has other problems to work on. Again, my opinion, but if you're deterred by them; then you probably don't "fit" there to begin with.

  2. Parking is the issue for those not within walking distance.

  3. What a crock. Maybe we should sit around the fire and sing "Kumbaya." Have your wife constantly insulted with explicit, dirty comments, and see what you think. Have patrons of these independent businesses, admittedly, not come back because of them being constantly harassed for change and having to hear BS stories about needing to get their prescription filled, or needing 2 bucks to put some gas in the car. Giving any of them spare change isn't helping. It's giving them the money for their Colt 45s and Malt Liquor Bull. I've been without a job, and I didn't go around asking for a handout. These folks have been out here for years - move on!

  4. It's a mixed bag. When I lived in Athens, GA there were several panhandlers that I found entertaining and intriguing. However, as I've grown older and become more responsible, working harder for my dollars and sacrificing more of my time and energy to making a living, I become frustrated by someone asking for handouts. I understand hard times, and I understand help, and I can't say for sure what I would do if I were in their very shoes, but I can say that, these days, I tend to stay away from areas with panhandlers for many reasons: don't have money to give out, don't like the unpleasant feelings that encountering panhandlers rouses (this is my own shame and fear, I know, but I'm being honest), don't feel that it is the solution, and thus don't want to encourage it. Businesses have to keep their bottom line in mind and, while local patina is fantastic, anything that discourages new and repeat business should be analyzed an discussed. Glad to find your blog- I really enjoyed this article.