Do you see what I see? I drive this street every-day. It’s a main thoroughfare, and some call it the gateway to the city. It follows the direction of the rising and setting sun and will take you through cities near and far. As I pull out of my driveway, I look up to see the familiar green and white street signs which read East Third Street and Garland Avenue mounted on a tall utility poll. I check to make sure my seat-belt is fastened for our journey through a small section of the city of Dayton.
I head west down Third Street, the first attraction is on my right. Sam’s Market is a booming business. It looks more like it belongs on the old Vegas strip with the gaudy red and yellow palm trees on the roof and Christmas lights that glow year round. This store is flooded with traffic from those traveling by bike, bus, car, or on foot. The bell on the door rings continuously during open hours. And in this economically challenged area, it is rather sad to see those without money to spare spending their last dollar on a lottery ticket or an item that would cost half as much somewhere just beyond the patrons' reach. The trash bins outside the store reflect the purchases from within and are overflowing with recyclable plastic and tin.
I watch the folks at the bus stop leaning out into the street to catch a glimpse of the bus, tapping their feet, checking their clocks and listening for the hum. The bus rolls to a stop in front of Sam's, blocking the entrance and exit to the store as the riders jump in. The doors slam shut and the bus pulls away. One rider is running and waving as fast as he can, but he is left behind in a puff of black smoke.
Moving down the block, I am struck by the carnage left by neglect and recent fires. Houses are boarded up, condemned, and have charred remains spilling out into the neighborhood. As I drive by one particularly damaged home, I recall that someone lost his life there several years ago and the eerie shell still stands. There are broken windows and dangling boards gushing out of the side. And yet, amidst all of this rubble, the front door is painted with a single green candle and an eternal flame paying tribute to the man called to heaven on that fateful day. (**See, note below.)
As I continue down the road someone darts out in front of my car. I slam on the brakes, honk my horn and breathe a sigh of relief. I'm reminded that people walk up and down this stretch of road day and night. They pay no attention to cross walks or traffic coming their way. It is dangerous for both driver and walker. When I look to my left I see a weathered-looking man with silver hair standing at the cross walk. He is pushing a stroller. I glance over again and see a beer can is resting in the cup holder, but I'm not alarmed for this is a regular sight. You see, strollers in this neighborhood rarely hold a child. They are used to hold little treasures picked from the trash.
Down the street I see another familiar sight. It's one of the regular local hookers working her beat. She has stringy blond hair and is a bit chubby at the waist. Honing in on her eyes, I can tell she is hooking for a fix. It's not very long before a john pulls up beside her. She hops in the sputtering little car and they chug up the road. As they move out of sight, I say a little prayer for her safety that night.
Henry Tire is the landmark at the corner of Third and Findlay. Lots and lots of used tires are displayed on racks during the day and then hidden at night. Treat yourself and stop in to have a word with Henry. Henry, dressed in his perfectly pressed shirt and trousers, will greet you at the main entrance with a warm and gentle smile. Henry does business the old- fashioned way. He negotiates a cash price for new or used tires and seals the deal with a handshake. I have no doubt you'll get the best deal. Henry doesn't fool with fancy advertising. He places a hand-painted sign, complete with backward “N”s, on top of his stacks of tires. What more does he need? Henry gets his business through word of mouth. And the best part of Henry Tires...they still have free air!
Third Street is not one of those cookie cutter sterile neighborhoods like we find in Kettering or Centerville. I drive down Third Street and see a brand new house next door to a condemned house. Next, there is the old Victorian home that was once one of the grandest homes on this little piece of East Third Street. Now the windows are missing or boarded up. The door is boarded up. The paint is nearly all gone and pigeons roost on the barren roof. And yet, amidst all of this destruction there are works of art painted on its surface. The most prominent of these works of art reveals a message for Dayton of inspiration and hope. Flowers, butterflies and hearts surround the simple message in the center, “Dayton.” People in this neighborhood still find hope in the face of despair. People still sit out on their front porch with their neighbors and watch the activity. People in the neighborhood are able to bike or use their two feet for transportation to go the pharmacy, grocery, or dentist. This is but one neighborhood contained within the gateway to the city. And like our neighborhood artists, I too see potential in every block.
**Update -- I wrote this essay for my English Composition class on February 17, 2012. On February 21, 2012 this house was demolished! I could not believe it. It was as if the universe received my message and promptly responded. It made my day :)