Oct 272010

The beginning of a story in three places

By Danny Mayer

I noticed it a week before the WEGers arrived. The table was gone and here I was with the new “Boycott Coke During the WEG” issue, hot, weighted down with the remains of my 250 paper Downtown Drop-off 1 overburden, already running late for work and, later, for walking my equally heavy Campus Drop-off 2 route.

The table is at the Public Library’s Main Branch, located next to Phoenix Park, across Limestone along CentrePointe’s eastern block. This, too, was once a pasture birthed of sports-tourism inflected demolition, this one drawing off the other, non-equine, sporting fanaticism: college basketball, the 85 Final Four, Villanova over Georgetown in one of the all-time great upsets in college basketball history. Though the proposed World Coal Center planned for construction on the site never materialized, places like the Phoenix Hotel at the corner of Main and Limestone also never materialized after they were bulldozed down.

Now the main branch of the city library resides there, call it PhoenixPointe, along with nearly 10 stories of parking deck, and atop these a sky rise apartment complex. On the other half of the area, facing the library and apartments, the unused part of the demolished space has become, by happenstance, a public park. Today it’s primarily a crossroads for pedestrians walking from the library toward Vine Street and Limestone, apartment dwellers scurrying to their apartments or sneaking their dogs outside for a quick shit, and street communities utilizing the park as their open-air living rooms, checkers, chess and dominoes mixing with book recitations and napping and arguing and eating and chatting.

Before WEG, just inside the library, off the Main Street entrance, sit many of the city’s free publications on mostly well-tended magazine racks. Ace, Chevy Chaser, some well-ness and jobs magazines, a Lexington family magazine, the Southsider. On the other side of the foyer, facing the magazine racks, sit the overflow free literature table. Spanning an estimated five feet in length and sitting against a wall of opaque glass blocks, the table features an incredible array of free public literature: La Voz, Lexington’s Spanish/English newspaper, the KFTC produced Balancing the Scales, occasional Peaceways publication and a regular circulation of local political announcements, art happenings, announcements from Natasha’s or the Kentucky Theatre, and tax and health care help services for the working poor, most all published on low-cost DIY print stock.

This table has also housed North of Center, nearly since the beginning. Along with Tolly Ho, it remains our most popular spot. Over the past year, demand has grown there such that I must regularly replenish it with an extra 50 copies. Replenishing it three times is not unheard of. People, it seems, still come from outside the central city to pick up and check out free books at their public library.

At NoC we don’t have a print run, or volunteers for distribution, that allows us to place our papers in a wide geography: we try instead to stick to the immediate city, south to UK and North to Loudon, with a couple exceptions to define the rule. Having our papers on the table of the main branch of the city’s public library allows us to engage a new local audience. By the increasing amounts of copies taken there, some people traveling in apparently feel similarly enriched by encountering us.

Our increasing library popularity also reflects an increase in readers located very near the library. These may include those apartment dwellers dwelling 15 stories above Lexington, but it certainly has included many of the residents of Phoenix Park. I am very happy but not surprised by this. At least for the past year, our paper has been one of the few to make an honest attempt at including Phoenix Park residents into our regular coverage of the city. We are by no means perfect, but the first several issues that deal with homelessness on our front page, namely Jeff Gross’s two articles on the Catholic Action Center and on Phoenix Park, require me to do a triple re-load at the Main Branch. Gross later confirms that at least some of the people he knows at Phoenix Park grab copies at the library (along with our drop at Central Christian Church, normally part of my Downtown Drop-off 2 route).

I provide all this backstory to explain why, when coming in to drop off the 2.17 (September 15) issue of North of Center one week before WEG, I loudly screamed, “No fucking way, no fucking way,” quite loudly into the library’s entry hall foyer.

This seemed to startle the library worker who, by chance, happened to be standing next to what was left of the magazine racks, Chevy Chaser, Ace, and Southsider. Behind me, what I had seen first, was the empty space sitting where formerly the public table had been. A potted plant sat, alone, at the far end of the opaque glass blocks; its counterpart, also alone and potted, now sat where several magazine racks had formerly stood.

I asked where the table had gone, where I could be expected to put my papers. I took out my stack and waved it around. At the time, I hadn’t shaved in a while, and I only get my haircut once a year, in December (for grandma). I had also jogged this morning before my route, exchanging my worn-out jogging shoes for my worn-out Sperry Docksiders, but otherwise retaining my attire of white socks, t-shirt, jogging shorts and bandanna, all still attached to my smelly body. I probably still had my prescription sunglasses still on.

I don’t know what she thought, but she quickly made room for my papers in the empty Chevy Chaser rack, in the process explaining, somewhat apologetically, that she only knew that the table was being taken down to better showcase the gallery for any potential WEGers coming in off the street. The opaque glass blocks, it seemed, separated the foyer from an art gallery. Perhaps moving the table would clean up the place and also potentially hook WEGers into the gallery, which was showcasing a local artist. (The official reason, given by a bona fide spokesperson after I sent an email query last week, is that the library “didn’t want obstructions” during WEG. It is currently figuring out how to proceed with the now empty space created by removing the public literature table and the several unlucky magazine racks.)

I was angry. I knew my sports eventing history: a state-sanctioned, massive privatization of football services previously supplied by small-scale local workers in Johannesburg in 2010, rampant gentrification in Vancouver in 2008, large-scale homeless deportation in Atlanta in 1996. I had already read, officially, of the polite temporary removal of Phoenix Park residents from their homes here in Lexington for WEG in 2010. I should have known better. North of Center, not to mention La Voz and Don Pratt campaign sheets, flu-season cards and Kentucky Theatre monthly announcements, all of it, cleaned out for a couple of weeks while our guests were in town

With the Chevy Chaser distributing its October issue, I didn’t even bother with the 2.18 (September 29) issue, the feature headline reading “Homeless left behind in WEG planning.” I dropped off more at Central Christian and hoped at least many of them got a copy. For those others, out of towners here for the WEG, suburban patrons of the library who also picked up the occasional paper as it sat their for anyone to grab, there was nothing.

There is still nothing.

This story continues on the sports page under the article title, Common Wealth Stadium.

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