Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Standpipe: Delivering Water In Flint

Morning briefing in this windowless room.  I paw through a pile of extra-large reflective Red Cross Disaster Response vests looking for one that won’t ride down shoulder, snag going through doors.  AmeriCorp volunteers clutch smart phones, a weak gust of laughter from their table dying before infecting others.  Apple-cheeked, features soft, eyes puffy, they’re here from Springfield, MA, Sacramento, CA, Dover, DE, the Mid-Atlantic, the Pacific Northwest.  None of them would know Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from Hill Street Blues.  Hey, let’s be safe out there!  These kids drive box trucks, lug water, install water filters, enter dozens of homes every day, some in very bad neighborhoods, five days a week, week after week.  Let’s be safe out there.  The woman saying this, a Flint native, is in charge of the whole operation.  She means it.  Stay sharp; if it doesn’t feel right, drive off; and so on.  Last week two AmeriCorp volunteers narrowly avoided becoming bystanders to a shooting.  Your safety is our first concern.  My partner today, a young woman from New Jersey, says she was in that truck.  The driver took a wrong turn, a three or four minute delay long enough to miss catching a stray bullet.  We heard it, pop, pop, pop, she says.  The driver recovered his bearings, turned onto the correct street, the scene of the crime.  It was messed up, she says.  Still looking for the address the driver funneled them into a knot of people surrounding a man face down in the street.  Blood on clothing, on concrete.  It was messed up, she says again.  It messed with my head.  Are you okay, I ask?  The organization paired her with someone qualified to listen and probe, assess and affirm.  I’m okay I guess, says this in a monotone, gazing out the window.  For the next seven hours I scan the road ahead; take in entire blocks at a glance before committing to turns; listen with intent; note every loitering pedestrian; register every passing car; every porch a vantage point; every short conversation with a resident, gestures parsed for signs of heightened awareness, alarm.  This place, this moment, are we safe right now?  Tomorrow I’ll be elsewhere, miles away, heedless of the scrolling backdrop of the day. 

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