Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Standpipe: Delivering Water In Flint

June 29, 2016.  The Garmin funnels us down this street again, the third time in fifteen minutes.   Four addresses all within a stone’s throw of each other.  I must have entered them in the wrong sequence.  Before volunteering in Flint I hadn’t much use for GPS, preferring a folding paper map.  Delivering water in Flint is feasible only with GPS, but the satellite dependent tool is only as good as the data entered into it.  Today is hot and sunny.  People are out and about, sitting on porches, walking to or from the moribund commercial strip on Saginaw.  Liquor stores, cellular phone outlets, check cashing places, hair shops.  We make small talk with a man who looks a qualified seventy.  His small house is pin neat, yard trimmed.  He retains the bearing of someone accustomed to people moving quickly to the opposite side of the street for him.  He’s grateful for the water.  Take away the grey pony tail, web of tattoos, and leathery face, he could pass for a retired economics professor who keeps his hand in a long running weekly game of squash.  We make profane jokes at the expense of the governor and legislature, wish one another a great holiday weekend.  I ease the ERV away from the curb, accelerate while my partner records the required logistical data.  Someone yells from my side of the truck.  Hey!  Hey, I need some disaster relief!  I glance back, fix the source.  Hey, could use me some disaster relief!  We had seen him on our first or second pass down this street.  Thin, bandy-legged, ropey armed, walking a swollen pit bull on a too thin lead.  Dog and owner are basking on the front steps of a small bungalow.  I slow, reverse, back up beeping five or six houses, park, step out of the truck.  Dog okay, I ask?  She won’t do nuthin’!  What can I do for you?  Ain’t got no food, no water, no money.  His darting eyes burn with high current fizz.  I open the doors at the rear of the truck, pull down four cases of water.  Where has he gotten to?  The pit is up in the driver’s seat of the ERV crowding my partner for space, pressing him against the passenger door.  The engine’s running.  I hope the dog doesn’t knock the gear shift and engage the transmission.  Eventually, man and dog retreat to the porch where I’ve stacked their water.  I tell him to have a good Fourth of July weekend and we’re gone.  As we pull away, I notice the man has produced a pair of glittering shirt board, Uncle Sam-worthy, U.S.A. opera glasses on a plastic wand.  He’s peering through the eyeholes and waving manically.  A brassy Stars and Stripes Forever played by a uniformed band from a bunting covered gazebo materialized suddenly amid the blight and ruin wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. 

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