Sometimes I have ideas and columns are easy to write. Other times, I just answer the phone, ride my bike or both.
It was a recent Wednesday when the message came.
The caller said something like “Loud music? Like it’s a good thing? You shouldn’t be encouraging these people on 14th Street.”
I called her back. She said she lives somewhere over near Niagara and Ferry.
“You haven’t heard anything. You think that music was loud? Try 3 a.m. every weekend last summer. And we can’t say nothin’ because they will shoot up our homes. Let me turn down 'Viewpoints' (1440 a.m. Tom Darro).”
I thought about it and responded.
“The loud music (at the Juneteenth fest hosted by by Trent Hamilton, Demetreus Nix and community) was too much for me,” I said. “If it was my neighborhood, I wouldn’t like it.”
Seriously, though, I thanked her for calling and for caring about her community and newspaper.
“I told my friends no one would call back,” she said. “I’m surprised you did. Thank you.”
This past Friday, at 4 p.m. I pedaled by the Entrepreneur School of Thought in time for Express Yourself Friday. Demetreus and Trent were there, as well as a host of the regulars but not Antoine.
Demetreus spoke first, about unity, family and being close to those about whom we care. His message was of hope, love and embracing family. He had a nervous, troubled energy. I don’t know the story but I felt it. “Wa alaikum salaam” as the people of Islamic faith say. Translated, “and peace be on you too.”
That’s the thing, listen, engage, and care.
I kept getting voicemails.
“There’s an accident on the Boulevard but I won’t read about it. Come on!
“How come every time I call you are busy. Is everyone always out for coffee?”
I used our phone system to find the number she never left and called her back.
She aired her grievances in full even without a poll or waiting for Festivus. I listened, agreed with most, and thanked her for caring so deeply about her newspaper.
She kicked my butt yet again.
I explained how we are staffed and that the role of this newspaper to hold the government accountable, to report on the community, and to make a difference was a sacred duty. I moved here to serve it. She complained some more.
Less than an hour later, she called back.
“I am sorry for how I came at you,” she said, or something like that.
“I am grateful you did,” I said.
On Monday morning, I pedaled over to Chiton Avenue to witness the demolition of a condemned home.
Most people were happy about it. One homeowner was nervous and didn’t want her name in the paper. She still shared useful information even if she asked me not to put her name in the paper. I was OK with it.
Then there was the day last week when a woman complained about cars speeding by North Avenue and asked me to stop for a looksee. Reporter Rick Pfeiffer was at his desk as I left.
Sure enough, the concerned mother met me on that not-so-nice stretch of street with some vacant lots, abandoned houses and lots of families. The people and children are the fabric of things. Poverty is the enemy.
Julia expressed her concerns. It seemed like there were 10 small children around as well as a menagerie of dogs and cats.
We resolved the best course of action might be to visit the city council. Her boyfriend joined in the conversation and told me the day before he’d been arrested and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct. One was for putting speedbumps in the street. The other was for the profanity he used in telling the investigating officers exactly what he thought as the cop confiscated said speed bumps.
As we spoke, his son listened intently while munching Skittles. He was friendly, polite and shared a green one with me before I left that mass of street corner humanity.
I came back to the office knowing I had nothing to write.
“I know where you were,” Rick said, “North Avenue.”
While I’d been gone he’d been working on the police blotter and my new friend’s disorderly conduct charge made it.
We are not the newspaper we once were but we have a crucial role, to hold the government accountable, to be the voice of the people and to help this city survive and once again thrive.
The truth is, as Niagara Falls turns the corner, this newspaper will rise again. My wife and I bet on it. If something different happens, we will accept the outcome but I am careful with major life decisions like moving from Clarence to Niagara Falls. Many people in our lives had predictable reactions like "what? Do you know about the crime? And that newspaper is dying." They have no idea. Then again, I always have heard a different drum beat. Zig when they zag and don't look back.
Thanks for reading.
Joe Genco is the regional news editor for the Union-Sun & Journal and the Niagara Gazette. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 282-2311, extension 2250.