EAST LIBERTY DOESN’T need the Martin Robinson Express Busway. It’s for the commuters who come in every day from Penn Hills and sit in front, hiding behind their Post-Gazettes, their briefcases balanced across their knees. When you get on, their eyes brush up against you, then dart off like scared little fish. They might notice your suit is just as fine as theirs–probably even more styling–but then they look away, and you aren’t there anymore. No one saying a mumbling word. Seats all taken like they got on in twos, driver switched them in like a herd of turkeys can’t think a lick for themselves. Goddamn. 1998, and you’re back in the back of the bus, seats underneath you hot from the big diesel, lump of nasty duct tape grabbing at your slacks.
What East Liberty wanted was a new community center with a clinic. The old one’s small and falling apart and just lost its funding. What we need is a good clean place to take the babies, some after-school programs for the young people.
But that got voted down in city council. The ballots fell by color lines, paper said–not a surprise, especially the way they said it. A Black thing, all your fault, like you were asking for something no one else has. It was predictable, that’s the sad thing; even the good Jewish liberals in Squirrel Hill are pinching their pennies these days. Taxes this and welfare that, like they gonna starve or something. Let’s not even talk about them simple crackers out past that.
There still had to be some way to get some money into the community. That must have been what Martin Robinson was thinking. You voted for him–have your whole life–so who are you supposed to blame? And the money would come in. Half the contracts were supposed to go to local businesses, and Martin made sure that happened. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the Martin Robinson Express Busway basically stops all traffic–white and black and otherwise–from coming through the business district. The way the city council and their planners drew up the project, the busway effectively cuts East Liberty off from the rest of Pittsburgh. State money but they made a deal, took his own bill out of Martin’s hands. Two busy bridges had to go (crowds gathered to count down the perfect explosions), and South Highland had to be rerouted around the business district (meaning the dead Sears there, you understand). So if you ever wanted whitefolks to leave you alone, you ought to be happy now.
Probably would be if it wasn’t for the money. And the services too, you know. It’ll take that much longer for an ambulance to get over here, and you think that’s a mistake? Fire engine, police when you need them, gas and electric in winter.
And then they name the thing after him. Good man, Martin Robinson, not one of those sorry-ass Al Sharpton, greasy-hair-wearing, no ‘count jackleg preachers with five Cadillacs and ten rings on his fingers and twenty lawyers playing games. Martin’s got thirty years in the state house, might be the best man to come out of East Liberty, definitely the one who’s done the most for the people. Come up on Spofford, regular people, raised right. You ask Miss Fisk, she’ll tell you. Old Mayor Barr who called out the Guard on us in ’67, he got a tunnel named after him, and Dick Caligiuri, the poor man who died of that terrible disease, he got the county courthouse. Martin Robinson deserves the new stadium, or maybe that community center we need, something positive, not some raggedy-ass busway. It’s plain disrespectful.
Thing has been bad luck from the jump. Martin passed this bill so they had to build walkways over top it so the kids can still get to the park. City council said they had to be covered so no one could throw nothing at the buses–concrete blocks or whatever. While they were building them, at night the kids would climb up there and spraypaint their names. It was a game with them. I’m not saying it’s right, but kids will do that kind of mess, that’s just the way they are. What happens is one night these two youngbloods get up there in the dark and everything half built and something goes wrong, way wrong, and it ends up they fall off, right smack down in the middle of the busway, and one of them dies. Miss Fisk’s grandson, it was, so it hit everybody the way something like that does. Seventeen years old. Other child ends up in a wheelchair, for life they say. Another young black prince. Just a little blip in the paper, not even on TV.
And that’s nobody’s fault, I’m not saying that, but damn, it seems like that kind of thing happens around here all the time. Here’s two kids who just needed a place to do their thing, and we don’t get that, so there they go doing something foolish and it all turns out wrong.
I don’t know, I just don’t see the dedication of this busway as something to celebrate. I understand everyone wants to represent, you know, and show love for Martin. I got more love for Martin than anybody, but all this drama, I don’t know. The thing’s a month away. It’s like those people get all excited about Christmas when it’s not even Halloween.
I understand. It’s a big day for East Liberty, all the TV stations will be here. Put a good face on. I’ll be there, you know I will, cuz, but I’m just being straight with you, it’s not all gravy, this thing. Everything comes with a price, and too many times that price is us. I’m getting real tired of paying it, know what I’m saying?