The not-so-pretty side of Downtown

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I am an advocate of Downtown Memphis. I’ve lived here 13 years, the last 12 in the same apartment, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I write about my life down here to show others all the interesting things there are to do in my neighborhood, and how easy it is to meet people and make friends. If anyone out there is considering becoming a resident of the Downtown core, my advice is “Yes! Yes! Yes! Do it!”

That said, Downtown is by no means perfect. Sometimes conditions down here provide public nuisances ideal conditions in which to operate. The following story was told to me yesterday.

There is this homeless couple that follows the same routine every afternoon. They go to CeCe’s Liquors on Madison just east of Main, and load up on cheap rotgut liquor. Then they go to Walgreens and buy bottles of tea. They pour half the tea out, and pour the liquor in. That way they can get drunk in public and it looks like they’re just drinking a nice, refreshing tea. They tend to sit on the park benches on the Main Street Mall between Madison and Union when they drink.

Yesterday the woman was out by herself on a bench near an apartment high-rise on Main. And I mean, literally, she was OUT. She was so drunk that she passed out and hadn’t moved for four hours. Business owners in the area became concerned for her health, and called the Downtown security patrol (281-9146) funded by the DMC. They arrived within minutes and advised the business owners that they needed to call 911.

So someone did, and was put on hold for eight minutes. Finally an operator picked up, and asked, “What do you need? Fire, police, or ambulance?”

“Police and ambulance,” the caller replied, and gave the nearest street address.

Not long after, the woman finally moved. She walked across the street to a garbage can in front of Felicia Suzanne’s. I should mention this was about 7 PM on a mild late summer evening, and people were dining on the patios of Felicia’s, eighty3, and Cafe Keough as this happened, and tourists and residents were walking up and down Main Street Mall. The woman proceeded to vomit in the garbage can, then fell down. She got up, went behind the can, pulled down her pants, and proceeded to urinate on the sidewalk. As she tried to pull her pants up, she fell down. She got up, managed to get her pants up, and then fell backwards, hitting her head on the garbage can, knocking herself unconscious, lying in her own urine. Now she really needed 911. No ambulance or police car in sight though.

After about 10 minutes, she came to, and walked down the street to Flight at Main and Monroe, where people were dining on the patio. She proceeded to scream at the diners and pull flowers out of Flight’s flower bed. Then she wandered down to the benches near City Market at Main and Union where she pulled flowers out of one of the city’s planters. Then she went and sat on the bench and passed out.

After 35 minutes, an ambulance arrived. The EMTs went to examine her, and miraculously she came to. She was able to answer basic questions (What day is this? Who’s the President of the United States, etc.) and so they told the caller since she seemed lucid, they couldn’t take her to a hospital against her will. She screamed at them, “I don’t want to go to the hospital! I want to go to jail!”

Finally, 90 minutes after the 911 call, the police arrived. They asked where her husband was, and she said he was in jail for beating her… matter of factly, you know, like getting beat up by your spouse is just another day at the office. Despite the fact that she had committed public drunkenness, public indecency, public urination, destruction of private property, and destruction of public property, she wasn’t taken to jail. However, the caller found out she did go to jail later that evening, having injured an officer who tried to arrest her on another matter.

Okay. I have the following comments about this.

CeCe’s Liquors. The owner of CeCe’s certainly has the right to sell whatever varieties of liquors he chooses. It’s a shame, however, that he continues to cater to a clientele that causes so many problems in the surrounding neighborhood. Quench over on Second Street has proved that a liquor store selling upscale liquors and wines is a viable business in the Downtown core.

The benches. There are business owners in the area who want to see the benches removed. I have mixed feelings about this. It’s nice that the city provides places for its citizens and visitors to sit, and the homeless have just as much right to sit there as anyone else. However, people who constantly degrade the quality of life in the neighborhood and are nothing but a public nuisance need to be provided a seat in the back of a squad car, not on a park bench.

The woman herself. There are organizations like Hospitality HUB that could help her and her husband get to a better place in life. But she has to want that help. She has to want something better for herself than passing out on a park bench every day.

8-minute hold on 911. If the caller was trying to report a heart attack, they’d be dead.

35-minute ambulance response time. If the caller was trying to report a heart attack, they’d be dead.

90-minute police response time. Shows that our police are woefully underfunded and understaffed. I used to not be able to walk from Madison to Peabody Place (4 blocks) without seeing cops on bikes, on foot or in cars.

I do want to mention that after a summary of this incident was posted to Facebook, Paul Morris who runs DMC saw the post and immediately took action. The person who reported this woman had two emails from police commanders and one from Paul Morris when he arrived at work the next morning.

Although I am pointing out a problem here, I hope this post does not stop anyone from visiting or moving Downtown. I hope the past 11 years of this blog has shown you that there are many wonderful places to visit, many wonderful things to do, many wonderful people to meet. Don’t let a minor nuisance stop you from experiencing the neighborhood I have called home for the past 13 years and intend to call home for many more. This is a rare negative post. Scroll down and you will find many positive ones.

Side note: One of those wonderful things to do is the party at the Chisca on Main Street from 4:30 to 7:30 this evening. Free to the public and a chance to mingle with some of the people who make Downtown a great place to live. I will be down there as soon as I get off work, and I hope to see you there.