Saturday, January 22, 2011


This is a relatively new neighbor on the block. It's an offshoot of the original shop by the same name, which is in an old fire station around the corner. This second satellite space spills out onto our block, just a short distance from a line of two-flats and single-family homes.

Now, anyone who knows me could probably predict how I'd feel about an auto-oriented business moving onto the street. More car traffic, more fumes, more honking horns and pedestrian hazards -- not the loves of my life. But after the shop moved in, they planted some trees and generally spruced up the place. I made my peace.

That was before the cars started parking on the sidewalk overnight. Before a couple of fights broke out. Before the guy with a big sign around his torso reading "Rims!" started standing in the middle of busy Fullerton Avenue, making for challenging traffic patterns at the entrance to our street. Before the long hours of noisy repair work -- far longer than those posted on their signs -- and the piles and piles of stacked tires that became breeding grounds for rats and mosquitos.

I'd had enough, so I reached out to my block group to see if anyone had similar concerns. Lo and behold, over a dozen households wrote me back, and I realized we had critical mass for some collective action. I contact our alderman, and perhaps because it's election season, he responded pretty immediately. Police officers paid two separate visits within the next 24 hours demanding compliance.

A funny thing happened, though, on the way to civic engagement. My conscience started to bother me.

I saw those guys working long hours in the cold and realized how tough it is to find a decent job in this economy. I heard from a couple of neighbors who'd had good experiences with the shop, mentioning how nice it was to have a nearby go-to if they got up in the morning and their cars wouldn't start.

I know quality of life is quality of life, but I started to feel some nagging guilt as I saw those piles of tires disappear, the parked cars disappearing from the sidewalk, and the hours changed on their sign to better reflect when they were actually doing work.

So last weekend, with John at my side, and aided by some neighbors with impressive baking skills, I headed over to RV with a thank-you note and bag of sweets, just to acknowledge the steps they've taken to improve the place. There were only a couple of guys there and a bit of a language barrier, but when they realized those treats were a gift for the shop, one broke into a smile and issued a hearty "Happy new year!" as he took a bite of a toffee-chip cookie.

Maybe this is one of those rare stories with a happy ending and slew of winners: The neighbors, who have fewer public health and safety risks to contend with (not to mention less of an eyesore); the alderman, who clearly collected a few votes with his quick response and effective action; and the shop itself, who -- aside from having Allison's cookies or Melanie's cornmeal cheese muffins to snack on -- may actually see a spike in business from nearby neighbors, who now see the shop as an ally.

It's hard for me to know if taking steps to resolve problems like this -- when there are real human beings at the other end of those problems -- is time and effort well spent, or a little too Mrs. Kravitz-y for my conscience to withstand.

One thing I do know is rather than being smug when things go your way, it's best to take the few steps toward acknowleding the people who've met you in the middle. Nope, I don't have much in common with the guys at RV, but I feel like something deeply human has passed between us.


brian said...

while my aesthetic doesn't dismiss piles of old tires and junked cars permanently parked on sidewalks, it's nice to see the neighborhood working together...especially when cookies are involved. if i throw a bunch of old bike parts in the sidewalk, do you think my new neighbors will bring me cookies?

Christy said...

Hey Brian, if you throw a bunch of *new* bike parts on the sidewalk, I'll personally bring you cookies as I'm clearing the sidewalk of your detritus.

Pete said...

Christy, you're awesome.

tracy said...

I think this story has a happy ending. Diplomacy CAN work!

leslie said...

This is such an inspiring story. Thank you!

Ms.Ding said...

Christy - good for you for surveying your neighbors to begin with and then following up with the cookies. It is amazing the diplomatic value of baked goods.