Saturday, April 23, 2016

Wichita, Take a Look

I saw something today that everyone in Wichita needs to take a look at. I volunteered for the river cleanup this morning and somehow ended up under the Seneca Street bridge next to the Indian Center, where people have lived.

 I and a friend, along with other volunteers, spent 2 hours filling five garbage bags. It took so long  because we had to spend time deciding whether everything we touched was garbage or someone's belonging. Empty cigarette packs: trash. Plastic dishes: leave them. Clothes: wearable or shredded? I folded four or five tee shirts and left them on a rock next to a stack of waterlogged but still readable paperbacks (a Nora Roberts, a James Patterson, Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, and a book about the Titanic). We dug a heavy winter coat out of the bank that looked like it was in good condition, but was so waterlogged and muddy that it would've needed professional drycleaning to be wearable again. We decided to throw it away. I've spent the rest of the day thinking up scenarios that could explain the presence of a plastic dollhouse, none of them good.

All the while, we had to negotiate the boulders and rubble that cover the bank. No one is meant to walk down there, and it isn't safe. Boulders shift as you step on them. Falling on the sharp rock would mean bruises at a minimum, if not broken bones. G's foot slipped between two rocks, and there was a scary moment when I thought she had turned her ankle and we were going to have to figure out how to get us both out of there without hurting ourselves worse. There is no place where someone could stretch out comfortably to truly rest.

The rubble does serve a purpose, though. It's been stacked into small walls so each person has a semi-private area. There were four or five little "apartments" with a communal bonfire area close to the river. Clothes, particularly denim, and styrofoam along with driftwood seem to have been the main sources of fuel. There were empty Ramen packages; I hope it wasn't cooked in river water.

This is the bridge north of the Indian Center where Seneca turns into Greenway. Beautiful Riverside homes are right across the river. The Art Museum is just up the street. We have all driven along here and walked the bike paths to the Keeper of the Plains about a half-mile or so away. Of course I had heard that people lived under Wichita's bridges, but I hadn't seen it. I didn't really know what that meant.

I'm not asking you to volunteer or give money or even change your ideological or political opinions. I'm not trying to guilt you, I swear. I just want you to look, to know that this is Wichita, too.