I must say that the past few weeks have been wonderful. Uncomfortably hot, often wet, but suffused with humanity.
Ive been joined often by interns, friends, and metrojacksonville people ----which I hope and suspect will remain true for the next couple of weeks as well. They have been like travelers in a foreign land when they get here, but leave as part of the community. And make no mistake about it. Despite the slanderous and absurdly reductionist description of people in the park as 'homeless', its actually a community of interesting and engaging people.
Ive come to the conclusion that 'homeless' has become a code word meaning either 'poor' or 'black' when it comes to the downtown. There are a number of legitimately homeless people downtown, truly. But the park regulars are mostly poor or retired, and live in perfectly comfortable (if sometimes lonely) homes.
The heat will pass, and to be honest there is a certain enjoyment in watching the entire plaza scramble for cover when the clouds finally burst overhead. Although I personally kind of prefer taking shelter in the Library, on occasion its just as enjoyable to wait it out under the Skyway concrete.
There is a smell of rain on brick that has its own signature. A chalky, baked kind of wet smell that is pleasant and urban all at the same time, and it is a nice part of the changing park of the park's ambiance.
The park is full of people, all of whom have amazing stories, and are basically participating in the oldest activity of our species: Hanging out in groups under the trees.
If there is one thing that has really stuck out is the deliberate and willful degeneration of the Park Services in Hemming Park. The concrete areas are woefully unkempt, the multiple electrical outlets that Jerry Moran demanded be turned off stick out of the ground on little posts, and the pool over which Hemming surveys is nothing short of a disgusting scandal of slime, hard water deposits and badly maintained water.
Of all the things that are most irritating in the park, I would say that the dead electrical outlets are the most grisly. They look like little mechanical heads on stakes set out as a warning to rebellious electrical devices.
I was cut off in a call from Diane Brunet Garcia, (one of the Friends of Hemming Park and the outgoing Chairman of the Cultural Council) when my phone ran out of battery power. I was literally surrounded by places that I might have been able to recharge, but thanks to Jerry Moran (If we have electricity 'homeless people' will be coddled into staying in the park) I might as well have been surrounded by the pillars of Stonehenge for all the good they were doing me.
I had to leave the park, go into the library and seat at one of the many tables in order to charge the phone. I talked to Diane nearly 40 minutes later.
More than half of the seats in the park have been removed by the way. Apparently the claim from Parks and Recreation that the city wasn't going to be removing them was little more than a bald faced lie.
This has had the effect of leaving all of the City Employees at the St James with literally no where to sit in the shade when they want to come outside for a smoke, a private conversation or a little time in nature.
As noted earlier, they end up shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot underneath the awning at the City Hall Building and then head back to their offices, electricity and air conditioning.
This has had literally no effect on the non rich people that Moran doesn't want hanging out in the park. They simply sit on all of the wonderfully accommodating ledges (designed for this purpose) that are built into every part of the park. What it did take away was a place for people to eat their lunches, and so now there are seldom any City Hall or Courthouse employees sitting for a quick bite during the day.
I had thought that I would be able to kind of talk and cover the business lunches and administrative groups that were common around noontime (and who used to patronize boomtown when we were in Hemming Park) but the removal of the tables in the shade had the single effect of driving away people who ate at the tables. Thunderously stupid in my opinion.
In two moves, Jerry Moran managed to drive away two large groups from the center of town: People under thirty who use handheld mobile devices and connect via social media on their cell phones and tablets avoid the place because of the lack of recharging or reliable wifi, and people who buy and eat lunch at tables (virtually the entire business community) were driven out in great numbers when the merchant pressured the city into removing the tables.
There are a few tables in front of Chamblin's, and they stay busy, but unlike the old park tables, one wouldn't sit at them unless you were buying something from Chamblins. The nice thing about the public tables was that you could bring your own lunch if you liked, or three people could get food to go from three separate places but still eat together.