Living Out Loud: : Lost in Over-the-Rhine

Finding the good with the bad

I live in Clifton and usually take the 17 bus to Findlay Market, getting off at McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine. On this particular afternoon, I stocked up on bananas, peaches, carrots, green peppers and tomatoes. After my shopping, I walked up to Vine Street to catch the bus back home.

The bus never came. I must have stood there for 20 minutes.

An angry kid kept watching me, staring at my face, then eyeballing my bags full of fruits and vegetables. I felt intimidated and thought he was going to rob me. I started walking down Vine Street toward downtown.

I reached the next bus stop where I'd caught the 17 a few times before. I looked up at the Metro sign to see if the bus was still scheduled to stop there. It wasn't.

I looked back up the sidewalk, and that angry kid was walking toward me.

"What you doin' in this neighborhood?" he said loudly.

"Did some shopping at Findlay Market," I replied, looking him in the eye, trying to feel confident I was controlling the situation. I wasn't.

"I see that," he said, looking down at my bags. He leaned forward like he was going to grab them.

A police car slowly rolled by with the police officer inside looking at me and the young kid. The kid backed off and started walking down the sidewalk.

I waved at the officer, hoping he would roll down his window so I could ask where to catch the 17 back home. He stared at me for a few seconds, then sped off. I kept walking.

In front of a beat-up pawn shop stood a young woman smiling at me. She had brown hair and had a front tooth missing. The brown tank top she was wearing was too tight and her shorts too short. She was smoking a cigarette.

"What you got for me, honey?" she said.

"I got a buck if you can tell me where to catch the 17 bus," I replied.

"That's all you need, baby?" she said as she got closer, starting to pull down her tank top so I could see her breasts.

"I just want to get home," I said. I took a dollar out of my pocket and handed it to her.

"Honey, the 17 don't go up Vine Street no more," she said, putting the buck I gave her down her tank top. "You gotta go up to Main Street. They changed it this week."

I thanked her and went up a side street that I knew would take me to Main. I walked quickly, those bags feeling heavy in my hands. It wasn't a hot day, but I was sweating.

When I reached Main Street, I still couldn't find the bus stop. I guess because of the route change, new postings hadn't been made at the stops.

A man was sitting in a lawn chair in front of an abandoned building. He was older and heavy and was drawing on a sketchpad with a pencil.

"Do you know where to catch the 17 around here?" I asked.

He looked up from his drawing and smiled.

"Sure do," he said. "I've been showing people over the past few days. Damn bus company ain't made it clear where to catch it."

He stood up, put his pencil in his shirt pocket, tucked his sketchpad under his arm and folded up his lawn chair.

"Follow me," he said.

We only had to walk up a block. I was feeling disoriented and strained. I followed the man to the bus stop almost like a puppy.

When we reached it, I thanked him and tried to hand him a dollar for his trouble.

"No, keep your money," he said. "I can tell you're new in the neighborhood. It was good to help ya out."

I thanked him again, but the man didn't leave. He stood there with me waiting for the bus.

"I appreciate your help," I said, "but I'm alright now."

"I'll wait with ya," he replied. "Ain't got nothin' else to do. Besides, like I said, you're new around here."

I didn't have to wait long for the bus, and I was glad to get home. I never did get that guy's name who helped me, but if he's reading this now I want him to know he was a comfort to me that afternoon.

If there's one thing I've learned from this experience, it's that there are good and bad people in any neighborhood — even the scary parts of Over-the-Rhine.

I also should count my blessings more. I can go to Over-the-Rhine to get to Findlay Market and then return home to my comfortable apartment in Clifton. That young kid, the prostitute and old man with the sketchpad live there.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross(at) Living Out Loud runs every week at and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.

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