An older woman who said, "I'm not looking to get discovered," when I asked for her name said she was calling about two derelict properties on West Allegheny on behalf of her "chicken" neighbors. One of the homes, she and other neighbors told me, has standing water in the basement that turns their block into Swamplandia.
A couple wanted me to hear their stories about neighbors dumping feces all over the neighborhood, including in their back yard. I was suspicious of that one until I realized that in a year and a half of writing this column, I'd already written two feces columns. So, yeah, apparently that's a thing.
As I sifted through all the calls and emails, I started to wonder more about the people than the properties. Who are they? What keeps them here through so much, well, bulls---? I got into my car and set out to talk with as many as I could in an afternoon. I found that their ties were as much emotional as financial.
After Thelma Madison, 60, got a full-time job with SEPTA, one of the first things the single mom did was to buy her home on 7th Street near Loudon in Olney in 1983. She'd planned to leave it to her kids. But that was before her view became mostly empty lots where homes used to be. And before the house next door was torn down, except for the shared steps that are tearing hers apart.
Now, she said, she dreams of picking up her home and moving it somewhere else.
I heard that from a lot of the frustrated residents I visited Tuesday - a feeling of being trapped by the very thing for which they'd worked their whole lives. But when I pressed them about leaving, they said they probably wouldn't.
"Why should we be the ones to go?" asked both Elzora Chase, 63, and Joseph Good, 65.
They're the couple who said they have a waste-dumping issue in the North Philly neighborhood they've called home for more than 30 years. Although when I visited, there was no sign of feces.
"We're pioneers," Good said. "We been here a long time. We don't bother anybody. As long as things don't start to flow over to you, you mind your business, you let people be."
Some of that live-and-let-live sentiment turns into warped loyalties to neighbors dragging down neighborhoods. But the city could do better by these pioneers, and they can start by sealing Madison's steps.
I also swung by Ellis Gilliom's place at 61st and Lindbergh. He's a Southern gentleman I wrote about last year when he was trying to get the Water Department to fix a leaking hole from a busted hydrant. He recently called about some issues I hadn't had a chance to get to.
People were still blowing past the stop sign at the dangerous intersection, he said. And some yahoo was parking a truck outside the church Gilliom attends on 46th Street, making it impossible for parishioners to park, even when there's a funeral.
"Don't you ever get tired of all this?" I asked the retired 69-year-old.
"I'd run if I could," he said, before a sly smile gave the unofficial block captain away. "Nah, I guess I wouldn't."
The great-grandmother on West Allegheny - the one who said she wasn't looking to get discovered - had another reason for staying put.
Her family was among the first black families to buy a home there, in 1964. She'd never experienced racial prejudice in Philly, but she was a little apprehensive.
Shortly after they moved into their home, the doorbell rang. Outside stood a man with a huge bouquet of flowers and a card that read, "Welcome to the neighborhood."
"I cried," she said, tearing up at the memory.
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