The Unemployed Life, Wanderlust

The story behind the Christmas Card

Every year, I send out a Christmas card. But I try and send something a little less like the traditional, boring here’s-my-baby/dog/family-for-your-enjoyment. Last year, I sent out a picture greeting card featuring an ex-marine waterboarding me. A few years before that, I sent out a photo and story about my night inside an inflatable newspaper costume. The year before that, well, let’s just say I have a lifetime ban from that coffeeshop. So, in keeping with my Gonzo tradition, here is the story behind the Christmas card:

So there I was – standing in front of a dozen Pennsylvania police officers in full riot gear, clubs and tear gas ready, with only a press pass to protect me. And even if that press pass was real, reporter credentials didn’t mean anything on the fortified streets of Pittsburgh.

Just minutes earlier, another phalanx of riot cops charged a group of protesters and bystanders a few blocks over. And that was just minutes after police rolled out L-RAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) — a crowd-control device strapped to a military truck that emits a piercing, debilitating tone. This was the first time such a device had been used in the United States.

Yep, the G20 Conference was underway and for the last six weeks, Pittsburgh city officials and the media had scared residents into allowing a small version of a police state right on the banks of the Allegheny River.

Behind the News, G20 Protests (2009), Wanderlust

Best of G20: The People’s March

On September 25, the last day of the G20 conference, several groups organized a “People’s March” from the University of Pittsburgh campus through downtown. Weeks ago, the city granted a permit for the march and accompanying rally, but that didn’t stop scores of riot cops from escorting the estimated 5,000 protesters through the city. At one point, the crowd stretched eight blocks long, the hodgepodge collection of activists chanting, beating drums and holding every manner of protest signage. Here’s the people that stood out:

G20 Protests (2009)

Biggest threat to the G20 so far? Volunteer chefs, of course!

This morning, as I took an ice cold shower in a house with no electricity — my G20 host fell on hard times recently — I thought to myself: “Gee, things could be worse. Sure, I’m sleeping on the floor in a dark house with no power, worrying if my car will be towed at any minute and apprehensive about how the police will see me (press or protester?) and how the protesters will treat me (press, undercover, not worthy, fellow brother?)  … But at least I’m not out there in a retrofitted school bus feeding hungry people.”

It’s true. So far, the main victims of police harassment in Pittsburgh are a motley group of activists dedicated to feeding hungry people. Actually, two groups of activists that feed hungry people.

Since last week, Pittsburgh police have harassed the Seeds of Peace Collective, a busload of activists who came to feed G20 protesters, and Everybody’s Kitchen, another group of volunteer chefs who help prepare food for the homeless and at disaster sites (i.e. Katrina). When I caught up with them yesterday, they had already moved to four different spots around Pittsburgh in six days.

On Friday, police illegally entered the Seeds of Peace bus while it was parked on a street in the city’s Oakland neighborhood. Then, they towed it. After gaining the permission of a local property owner, two groups parked their buses on a piece of land in another part of the city. On Sunday, the police raided that property, and although turned up nothing illegal, the city threatened the owner with a $1,000-a-day fine. They moved the next day, but while in route, police stopped the bus, searched and conducted “safety checks” and then issued two tickets, one for parking on the curb.

A day after moving to another piece of private property — an abandoned school lot — police once again showed up to evict the buses with the property owner. She had since reconsidered her offer. They moved once again where they are at now.

And all that is not counting the times police stopped group members while they walked through the neighborhood or the ridiculous parking violations.

With the help of the ACLU, Seeds of Peace filed a lawsuit, but Wednesday, a judge threw the case out. How long the buses will stay at their current location is anyone’s guess.

“I don’t feel like it’s the end of it,” one of the group members told the Pittsburgh City Paper. “It seems like they’re just waiting until they find some other way of harassing us.”

Check out these videos RE: the police harassment of the Seeds of Peace Collective:

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

News flash: Scarecrows don’t scare crackheads away

ross (2)I like Ross Pavio. I don’t know him personally, but dude has a great mustache. And he likes plants. I like plants. I have some basil, tomatoes and some random bean-looking plant in planters on my back porch. Ross has some hibiscus, bromeliad, Mexican sunflowers and other plants turning yellow and brown in his yard.

But Ross isn’t a bad gardener. He’s just not very neighborly.

Ross complained to the St. Petersburg Times last week because he feels some hoodlums are targeting his plants and home. Why would they mess with a guy sporting a mustache like Ross?

SCARECROWFrom the Times article:

At a house across the street from where Ross Pavio lives, a sign pinned to a scarecrow says, “No hookers or crack heads, please!”

Pavio, 56, said that’s the message he has been trying to get across in his North Kenwood neighborhood since moving in four years ago, but his efforts backfired.

In the past few months, Pavio said, a fire has been set in his back yard, a video camera above his garage tampered with, and his beloved plants and lawn ruined with chemicals. Last week, he called St. Petersburg police to his home on two consecutive days to investigate the vandalism.

Uh, yeah … Ross, let’s learn some Neighbor 101 up in here. Mr. Rogers never put up a scarecrow insulting the hookers and crackheads in the neighborhood. Not even in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Good reason, too: Hookers and crackheads don’t like being heckled.

Be clear: I’m not necessarily blaming Ross for some fucked up individuals trespassing into his yard. And really, his plants never insulted anybody. But Ross, you totally didn’t have to goad your neighborhood drug dealers. A nice call to the cops would have been sufficient.

But, Ross argues, he was really, really hoping this would turn out to be a good neighborhood:

Pavio, who said he doesn’t blame the police for his troubles, isn’t interested in joining any groups. After spending about $55,000 to renovate his two-bedroom, two-bath house and cultivate its barren yard, he has had enough.

“I came here with this wonderful idea that I was going to be coming into this up-and-coming neighborhood,” he said.

“I had great hope. I was not even worried about investing the money. I thought it was worth it.”

Finally, Ross (and similar residents) I have another St. Pete lesson for you: Don’t go into a neighborhood, looking to invest and thinking a scarecrow will make the ‘hood safer for you. As many longtime St. Pete residents have figured out, it takes a lot more hard work than that. Like, uh, joining “associations.”

Ross, this is for you: