This afternoon I talked to the artist who made this — we’ll call it an artistic lean-to — that is outside the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s journalism school, as he began setting up a second tent next to it as the Occupation of Lincoln expanded north from its home a couple blocks away on Centennial Mall.
The artist responsible for this art on plywood wore sideburns, aviator sunglasses and a red and white striped shirt as he began assembling a second tent next to his artsy shelter. He said his name was Troy Davis, but seemed so reluctant to divulge that information I cannot be sure of it. On the inside of the lean-to is a picture of Che Guevara, the Argentine doctor who worked to emancipate the poor and has become a ubiquitous symbol of unyielding resistance.
“I just do art to make the world a better place,” Troy said.
Also working to expand the Occupation was a young man who said his name is Charles Holm. He graduated from UNL two years ago and has struggled to parlay his degree in international studies into a job. He worked for the AFSCME (union that represents public workers) in another state for awhile but returned to Lincoln and now works as a barback (bartender’s assistant). Holm has helped organize Lincoln’s version of the Wall Street Occupation, and said there are now about 60 people on the mall — 30 to 40 of them campers willing to brave the elements. He said they have nightly meetings in their camp, but they’re thinking about moving that meeting to the capitol steps to make more of a statement.
He said many of the protesters are college students, people who work downtown and a couple of families. He said the group is trying to get more students to join the protest (hence, the creep toward campus).
They serve three square meals a day, and yes, some homeless people have been partaking in the free food. He said the protestors went to the local food bank to get blankets for the homeless and when they saw how barren the shelves were, they decided to try to help raise funds for the bank. So far, the city hasn’t hassled them about camping out on the mall.
That’s because city officials can’t find anything illegal about what they’re doing: Centennial Mall is not a park. When it was converted from a street to a mall, it remained a right-of-way, so it’s a public space with no closing hours. Mayor Chris Beutler told radio show hosts Jack & John that the camping protests are a concern, but the city can’t really do anything about it without infringing upon their free speech rights.
Beutler indicated the law “needs further refinement” — but indicated that won’t be done right now, because it would be seen as targeting this protest. One caller questioned the legality of serving three meals a day without any permits, and the mayor said he’d look into that. The caller also questioned where the protesters are, uh, relieving themselves.
To which the mayor said, “You raise pertinent issues.”
Lincoln’s own Joel Sartore shares the life-threatening experience he had in Africa earlier this year:
Africa’s Albertine Rift – A Special Essay by Joel Sartore – National Geographic Magazine.
Why did Lake McConaughy get a $42,000 federal terrorism-fighting grant? And why did Cherry County get thousands of dollars in federal Homeland Security dollars to protect cows?
Find out by reading this interesting story in the Los Angeles Times, called Is Homeland Security spending paying off?.
How cool is this?
Speaking of huge, devastating, unsolved fires, I noticed the other day that Romantix — the downtown adult store that was destroyed by fire earlier this year — has reopened in a new location on Highway 2, next door to Subway. This may only be relevant to some of you, and you know who you are.
The city fire inspector was unable to determine the cause of the fire — in part because the building was too unstable and winter too hostile to even enter the site for 111 days. Evidence was inconclusive, Bill Moody said.
Sunday was not going to be a day of rest for many Lincolnites after a thunderstorm ripped through the city Saturday night, taking many trees with it.
Left in the wake of damage were many trees resting on roofs, trees blocking entire streets (including 16th Street south of the capitol) and trees downing power lines.
(Ironically, tomorrow the City Council will be holding a public hearing on the city budget, which would eliminate the city forester position.)
Do you have a storm story or photo? Email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I always notice this big baby-blue Victorian house when I’m headed home from downtown on South 16th Street. With its expansive wrap-around porch and seemingly acres of space, I watched with hope when the “for sale” sign went up — hoping someone would snatch it up and take care of the grand old girl.
But time went by and the grass turned into a weed patch and the porch seemed to sag more. It’s amazing how fast a how starts to degenerate without a human there to keep her in shape — ever notice how you can leave for a week of vacation and come home to a haggard house?
And then my Mom came to town for Easter, and the blue house caught her eye right away, too. In fact, she demanded I call the realtor and get us in to see it. She seemed ready to make an offer, on the spot. Give up her retirement savings for this old girl.
We stopped and looked at the outside of the house while I called the number on the sign — the interior looked like it needed some TLC and indeed the porch was not in great shape. There was no garage but what a treasure trove for someone who loves to renovate old houses.
But when I finally reached the real estate agent, he said the house was sold. Mom’s dream of cashing in her 401K for an old house two states away from her fizzled.
I kept an eye on Old Blue, and recently, the work trucks started showing up and the doors were propped open and construction workers suddenly were climbing all over the house. A sign recently went up out front announcing that it will be the future home of the Alpha Delta Pi Sorority.
I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that another of Lincoln’s gems will not be chopped up into apartments or allowed to fall into disrepair. Lincoln has so many historic homes that need someone to take care of them — I’ve lived in four states and never have I seen so many great old homes. It’s my favorite thing about Lincoln.
I wish the city would create more incentive programs to help people buy old homes in the Everett and Near South areas and renovate them. I know there are some programs, like NIFA, but other cities do more. Lincoln could do more.
So here’s hoping those sorority girls will take good care of this old girl as she begins a new chapter in her undoubtedly storied life.
UPDATE: Three months after the LPS fire, police have made an arrest in the case of a 44-year-old school employee now accused of arson. Read the story here.
Am I the only one kind of amazed that we may never know what caused the last two major fires we’ve had in Lincoln — the school district headquarters and an adult store downtown?
A cause was never determined on the fire that destroyed a downtown adult store called Romantix. The city’s chief fire inspector, Bill Moody, said, “111 days and the Nebraska winter was not kind to us.” Evidence was recovered, but not conclusive.
And the school superintendent, Steve Joel, told a radio show host today that they still have no idea what caused the fire that took down the LPS headquarters and that it will be a long investigation.
It seems incredible to me that we can’t figure out what caused such disastrous fires, when inspectors in California can pinpoint the cause of major wildfires — down to a thrown cigarette butt. Anybody able to enlighten me? I’m all ears.
Good story for an enterprising young (or old) reporter to tackle.
Probably not many. But I often see Moms with cameras when the big yellow school bus rolls up to the church in southwest Lincoln carrying a load of young teenagers coming in from the cornfields after a day of detassling. Including my 14-year-old son, Jacob.
I’d never heard of detasseling until I moved to Nebraska, but it seems to be a rite of passage for many teens around here. To create hybrid corn seed, machines pull tassels off the cornstalks, and ambitious teenage Nebraskans pull off the ones that are missed for about three weeks in July.
It’s one of the few ways a young teenager can make a lot of money in just a few weeks. Somehow, the boy who often asks me to fetch him a drink of water decided he wanted to do it this summer.
His friends sold it as a fun adventure or some kind of get-rich-quick scheme. He cut off the footies on a pair of soccer socks, put them on his arms, pulled on a white T-shirt, shorts and long baseball socks, and off to the fields he went. He wears a bandana around his neck, and one of those net hats like beekeepers.
He has asthma and allergies, and I was afraid he’d die of an asthma attack out there in a cornfield. I briefly considered riding the bus with him and supervising his every move, but his allergy doctor said to give him a Zyrtec every day and send his inhaler along with him, and he’d be fine. I still think I should have gone with him, just in case.
The night before his first day in the field, we returned to Lincoln from a vacation in Texas and it was so humid here that the windows in my sunroom were fogged up. Someone told me the heat index was like 112 degrees that night.
What a great way to start the detassling season! I sent him on his way at 5:15 a.m. and prayed many times that day that he would live. That he would not have an asthma attack. That the heat wouldn’t overcome his 105-pound body. That he’d remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
I’ve never been so happy to get a text message from my son, saying the bus was on its way back to Lincoln. He was ALIVE! He got off the bus dirty from head to toe — with mud caked on the bottom of those $90 Nikes he just HAD to have a mere year ago. I think he realized his friends’ idea of “fun” was not the same as his.
Rain doesn’t stop the detasslers, who sometimes wear garbage bags over their clothes when it’s wet or dewy. Some days start out cold, like after a stormy night, and then suddenly turn hot. The kids often wear high-top shoes because it’s hard to balance and not twist ankles in the ridged rows as they reach for tassels, pop them off and throw them down. Over and over and over.
The jug full of ice melts to warm water within a few hours in the field where the heat index has regularly soared past 100 degrees this summer. And wherever the corn pokes through the clothing, he develops a nice little “corn rash.” And all of this for minimum wage.
In the paper today a Wahoo crop consultant said in all his years of checking out cornfields, he’s never seen it so hot in “the corn canopy.” Some parents make their kids detassle, to teach them to work. My son said one of those forced laborers simply laid down in the middle of the field one day and said, “I quit.”
I’ve picked rock and weeded gravel and pulled a garden full of weeds that were taller than I was for $5 — and my first real job was washing dishes in junior high — but I know I’ve never worked as hard as my son is out in the cornfields between here and York. I am quite certain that if you sent me out in a cornfield in the weather we’ve been having, I’d lay down and quit within an hour. Maybe sooner. And I’m not known for being a slacker.
I don’t know if it’s peer pressure or if he inherited my stubbornness or what, but he keeps going back, day after 100-degree day. After two weeks, he finally said, “Mom, I want to quit.” I said it was up to him, but he could take a day off. You don’t get a bonus if you miss a day, and he wanted that bonus. But he needed a break.
I told him no matter what he does from this point on, he’ll always look back on this job as the toughest job he ever had. When he’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company some day, and Newsweek comes to interview him (more likely newsweek.com) he’ll talk about those days in the cornfield, where he learned how to work.
He took a day off. Then another day, because he had a baseball tournament. And on Monday morning, he went back to the fields for more.I’m proud of him, but sometimes I cannot believe it’s legal to send those kids out into the fields when it’s this hot (although they start very early and quit early in the afternoon, escaping the brunt of the heat). A part of me fears one of those kids is gonna die out there. My friend makes her son do it and won’t let him skip a day. My mechanic thinks it outta be illegal.
And then I hear stories of “the old days” when Nebraska kids detassled without shirts on and without strict regulations and supervision or roving nurses.
So I tell myself to stop worrying so much. The season is almost over. The text saying “We’ll be home in an hour” will come. And it’ll be time to empty the cooler, wash it and fill it with tomorrow’s lunch.
And ice. Lots of ice.