Forbes magazine recently rated the city of Rockford, Illinois the third most miserable city in America. The natives took this news in the gallant and noble manner they usually do. No, not by changing anything, but by bitching and whining that Forbes is nuts. This is a city with a long history of being told it sucks. Back in the 80's when Money Magazine rated Rockford the 300th worst city in America (out of 300) instead of heeding that as a warning that the manufacturing base of America had disappeared and any city that wanted to survive into the next millenium had better get on the path to technology, the locals made a bonfire of Money Magazine. Typically caveman behavior. I can imagine them looking like the chimps in 2001 raising their sticks to the sky with one hand, and their Old Milwaukee Lights (the official beer of Rockford) in the other and grunting. And things got worse.
Last March the roof collapsed on the historic Midway Theater right in the middle of the Downtown area everyone is trying to class up as a demonstration of how Rockford doesn't suck.
In the background you see the historic Faust Landmark hotel, where John Kennedy stayed, now used to warehouse the elderly until other arrangements can be found. Once the Midway Theater looked like this...
Classy. Hell, it looks like Rockford even had a symphony orchestra. Not sure anyone here even knows how to play an oboe anymore. But the thing about the roof is... nobody fixed it. No one even tried. Days went by and I watched out the window expecting to see an emergency construction crew show up to make repairs. I contacted the mayor's office and was assured the owner was going to get a stern talking to and be forced to make the repairs or forfeit the property. But nothing happened. Now a year later we learn almost nothing is being done to fix the roof.
There are a lot of romantic depictions of The Midway Theater and The Faust landmark by local artists and photographers. But this is what it looks like. At street level you could see the homeless turned out at dawn by the shelter down the street, the mentally ill turned out when Singer closed and other local mental health facilities were too strapped to pick up the overflow, and the elderly and disabled warehoused at the Faust and nearby. This is what you'd see looking out my window. You'd wonder if Forbes Magazine and others didn't have it exactly right, and we have it exactly wrong. Trying to sweep a century of racism, bad city planning, and corruption under (well, there just isn't anywhere left to sweep it) anymore.
|Midway Theater marquee in acrylic by artist Jenny Mathews|
I don't know who owns the Midway Theater. Maybe even some property speculator who had good intentions and got in over his head, but more likely one of the scavengers we find all too common in places like this, buying up properties then allowing them to rot and collapse while waiting for public funding to come through. I'm sure the owner of this building is waiting for the city, or the state, or the federal government to step in and hand him a big check for being such a swell custodian of a beautiful and historic building. All I know is one year has passed. The roof fell in. On the busiest street in town. And a year later it's not fixed and no one is making him fix it. If you don't want to be considered a joke and an afterthought by the national media things like this just can't happen. You lose all credibility, and a great deal of your claim to humanity, too, in my opinion, when you point to one or two buildings down the street and try to convince me because some carpetbagger has taken an old building, used a couple million tax dollars, and created an amateur brewery or a site for wedding receptions, a place where the homeless, disabled, elderly, and mentally ill literally pass by and watch the local petit bourgeois sip bad beer on a deck while they have no place to stay, is a public service you deserve to be lionized for.
Far from it. That's the type of thing people in civilizations that have failed do. It's tone deaf and it's deplorable. Don't you even know what you look like when you do something like that? Apparently the rest of America does.
Welcome to the Hall of Bad Dudes, owner of the Midway Theater.