Stewart Avenue Crime Time Part 2

This is Part 2 of “Stewart Avenue Crime Part 1” so you might want to check that out before proceeding but, hey, do whatever you want ! I got a chuckle from this article wherein APD Chief Ericka Shields offered her opinion on the “dark days” of Stewart Avenue.

“We had people from all over the state coming to Stewart Avenue, and it wasn’t for shopping either. [A] Majority of the cases that we made involved those who lived nowhere near here”

What the Chief describes is the classic situation of people cruising an area for “services” they would never tolerate in or near their own back yard though feel entitled to as long as it’s in another neighborhood located far away. This is a variation (albeit a far more serious one) of the practice of cutting though residential neighborhoods during a rush hour commute but then calling for blood should it occur on your street. Once an area is perceived as being disinterested in its own safety (although that is hardly ever the case) it becomes ongoing justification for outlying city residents to ignore the fact that decent people might still reside in the area. And just because they lack the financial and political clout to address the blight and crime doesn’t mean they want (or deserve) for the problem to perpetuate itself. It’s like once a landfill winds up someplace, the outsiders want it to stay there forever because “God knows we don’t want it where we live”.

I was stingy with my sympathies for those caught soliciting prostitutes as it was their ongoing patronage that contributed to the decline of my neighborhood. It’s tough to watch what was once a thriving, prosperous area go down the tubes and when you encounter people who are enthusiastically contributing to that it’s easy to cop an attitude. I was probably more tolerant than most but others, especially business owners (mostly car lots), took great delight in the misfortunes of outsiders seeking illegal action who wound up getting ripped off, roughed-up, arrested, or maybe even all three. There is a rhythm unique to any urban region and those out of sync can easily be identified and exploited. Stewart Avenue had a rhythm as did Ponce de Leon and so did Moreland Ave – at least before the gentrification. And while they were similar, you didn’t necessarily get a pass at “Southern Comfort” just because you liked to hang out at “The Crystal Palace” or “Ray Lee’s Blue Lantern.” While all the inhabitants might not get along we did in fact recognize each other as part of some post-Appalachian, urban-hillbilly ecosystem though it was no guarantee of peace.  I’m reminded of Hunter Thompson’s comment in “Hell’s Angels”:

[Nelson] Algren called them “fierce craving boys” with “a feeling of having been cheated.” Freebooters, armed and drunk—a legion of gamblers, brawlers and whorehoppers.

Which is to say that despite a common regional lineage or shared socioeconomic status, the guy you might be drinking with might easily turn on you because of some perceived slight once the liquor had taken hold. So then, how do you think such a person would react to an outsider ?

Caught With The Pants Down In The Wrong Part of Town

Not all of those seeking “action” were outsiders but plenty were and many Cobb County, Ward Cleaver types would take the “long way” to and from Atlanta Airport airport with a stop for some action. And, if they had a flat tire or, worse, got assaulted by a hustler, it would involve an awkward phone call for help. There would be guys coming into Brothers Three or Banks  Liquor trying to make you part of an alibi by using the store phone and telling their wives (or whomever):

My car broke down and I pulled into this store and am using their phone. Hey, What’s the name of this place ? Yea, Three Brothers ? Oh, Brothers Three. No, No, don’t worry I’ll call the tow truck from here. I gotta get off the phone now. Let’s talk later.

Actually their car was in the back parking lot of an Adult Bookstore where they had hoped to have met someone but that was all conveniently left out of the conversation. But the work was far from over as they had to cook up a plausible explanation as to why they were in the area in the first place. This was almost always a variation of “I-75 was packed so I got off onto Stewart Avenue and got lost.” Let me be clear. I could not be less interested in someone’s proclivities and personal vices just that they should pursue them closer to their own damn home and not attempt to sell off such an obvious bullshit story. Sometimes, we would have wives call us back and ask questions because their intuition told them that something was wrong.

On occasion an area native would get caught in a way that might expose a formerly hidden lifestyle. Getting nabbed with a hooker could be a problem but much more so if getting caught soliciting men which happened to at least two area business owners. Neither recovered from the resulting shame. I was surprised to see a highly respected teacher of mine cruising the Avenue which didn’t result in any major consequence until he was later busted for participation in an organized prostitution ring. He was successful and cultured but his yearnings for the flesh brought him down. Women weren’t immune from lapses in judgement either. My own history involves being approached by more than one married woman with a yen for younger men. They didn’t take rejection lightly which might later involve them telling their husband that I was the one who had approach them ! That could be incredibly awkward for all involved and I was grateful for having a number of surly co-workers glad to work as my advocate in these cases.

“Wino Mike”, even in the grip of DTs, would never want a beer !

Stewart Avenue always had a significant degree of ambient crime including bar fights, vandalism, and the occasional mugging that might take place down towards University Avenue. The area winos aroused little interest except from angry car lot owners who didn’t like them breaking into cars to seek refuge from the cold or rain. Nothing worse than opening a car for a potential customer only to find a scabrous, urine-soaked drunk writhing on the front seat. Yanking them out and hosing them down was a favored form of revenge but it’s not as if they were guilty of any major crime. One of the more enduring winos was “Mike” who was rumored to have connections to steady money which might have been true since he kept going strong despite obvious health problems. That he was a slave to alcohol did not prevent him from refusing offers of beer even when in the grip of Delirium tremens. A can of Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon simply didn’t pack the punch of his beloved Barton’s American Blended Whiskey. In a pinch he would accept some MD 20 20 or a bottle of gin but beer was for weaker men.

The parking lot of Banks Liquor and Brothers Three Package store saw lots of action back in the day

There was lots of fighting going on mostly at night and in the parking lots of various bars and liquor stores. Some of these altercations were a source of great amusement even to the participants themselves who would realize how foolish they must look taking swings that never landed. I watched a fight in the parking lot of Banks Liquor make it’s way to the other side of Stewart Avenue into the Adult Bookstore parking lot where the drunken pugilists (three of them) decided to call it quits since no one was willing to “tap out”. The fattest of the three decided to retreat in a peculiar manner by scaling the fence surrounding the 166 underpass upon which his pants leg got caught resulting in his being suspended upside down. Eventually his pants leg tore and he fell squarely onto his head. And like a bug with a tough exoskeleton he somehow scuttled up the sloping pavement to rest underneath the bridge. His was hyperventilating and vomiting. I had a pair of binoculars that someone had pawned for some Scotch so I could verify that he was sliced up pretty bad. Someone called the cops who showed up and basically screamed at the guy who responded with enough force to convince them that he was okay.

“Stick-up kid, but look what you done did”

Now if you want to talk “real crime”, there were holdups such as the one I was involved in at Brothers 3 wherein some guys busted through the sliding side door while slamming my co-worker Larry in the head with the butt of a shotgun. It was a move designed to signal serious intent and it worked. After dropping Larry, I saw them heading towards me so I just hit the floor as did an older customer and a young black guy named Ron who looked like running back Jim Brown. None of us had any money of which to speak and while they had made a bloody example of Larry they left everyone else alone except to verbally berate us and threaten certain death should we not remain on the ground for at least 30 minutes after their departure. (We were up inside of two). Their take was around $170 and a six pack of Schlitz Malt liquor which, in my opinion, reflected a lack of ambition. The main guy was an impossibly skinny, pimply faced black dude with a floppy hat who had come in earlier to case the joint. He had told me that I looked like Rod Stewart (completely untrue) and it was such an out of context remark that I mentioned it to Larry, but we just put it down to the guy being a flake job – which he was. In the aftermath of the robbery Ron told me that he knew one of the guys and guaranteed that he was going “handle it” though I never received confirmation that he did (not that he owed anyone). In any case, he turned out to be a cool guy who would drop in just to say hello now and then to shoot the breeze. I suppose there is something about being in a tough situation with someone that can help form a bond. He was definitely the kind of guy you would want to be robbed with – assuming you had to be robbed at all.

The problem with the incipient crime was that legitimate businesses simply trying to maintain or make a come back could do very little to combat the growing negativity associated with the area that persists till this day. As a prime example, Caruoso’s Italian restaurant attempted something of a reprise at the intersection of Langston and Stewart next to the new Kroger that itself had displaced Earl Bennet’s Trailer park – a place I detail in this post.  However, no one wanted to drive in from other parts of town especially when there were plenty of eating options all over town.  Even the famous Pilgreen’s restaurant located on Lee Street struggled to keep them coming in but they at least lasted longer. Atlanta had a problem with crime in the 70s which included on-again, off-again notoriety as the murder capital of the nation. Going back to the article referenced at the beginning, the Chief said the following:

When the name was changed to Metropolitan Parkway, it made many people cynical, and now the corridor has numerous potential for great things to happen. Our goal with the precinct is to integrate it into the community as we will have meeting spaces for local organizations and anticipate having officers moving within the area

I do agree that there is a great deal of potential but unfortunately that’s ALL there is at this point as no major real estate moves have been made. Very odd given the corridor’s proximity to the movie studios and the music amphitheater along with an abundance of cheap land that is also very convenient to downtown and the Airport. The demand for inside-the-perimeter living would suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the area blows up but it still remains dormant for the time being.

7 responses

  1. I lived on Springdale Circle. Springdale Circle, Road and Place connected to make an oval about a mile in circumference. I was into fitness at the time and would jog that lap several times a week. I was on the Springdale Road downhill side one evening after work and I could hear police car sirens from several different directions, which wasn’t uncommon due to the proximity to Stewart Ave. APD was regularly running blue lights to calls there and East Point PD was busy working their side of the streets. I could hear tires screeching at Pegg and Springdale Road intersection and look down the street to see an early 70s Chevy Nova fleeing EPPD and APD cars. Two more APD cars narrowly missed hitting me coming down Springdale Rd and forced the Nova into the church parking lot near Sringdale Road and Place. An APD car T-boned the Nova in the church parking lot causing a great deal of damage to the left front tire and fender area. The driver got out on the passenger side, drew a pistol and started shooting at the nearest police car. All the police officers there returned fire at the driver. I didn’t see the outcome of the shoot out as I was setting an un-official world record in the 800 meter dash back to my house. I watched the local news for the next couple of days and read the AJC for information regarding the chase/shootout, but neither had any mention. I guess it was just another tricky day in SW Atlanta.

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    1. what year was that chase with the Nova?

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  2. I used to run the Springdale Circle – Springdale Rd loop myself as a form of exercise. I tried not to use Springdale Place since I considered it to be cheating. there were various crimes in the area that were rarely publicized. But if the very same crimes had happened on the northside, there was widespread coverage and demands for investigations.

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  3. I think a lot of it had to do with the news format. Back then, the local channels only had 30 minutes to do news, sports & weather. Nowadays, they have to work hard to fill the 3 hours of local news and they are always, “coming up at 5, coming up at 6” to get the rest of a 10 minute story. Back in the day even the Wayne Williams case was only getting a minute or two when ever another one of his victims was found.

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    1. I hear you but the very moment Buckhead started becoming known for its night life, there were plenty of news reports on “crime” in that area which amounted mostly to basic drinking related offenses few of which escalated to felonious magnitude – although with the Ray Lewis event they eventually got there. My point being is that on the South side there could be ongoing deadly assaults, car chases, standoffs, in-store robberies that would play second fiddle to the news reports of “drunken college student shenanigans” in Buckhead. To some extent they might not have wanted to point it out because it was boring to people NOT living in the area but for those of us still residing there we wanted attention and actively sought help from City Hall – while places like Buckhead got “extra foot patrols” to write tickets to vomiting frat boys.

      Relative to the Ray Lewis event, one notes that that was the proverbial straw for the well-heeled citizens of the area to help transform it and understandably so. There was money and influence that the south side lacked. I was envious that that community was able to successfully mobilize for change though I completely understand their point of view and support it – but the news outlets still ignored the south side except to point out the prostitution problem which was also happening on Ponce and Moreland. Worse, there would be Buckhead kids coming down to “slum” on Stewart Avenue. There were plenty of incidents wherein they said the wrong thing to the wrong person which is a point I try to make about “outsiders” in this most recent post. It’s one thing to make a punchline out of the south side from the comfort of a trendy northside bar situated in proximity to a well-behaved neighborhood but when they drive down and do it in person ? It can get ugly. What were they expecting ?

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  4. ” I had a pair of binoculars that someone had pawned for some Scotch so I could verify that he was sliced up pretty bad.”

    So, I have to ask after the above sentence in your post – when you were working at the Liquor Store (“Brothers Three”) did you take “alternate” forms of payment other cash, check or credit card? Not liquor-for-sex mind you, but does that mean the employees were selling liquor in exchange for non-cash?

    I would assume in the above case that whoever wanted the Scotch came in and begged for it and ended up offering you the binoculars for the Scotch. In order to make it work, I guess you made the exchange (Scotch for binoculars) but rang up the sale and put some of your own cash in the drawer to make it work out. In essence, I guess as long as the binoculars were worth more than the cash you pulled out of your pocket to pay for the Scotch, then it probably was a good deal for you (assuming that is the way the deal happened).

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    1. Yea – if we saw an item that was worth something we bought it from them (or held it in pawn) and then paid for the booze out of our own pocket. Sometimes they would come back with the money though it was more frequent that they would just forget about it. Cameras were by far the most popular item as were binoculars. On occasion someone would bring in watches but those were usually crappy and not worth very much. Over time though things got a little weird because then people would bring in stolen goods (lots of jewelry, clothes, stereo equipment) and I wanted nothing to do with that.

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