When the only tool is a Hammer

by Brian Clarey

Buckle up, people. It’s about to get ultra-hype up in this joint.

I’m going through something of an arm-waving, open-mouthed, stark-raving bout of exasperation which set in immediately after reading an opinion piece that ran on the front page of The Rhinoceros Times on Sept. 21 with the hed: “The Downtown Asks For Help” written by the paper’s editor, self-proclaimed conservative John Hammer.

The piece was an interpretation of a recent Greensboro City Council meeting, one in which Hammer reported a request of the council by Simon Solomon, owner of Churchill’s on Elm Street (which, for my money, is the best swank bar on town).

Hammer reported that Solomon had concerns about “vagrancy and loitering,” and quoted him as calling it “a very fragile environment.”

And then Hammer began to’… well, hammer.

“‘…There are large crowds who come downtown just to hang around on the sidewalks. They aren’t going places and spending money’….”

These are Hammer’s words, not Solomon’s.

And the man whose slogan is, “Making conservatism cool” offered a solution to this “problem.”

Cops and more cops, preferably on foot and, I assume, twirling their nightsticks and pinching apples from streetside fruit vendors like on TV.

“The officer might not be able to arrest them for anything,” he writes, “but he can certainly talk to them and ask them to move along.”

You heard the man. Move it along, fellas. Nothing to see here.

Of course this offends me on many fronts.

For one, Hammer persists in calling our business and arts district “the downtown,” like some flat-footed rube in the big city, kind of like the way our fathers, when confounded by the music video channel that debuted in the ’80s, used the term, “the MTV,” as in, “All you do is sit here all afternoon watching the U2 on the MTV. Next thing you know you’ll be on the drugs.”

There’s more.

I don’t like the idea of our police force wandering our downtown streets gauging the motives of the people who gather there at night and rousting those who they suspect aren’t “spending money” in the privately-owned businesses that line them – especially when there are actual crimes out there going down in places like’… oh, I don’t know’… my neighborhood, for instance.

And that’s another thing: People are allowed to walk on sidewalks. Even at night. Even if they don’t have any money. Even if those sidewalks pass in front of places of business.

Last I checked, the role of a vibrant urban center was not primarily to suck the dollars out of the pockets of everyone who walks its streets – that’s more of a secondary or tertiary thing. Rather, a metropolitan center is for everybody who can drag his ass out there, no matter if he’s there to catch a show, have a drink or watch the girls flit from bar to bar.

And it’s free.

Newsflash, Hammer: People like to hang out in downtown areas, even if they can’t afford a plate of wings or one of the spectacular Martinis they serve at Churchill’s. That’s why they sell hot dogs on the street. That’s why there are benches on the sidewalks. That’s why people build parks.

Speaking of which, should Center City Park be available only to people who intend to spend money in the shops that border it? Maybe, once it’s finished, they should keep that fence around it and institute a cover charge. You know, to keep the riffraff out.

Maybe we should wall off the whole damn district, make it kind of a Disneyland Main Street USA thing with $10 cheeseburgers and ham-faced white folks as far as the eyes can see.

Or not.

What’s most astonishing is that Hammer seems to be making the transition from Rhino to RINO – that’s Republican in Name Only – right before my eyes.

Before the Monkey Man took office, among the most cherished tenets of the Republican faith were personal freedom, inclusion and privacy. All three of these are betrayed by Hammer’s suggestion that Elm Street be flooded with uniformed cops asking certain people why they’re standing on the street on a Saturday night.

It’s also a waste of money and resources, and every good Republican knows that these things make baby Jesus cry.

It’s not the first time Hammer has strayed toward the center – in the Feb. 17, 2005 issue of The Rhinoceros Times Hammer suggested the city pony up and buy Twiggy’s, the African-American topless club on Davie Street which is the longest-running bar in Hammer’s beloved “the downtown,” and then raze it to rubble, basically giving “the finger” to the concept of “the private enterprise” and the collective wisdom of the marketplace.

It seems to me that Hammer’s vision for “the downtown” is one where only those who pass a certain standard can freely roam the streets – people with folding money, collared shirts and decent haircuts.

John Hammer’s downtown is not a cultural center or town square, but a playground for spenders, decent people who didn’t drive all the way out there to interact with anyone who doesn’t intend to sample the fine shops, theaters or eateries.

It sounds pretty dull to me.