The Wrong Side of the Tracks

20 02 2014


by Bill Newmann

America's Central Port

America’s Central Port

Somewhere deep within the port complex and its giant, steaming, industrial machinery, stood United States Vice President Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, February 19th, Biden came to America’s Central Port in Granite City, Illinois to deliver a speech praising the five-year-old American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to an Illinois government press release.

What Biden may or may not know, is that while he was gushing over the benefits of the more than $14 million in federal stimulus money given to the port, he was standing on a mound of contradiction.

If the vice president had merely looked across Route 3 and the adjacent railroad tracks, he would have clearly seen who the stimulus money is not helping. Directly across from the port entrance lies a bleak ramshackle neighborhood known as Newport. A few new cookie-cutter apartments and a new church stand in contrast with the old broken down, burned out homes, many of which must be abandoned. Garbage collects in the gutter and in many yards. Vacant lots and those abandoned homes are common here. Most of the small shops are empty or boarded up.

Fourteen St. Louis County Police vehicles along Route 3 outside the port

Fourteen St. Louis County Police vehicles along Route 3 outside the port

During the noon hour, lifelong resident Alene Hall stood near the railroad tracks, on the side of the road that Biden did not visit Wednesday. The short, spry woman, who sported a red, white, and blue smock for the occasion, has been keeping watch on that corner for more than eighty years.

This becomes evident as passersby who see the fourteen St. Louis County Police vehicles lining Route 3 pull over to ask Alene what’s going on. She should know. She used to help make bullets where the port is now located during World War II, when the site was known as the The Granite City Army Depot. She lived here when Dow Chemical dumped barrels of radioactive byproduct on the property in the 1960s. And now she watches as roads, rails, and rivers converge and goods of every nature move through the port to and from destinations around the world.

When asked what she would tell Biden if she had the chance, Alene points out a sinkhole in her front yard. It is above a collapsing sewer which snakes under much of her property and links to a drainage ditch in her backyard. “Listen, under here is all water. I can hear the water singing,” she says. “I told ’em this water is no good.” The sewers always back up causing roads and yards to flood and Alene says she’s been telling local officials about it for years to no avail. 

The mysterious convoy of unmarked cars

The mysterious convoy of unmarked cars

This did not seem to concern Biden on Wednesday, however. His comments were directed instead at fellow politicians and the mainstream media. In attendance were Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, according to the press release.

Alternative media and the public were prevented from entering the event by vigilant police officers from several jurisdictions in the bi-state area.

Later in the afternoon, after Alene had returned home, a motorcade including three identical Chevy Impalas with tinted windows and Illinois plates, was seen speeding out of the area and into Missouri. The stealthy convoy appeared out of place as it zoomed past the strip clubs of impoverished Brooklyn, Illinois. The men inside the vehicles wore dark suits and wraparound sunglasses, and their fleeting presence gave a brief sense that the Eastside is part of an undeclared war zone.

None of them had time to listen to an old woman who hears singing waters under her old house in Newport.

The driver and passenger of an unmarked ImpalaThe driver and passenger of an unmarked Impala

C. D. Stelzer contributed information for this article.


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