My City of Ruins

flood(Gazette photo by Cliff Jette)

I have never seen or heard a more moving musical performance than when Bruce Springsteen and a cadre of backup singers including his wife, Patti Scialfa, sang a song I’d never heard. It opened the live national telecast of “America: A Tribute to Heroes” in September, 2001 to raise money for Sept. 11 victims’ families.

It was stripped down and stark. The only music was provided by Springsteen’s guitar and harmonica. How he got from start to finish without breaking down, I’ll never know. Especially since he grew up and still lives so close to New York City in his beloved New Jersey. :

That song was loud in my head tonight, June 14, as I drove across the Cedar River on Interstate 380 and saw a bigger picture of the flooding and the ruins in daylight for the first time.

There’s a blood red circle
On the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door’s blown open
I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregation’s gone

My city of ruins

So many landmarks underwater, so many businesses and homes wrecked or in need of so much renovation. A Dairy Queen that I’ve patronized a few times too often. A Maid-Rite owned by someone who I once worked for one summer at Ellis Park. So many places downtown that I’ve stepped foot in so many times for so many reasons.

Everyone here has either been hurt badly by this flood or has a relative or good friend who has. My next-door neighbor owns a business on First Avenue Northwest ( that he built himself. It got blasted by the flood waters. A good friend of mine for many years owns a deli in the basement of the U.S. Bank building downtown that I hit about once a week. His food is high-quality. He’s a proud and good guy.

Now the sweet veils of mercy
Drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
Like scattered leaves
The boarded up windows
The hustlers and thieves
While my brother’s down on his knees

My city of ruins

I work downtown. For a while, it looked like the Gazette might move its newsroom to its Bowling Street plant that is the site of our printing press. I didn’t want that one bit. I think a newspaper should be in the heart of its city. It should be easy for people to find their newspaper.

And selfishly, I like to eat lunch, and like to be able to walk to a variety of eating options. I like to be able to walk to my bank, to another good friend’s office in an investment firm, to a newsstand when it’s time to buy my annual fantasy football magazine.

But our Gazette brass kept us downtown. I’m glad they did, even when I was downtown Thursday night at 11 p.m. and the flood water was crawling up Second Avenue East with sinister intent. We need to be exactly where we are, putting out that paper right there.

The water is receding and the Gazette was so lucky to escape damage to its building, especially compared to its downtown neighbors. But what will be left downtown for all of us once the flood recedes all the way back inside the river’s banks?

What will be left on all those ravaged city blocks on the other side of the river, the West side. That side of town often gets short-shrift in Cedar Rapids, but has just as many merits as its East side brothers and sisters? What can possibly be left of Czech Village? What will happen to Time Check? The Boys and Girls Club?

What will happen to Cedar Rapids?

Someday, I hope today’s children can look back and say this is a city that not only recovered from a disaster, but got better after the recovery. Tonight, though, in the weariness of a numbing four days with many more to come? It’s not all that easy to fathom.

Now there’s tears on the pillow
Darling where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Now tell me how do I begin again?

My city’s in ruins

But these are the commanding, almost-defiant final lines of the song:

Come on rise up!
Come on rise up!

Come on, ri-i-i-ise up


One response to “My City of Ruins

  1. Great blog and sad photo. Found you through Twitter. Were there any dentists in downtown Cedar Rapids affected? Trying to do some features myself and any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

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