SCOTT SIMON, host:
We begin a new series this week called Mapping Main Street. Back in May, producers Kara Oehler and Ann Heppermann, along with economist James Burns and media artist Jesse Shapins, packed into a 1996 Subaru station wagon, began a 12,000 mile journey across the country. Along the way they stopped at hundreds of streets named Main Street, collecting some stories and taking photos.
Over the next month, we'll hear stories from Main Streets across the country, starting today with Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now a small portion of Chattanooga's Main Street has been revitalized with galleries, upscale restaurants, fancy sandwich shops. But some of the Main Street there remains a prostitution strip.
Brother Rob Fender is a monk with the Brotherhood of St. Gregory. He works with the homeless at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, just a few blocks from Main Street. Today he's our guide down Chattanooga's Main Street.
Now, we warn: some of the story may be objectionable to listeners.
Brother RON FENDER (Brotherhood of St. Gregory): Every city has its image of its own Main Street. Main Street is clean, you know, there are flags flying and there's an ice cream vendor on the corner. And all - we have that image of what Main Street in America should be like. But every now and then that big postcard of provinciality and conservatism gets a crack in it, because the underbelly belches up.
Mr. JARED BARNES: Hi, I'd like to report a prostitute, please.
Brother FENDER: And Main Street cuts right through all of that.
Mr. BARNES: She's on the corner of South Hawthorne and East Main.
First think this morning, I called the cops. Well, third conversation I had today aside from saying good morning to my wife was calling the police and saying I'd like to report two prostitutes that were walking right down my street.
She's a black female, probably about - I don't know - five foot one.
Brother FENDER: I'm hoping you'll get a chance to talk to my friends Jared and Jennifer Barnes.
Mr. BARNES: I'm Jared and I'm from Chattanooga, Tennessee. I'm a block away from East Main Street.
Brother FENDER: They have bought an old house, just off of Main Street.
Mr. BARNES: She's right across the street from Hawthorne and Main grocery store.
Brother FENDER: And they're involved in this sort of campaign to clean up prostitution on Main Street.
Mr. BARNES: Because I've seen her several times in the neighborhood and I call quite frequently.
Brother FENDER: So every time they see a prostitute working, they call the police.
Mr. BARNES: All right, thank you very much. All right. Bye.
Ms. JENNIFER BARNES: Now that it's gotten warm out, they are very easy to spot. They're out in droves.
I'm Jennifer. I'm Jared's lovely wife.
Right. Just keep going straight. There are some.
I guess it was about two and a half years after we moved into the neighborhood that I was harassed in my front yard. I was watering the plants and there was a black Avalanche that was circling the block. Well, sure enough, he finally slows down and kind of motions down towards his lap and kind of nods his head at me like, okay, come on, are you interested?
And I'm in my front yard. I don't know if this guy is going to get out of his, you know, truck or anything like that. And that's what scared me.
Mr. BARNES: There's an officer right there. Yeah, it's a police offer. (Unintelligible) they've got her. That is a busted prostitute.
Ms. BARNES: Justice has been served. When you see them get busted, you know that you're doing something good for the neighborhood and for Main Street.
Brother FENDER: In Chattanooga, we have this underbelly, but we don't talk about it. So you could walk down Main Street and you don't know that just over there, there's prostitutes. Or just over there, there's a camp where people sleep in the woods at night.
People drive down Main Street and keep their eyes straight ahead. You don't see what's on either side.
Unidentified Man: Gone (unintelligible)
Mr. ERNEST CLARK: Tammy, I need your assistance, please.
Ms. TAMMY CLARK: Baby, where's the cheese at?
Brother FENDER: I've known Ernest and Tammy now for seven years. I met them at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.
Ms. CLARK: We're just having a homeless cookout.
Mr. CLARK: Homeless cookout.
Ms. CLARK: If somebody walks out of here hungry, it's their fault.
Brother FENDER: They lived for a long time in a camp.
Ms. CLARK: We was on a dock (unintelligible) first.
Mr. CLARK: There was 35 to 40 people.
Ms. CLARK: We had a killer-ass bed. We made it out of pallets.
Brother FENDER: They've been together a long time.
Ms. CLARK: Lived under bridges, you name it.
Mr. CLARK: Abandoned houses.
Mrs. CLARK: We've been through hell.
Brother FENDER: That's a rare thing on the street. Couples have a hard time staying together on the street.
Mr. CLARK: I met Tammy.
Ms. CLARK: When I was prostituting.
Mr. CLARK: And...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CLARK: Dude, you want me to say what - okay. I needed a lady companion for the evening. I stopped at a friend of mine house name James. I said, Man, is there any girls around here? He said, Yeah, yeah, I know where one is. And he went and got her and she come in. And the first thing I spotted about her that just totally attracted me to her is her gap in her teeth. All my sisters and brothers have gaps, but I don't.
Ms. CLARK: I talked to him about my past. You know, just out of the blue the first night I met him.
Mr. CLARK: And she just kept saying, Um, well, we're going to take care of business, you know, when it's right.
Ms. CLARK: Yeah, that's when I fell in love with him. I was used to a man, having to give him something. When he'd said he didn't want no money, didn't want no sex, I was like wow.
Brother FENDER: I love Ernest and Tammy. They work hard every day here in the community kitchen. But they're not being paid.
Mrs. CLARK: Whatever they need, we try to help.
Brother FENDER: These are people that I'm honored to call my friends. And yet I also have to watch them at the end of the day, knowing that they're going to have a long night of doing whatever it is they do, and hoping that tomorrow morning they're not in the hospital or they're not in jail or they're not beaten up.
Mr. CLARK: This is a probably kind of an embarrassing moment. I'm kind of going through something. I'm ashamed of it but it don't change. I'm a drug addict. I'm going on a drug run. Honesty is, you know, what y'all are looking for in this, right? But I'm about going to be six minutes. Time me.
(Soundbite of music)
Brother FENDER: I've seen him go through a lot of hard times. Ernest went to jail. I know that Tammy has worked the street. I know that she worked Prince Street. I hope that she'll never have to do that again.
(Soundbite of beeping)
Ms. CLARK: I've never had a job down here. Only job I've ever knew was walking. Okay, yeah. We're taking a left and this is Main Street. I live in Alabama -that's where I'm from. I ain't know what prostituting was or what crack was until I moved to Chattanooga. This is where the girl starts walking. The worst part. There's one right there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CLARK: I was really embarrassed about myself for doing it. There's another one. I know her. I smoked crack just to deal with what I did. Just to get my mind off of it. Yeah, I pretty much (unintelligible) the last one I was in, he took me in the woods and grabbed me by my hair and head. He didn't pay me. I just cried. (Unintelligible) that night, you know, I was going to die. And then he just made me get in the van and he dropped me off like it wasn't nothing.
And what's bad, he had his 13-year-old child was in the backseat asleep. I didn't know the child was back there until I got in so - and that scared me enough just to quit. I wasn't out there no more.
(Soundbite of music)
Brother FENDER: This Main Street is the heart of darkness in the city, I think. It's where so much goes on and so much has happened and we can't put up pretty new buildings and gloss over it. It's still there. It'll always be there, I think.
Ms. BARNES: I love the neighborhood. That's all I need to keep making Main Street a little bit better down this direction, and that way we can stay in the neighborhood.
Mr. BARNES: We have hope.
Brother FENDER: We have these places that we always go to, that we always return to. And Main Street here in Chattanooga is one of those places that people will come back to for whatever reasons they have.
Ms. CLARK: If we're broke (unintelligible) Main Street. But (unintelligible)…
(Soundbite of music)
SIMON: That was Tammy Clark of Chattanooga. She and her fiancé, Ernest, are still homeless. They live on food stamps, which they sometimes sell, and Ernest works in construction when he can find jobs. Homeowner Jennifer Barnes is a teacher in Chattanooga; her husband Jared works in publishing. And brother Ron continues to help the homeless on Chattanooga's Main Street.
Our Mapping Main Street story was produced by Ann Hepperman and Kara Oehler. It's part of Maker's Quest, an initiative of the Association of Independence in Radio, Incorporated, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
You can join this open documentary project by contributing stories, photos and videos for the Main Streets near year at www.mappingmainstreet, all one word, dot org.