“Where do the black people live now?” I asked Maddy after a few minutes of silence. This resulted in a sudden turn of the driver’s head. He seemed to be taking in every word I said, so I decided to ask the same question in a different way, since I didn’t see anyone of color. “I thought downtown Cincinnati was more racially mixed?”
“It was more racially mixed before this part of the city was designated a zone. The rest of the city is mixed. You’ll find all kinds of people north of here…all kinds, but they’re all poor.”
Maddy’s answer seemed to be missing something. I looked back at him with a puzzled look and then prodded for more. “So? The zones don’t segregate populations by race, do they?”
“No, they don’t,” Maddy answered, but this time, he was anxious to add more. “You see that sign over yonder?”
I said yes. I couldn’t help but see the oversized signs that seemed to be plastered on every street corner. They seemed to call former President Smith every name in the book. The visceral hatred of the man startled me, but I was more surprised that my daddy’s name wasn’t up there.
“You mean those hate signs?” I asked, just to be certain of where he was pointing and preparing to make a point. “We’ve had two presidents since Smith won in 2016. Why are they still ragging on Smith?”
“Because people up here don’t care about what happened after his time in the White House. Smith was in control of the government…your father’s government…that put all the political troublemakers in these reform zones.”
“So what does that have to do with the blacks?”
“That sign over there shows how angry this place was…and still is. The hate and crime got so bad even the blacks moved out.” He paused before adding the rest. I looked at his face, and saw he looked worried. “Even the undocumented illegals and roamers got smart and left. That tells you how bad it got up here…and still is in some places.”
I also wondered about the schools, since I enjoyed photographing children. I looked around and saw more people out and about, but I wasn’t sure what they were doing. All the children seemed to be standing around, watching.
“Where are the schools?” I asked.
“Kids who aren’t homeschooled are allowed to cross over the wall just north of here,” he answered. “The government has managed to keep the schools quite nice; somehow they found the money after the curriculum was changed.”
“And that’s why so many kids here are still homeschooled…because they brought balance and education back into the classroom?” I asked, knowing there would be an immediate reply.
“That’s the main reason…and then there’s God,” Maddy shot back. “It’s a miracle any of them learn anything…they’re praying so much in the schools nowadays. And—”
“And what’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“Nothing. I’m just saying…it’s also not that easy to get the reform zone children to the schools on the other side. The wall entry point is twenty blocks northwest of us.”
“How many schools are there?”
“Only four, and they are all near the universities, or what is left of them.”
I looked back at Maddy, trying to map the reform zone boundary in my head. He saw the confusion and added more, showing me a small map of downtown Cincinnati. “Let me show you the zone. Everything north of the river, south of Sixth Street, and between the two interstates, falls inside the zone. The interstate connector…Four Washington Way…was destroyed when the I-71 Bridge was bombed, along with everything between that and the river. It’s considered no man’s land now…not part of the zone or free. It’s just empty, abandoned space.”
“This place is huge,” was the only thing that came out of my mouth.
“Yes it is,” Maddy answered. “Your side did good, Mary Catherine. The zone makes up thirty-five city blocks, plus where I live, Mount Adams. They added Mount Adams to the zone a couple of years later for more housing. Cincinnati was the first and the largest one they created and….”
“And what?” I asked.
“We’ll be the last to be free, and that won’t happen anytime soon.”
“They added an entire city district to add housing? Why?”
“Who knows? Probably to hurt us more,” Maddy answered with a mocking tone. “But this section is the best the reform zone has to offer, believe it or not. Central City is a pigsty compared to Mount Adams.”
“I had no idea.”
“No idea of what?” Maddy asked. “You didn’t think you’d see a dead city up here? Well, here it is—the city’s central business district, abandoned. Most roads are now blocked by Jersey barriers and a handful of others—Elm Street, Vine, and Broadway—manned by Blue State Region security forces, people with guns letting people with guns come and go as they please. Cincinnati is about as dead as it gets.”
“What about the rest of the city?”
“The rest is what we call Free Cincinnati, and that includes the major universities…Cincinnati U and Xavier. Both were heavily damaged during the riots, but now they’ve reopened. Xavier is on the north side of Fifth and has two schools for the zone kids. Another school is at the Cincinnati campus and another at Fountain Square.”
“Why are they schooled on university property?” I asked.
“Our children go there because the campus is close to the borders, and they’re well-secured and relatively safe now…if you don’t include random anti-government attacks, police brutality, and government retaliation. There’s no presumption of privacy there, like our parents used to expect, but at least it’s safe, and that’s why the younger ones are placed there.”
“And farther out, the other schools…are they open now?”
“Yes, but they don’t want us up there. No one wants trouble nowadays. It seems like everyone has just given up on everything. We lost, and now there’s no fight left, except inside the zones.”
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