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May 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Douglass Park is lively on this bright Monday, but it’s just an ordinary afternoon for Robert Lewis, 60, and his friends Richard Vaughn, 68, and James Hickman, 55. They are in their usual spots around a picnic table under a shelter. These men are active members of “the gentlemen’s club,” a nickname for the older men who meet almost every day to talk about life and to “squash trouble,” which Lewis explains involves keeping the peace if a friendly debate were to go too far. The trio collectively have a few earrings, three gold teeth and one cane, which Vaughn is holding.
“We are just kind of spontaneous, you know,” Lewis says as he sits on the bench. “We mostly talk about sports and politics.”
The topic of today’s conversation is finding a job. Lewis has worked many jobs in his day and used to be a machinist. He says he’s only been looking for a job for two months but hasn’t had much luck. The problem, he says, is that the Latinos usually fill the jobs he believes he is qualified for, and blacks rarely fill these types of jobs.
“I guess what I’m saying is I lived down South in Louisville for 10 years,” Lewis says. “And I seen black people doing jobs down there that you never seen done by them here.”
An old Bronco blares loud bass, but it just sounds like raspy, blown-out speakers pumping out rap music. It contradicts the mood of the gentlemen’s slow-motion afternoon.
“I am not racist,” Lewis says, but there are a lot of things that he wonders about yet has no control over.
There are other issues that have been bugging Lewis, such as the stoplights in town. He says that those darn things don’t let you get anywhere fast because they change too quickly. His wish for Columbia, aside from correcting the lack of jobs for the black community, is that the lights would stay green for a longer period of time. That’s all he would really change about his home. “Really, I like Columbia the way it is, though.” Lewis says. “It’s a good town to raise kids in.”