“The first time Carl told me a cyclist was coming to stay with us, I thought, ‘You invited a stranger to our house? Are you crazy?’ This guy from Korea showed up, his bicycle needed repair; he wound up staying three days. I thought I should be afraid, but he turned out okay.”
Corliss Thorn is an animated storyteller; her husband, a stoic listener. As the waitress at Marley’s Bar in Ferguson brought the second round of beers, Corliss told how her neighbor, a single African-American mother with two teenage sons, was stopped by a local police officer for running a traffic light and given a citation. The woman disagreed that she was at fault and refused the ticket. When she dropped it on the ground the officer cited her for littering. Things escalated. The officer arrested her. The woman spent hours at the police station. She got a bruise on her arm. After the altercation the neighbor called the local NAACP chapter to protest her treatment. They rejected her case: the police officer was Black. “These things have nothing to do with race. They have to do with respect. The place to contest a ticket is not with the officer; it’s in court.”
Corliss and Carl Thorn have lived on the same street of small ranch houses for twenty-six years. It has always been an integrated neighborhood, though over time that’s tilted from majority White to majority Black. Like everyone I met in Ferguson they believe the attention their city received after Michael Brown’s shooting and Officer Darren Wilson’s exoneration is unbalanced, but they embrace the events as opportunity to improve. “Michael Brown was not about race. It was about respect. Michael Brown disrespected the police officer responding to a 911 call; the officer disrespected Michael Brown. A series of poor decisions on the part of the police made everything worse. Al Sharpton and the media turned it into race. Then we had riots and looting. I came home at night and heard the marches and the teargas alarms. It was scary.”
Sitting in Marley’s on a Saturday night, it’s hard to refute Carliss’ assessment. Marley’s is one of the most integrated places I’ve been; Black and White staff, Black and White customers. People greet each other without tension. Everyone cajoles a local drunk who wanders onto the deck begging cigarettes.
Beyond Michael Brown, my Ferguson hosts and I discussed how Carl got sent to work in Louisiana over thirty years ago, met Corliss, and brought her back to the Saint Louis area; their two daughters and four grandchildren; Corliss’ work as a pharmacy tech and Carl’s environmental safety position; their two dogs that demand constant attention; Carl’s love of cycling and Corliss’ resistance to his passion. “Who wants to ride for miles and miles? I’ve seen one tree, I’ve seen them all.”
We also touched on the aches of middle age. When Carl was diagnosed with diabetes, he changed his diet, started cycling 26 miles round trip to work each day and dropped forty pounds in two months. Corliss suffers an autoimmune condition that causes indiscriminate pain.
In the morning, Corliss came back to their Korean cycling guest. “I just loved Quirt. I learned so much from him about North Korea and South Korea and the export business he ran.”
I pedaled away from their house thinking how some people turn fears to strength. How Corliss accepted a stranger into her house and came out better for it. How Ferguson suffered the judgmental glare of the world and came out more tolerant, more resilient, more respectful. Now, if we can only pinpoint Corliss’ nagging pain…
How will we live tomorrow?
“I like science fiction shows and like how they show the future. I don’t see much changing except technology.” – Carl