Dallas City Hall versus The Car Wash

Mayor Rawlings calls this South Dallas business a blight. People earning a living there call it family.

Job of Last Resort

John Eddie Burks, 50, stands alone in a shadow at the end of the building. He's big, with a serious scowl and dark shades. He looks tough. When he smiles the scowl breaks into a big grin set off by a massive gold tooth. He says he doesn't know what he would do if something happened to the car wash.

"Some of my friends, it's like they going to a picnic. They leave their house, they come to the car wash. It takes a lot of stress off a lot of these people. It's like a family thing.

Dale Davenport's (left) car wash on MLK Boulevard isn't "wholesome" enough for City Council.
Mark Graham
Dale Davenport's (left) car wash on MLK Boulevard isn't "wholesome" enough for City Council.
"I can make anywhere from upward to $80 to $150 a day, and that's in a six- to seven-hour job. On a Saturday I can make $150 a day easy." -- James Black
Mark Graham
"I can make anywhere from upward to $80 to $150 a day, and that's in a six- to seven-hour job. On a Saturday I can make $150 a day easy." -- James Black

"Then you going to have the guys like me, on parole. This is the only job I can get. Take it away, take my only hustle I got, they really telling me they want me to be homeless. I ain't got nothing, because my wife died on me last year while I was away. Every little clothes and stuff I had burned up. Everything I got now, like that red bicycle you saw me ride up on, I bought that. I worked here and bought that. I bought that. I worked on cars. These shades, this ring, I paid for the ring downtown with money I made here. I can go and do slick stuff, but I gave that life away."


A Way to Survive

Out behind the car wash, Tomika McKinney, 38, and Latoya Wilson, 29, are propped back on chairs with their heads against the wall taking a break. McKinney is smoking a cigarillo.

"I've been smoking 20 years, since March 27, 1993."

Mark Graham, the photographer, laughs and keeps shooting. "How do you know the date?" he asks.

"That's the day I got out of the hospital with one of my babies."

McKinney says there is plenty of trouble a short distance away in the blocks behind the car wash. "You can find trouble anywhere. It's up to you if you will avoid it or indulge in it. Somebody got to be smarter than the next person."

She says the car wash is her social center. "Matter fact, I was up here several years ago, I seen a girl who I was in the third grade with. I didn't even know I looked the same. Her name was Barbara. She was like, 'Tomika McKinney!' I was like, 'Barbara!' The same way she was in the third grade, same way she is still right today. Little homely girl."

LaToya Wilson says, "It's how people survive, though. Most people up here are surviving off of it. Wash cars, pay their rent, their food and all that."

McKinney says, "Do it until you can do better. Do it until you can do better. Don't try to make it a lifetime thing. Something to do until you can do better. You got to crawl before you can walk, just like a newborn baby."


The Returning Alumni

Over the course of the afternoon, some alumni of the car wash drop by. One is Curtis Jenkins, 40. Davenport introduces him: "He was born and raised hard in South Dallas. But he has studied. He worked hard. He washed cars. He has done everything. Education, education, education."

Jenkins laughs. "I been knowing him since I was about 18 years old," he says of Dale. "He told me, 'The streets ain't where it's at.'"

Davenport ran into Jenkins unexpectedly recently at a real estate closing. "He's a licensed Realtor," Davenport says. "He's a licensed plumber, electrician, appraiser." He pauses.

"Insurance adjuster," Jenkins adds.

"Insurance adjuster," Davenport agrees. "School teacher."

They laugh about the time Jenkins thought he might try to go get some of Davenport's septic tank business away from him. Jenkins tells Davenport, "One day you told me you could get four or five thousand dollars building a septic tank. I thought, 'Ain't nothing but to dig a hole and put a mess of plumbing in it. I can do that.' I was going to try to get some of that septic business."

They hit on a compromise, instead. Jenkins bought an 18-wheeler truck, hired one of the car detailers to drive it and contracted with Davenport to carry his heavy equipment and tanks for him.

Jenkins says lots of people who come to the car wash are middle-class or affluent. "My uncle comes up here. He teaches law at a college. He was a state trooper 21 years. Comes up here on Saturday to get his brand-new Mercedes Benz washed here. Everybody over here ain't in the streets, man."

They talk about another guy who came back recently. Nineteen years ago when the guy was still an adolescent, Davenport's father, Freddy, showed him how a welding torch works.

"Daddy was over here welding one night. He was 62, worked for Lone Star Steel 40 years. This kid came through here. He was about 14 years old. He was watching. Daddy said, 'Don't watch it! You're going to burn your eyes.' My dad handed him the hat, took his time, let him see how the torch worked."

Davenport says the kid, now a young man, dropped back by the car wash recently. "He said, 'I am now working doing the Seaway Pipeline. I'm a welder, and I'm making $3,500 a week.' He said, 'I was never good with books,' but he said, 'I learned to be a good welder, because your dad had the patience and showed me that day.' He said, 'I always kind of wanted to do that.'"

Davenport shakes his head. "Now what is wrong with that?" he asks. It's a rhetorical question.

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17 comments
elmore_leonard
elmore_leonard

"south Dallas is a scene from Detroit"? or is it a scene from South Dallas. Detroit doesn't have a monopoly on dilapidation you silly cunt. 

J_A_
J_A_

The city is not making any money off this operation. And that is their biggest crime.

Subnx
Subnx

The name Diane Ragsdale explains it all. Rawlings needs to go and be replaced by someone who will clean up the ward politics that we have thanks to Jerry Buchmeyer.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

It would seem the reason for the "blight" in the area is NOT the car wash, but rather Ragsdale and the city holding title to a bunch of land they're letting sit idle. Are taxes being paid? My guess is the city doesn't pay itself, but I'm sure it pays somebody plenty to "manage" these holdings.


But I'm sure we'll see a big announcement soon that Stanley Korshak will be opening a new store next to the South Dallas Ritz Carlton Hotel and Towers.


gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

Why is it I am left unsurprised over yet another teapot tempest over a freaking car wash?  Perhaps the uber-uppity Dallas Citizens Council should merely get down to the basics and move in about 39 white elephants, and then parade around the fact they're giving "the Black" an opportunity to wash elephants.  Why should I pull punches here?  While I have nary a single thing against Mayor Mike Rawlings seriously now, his "suspicions" have not been confirmed regarding some kind of "secret Marxist, Kenyan, Sou' Dal', Ragsdale revolution a.k.a. black markets and radical means of making money outside established systems controlled by you-know who". 

Washing white cars or whitewashing white elephants: what's the difference? 

Were "The Rawling" to know any little bit about how black market activity tends to rise out of the realms of Nowheresville in terms of poor neighborhoods that have been left to just plain rot because "it's not profitable" to build commercial infrastructure like grocery stores, drug stores, clothing stores, even as the gentrification goobermenches continue to crowd-out poor people who apparently have the "gall" to live close enough to the center of downtown business activity that they can walk there, maybe he might want to take a second look at what happens when alternatives to Scary Rick Perry's Medicaid nullification traveling medicine show don't seem to be appearing, and when all the privatization prattle is never backed up by honest, straightforward action. 

No alternatives?  Sell drugs!  If the so-called "Establishment" or "the System" wants to sit on you like a 350-pound, platinum blonde dominatrix named Big Momma, mouths off a lot about "violence in the inner city" and then goes off the rails when anybody at all even dares to think about something as simple as a "weapons registry" (is gun control really about weapons or not?), then as far as I'm concerned the Kings in the Klown Kar can kick it. 

You think good people sitting on car seats on their porches is "stupid"?  Better think again, Dallas puppet-masters.  Pulling the furniture out of the machine is what it's all about. 

Now, DCC, you are free to go buy some more "detailing material" for your vehicles the rest of us usually call "our wives and girlfriends".  Should I suggest Loreal?  We can smell your feet from miles away, even if The Dallas Morning News and the local television and radio stations want to put the clampdown in place so the "groundlings" can continue to live in ignorant bliss. 

roo_ster
roo_ster

Blight, blight, blight, my backside.  Sound like folks who are trying to make some honest money.  And a damn sight less blighty than most the lots along that stretch of MLK.

And, yes, that neighborhood is rough.  Volunteered my meager carpentry skills a few times when House of Hope was up a street on Grand.  A job well done(1) is its own reward, but I also got a 3-hour spirit-filled service and some terrific chow as reward.

So, yeah, there are criminals, addicts, and all that sort down there.  But, there are also decent folks working and working to improve the neighborhood.  It would be a shame if the city stepped in and crushed that.

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.

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(1) Or in this case, "well enough," since I am no Norm Abrams.  It is one of those things: no matter how poor or lacking you are, someone else is likely to be poorer and grateful for even inexpert constructive help.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

It's both - a blight and a family.

The reason the neighborhood is a hell-hole is because that's what the people there want it to be.

They've been very clear on this point and have consistently elected officials who would help them "preserve the culture".


junegenis
junegenis

Clearly Dallas City Hall would prefer that these hard workers join the dole and become dependent on government handouts to survive rather than become self-supporting. This business probably does more to truly help those who have gone trough hard times than any welfare program the city has come up with.

debraclakin
debraclakin

Sounds like a place for a great car wash service.

manpanties
manpanties

does the northpark beat include vickery meadow?  

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

Oh.  And happy "Thor's Day".  It's also called "Thursday" because people of good sense decided to change the "O" to a "U", and when the little birdie flew out of the egg....

...we shot that little buzzard down easier than shootin' skeet. 

VernBytes
VernBytes

@bvckvs i.e. Carolyn Davis. The true blight of the neighborhood and Dallas City Council.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@timdickey @gordonhilgers 

This is a standard response Gordon sends to all items in which I use the terms "car wash" and "detail."

 
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