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Staying Engaged 

From the Mayfair Cafe to Central Park

"Time to write another column," the blank screen tells me. Of course it wants me to write about Donald Trump — the human black hole who is sucking the oxygen out of America. Sorry, but this one's Trump-free.

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NO-DRAMA OBAMA Before I move on, this ugly presidential election only underlines how amazing President Obama's nearly eight years without personal controversy have been. He and his family have been role models. Just an observation.

MAYFAIR MEMORIES Every morning I drive by Washington and Second, and one day, there it was — a pile of bricks where the Mayfair Cafe stood. Divey though it was, the Mayfair meant a lot to me: My grandfathers haunted the place. Archie McGregor's grocery store, Sanders Market, was right next door, and Joe Peirone's fledgling produce company was just across the street. After the war, they'd hang out there, unaware that years later their kids would get married — or that many years later, their grandson would drive by, see the ruins and be a little sad. When I think of Archie and Joe sharing a booth there for lunch, their life stories just getting good, it makes me smile.

When Grandpa Joe was dying of cancer in 1992, I read parts of Breaking Blue to him; it's my friend Tim Egan's second book — the tale of an unsolved Spokane mystery, set against Depression-era police corruption. In it, a downtown bar, the notorious Mother's Kitchen, is almost a character; Joe perked up at the name, and he told me about the old places — the Montana Tavern, the Silver Inn, where he met my grandmother, Alice, and, yes, the Mayfair.

NEVER-ENDING STORY Our police saga goes way back, and here we are at another turning point, choosing a new chief. There's been a lot of suffering recently, but with the help of the U.S. Justice Department, we're enacting reforms like body cameras. We also better understand the challenges our police face as de facto front-line mental health care workers. Every police department and every city in America is facing these questions, and more than that, understanding that we need shared solutions. It hasn't been easy, but I'm proud of our progress. We must stay engaged on such crucial challenges.

Still, as we settle on a new leader, what's non-negotiable is that person needs to serve all people in our city — cops and citizens alike. In many ways, an internal hire makes sense, as our last two outsiders have been bad and disastrous. But a hire like Craig Meidl carries baggage, too. For this to have any chance, the page needs to be unequivocally turned. We all need our next police chief to succeed. By not addressing Meidl's salute of Karl Thompson or asking for the city council's endorsement, trust has not been repaired, and achieving that success will be more challenging than it should be.

CENTRAL SPARK I'm staying engaged as a Park Board volunteer helping out on the Riverfront Park renovation. Our family recently visited Central Park, and what rubbed off on me was its history. Created in 1857, every era put its stamp on their urban wonderland that's active, passive and filled with people and art. Here in Spokane, our generation is taking the torch from the King Coles of the past. Hopefully our improvements will write a great chapter, while also inspiring the next vanguard to keep at it. That's how it has worked so beautifully in New York — with citizens across 159 years staying engaged.

SPARK CENTRAL I witnessed another group of devoted locals last week, when Spark Central, in Kendall Yards, relaunched its mission as a place where kids can learn and explore. Board President Jess Walter told me about some of the Native American kids, West Central kids and even adult volunteers who have been lit up by this vital, new institution. Helping kids unlock their imaginations is about as important as it gets, and Spark Central — formerly Ink Art Space and the Spark Center — offers programs like Drop In & Draw and the Girls Rock Lab. And like a great park, we can all agree that music is awesome.

TURN IT UP Yes, music is awesome, and R.E.M. is a great place to start, with their Americana sound and obtuse yet evocative lyrics. The line "cheesecake, jelly bean, boom," from "It's the End of the World as We Know It" is perhaps the greatest nonsense in rock 'n' roll history.

I've started listening to entire albums again, and Lifes Rich Pageant really takes me back to when I was bursting with life's possibilities, along with so many questions. How would I ever fit into Grandpa Joe's world? There's a line in "Cuyahoga": "Let's put our heads together / and start a new country up." Yeah, that hit me — I was feeling the Bern, circa 1986. We've got to keep that kind of idealism alive.

There's another lyric coming back to me lately, from "Little America" on Reckoning: "Jefferson, I think we're lost." Whatever the band meant, I've taken it as a prayer for some innate American wisdom to strike us from above. Please, Mr. Third President, help us find our way back.

But all these years later, I know there's no map for where we're going, just purpose. And if we stay connected to each other and the places we love, we're never really lost. ♦

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