Maybe you saw that letter to the editor in The Spec this week from some guy who had the job during the Canadian Open of ferrying golfers, their families and caddies between the course and their hotels downtown.
He said he was deeply ashamed of his city. The out-of-towners, he said, hated Hamilton. Downtown, he said, "has been ruined by the scariest looking degenerates you’ve ever seen."
Our core, he said, is a place of "boarded up buildings and zombies walking around." He talked about a guest family who scurried back into their hotel when they saw what "looked like a gang about to have a fight."
Whoa. Everybody take a breath.
Let's ask Joe
Let’s ask Joe about all this. That would be Joe Alderman, the guy who plays the accordion on King West in front of Stelco Tower.
If you take a table at an outdoor cafe in Venice, it won’t be long before someone strolls up and plays the accordion. Here, for many years, we’ve had Joe.
He stands out there, trusting the people of downtown Hamilton. Joe has no use of his left eye or his left ear. He has a hearing aid in his right ear, and with his right eye he can see only shapes, not details. He carries a white cane.
In short, he is easy prey for the "degenerates, zombies, gangs."
He's not scared
Joe’s sure he’s had coins pilfered the odd time, but that’s it. He is not scared out there.
He is 54 and has been playing the accordion from boyhood, on a farm in Prince Edward County.
He takes the city bus to his post downtown and plays three hours a day. This steamy summer has not cut into his hours. "I don’t like people who complain about the heat."
He plays tunes from Cats. He does Born Free. Polka. The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night. La Compacita. People like something they recognize. Every day, weather permitting, it’s the same.
"You might think it’s not nice," Joe says, "but sometimes I’m just glad to get it done." Day done, he heads inside to the Royal, turns his coins into a bill.
He does like Burger King, and usually gets four small ones with mustard and tomato. That may be followed by a Century Sam cigar. And on Thursday nights, special treat, a bottle of Baby Duck.
Lots of languages
At home, Joe studies languages. He’s made a special hobby of learning numbers around the world, declares he’s now up to 318 languages.
And if you ask, he’ll try a little esperanto out on you. It’s the international language and Joe likes it a lot. "It has only 16 rules of grammar and they’re all perfect."
Joe’s accordion is a 1974 Bellini. "I tried to trade it in last year, but the man said it was too old. He said it’s completely lost its shine. He did fix it up and said it should be good for another year or two."
Play on, Joe. Zombies be damned.
You can read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.