First of all, you have to free yourself of at least some of your pre-conceived judgments and prejudices against pimps. It is not true that “a pimp is a pimp, is a pimp“. Actually, pimps are people too. Once, they were even little people with a world before them and an entitlement to the American Dream. Some blew it, some just got blown off.
LoveTrain was the blown off version. Born into the transitioning world of racial discrimination with little to no family unit that was functional, “Train” evolved into the role he became known for, rather than chose the role. Sometimes the line of least resistance simply helps us survive, and isn’t that what a lot of people are trying to do? You may have to scrape away the indignities and self righteousness, but at the core of our being when we pull covers up to our noses on a cold winter night, it’s really about survival. Surviving just one more day, or week or year til our “boat comes in”. Of course most of us never had a ticket for that boat anyway.
Train was an electric figure in the inner city (no pun intended–well maybe a little one). Thin and wiry, black and wizened, he scampered through the little kingdom that was his turf. Known to all the regulars, transients, cops and rich guys looking for some quick fix that won’t cost much, he had an affable way about him and gave you the impression that he would do a lot to get along. But cross him or threaten him, he could handle the challenge. Discreet or not, it didn’t matter, but he had survived many years on the streets and in many of the toughest dives, and he knew when to bend and when to whirl into defensive action.
And, Train had friends. All kinds of friends that were there to “CYA” for him if he needed it. One was a street smart cop whose beat was the inner city. Trula Godwin, or “T” as she was often called, was a powerful figure in his world. She was a woman police officer who could ride with the Grim Reaper’s for an event on personal time and know she was safe. How she side stepped the police department reprimands for fraternizing with felons is anyone’s guess, but they could never stop her, just verbally attack her. It was also known that she had the best “snitches”, or more politically correct, “confidential informants” so no one pressed her very hard. She was a port in the storm of needed information.
Train and “T” were fairly close in age though his years on the streets made him look much older. His infectious grin would take years off when he engaged you in friendly banter. Oh yes, he could banter. He had many interests and some were those that concerned the street people around him. He often went to the agencies and “T” to let them know of needs or dangers concerning the people who inhabited his world. In turn “T” and the others knew he had a soft heart that helped many people. Many would say “he’s just trying to manipulate” or that “he’s just padding up some favors for the future”, but I gave him the benefit of any doubts. The results were the proof of the pudding, as they say.
Once he tipped me off when a bar owner was cashing monthly checks for the people in my special need housing project. Having no credentials for a bank account, or enough funds to warrant one,some tenants would go to the bar and drink cheap beer for an afternoon then leave that night with no money for rent or food left. Now Train knew the value of a buck, and he knew when the owners were taking advantage. While I was more easily classified unofficialy as a “do gooder street ministry type” we handled it the “street” way, and the bar owners still continued their slimy practice, but never to the people I was working with in my project.
Another time he came to me and told of an elderly, white haired lady, dancing about in her night gown and whirling and swirling dangerously in four lanes of down town traffic. “T” was off that day and the beat cop on duty wasn’t interested in the sweaty, urine soaked old lady. And he sure wasn’t putting her in his squad to deal with her. Train frantically searched and found me and let me know what was happening so we could safely remove her from the street and return her to the struggling family members who were only now realizing the impact of something called “Alzheimer’s”.
Dignity is essential no matter your station in life. To be needed it a powerful motivator to just get out of bed. Train was no ones fool. He knew what he was and how people viewed it; especially “those” people who didn’t live in his kingdom. He sought to be a part of “those” people when he could, within reason. And he was never more motivated than when he could do “T” a favor.
“T” had a nephew (my son Steve) who was a sophomore in high school. Never one to do the “ordinary,” he was giving strong consideration to how he would top everyone in their high school photography assignment to do a photography diary of an event, or document. Something that told a story in a unique way. The idea he came up with would need a lot of clout, finesse, and a favor from his favorite aunt, “T”. He wanted to document the steamy side of the inner city culture in the bars and the social access of the prostitutes and pimp, namely Train.
It took some negotiating, but finally the plans were made. Armed with his camera and his aunt”T” at his side, he watched as Train opened doors for him that would not be opened to anyone else unless you were part of the culture. Not only did he see a whole new way of life and lifestyles, but being from the background of fundamental religion, he was enlightened by meeting people who had long since abandoned or rejected those beliefs and the path it had led them down.
Because “T” and Train were with him, he had automatic and unlimited acceptance. Openness abounded. The experience of Train’s world, Aunt “T’s police beat, and his mother’s housing project in the middle of it, was an eye opener, but also one that gave him insights into the reality of our world, not just the pretty picture people present to their children as we protect our children from the reality. There were no regrets to the lessons learned.
Needless to say he overwhelmed the traditionalists at school with his project presentation of the steamy, sad, and haunting underworld, in the very community they all lived in. The life that existed while the “good folks slept tucked in their beds.“It was amazing to students and faculty alike. An “A” for the project while rewarding and the goal, was not the end result that counted. There were lessons learned on all sides.
For the aunt it was the fun and validation she received in her favorite nephew seeing the world she worked in and benefiting from her ability to arrange such an opportunity for him. She told the story about those hours and experiences for years to come and delighted in bringing it up at social events when she thought the listeners were a little too snooty and she wanted to toy with their “comeuppance”. She would pretend she felt they needed to be informed about her nephew’s “foray into the world of prostitution”. Some took a while to realize it was said “tongue in cheek” and about “their candidate running for political office.” But they also knew it had been a reality check for a young man who would be thrust into the world political opportunity to make a difference for all people in his efforts as an elected official one day.
For Train the reward was the dignity and respect he was given by his “pupil”, the nephew, his favorite cop, and his peers in his kingdom. He too would recount the story of the time he took “T’s” nephew and personally protected and escorted him through the inner city and taught him “the facts of life in a different perspective”. He felt an empowerment in helping an educational endeavor and told everyone he’d helped Steve and he got an “A”. And lastly, Train continued to follow the life and events of the nephew through high school and college. When the nephew ran for a state office, in his own way, Train campaigned for him in his own creative, and inevitable way.
It was a powerful day when my son experienced his first election for Iowa state representative and won. Many emotions surfaced as the hours went by and I pondered his path to this point and what the future would hold.
I was at their home babysitting and taking phone calls while they were at the campaign headquarters. The very first person to show up at his home to congratulate him was, who else? “Love Train”. He’d traveled out of the comfort zone of the inner city to a neighborhood where he would obviously stand out and feel nervous. When I answered the door he burst inside and with pressured speech said he knew “his boy” would do it and he had worked hard for him in the inner city. He hurriedly said to tell him congratulations and to tell “T” he was glad her nephew won as he knew how proud she was of him.
And though my son missed Trains visit, gauging his reaction to news he was the first visitor, I knew he would not forget his colorful roots due to the colorful family and friends, and the people who took the time, energy, and risks to ground him in reality his formative years. He was pleased by the fact that Train had not forgotten him and more importantly had “made some people vote that had never voted before”. My son always takes pride in getting people involved in the political process and considered Train voting for the first time in his life a major achievement.
Years have passed, my sister “T” and Love Train have passed, but in one of the last conversations we had in her last hospital stay, we talked about our life experiences together. Trula relayed to me more stories of Train. I had seen him occasionally through the years as we both worked in the inner city and some of his “girls” came through my project for help to change their lives. Always they came with support and no interference from Train.
In spite of the photography adventure, Train didn’t change in any dramatic fashion, my son didn’t change though he was enlightened to another aspect of life, my sister didn’t change and I didn’t change. What did change was the way we opened up to one another over a simple school assignment and learned profound lessons of life from each other. We each learned the value in showing respect on a common ground issue for the betterment of another. We found the importance of trusting each other.We experienced the reality of interacting with and bringing out the best in others as we deal with the best inside of us.
It was a wonderful, simple experience that impacted our lives with simple lessons. It fortified us for future challenges in life. It involved the need for an open mind and not judging with an iron clad attitude.
Mostly, it just taught us that compassion is a big part of friendship, and if you look deep enough, long enough, there is a spark of common ground to explore in each person in your encounters in life. Compassionate friendships are amazing legacies.
Iowa State Representative Steve Grubbs (Left)
Honorary Colonel Trula Godwin(Right)
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (Left Center)
Steve Governor Branstad Trula
Trula at the presentation where she received her “wings” and the status of “Honorary Colonel in the Iowa National Guard” from Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. This was witnessed by her nephew, Iowa State Representative Steve Grubbs who served as her escort that night in the Inaugural Ball.