Perhaps. But if there are people in the neighborhood who resent Hardemon's ride, there are others who appear to take vicarious pleasure in it: the man who washes it whenever it's parked in the lot behind MLK, the young brothers who sidle up to it to ask Hardemon about the possibility of a job with the county, the neighborhood toughs who offer to watch it for him, not for money, but to prove they control the street.
For all of the attention the car elicits, however, Hardemon himself -- always moving, always jawing -- remains the main attraction any time he's around. "How much y'all want for those 50-cent watermelons?" he shouts to six or so elderly black men sitting under a large tree in an empty lot across from the parking lot that once was Hardemon's (née Shirley's) Market. Next to the men is a moving truck, its rear door slid all the way up to reveal a pile of fresh watermelons. "Hey! Billy Hardemon!" yells Mr. B., quickly pointing to another member of the group. "You remember Tracy?" Hardemon nods. "I remember all these brothers." And they him.
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Operation Greenpalm alumni James Burke (top), Howard Gary (center), and Calvin Grigsby
"Boy," says Mr. B., tall, thickly built, and immaculately dressed in a pair of blue jeans, sport shirt, and cap, "I remember when Billy was just a little boy, couldn't even reach the cash register at that market used to be across the street, but he'd stand on a box or something and bang those keys."
And then Mr. B. smiles. "Billy, how about you let me buy you a couple of those watermelons?" Hardemon protests. But Mr. B.'s not having it. Reaching into his pocket, the fatherly figure produces three worn one-dollar bills, and hands them over to the man in charge of the melons. Billy Hardemon, grinning, thanks Mr. B. and scampers across the street, taking the old hustler's gift with him.