By Rosalie Tirella
Imagine you are a cool, young, handsome guy. Imagine you are a cool, young, handsome guy who digs music. Imagine you are a cool young music-loving guy who wants to bring cool music to Worcester’s masses – especially to young people. So, because you are young and cool and hopeful, you buy a club. You buy the old Cardinal bar in Worcester’s Piedmont neighborhood, on Pleasant Street/Congress Alley, and rechristen it The Raven because you are an Edgar Allen Poe fan and, with your shiny long jet black hair and angular attractiveness, you kinda look like a crow.
Then you – in this case Chris Bettencourt, 35 – watch your dream – and nerves – unravel, courtesy of the rough neighborhood to which you have hitched your dreams, the unsavory punks from the ‘hood who want to piss all over your dream, a half-hearted police force that will allow the punks to defile your dream, a missing-in-action neighborhood center staff, and a city manager’s office that seems too busy to bother about your dream.
This is what is happening to Bettencourt! Right now, as you read this! Chris still has his dream and his biz, but on many days he can often been seen sitting on the black metal bench outside his establishment sucking so hard on his cigarette, shoulders hunched, head down, that you’d think he had just checked into Deb Ekstrom’s Community Health Link/detox center, a 10 minute walk away. But no. It’s just the shitty side of Piedmont wearing a good man down.
Take the following facts:
* The area The Raven is trying to survive in looks … foreboding. Yes, Chris has a nice new trash barrel and bench outside The Raven and his small parking lot is always clean, but things across the way and up the way still look dumpy. The kind of dumpy that if the parents of one of The Raven patrons saw it, they would drive straight to Clark/Holy Cross/Assumption/WPI, pull their kids outa bed, shove ’em in the trunk of their Beamers and drive ’em straight back to their comfy homes in suburban Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania where they would staple gun Biff and Buffy to their bedroom doors for the next four years. It looks that tough.
* Weapons are being brandished. One night a neighborhood punk pulled a knife outside The Raven. Chris told the knife-wielding punk: take one step on my property and the you’ll deal with my door guy. The punk walked away, but true to punk nature, he then went on to slash the tires of five cars – five cars belonging to Raven patrons/kids.
* Chris turns to the people in the City of Worcester who are supposed to help, be there for a good guy with a good business: the cops and The Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center, on Pleasant Street, just a stone’s throw away from The Raven. Well, the cops come and say: we can’t do anything about this. Kevin Ksen, annoying uber neighborhood volunteer who for this year, to the annoynace of many city folks, has planted his wide ass in a chair at the Neighborhood Network Center, comes to The Raven to give Chris advice. Kevin Ksen tells Chris to have a good game of basketball with the knife-wielding punk. Befriend the poor victim of society’s ills.
Chris later told me: The punk is 35! Play basketball with him? Are they nuts??
I hear ya, Chris. Message to Kevin Ksen: The guy needs a job, not an enabler. The guy should apologize, retire his knife, get a job and then after a hard day’s work … play a game of hoop with Chris.
* Then there was the group of 20 guys – TWENTY!!! – just hanging out at the corner right by The Raven. Up to no good. The Worcester police were called; the cops said they couldn’t do a thing. Chris, feeling a tad overwhelmed at this point, called the cops again. This time the cops who came did in fact arrest the entire bunch except for one kid, a homeless dude.
* And we won’t go into the recent rash of fires in Piedmont that have made everyone in the neighborhood as jittery about their homes/apartments as Chris is about his club.
So, to see Chris sitting on his black bench outside his parking lot smoking like a chimney, a lost soul looking for an oasis in a desert of grime/crime, is heartbreaking. He says he wants to sell The Raven. He says he is looking for a partner to help him run the place. In truth, he is looking for someone to support him as he goes through all this crap. Someone who can be at his side the next time the bad boys ride into town and want to screw with his salloon. Chris is the Gary Cooper of Piedmont. This is his “High Noon.” No freaking deputies to be found! Anywhere.
Let me say this: It takes a truckload of guts to do what Chris Bettencourt is doing, to open up a club in a sometimes violent, inner-city neighborhood.
What makes all of this especially heartbreaking is The Raven is kind of a Worcester icon. It is located on Congress Alley, the tip of the Crown Hill neighborhood. Back in the 1960s Congress Alley was Worcester’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood, a place where Worcester’s young artistes came together to make music, poetry, paintings and protest the Vietnam War. A place where Woo’s hippies hung out to strum their acustic guitars and listen to their own beat poets because the cool old historic homes of Crown Hill were not yet reclaimed and rehabbed. They were just elegant junk, waiting for kids to move into them and decorate their lovely tired old maple and oak walls with tie-dyed curtains, macrame plant hangers, feathers and love beads and copies of The Whole Earth Handbook. There was even a relativley famous 1960s Worcester band called Orpheus that recorded a a couple of albums while they hung out on Congress Alley. They even record a song about the scene. It’s called (what else?) “Congress Alley” and sounds like a Byrds song, all jangly and cool.
So, good people of Worcester, we say how we want to be up and coming and cool and attract young people to our gritty environs, but we are letting Chris Bettencourt and The Raven dangle in the wind! New people and their NEW ideas are what make a city grow and thrive! It’s not just bricks and fancy crosswalks. It’s the peeps, peeps! Chris and his Raven club are a shining example of what Worcester should be in 2012 and beyond. Let’s not let the dude down!