His red ball cap is bleached with sun and smeared with grease. Every morning, he drives a maroon Isuzu from his house on the East Side to his auto shop near the intersection of Prospect and 21st Street.
When he started Bradley's Garage in 1984, he says, business was good. Now he comes to work when he feels like it, leaves when he gets sick of it and, in between, sits on the stairs with a clunky cordless phone that rarely rings.
"It used to be something, but now it ain't nothing," he says of his business on Prospect Avenue, a 15-mile artery that's one of the city's most neglected yet most notorious thoroughfares.
A few weeks ago, Prospect was the route for a 20-block moving shootout between cops and drug dealers; it's been the bloodline for a staggering number of drive-by shootings this year. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, residents of the Prospect corridor earn less than half the median income in Kansas City, Missouri. Based on a 2002 city estimate, more than 70 percent of the homes there are worth less than $50,000.
Slicing through the 3rd and 5th City Council districts, the area has suffered from ineffective representation. In 2002, community leaders embarked on the ambitious Prospect Corridor Initiative, a project that aimed to revive this struggling sector of the city. Just five years later, that city-led effort seems to have been abandoned.
But Prospect is far from dead.
Some business owners have been here for half a lifetime. Loretta Washington celebrated her grand opening on April Fools' Day, 1979, and business at her sewing and alteration shop, near 75th Street, has been nonstop ever since. James Smith, now 82, was inspired to start his driving school near 25th Street back in 1957, when he was the only Midwestern Baptist Seminary student who had a car.
If Charles Ray Bradley has grown jaded over years of sporadic business, even this cynical mechanic occasionally causes a stir on Prospect. His real love isn't cars, anyway. It's horses. He's got seven of them — Kid, Peaches, Baldy, Smokey, Buddy, Peanut and Sugar — and he's been known to bring one or two to work with him.
Walk the street, and you'll find people who don't want to complain about crime and blight or be congratulated for sticking around. They just want Kansas City residents to swing by when they're looking for an oil change or a haircut. Joe Giamalva looks like he was born in shoulder pads. Even if he wasn't wearing a St. Pius football T-shirt, his broad shoulders and short-cropped hair would give him the air of a linebacker.
Holding the line seems to be a metaphor for his business, which anchors the northern end of Prospect. Giamalva has been operating Speedy's Food and Liquor Mart, a windowless building at Ninth Street, for more than 30 years. He runs this joint with his sister's husband, Larry Marshall, a former Chiefs player who still ranks third in the team's history for his 28-yard average kickoff return during the 1972 season.
Giamalva lives in Liberty, but he grew up just a few blocks away from here. He started the convenience store after he graduated from Northeast High School in 1973.
Longtime customers who now have kids of their own tell Giamalva that they remember playing pinball and Pac-Man while they watched out the door for the school bus. Those games are gone now, replaced by old-school vending machines that hawk candy and "Bling Watches" for a quarter or two.