There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In late June, Anthony “Ant” Brown Jr. bent underneath the hood of his dead ’87 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. Stuck on the 500 block of Mellon Street SE, he worked over the white two-door’s innards, producing not as much as a pop out of its raggedy engine. The Caddy had long since sunk to hoopdee status. Large burns scarred the white leather interior’s armrest and the back of the front passenger seat. The hood ornament was bit. Rust was eating at the hood, too.
“‘Sorry about the car in front of your house,’” Grady Edwards remembers Brown telling him that day. Edwards had been watching Brown’s sad attempts at Caddy CPR from his front yard. “‘I’m going to try to get it fixed and get it moving.’”
Brown, 22, had uttered such words many times over. Before the Caddy, he had stalled in a Ford Crown Vic, a Chevy Malibu, an Oldsmobile Cutlass, a Mitsubishi Galant, a Toyota Tercel. Friends say he was an auto-auction junkie, who traded cars with friends regularly, usually for cars with little ride left in them.
Brown lived with his aunt, Cheryl Brown, in Fort Washington, Md. She had a rule about his cars: He could keep three junkers in front of her house, but if he couldn’t get them started within a month, she’d have them towed away. At the time of his death, three of Brown’s cars were rusting in Maryland impound lots. “If [he] could get it to band practice and a couple of his shows, that was a good car,” Cheryl Brown remembers.
The Caddy died two weeks before its owner. In the early morning of July 3, just 50 yards from his car, Brown suffered a gunshot wound to the head. The murder remains unsolved.
Within days, a shrine sprouted up in honor of Brown, founder and lead talker of the go-go group Elevation Band. It included the usual choir of Moët, Rémy, and Hennessy bottles, stuffed animals—a Doberman with a studded collar, a panda in a football jersey, a bulldog with a rotted cigar tucked under his floppy left ear—and, less conventionally, Brown’s car.
On an early-fall evening, Brown’s friends have gathered along the retaining wall, matted tall grass, and crumbling stoop of Wilson Courts, a two-story apartment building located on the block. To joke. To smoke. To keep on watching the shrine. Flies swoop through the liquor bottles, and cobwebs have started to claim the stuffed animals.
Pusher T notices a new addition—a waist-high trophy made of beige wood and studded with gold-colored plastic eagles. At the base, instead of an inscription, it reads “SON” in black marker. He wants to know where the trophy came from.
“His father put it out,” says Tiffany Deal, 19.
Pusher T stops picking at the trophy, but not before carefully shimmying a kid’s wool cap onto its top.
Brown’s father, Anthony Brown Sr., later says that he can’t bring himself to visit the shrine; he wasn’t the one who deposited the trophy. “It’s just been hard. That’s all,” Brown explains.
No one steps near Ant’s shrine without his buds’ watching carefully. His friends boast that they’ve yelled at a few clumsy kids who’ve knocked over bottles. Pusher T takes the time to adjust a clear plastic tarp so it shields some of the animals. “We grew up together,” he explains. Brown was reared not far from the shrine, just over on Newcomb Street. “That’s my man, a cool dude.”
Pusher T isn’t so good with eulogies, but he goes on. “Too nice. That dude was a good dude. Not confrontational. He stayed away from that. We’d smoke weed and listen to his music. The dude never changed.”
So the rule is: Neither does the shrine. And that rule extends to Brown’s Caddy. It’s parked six houses up Mellon Street. It is allowed to take in Mellon Street sunlight and bird shit, dust and gas fumes. And that’s it. The Caddy stays.
As Pusher T’s friend D-Bob puts it: “Don’t move the damn car.”
As a preventive measure, Pusher T explains, he had the idea to put the shrine in the Caddy. For now, though, they’ll keep both shrine and Caddy where they are.
The memorial status of Brown’s Caddy doesn’t sit well with everyone on Mellon Street. In fact, outside Wilson Courts, neighbors view the Caddy as another junky part of Mellon Street’s normal eviction ritual. It shares curbside space with a couch, a pile of wild-print ties, gray boxers, pink panties, and a pair of trash bags stuffed with someone’s belongings. All the result of two recent evictions. One neighbor counted five evictions in a two-block radius in just one week.
According to Edwards, the Caddy is just as much of an eyesore as the off-white sleeper sofa and the old-man underwear. “Everybody in the neighborhood has called for the car, and they never have towed it,” he says. “Other neighbors have called. The police refused to tow it.”
Mary Myers, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works (DPW), says the Caddy qualifies for immediate towing because it doesn’t have tags. But she adds: “We may not get it immediately, just because there are any number of reports of abandoned vehicles. We have to prioritize and tow those that are dangerous or are violating public-safety or access laws first.”
And there’s another reason the DPW might not want to prioritize Brown’s caddy. If any District employees try to snatch the car, Ant’s friends on Wilson Court will consider them fair game. “They going to get their ass whipped,” explains Big Dick Jr. “Even the pipeheads whip their ass.”
Still, the auto memorial has had some less sentimental visitors. Edwards says people have slept in the Caddy, busted the trunk’s lock, and tried to steal it. The steering column is scratched up; the windshield-wiper lever has been snapped off. A spoon and lighter sit snug in the glove compartment. It’s been a month and a half since someone stole the plates.
For now, the Caddy’s fate is up to Mellon Street. And what happens may depend on the vigilance of Wilson Courts.
On a Saturday afternoon, seven houses from Wilson Courts, a guy rolls up in his own Caddy with an offer. “Do you like that car?” he asks. “I know the dude who owns it. I can get his people to sell it to you.”
But his people may not be so willing. Deal discovered at Brown’s wake that she and Brown were distant cousins. She decided she needed to be inside his Caddy. So one day, she got into it and took the one thing left of Brown’s—a plain white T-shirt. “I got it at home just how he left it,” she says. “A lot of people got stuff.”
For a while at least, Deal could sniff the shirt and smell Brown. Bring him back just a bit. “He always smelled fresh and clean,” she says.
Deal says she is left with the shirt, its scent now faded, and the sight of the Caddy. She has a ritual with the Caddy. “Every time I go past the car, I go, ‘Hi Ant,’” she explains. “Like he still here….Nobody else going to be able to move it. Until he can come back.”CP