streets of gold
Streets of Silver & Gold
Smoke from the rusted, pierced oil-drum stung the accumulated group’s eyes and throats. They stared at the rainbow of hues burning as the garbage they tossed in warmed their hands and bodies. The autumn air was chill, but it wasn’t quite deadly yet, and space around the fire wasn’t so violently defended as it would be in a couple of months.
Henry Waznik pulled his stained jacket tighter as he approached the group. He’d passed several identical barrel-fire scenes already on his way to this particular group. Each set of stubbled, craggy faces glanced wearily at him as he walked through the vagrants’ camp. He realized all too late that he was far to well-groomed to blend in here, regardless of his choice of coat.
From fifty feet or so, Henry saw the barrel-fire he was looking for, one of the few with a couple of smiles. He stopped to watch a moment before approaching closely. Another man, probably approaching sixty, shuffled into Henry on his way somewhere. The older man lifted glassy eyes for a fleeting moment and moved on before Henry could finish his apology.
The young man took a breath and walked-up to the gathered homeless he’d come here to find. He couldn’t help but notice a shape dissolving in the smoke above the barrel. It was too gone to tell what it was, but still present enough not to seem natural.
“Excuse me,” he started, “Room for one more?” The gathered souls turned to take him in, with the same appraising eyes of the other barrels. They were all older, at least fifty, but weather and time had not been kind.
After an awkward pause, one of the men growled a challenge, “You duckin’ the war, boy?” Henry blinked with surprise.
“No sir, number just hasn’t come up, yet,” Henry said, his challenger didn’t look particularly impressed.
“Good little soldier then?” he asked.
“I…I’ll do my duty,” He said, surprised as being the one answering questions. The gathered faces exchanged glances.
“I…uh, I’ve heard that there’s-“
“A band of wizards living in skid row,” one of them said.
“Well, I –“
“No,” the first man said.
“What?” Henry asked.
“No. You can’t ask, you can’t stay, you can’t see,” the man said grumpily. Henry blinked, the man glowered at him, “Unless you brought something for the cold.”
Henry had planned ahead enough, he had a bottle of rye in his jacket pocket, and he produced it after a moment’s shock.
“Well in that case,” the glowering man’s voice was suddenly lighter, and his eyebrows lifted into a pleasing arch, “let me tell you about the streets of Silver & Gold, boy.”
There was a time, between the twin wraths of War and Depression, when america’s streets were paved in silver and gold. There was magic in the air, a sense of immortality that threaded every level of society in the post-armistice United States.
It was a grand time to be alive. Everyone save the most steadfast of Midwestern farmers had the spirit of the times coursing through their blood. Money flowed like water, so did booze, and freedom was celebrated throughout the land. The Harlem Renaissance, the lavish parties, rocketing sky-scrappers and a more tolerant view of minorities, art deco, new bohemians, literary masterworks by Hemmingway, T.S. Elliot, and Fitzgerald, Women’s Suffurage; the western world was alive and vibrant and better than ever. At least that’s what history would like to think.
In reality, the American twenties roared with far more than party cheers. Race riots devastated the American south. The Irish Revolution raged across the Atlantic, rippling through the Irish-American community even as reformed immigration laws all but ceased US immigration. Anti-Semitism crept higher, at the same time riots in British Palestine erupted between arab and jewish communities over rights to the Temple Mount.
Organized crime ravaged cities, and moonshiners fueled the war between them and Hoover’s Bureau of Investigations (later renamed as the FBI). Labor conflict rumbled far below the upper crust’s parties. The industrial revolution was in full swing. Chemicals, cars, cartoons, and radios flooded America along new highways. Tradition was dying fast, too fast for many.
After the crash of ’29, two decades of hell reigned America between depression, global war, dust-bowl migration, and the tide of blood from organized crime. Now, as the Korean War occupies headlines, thousands of Americans grasp tightly to the memories of the Roaring Twenties, the Golden Age of Americana. Around the campfires and bar stools of skid rows across the country, ragged souls still wave the tattered flags of their youth.
One of these drunken landscapes of shattered life is the Gateway District in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thousands of itinerants and migratory workers come and go from the flophouses along the river, getting drunk at places like the Sourdough Bar run by the infamous Johnny Rex.
Lordly NOTE: this is a fairly unique campaign idea. Essentially, it will be several separate story arcs. Each player will create a “teller”. Each “teller” will be the basis of one of the story arcs, and for each arc the rest of the players will roll-up characters to play during that arc. Essentially, it will be like 4 or 5 “mini-campaigns” strung together in the same time period. There’s nothing saying some of the arcs and characters can’t overlap, but my intent is for each player to submit at least a brief outline for their “teller’s” story of the Roaring Twenties.
The teller is not necessarily the main character of each arc, just a significant character in the cast like the rest of the party. I really encourage folks to take a distinct aspect of era to focus their teller’s tale around. Examples include bootlegging, speakeasies, jazz clubs, racial tension, labor disputes, the new-money rich, and bohemianism.