Monday, September 22, 2008

To the woman who stopped me to ask how safe the neighborhood was as I was walking with the stroller to go pick up Isaac from preschool:

Thinking of buying a home here are you? Oh! Getting ready to start a family. Congratulations. Safe here in the daytime? Well, yes. Um, pardon me for saying so, but - duh. It's an odd question, lady, except, I guess I understand. I know our little section of town doesn't have the hottest reputation. It's haunted by something of a checkered past, founded as it was by the servicemen occupying the now-defunct military base just up the hill from where we are chatting now.

Back in the day, the main drag was lined with prostitutes. Funny, things seemed to clean up when the soldiers left. Well, a few are still here. Those are the old guys that wave to me from their porches, or don't. Some people get surly with age. Some people are just raised suspicious. I try to say hello to people when I walk. How's your Spanish? Doesn't matter. Just say good morning. Most people brighten right up and smile back. It's like magic. Some people don't. You'll have that. Anyway, no one is going to throw needles out their car windows at you and your baby. Probably. People work hard here. Did you see the crowd at the busstop? Dangerous? I doubt it. They're going to work, see. Some people still do that, even here in the land of the chokingly wealthy, land of the golf course.

I have a little secret to share with you though. When you have a newborn, you are crazy. Certifiable. Don't matter where you are it'll feel precarious and risky. When Isaac was born we lived in the most violently idyllic town you can imagine and I saw danger everywhere. Well, some was real – like the blind old bastards creeping into the crosswalks in their Mercedes, but nevermind. I couldn't get my precious bundle out of the bank fast enough – that bastion of filth and disease. I would cross the street to avoid car repair joints.

Let me give you a virtual tour of our 'hood. Nice view, eh? It really is if you look beyond the box stores. There's the bay. Stunning. They could've left us a few more trees though, don't you think?

Let's start with food, naturally. Did you try the wholesale Mexican bakery down the block? Right there. If they're out of conchinitos, try San Pablo's just a little further, they usually have them. And if you're feeling fancy there's the French bakery across the street. Now, promise me you won't go all Starbucks on us. If you're planning on getting on freaky with the corporates, we don't need your kind here. You know what they say – Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Starbucks – and I'm starting to think of you as a friend. And honest, you don't have to go downtown either. Larry at Acme Coffee makes the best lattes on the Peninsula. No lie.

I hope as you walk with your newborn past the corner of Fremont and Broadway that you aren't knocked flat by the smell of fast food grease. If that's unsafe, then, I guess it's a bit unsafe here. Forget what everyone says about the big tacqueria they all swear by. No, no, no. You want La Tortuga. They're open all day. Great food. If it wasn't for the Styrofoam for take out and the gargantuan TV screen showing novelas for those eating in, I'd be there all the time.

Over there we have the low income apartments. They were placed just right – only a few hundred yards from the fire station. Those old folks keep the firemen busy, let me tell you. The sirens get on my nerves. But unsafe, no, sweetheart, not that. Oh, wait, I spoke too soon. I should warn you; you gotta watch yourself some mornings. See that ugly old steeple up ahead? When the Baptists bury someone, whew! The parking can get tight. Cars every which way trying to find a place to land and if their drivers are teary-eyed, well, just look twice before you go walking all out in the street.

We have lots of problems. Can I ask you a few questions? Are you the kind of neighbor we want? Can you help? There's trash on the street here. Maybe you could organize a clean up? There's gang activity. Graffiti. The parks have glass in the sand. Any ideas? Aren't nearly enough trees for my taste. Maybe you could plant some? We might get something going with the neighborhood group here. I didn't get to tell you yet about them. They saved some of the parks from disappearing to developers and they helped buy new equipment for the kids. Oh, wait, I know. Can you talk to City Hall about the damn goose poop all over the lawn there? I mean, free summer concerts are great, but do we have to wear toxic clean up suits to enjoy it? And while you're there, put in a good word for the couple who run the Pakistani food store. They've been trying to get them to allow outdoor seating for about a year now. I mean, c'mon! And, well, there just isn't any accounting for taste. Some people have constructed some of the ugliest homesteads I can think of around here. You sure you are worried about safety? I wish that was all I cared about. Safety we got; aesthetics we're not so stocked up on.

You are interested in walking and believe me – I feel ya! You need somewhere to walk. I get it. I did it constantly. When we moved to this area originally, Isaac was almost a year old. No longer beholden to the “hometown” feel of that cutesy little hamlet 5 miles away that we tried in vein to fit into, I discovered that here in the scratchy part of town, people were kind in ordinary ways.

Like when I bought a portable crib from Jenny's Thrift Shop... Jenny, a Korean woman in her 50's with round cheeks and a heavy accent, questioned me sternly. “How you come here?” “Walked,” I told her. “How you get this home?” “Um, carry it?” I tried. “No! Too heavy!” she spat, pushing a pad of paper toward me. “You write down address. I deliver. Tonight!”

Then there was the bookcase we bought from the garage sale in the neighborhood. Mike was with me, Isaac was in the stroller. “He can put that in the truck and drive it over for you,” the woman said indicating her husband. It was a small bookcase. “I think we can carry it,” we both assured her. “And push the baby?!” Her inflection was sharp. She threw her wrist out letting her hand flop forward, her other hand on her hip. “Henry! Put that in the truck for her!” she commanded. And Henry did. I gave him our address just a few blocks down the hill. “I'll be along,” Henry told us. Half way home there was Henry and the truck and the bookcase beside us. I repeated the street number of our place into the window. Henry stared at me. I got in. When he delivered me and the bookcase to my door he instructed, “Now you just get yourself a break until those boys of yours get here.”

Well, that's our little neighborhood in a nutshell. There's a whole lot of shit that I'd change. We're just your average place, really. If you think you're up for it, maybe we can be neighbors.

Oh? What's that? Safe to walk at night? It's complicated, ma'am. Really. That's a whole other ball game and I have to go. I'm going to be late to pick up my guy and you've never seen him when I'm the last mama there – all hang-dog eyes, the word “abandoned” plastered across his forehead – it's terrible! I'm sorry that we didn't get a chance to really talk.


Pagan Sphinx said...

I so hear you about your neighborhood. We live uptown a bit. Here it's mostly blue collar retirees, many of them veterans. But there is a housing project just across the way with lots of Russian residents and downtown has lots of problems. It is complicated.

I like your phrase about how people are kind in ordinary ways. That's so well said. That's how I feel about my town; my community. It's not some oasis. It's real American here, for better and for worse.

bobbie said...

Ah - Gina got here before me I see. She must be working on my list right now. Go to my blog.

I love this post, Kit. It's really a good one! The one before it too.

Jerry said...

Totally publishable. Get this one in a magazine or local paper before some hack plagerizes it.

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