Monday, July 03, 2006

Out with the old . . .

Friday night HK and I said our goodbyes to the city (formerly, This City) with what turned out to be the perfect gathering at a tiny, fabulous, but nevertheless nearly empty Latin bar featuring good happy hour specials and a great DJ. I know most of HK's friends and she knows most of mine, but not well, and they certainly didn't know each other--but we all got on famously, stayed for hours, and downed untold quantities of sangria, margaritas, beer, and (thanks to Lulu, who always knows just the right time for everything) a round of shots. Afterwards, we happy few went back to Julio's for a nightcap--and after THAT I went on home to continue packing.

By coincidence, HK's Saturday flight to HK (which is to say, Hong Kong) was at nearly the same time as mine to New City, and both were out of the area's most inconveniently-located airport. Since she had a car-service car ferrying her out there, courtesy of one of those soul-sucking corporate firms that treat one so well that one doesn't realize that one's soul has gone missing, she had the driver swing by my place en route. Thus we passed the 45-minute ride lounging in the back of that shiny black sedan and rehashing the party and reflecting on our pasts and our futures.

* * * *

One part of my past that I'm going to miss is Historically Black Neighborhood. The place is gentrifying so rapidly, though--when I first moved there, I could go ten minutes without seeing another white person (although prosperous African-Americans not native to the area had long since started moving in). Back then, the stock clerks in the local supermarket would address me in Spanish, apparently assuming that, if I wasn't Black, I must be Latina--for otherwise, what on earth would I be doing in that neighborhood?

It saddens me to consider that it's entirely possible that parts of HBN won't be black any more--except historically--in ten or fifteen years' time. The place is such a friendly and close-knit community, with residents from three or four different generations all living in the same place (unlike some parts of the city, where everyone appears to be between ages 23 and 38). I met so many interesting people and learned so much there.

I learned, for instance, that poor-ish, minority neighborhoods really DO get routinely screwed over. In my first year in HBN, there was a massive phone service failure affecting an area of about ten blocks by three (long, crosstown) blocks, which included my building. Although there were repairmen on the street apparently working on the problem from day one, our service was not restored for SEVEN FULL DAYS. Thirty blocks--that's thousands of people and hundreds of businesses. That affects not only telephones, but also dial-up internet service and credit card machines. And I'm sorry--but I can't imagine that the outage would have lasted an entire week in one of the wealthy communities 30 or 40 blocks south.

That wasn't the only time something like that happened. And when it happens to you just a few times, you start to expect it. This is why the poor of all races are prone to conspiracy theories, and I heard a whole lot of them in my three years there--but you know what? I came to believe or half-believe most of them. (One exception was that woman on the city bus who was complaining at length about the torrential rains we'd been having, before concluding that it was, clearly, Bush's fault, because he's "the devil.")

I overheard so many interesting stories on the subway. The young men talking about trying to go to college, having the bills mount up, and dropping out--but hoping they'd be able to go back. The people having earnest religious conversations with people they'd apparently just met. And especially--especially--the Black and Latino kids negotiating their sexuality. I saw flamboyantly gay boys of fifteen, with their shrieking female friends, talking loudly about sex while the older people on the subway closed their faces tight (whether at the loudness or the sex would be hard to say). I saw big, thugged-out guys discreetly cruising each other.

But what I remember most is this conversation:

A group of four girls perhaps 14-15 years old and apparently on their way home from school are standing on the subway just near my seat. Two are Black, one is Latina, and the other appears to be white or biracial. They're discussing their classmates and some recent parties they'd been to, when one says, laughingly, "Seriously! There were more GAY couples than straight ones there."

There follows a brief back and forth about various classmates and who's gay and who's dating whom and all in good spirits, until one of the girls, who has grown extremely quiet, suddenly says, "I just don't see why people gotta go and be gay."

The other girls kid with her for a few moments, but when she keeps shaking her head and repeating her position, one of the others stops swinging around, looks her right in the face, and says, quite earnestly, "Look. It's not that they WANNA be gay, okay? It's like, you're Black, right? You didn't choose it, right? It how you are. It's like that with being gay."

And, mirabile dictu! There it was. A lesson in tolerance on the subway.

* * * *

It's been a good run. Thanks for everything, HBN.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great post.
Your reflections on HBN were wonderful and it's obviously incredibly hard to leave The City. Safe travels and unpacking.

Unknown said...

Gotta love The City. The encouraging thing is that once upon a time you might only hear that conversation in The City; now you might hear it in many other cities as well. Not enough cities, perhaps, but lots more than there used to be! Great story.

Anonymous said...

I know that leaving The City is hard; I hope that you have lots of new adventures in your new city!

Anonymous said...

wow, as i think about my uni's very uniform white location, your hbn sounds sooo nice. sorry you had to leave but surely you are going somewhere nice as well.