Name: Nanette Buchanan
Title: Living in the City
Riding through the cities of many states, one can tell immediately when the neighborhood changes. The differences stand out like a sore thumb. The businesses, shopping strip malls versus premium outlet stores, and of course headquarters of larger firms and corporations are a suburban sighting; whereas the smaller businesses often seek placement near the urban homes. Even shopping “downtown” has its differences with many stores shipping the low end items to their sister stores. In cities such as New York, one can find anything; its tourist notoriety brings in sales and business is consistent. Store locations further from the inner city require transportation.
The hustle and bustle of public transportation, is often a reason for not living so far out. Traveling “in” holds little choices; car-pooling, park and rides or driving in become the options. The traffic, the grid-lock frustrations can only be compared to road rage on the highways, the daily route to suburban serenity. The ambiance of the inner city changes one’s awareness. Often one’s fears, concerns, and attitude changes when among the crowds, and the lack of likeness is obvious and moods are often expressed with gestures or facial expressions. Courtesy is often overlooked. Holding the door for the person to walk in, bumping as one walks by without a word or an apology, and the lack of offering a seat on the crowded bus or train are everyday experiences of living in the city. Few say “hello” with a smile, it’s more like a murmur or a growl if any response is given. The noises, the air, the smell……. major differences; after living in what statistics consider an urban area for more than forty years, I moved.
The first thing that I noticed were the price differences on food, clothing, and other items that most in the urban area often couldn’t afford. Some of the necessities were overlooked to pay for those considered an absolute must. Blessed to have a good job, my observations were merely observations. Blessed I could afford the inner city living, but I was shocked with the differences. Rent was cheaper and more was offered for your monthly payment. The food in the stores, cheaper and fresh, and plenty stores to choose from. The garments at the clothing stores were as they were in the magazines. No need to go through the racks to find an item without a flaw. As I mentioned, transportation is a must but there is no rush. School buses pick up the children daily and I enjoyed watching children of all cultures playing and getting along. It had been years since I saw children playing kid games; kickball, jump rope, hop-scotch, football and my favorite, tag. Riding through our new neighborhood, I felt comfortable that I had moved from the elements in my old neighborhood. I thought I lived in comfort, but I found that I was held captive in what my world was growing up. It had changed.
The schools had grounds, attached athletic fields, and this was beginning with the pre-schools. The after school activities had the presence of families, parents, friends of the children, volunteers and coaches. My memories of my childhood, my coaching years, and volunteering when my children were active in recreation programs were all I had to hold on to.
I’ve tried to relate to the families who couldn’t pay for their children to be active in the after school programs. Anger peeped in, but I wouldn’t allow it to touch me. After all, what could they do? What could we do? As I continued to take a real look at my new surroundings, I quickly noticed there were no houses that were only separated by a black top driveway. The distance varied and for some you would have to ride a minute or more to see the neighboring home. There are many complexes, town houses, luxury apartments and most accept government assistant tenants. My thought, “Great they do offer an opportunity for better living.” True, if you had the desire, the transportation, and of course the finances to meet the government subsidy you had a chance to better your conditions.
Walking through my complex, of what they call apartments more like town houses, I noticed a familiar odor. The smell of old grease, cooking oil a pungent distinct order, a familiar, but one that gave warnings filled the air. The look changed. Someone had bent back the bottom of the fence that enclosed the basketball court. The opening was on the opposite side. Trash was in the bushes, wine and beer bottles and there was no grass. The dirt filled front showed signs of neglect; this was strange to me for I knew the landscapers worked in the complex every week. Graffiti was written across the bricked walls and stairs. The smell of old diapers chased the grease odors into the air. The front door of the apartment was wide open. As the occupants laughed loudly from within, the woman and child on the porch laughed joining the chorus of voices. The woman was braiding the child’s hair while the small girl tried to control the flying hair. Next to the stairs where they sat was the open garbage overflowing with the rancid diapers at the top.
My husband and I walked pass the sight and it reminded us why we left what we thought brought us comfort. Our old neighborhood was changing; it consisted of crime, the lack of care, and the influx of those who could care less but wanted more. I didn’t understand, I couldn’t understand. I didn’t know the size of their apartment, but I knew what amenities they were afforded. Why wouldn’t they keep the property decent? The hood…. was it beyond the front door or did the demolition of a neighborhood start in the home?
Being a writer my voice quickly went to the pen. I had to write, I had to let my feelings be heard so I wrote this poem.
Now Go Ahead, Blame the White Man
I decided to venture through the city, explore what may be new
Working a nine to five each day, sightseeing ain't what I normally do.
I let my mind drift through the struggles our communities face each day,
And my thoughts touched on what we often hear our people say.
We can't get jobs the unemployment rate is at an all-time high
Health insurance, taxes, gas prices have passed the ceiling heading for the sky.
Programs are for the immigrants, damn we've been here longer than them
Let them get new businesses, buy property, give their kids scholarships. It's just a sin.
More kids on the corner selling and skipping school
Don't nobody wanna hear that shit about living by the golden rules.
I stopped in mid thought and slowly looked around,
The saying "a product of your environment" now had a different sound.
Have you ever noticed the scenery in a city change?
We don't even have to check the mailboxes, something ain't the same
The lawns uncared for, trash and rubbish between each house,
Graffiti on the siding, what is that all about?
Doors wide open, cussing and drinking on the porch, what is that smell?
A stench of old cooking grease
Some of the places look as though they carry disease.
"A product of your environment", the children romp and play
Did anyone even ask them what they learned today?
The white man don't live here, it's just us
I don't think I'm better but I'm beyond disgust.
We blame others saying they don't give,
Who do we blame when we destroy the homes where we live?
We don't take care to make the environment safe,
Our streets are taken over by the thugs, dealers, and gangs
Even though we know their parents, where they were raised
We go back 400 years to blame the white man for making us slaves
Slaves to a community that we won't take care of, not even our rented homes
Blame the landlord for the damage, the needed repairs, rent is cheaper if its slum
We don't even know our neighbor…..cause we live in the hood.
The village concept wasn't the white mans; it was what made us feel good.
We felt good about our community, the place where we lived
The families struggled together, and each had something to give
Words of advice and encouragement, a nod of recognition a friendly hello
"A product of your environment" meant your home was a place you wanted to own
When you get a moment walk through your "hood" cause you're the product it made
Now go ahead blame the white man, for creating that environment where only our people stay.
It is my hope for change, an understanding between races, between communities. Opportunities are no longer enough, there’s a need to change the attitudes, the mood; the responsibilities are our own.