Saturday, March 8, 2014

Goblins of the Ghetto

I took a walk through the “hood” last night, and, to be honest, it wasn’t that exciting. I figured I would put that out there right away just in case any of you reading this thought you were going to read a story about me getting chased by hoodlums and all the other ‘goblins of the ghetto’.

After working on the house last night I decided to take Pepper (my yorkie) for a quick walk around the neighborhood. I began to take the usual route that I take in the direction of the Hays Street Bridge so I could take in the downtown skyline as I’ve done so many other times. But then I wondered to myself, “Why do I never walk the other direction?”

Everyone that knows me knows that I am not shy about my upbringing on the Eastside of San Antonio. I’m the third generation of Dillard homeowners on San Antonio’s Eastside. I grew up living across the street from my grandparents on Lamar and Hudson. I now own a home in Dignowity Hill. I say all this to make you aware that I am not a newcomer to this side of town. This is why I had to question my reluctance to walk toward the area I grew up in, and instead walk in the opposite direction. Am I afraid of crossing that invisible buffer zone between St. Charles and New Braunfels? Am I afraid to traverse the zone that switches you from being in a “good and upcoming neighborhood” to “the bad part of town”? Nope.

One of the perks to walking around your neighborhood is that you notice a lot of things that you never would have when in a car. You notice historic features on homes, weird yard ornaments, and dogs…lots of dogs. No stray dogs though, only fenced in dogs, but, nonetheless, a lot of them. Of course, along with everything else, you notice a decline in housing quality overall. Leaning foundations, peeling paint, dirt yards, shoddy fencing, are all signs that you’ve crossed that line. Another sign is residents hanging out in their front yards.

Before I even made it to New Braunfels I was greeted by folks hanging out on their porches or standing around their car in a driveway. Nothing more than a “What’s up” or “What kind of dog is that?”, but it was nice that people actually spoke to strangers. I’ve stood outside of my house in Dignowity Hill speaking with neighbors and when strangers walk by it seems like we’re reluctant to greet them. It’s not a dynamic I’m proud of, and I’ve consciously made an effort to speak to or at least wave to folks who walk by, so it was pleasant having it occur to me when on someone else’s block.

I crossed New Braunfels and when walking past Hayes (sic) Food Mart I saw a group of guys hanging out in the parking lot. I wondered to myself what I would think/assume if I weren’t familiar with the area. If I was in Alamo Heights or Stone Oak and saw some guys hanging out in the parking lot I wouldn’t think anything of it. Actually, I would think it was cool that folks still communed outdoors, instead of via FB (ironic considering that I’m sharing this via FB). However, if I were a Stone Oak or Alamo Heights resident taking a walk down Hays Street across New Braunfels, what would I think? Would I have the same thoughts of it being a good thing? Would I initiate a hello? Or would I tense up and look at the ground in fear that the ‘goblins of the ghetto’ were going to attack me?

Guy: “That a yorkie? Those dogs are expensive man.”
Me: ”Yeah, luckily we adopted her for free.”
Guy: ”Oh ok, cool. They’re good dogs though.”
Me: “Yeah, she’s pretty cool.”
Guy: “That’s good. Have a good one man.”
Me: ”You too bruh.”

It was a very frightening interaction to say the least.

After crossing New Braunfels I noticed how the neighborhood looked the same as it did when I would ride my bike as a kid. I even remembered where the biggest cracks in the sidewalks were to prevent myself from tripping, as I did so many times in the past.

After passing by a few other folks hanging out on their porches, I made it to Gevers. At Gevers and Hays were two kids, maybe nine or ten years old, and an older guy (assuming their father/father figure) playing basketball. The kids would shoot the ball, and the guy would catch it and toss it back to them. Had it not been a Friday, I would have questioned why the kids were up and outside so late, but, to be honest, it was nice seeing the interaction at all. I don’t remember many male adults in my neighborhood, outside of my own father, spending time with their kids back in the day. I hope this was a sign of that trend being broken.

Finally made it to the Wheatley Courts and that’s when I realized that all the residents had been moved out for the upcoming rebuild effort. I’ll admit that it saddened me to see it empty. While it wasn’t the best place in the world when I was younger, it felt cold seeing all the lights out and none of the usual chatter or music coming from the doorways and windows.

I decided to cut down Hudson and visit the street I grew up on. It was completely different from what I remember growing up. The houses were in horrible disrepair. My grandparent’s house looked like it was going to collapse at any second and the house I grew up in wasn’t what I remembered. It reminded me what can happen when absent owners rent out to tenants and refuse to properly maintain the property. I didn’t hang around for long. I made my way up Walters and visited Walter’s Food Mart to grab a drink for the walk back. When checking out I remembered that I didn’t have my debit card on me, only a dollar, and was short about fifty cents on my total. The clerk told me not to worry about it and let me slide. When I was checking out one of the guys in the store asked me about Pepper. I told him that he looked familiar, and sure enough, he reminded me that we went to Sam Houston High together. I thanked the clerk for his generosity and told my former classmate it was good seeing him and was on my way.

The trip back was just as uneventful as the initial trip. No muggings, no intimidating looks, no threats from the ‘goblins of the ghetto’. Instead, two more greetings of “What’s up” and “Hey” and a quick bathroom break for Pepper (I had a mutt mit).

When I got back to Dignowity Hill some kids that were having a backyard party yelled, “Hey, you wanna party?” I think they thought that I would just put my head down, ignore them, and quicken my pace. Instead,

Me: “Nah, I gotta work in the morning. But let me introduce myself. I’m Brian.”
Two guys walk up to the fence and shake my hand.
Them: “I’m Nando and this is Hypher.”
Me: “Nice meeting you guys.”
Them: “You live in the gray house right there?”
Me: “Yeah, I grew up in the neighborhood and now I own that house. I’d appreciate it if you guys keep an eye out for me.”
Them: “No problem man. We don’t allow a lot of that nonsense around here.” (I kinda chuckled on the inside)
Me: “I appreciate that.”

There’s more to that discussion that I won’t get into in this article. I just want to make it clear that instead of ignoring or laughing them off, I stopped and engaged a conversation with them. That engagement is what made my walk pleasant. That short exchange is what makes us a neighborhood into a COMMUNITY and not just the “good area” that’s a couple blocks away from the “bad side of town”.

So, it turned out that “the bad part of town” is actually just as nice as the “good part of town”…maybe nicer. I realized that it’s not so bad crossing that invisible line. I realized that I was once (and still am at times) one of those ‘goblins of the ghetto’ simply because I existed in an area that others weren’t comfortable being in as a result of presumptuous reasoning. I also noticed that Pepper attracts a lot positive attention from my Eastside neighbors.

Footnote: The term ‘goblins of the ghetto’ was used before by someone when they referenced driving through my current neighborhood a few years back. I didn’t make it known that I was a native of the neighborhood they were referencing until after they essentially called everyone spooks. We had an intense conversation to say the least… I just wanted to clarify that I can’t take full credit for such cultured terminology.