My daughter experienced the culture shock of going to a prestigious, mostly white, very affluent college after spending her whole life as the “rich” white girl in a poor minority urban school system. She loves to tell the story of the time when she and her sister (who also attends a mostly white college in a much more affluent community) were walking up the hill to their high school for soccer practice and a worried motorist asked them if they were lost and needed help given how they looked, and the neighborhood they were in. The truth is they had spent their entire lives in “that neighborhood”, and it was the only place they could have been if they wanted to feel at home.
Last weekend we decided to use “el cinco de mayo” as an excuse for having an impromptu Mexican themed “fiesta”. (Bueno, mis experiencias en el mundo hispanoparlante pertenecen mayormente a España, pero me encanta la gastronomía mexicana) We were out of the black beans which the chimi-enchi-burri-tacos I make require, so I decided to walk down to a bodega on Main Street to buy a couple cans at which point my daughter joked that we should make margaritas as well, and my wife concurred. Now it just so happens that there is a liquor store another block down the street. I went into Dillon’s Liquors and asked the proprietor what I needed to make margaritas…and if he could supply all of those ingredients(None of us had ever made margaritas before).
I ended up purchasing four bottles, only two of which contained alcohol, but it created quite a stir in the store. There were a couple of guys, certainly the urban variant of hail fellows well met, but with do-rags and baggy pants (They were black guys, alright?). They were clearly excited about selecting something with which to lubricate their Sunday festivities, but they appeared to need to be much more selective than I was being, and much more cost conscious as well. One of the men looked at the bottles I had set on the counter and asked “All that is for ONE drink”? “Apparently”, I responded. It was clear that I was from a different universe. When I do go shopping for spirits with my wife we go, I’m embarrassed to say, to a giant booze emporium in a strip mall which has every alcoholic beverage known to man, and it’s not at all uncommon for people(Not us, I swear!) to leave the store with shopping CARTS filled with wines and whiskeys and liquors of all kinds.
I was now in a place where four bottles seemed worthy of awe and wonderment.
Earlier that day my wife and I had toured a recently renovated home just a block away from our house. I had been in the house only a few months before, helping the Springfield Preservation Trust clean out the contents of the home in order to help the city stabilize the home and prepare it for a potential developer. The hoped for renovation had taken place and the results turned out to be astonishing. The home is nothing short of astounding from the inside to the outside, from the fireplaces to the floors, from the kitchen to the bathrooms.
In talking to neighborhood residents it was clear that, as impressed as we all were with the restoration of this 11 room house, the asking price of $195,000 seemed, not just a smidgen high, but just way out of the range of what might be a reasonable expectation. On the other hand my wife, knowing that her sister was in the market for a house, decided to send pictures and information to her sister about the house. The idea that such a magnificent home, so exquisitely renovated, and so close to so many amazing institutions like the Springfield Museums, Central Library, and the Armory National Historic Site, could be had for SO LITTLE led my sister-in-law’s husband to ask if someone had been murdered there, or if there was something else connected to this particular home that might drag down its asking price to such a ridiculously low number.
Understanding that it isn’t a low number is nearly impossible for people from “the outside”. You can step back in time to the days when a family could live on a single income if you live in the city, you can live beyond your means within your means, you can live in a mansion on a middle class budget, but you have to do it “here”. It’s a strange place to be, and even when you’ve lived here for decades people assume you’re from somewhere else.