Within the confines of the city I call home there are dozens and dozens of streets, and blocks, and neighborhoods which are indistinguishable from middle class neighborhoods all over the United States. The houses and yards are well maintained, the neighbors know one another, and day in and day out things are fairly quiet. My mom still lives in one of those places.
Where I live now has nothing to do with that story.
My home is 50 feet from the corner of Maple and Union streets. Go to the Masslive search engine and type either Maple Street or Union Street into the box…I’ll wait.
I know, huh?!
To be fair, I don’t live at the epicenter of these events. The shootings, the knifings, even the murders listed there have mostly occurred anywhere from two blocks to five blocks away from where I live. I realize that for most people that would seem awfully close, but to me it really doesn’t. Just last week there was a murder in Springfield (after going nearly two months without one). It happened on High Street. This picture, taken with my phone from my property, shows the spectacular church with its marvelous steeple at the corner of Maple and High Streets.
Here is a screen capture taken from a video of a news report about that murder. Notice anything? Down at the end. That silhouette.
It’s the same church steeple.
That’s how close many of the worst things reported about the city take place to where I live.
I don’t feel immune. It’s not that I think these things couldn’t impact me. But they never have, and they never do.
A few months ago my wife and I had to go phone shopping. Why it is that buying a new phone has to take as much time as buying a home or a car I don’t know, but we were talking to the sales rep, and waiting and waiting and waiting for stupid shit to be taken care of for at least an hour and a half. As part of polite conversation the sales representative, a nice young black woman, and I eventually got around to talking about where in the area we were from. We were both from Springfield.
It did not go well from there.
We were both from Springfield, but we were both from two very different Springfields. It took her no time at all to start belittling the community where she knew, because she was handling our account, we were not only “from” but also where we currently lived. She began to relate to me the shootings, the stabbings, the violence, that she and her family and friends had seen first hand. My blood was boiling. (Leaving aside that only living in an urban place is fair game for people to attack in a quasi social situation like this. No salesperson would feel free to start criticizing any other aspect of a clients life situation.)
I have lived in Springfield my entire life. I went to school here, my family lives here, my daughters went through the public schools here and I not only don’t know a single person who has ever been stabbed or shot, I’ve never known anyone who has ever told me that they’ve ever seen anyone who has been stabbed or shot, or whom anyone has ever even attempted to stab or shoot.
Amazing. That sales rep and I, we could not be from two more different places in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t behave like the streets around my house are like Mayberry. I had an historical commission meeting two nights ago which I knew would be getting out a bit on the late side; 9:30-10:00 o’clock, so I drove the 5 blocks down so as to not have to walk the 5 blocks back up at that time of night. I’ve had plenty of uncomfortable encounters, though none ever leading to violence, at that time of night or later on the streets of downtown, the South End, or Six Corners. But none of that compares to what the young woman from the AT&T store was describing. Or what the residents interviewed in this news piece are describing.
My case is an extreme case. On purpose. It is meant to be the physical and social embodiment of the Stoic idea of contemplating a worst case. I live in one of the most violent areas of a city considered troubled by violence, I live in a neighborhood which is among the poorest in a city which is much poorer than its surrounding communities, and I’ve sent my children to two of the lowest rated schools in a school district considered to be among the state’s lowest performing districts, and yet none of that has ever had any discernible influence on me or my family in any negative way.
Most of the time I preach to people like me to take a chance and move “here” even if by here I don’t mean for them to move to quite as extreme a neighborhood as I’ve chosen. I’m confident that who you are is much more important than where you are when it comes to much that people fear about cities. It’s not often I think about the flip side, speaking with that young lady, in a horrible strip mall in a suburb of the city. She carries who she is with her all the time. I’m not saying that she deserves it, not at all, it’s not that who she is makes her culpable in any way for the world that she carries with her, but that does not change the fact that when she comes back to the city after work, she returns to a much more dangerous place than I do even though we are returning to the exact same place.