I grew up in rural and small-town midwest. Some people were richer than we were, some poorer. And being normal, hierarchizing humans, we always knew who was rich and who was poor. But regardless everybody went to the same grocery stores, schools, churches, dime stores, movie theaters, summer concerts. In other words, nobody was so poor or so rich that they didn’t belong to the same community. We didn’t have equal amounts of money but nobody’s nose was rubbed in it.
I was about 25 when I first went to Washington, DC, a big city divided into neighborhoods with their own stores, churches, schools, etc. I wanted to see the seat of our government, the shining white Capitol building and all the marble government buildings. To get there, I drove through the city’s blocks of boarded-up houses and scary-looking neighborhoods, and then abruptly, a few streets along, there was the grand federal shininess. I hadn’t seen such poorness so close to such richness before. I hadn’t seen neighborhood changes that were so sudden before, so extreme. No way those neighborhoods had anything in common. It felt deeply troublesome. I didn’t like it one bit.
And in my own Baltimore, now: the other day, I drove from the enormous and impressive Johns Hopkins Hospital up Greenmount Avenue, through the boarded-up, corner-liquor-store neighborhoods you see on the television riot news and the cable movies about Baltimore; I locked the car doors. Somewhere around 34th Street, the neighborhood started looking like working-people, rowhouse Baltimore — a change but gradual. Then turn left on 39th Street, in the space of maybe two blocks, I was suddenly amongst the plutocrats: the lawns were suddenly bigger and greener and the houses turned to five-bedroom brick Georgians. This still feels deeply troublesome and I still don’t like it one bit. Continue reading