English Oil Painting of Dalmatian
On Friday I went out of town, hoping to avoid the bumper to bumper traffic, I decided to take the side street which cut through an old neighborhood I grew up in. I was both horrified and disappointed. It should not have been surprising to me because I had seen the streets just six months earlier. But somehow I can’t go back there without hoping to look at things with fresh eyes. I would have no such luck on Friday. African Americans were in the streets, literally in the streets, confronting cars asking for money, cursing. Huddles of gray haired men were playing dominoes with their pants hanging below their butt cracks.
It was hard to believe that I walked these very same streets during the 1980’s. Most of the stores I remembered are now closed. The signs are still there but the building facades were hollow shells. Even the police station I used to drop off abandoned kittens in was now boarded up and occupied by derelicts clinging to paper bagged bottles.
What was my local supermarket had turned into a “Dollar Tree” store. No need to worry about boycotting your local Whole Foods in this neighborhood. I would argue that even the marijuana is not organic. Does Odwalla make Tang?
On Friday, the prize for the neighborhood’s healthiest food selection went to Jimmy Chan’s Chicken Wing shack. 12 fried chicken wings for $3.I could see a young mom standing in Jimmy Chan’s plopping hot sauce on top of her chicken wings as her toddler son grabbed at her strawberry blond hair weave. Finally she stuck a wing in his small but grabby hands.
A chicken wing meal is okay every now and then but seriously, where are the grocery stores? A couple of years ago, I was introduced to a sad and troubling term – “food desert”.
A food desert is a district with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet, but often served by plenty of fast food restaurants.
The concept of ‘access’ may be interpreted in three separate ways.
‘Physical access’ to shops can be difficult if the shops are distant, the shopper is elderly or infirm, the area has many hills, public transport links are poor, and the consumer has no car. Also, the shop may be across a busy road, difficult to cross with children or with underpasses that some fear to use because of a crime risk. For some, such as the disabled, the inside of the shop may be hard to access physically if there are steps up, or the interior is cramped with no room for walking aids. Carrying fresh food home may also be hard for some.
Map showing food deserts in Chicago. My old neighborhood is district 25. From Chicago Tribune.
‘Financial access’ is difficult if the consumer lacks the money to buy healthy foods (generally more expensive, calorie for calorie, than less healthy, sugary, and fatty ‘junk foods’) or if the shopper cannot afford the bus fare to remote shops selling fresh foods and instead uses local fast food outlets. Other forms of financial access barriers may be inability to afford storage space for food, or for the very poor, living in temporary accommodation that does not offer good cooking facilities.
Thirdly, the mental attitude or food knowledge of the consumer may prevent them accessing fresh vegetables. They may lack cooking knowledge, or have the idea that eating a healthy diet isn’t important.
In some urban areas, grocery stores have withdrawn alongside residents that have fled to the suburbs (see urban sprawl). Low income earners and senior citizens who remain find healthy foods either unavailable or inaccessible as a result of high prices and/or unreachable locations.
In rural areas local fresh food outlets have closed leaving shoppers without cars in these areas with difficult access to healthy foods, as rural bus services have also declined. Whilst the idea of ‘food deserts’ in the early 21st century has mainly an urban flavour, the first case studies into difficulties faced by consumers accessing healthy foods were made in rural English villages. The Women’s Institute looked at the plight of elderly car-less widows left stranded by closure of village shops and withdrawal of bus services as far back as the 1970s.
Aside from the hunting and gathering nourishment issues, I wondered where the children went to school and even more importantly, where are their leaders?
Here my use of “children” also extends to adults.
Where are the political leaders in this neighborhood? Chicagoans elect an aldermen for every neighborhood. They are usually Democrats. There are no term limits. Once elected, they often do nothing for the districts they represent.
It is also not uncommon in Chicago for an alderman to be caught living in a wealthy part of town while serving a “ghetto”. Is this presently the case with my old neighborhood? I must say that things have certainly NOT improved since I left in 1989. Red roses used to bloom in front of some of the homes that are now condemned. Street gang insignia has replaced the hopscotch chalk drawings on the sidewalks I used to play.
Now bevies of soon to be teen-aged moms were on the prowl. In the inner city, a common form of after school recreation is walking the streets with your girlfriends looking for boys (trouble). I tried it a few times myself when I was that age, though don’t think we were dressed as scantily as they are now. Still, I only lasted the excursion for several blocks as my middle school friend Nan was far more boy savvy than I. Nan had proudly lost her virginity at 9 years of age while watching the movie Popeye in her cousins house. He had Showtime cable and all she wanted was to see a movie. She left that day with a lot less.
Nan’s mother, a welfare hound with 5 kids and no job was perhaps more beautiful and ambitious than my mother but not nearly as encouraging of Nan’s future out of the ghetto. If there was such thing as being ambitious yet a lifetime welfare recipient Nan’s mother was good at stealing men from their wives and getting half of their paycheck and a new gold chain. Nan admired her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit and once told me that she knew the same thing would happen to her and it did. In college, I learned that Nan had three kids. We were only 20.
Now snapped back into 2009, I stopped at a red light. I kept my gaze off the man in the car next to me who was making eyes as two kids were fighting in the back seat of his rusty Toyota. At the corner, a boy was pressing his body against a girl that looked no older than 13. They were in an abandoned store front filled with nightclub fliers and empty beer cans. The girl’s hair was uncombed and kinky, her shorts were tight. She shoved the boy away but it was a teasing game. I wanted to approach her and say “please practice abstinence, stay in school” but the light turned green and it was not my place anyway. She will most likely be a mom by next year.
Children having children. Again where are the leaders? Again the police station once there was closed. A pretty good indication that you have officially slid south is when your own police station believes your neighborhood is too bad to stay in and the Mayor lets them leave.
The "Blue Light Special" in Chicago. These are boxes installed by the city police to indicate high crime areas in Chicago's inner city.
The only authority in sight was the Chicago Police Department’s “blue light” special cameras installed on the light posts. No sight was a suitable place to anchor my lust for a tiny moment of nostalgia until I saw the fire station. It was the place where I saw my first dalmatian.
Wanting a puppy was a major part of my childhood, being homeless was a unfortunate situation Mother and I were in that did not lend itself to responsible pet ownership. The fire station was the first place where I saw my dream, dog breed. On hot summer days there was an old woman who would sell snow cones. The 25 cent cups of shaved ice and coconut syrup would cool my mother down just enough to get us back home after carrying bags of groceries as far as 10 blocks. Stores had switched from paper to plastic bags. They were easier to carry but the plastic would stick to my skin while canned goods and boxes of powdered milk and eggs banged against my ankles. Taking the bus was not an option. We did not have the 50 cents, even for my reduced student rate. Eventually after trudging several blocks or so, we would stop to rest at a bench or sidewalk curb. Nearing the fire station meant that I may get a snow cone and take a peek at the Dalmatian who worked with the firemen. I never really knew much about the breed, just that I wanted one someday when I had a place of my own.
By now, I was back in friendly territory, with each passing block the neighborhoods got whiter and whiter. I had gone from African American neighborhoods to Latino neighborhoods, to the grunge hipsters of Wicker Park, to Michigan Avenue where the Chanel stores and Gucci handbag carriers resided. My apartment building was blocks away. Collecting my mail, I said hello to my friendly doorman and the urban professionals who I once watched from afar, now my neighbors walking pedigreed pups as they carried Starbucks iced coffee beverages and briefcases.
Francois and I
Despite the safety and serenity of my stainless steel applianced apartment, I could not take the images I had just witnessed back in “da hood” for granted.
My pal Francois greeted me with a wagging tail and nudge for food. There was a time when it seemed impossible that such a blessing would be within my grasp. Something I had always wished for was sitting right in my lap, a Dalmatian. She is my testament that we all turn a corner in our lives where we are responsible for materializing our own happiness.
Saturday in an email battle, an impassioned Obama supporter labeled me as a hater and white person who was “hiding behind a black face” . Now successful and a Republican, I have somehow lost my membership in the black club.
The woman in the email seemed to have little idea about me or my past struggles. With a barrage of incoherent liberal talking points which she proudly declared as giving conservatives a dose of “whup ass”, the woman tells me that GOP party chairman Michael Steele would “not be where he is today” if it were not for Barack Obama.
This assumption is beyond laughable. Michael Steel was destined to be everything Michael Steel he is and was before Barack Obama came onto the scene.
To suggest that the GOP only made him chairman of the party because of his race is highly hypocritical, especially coming from a liberal Democrat. This is further evidence that African Americans in the Democratic Party are beholden to the same old myth that blacks need Caucasians to hand us something in order to be successful.
This is why affirmative action is paramount to the livelihood of so many liberal minorities. Whites can never be trusted to actually hire a person of color on their own merits. At the time when Nixon enacted affirmative action, it culminated out of the days of segregated schools and civil rights demonstrations. Now the 40 year old government imposed system of quotas needs a face lift.
This woman’s remarks are a prime exemplify the psyche of the Democrat who is fixated on what blacks can’t achieve without the DNC or what I call on the plantation mentality.
There is no inspiration to be found in such ideologies. Shrewdly, though, the woman was quick to point out that I had left my blackness behind because I had left the Democratic party.
The dog in front of me was perfect. A blending of black and white all living on one body. A beautiful white background with black spots. Why can’t we be like this? A whimper and sad blue eyes told me that feeling chastised for being an African American Republican was the least of my worries. My dreams had turned into a living breathing reality. The spotted canine companion did not care who I voted for, she just wanted to be fed.
Autographed Letter Signed,