Large version available here. Came across this during my morning walk. Hopefully she liked the shower…
This week’s challenge is all about walls, and I immediately thought of an alley nearby. My neighborhood is pretty terrible most of the time. But for a brief moment in early spring, a massive, gorgeous wall of wisterias blooms. I guess it’s nature’s lesson about finding beauty in the unlikeliest of places…
This week’s photo challenge calls for something yellow, so I had to go a little further into my photo folder. This was one of the first test shots I took with the Nikon D3300. I’m not crazy about the subject matter, but the colors turned out great!
It’s getting dark. It’ll be another half an hour before the sun sets below the Bay Area’s horizon, but it’s already vanished behind the hill of my neighborhood. A few remnants of daylight peek between the trees up the street, but it won’t last long. The streetlamp just beyond my driveway flickers to life, bathing a small circle of sidewalk in pale yellow. It’s not enough.
This will have to be quick.
I shuffle down the brick steps, swatting a cloud of gnats out of my way. The wooden railing on the stairs is chipped on one end, and there’s a fresh spiderweb on it. I wish our front walk could produce as many flowers as insects. The only things growing right now are small patch of wildflowers by the sidewalk. They’re tiny, but look beautiful close up. Most have shriveled in the last week or so; the heat hasn’t been kind. The weeds don’t seem to mind, though. Most of the pavement on this street is cracked or warped, and green leaves are sprouting everywhere. The breeze kicks in for a moment, and a plastic bag drifts down the sidewalk like a tumbleweed. I quickly grab and drop it into a nearby garbage can. Good thing pickup is tomorrow.
I turn left and stride up the hill at a steady pace. It’s an easy, familiar climb; if I’m home and have some free time on Sundays, I do 10-20 laps up and around it. This time is different, though; I’m doing this without the benefit of sunlight, and that makes a world of difference. I’ve written before about how dangerous my neighborhood is at night, and even now I’m mentally kicking myself for going out at this hour. No one else is out right now. All of the neighbors are home, but the shades are drawn and the porch lights are off. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the buildings are all abandoned. When I was a child, I imagined houses as living creatures, with the windows and doors as eyes and mouths respectively. But now? Each of these Victorian-era behemoths stand dark and quiet, like massive tombs of a bygone civilization. Shadowy entryways, unkempt grounds, and unnatural stillness. Houses are reflections of our own mortality; some age with dignity and grandeur, and others rot and fade into obscurity.
A hundred years ago, this area used to be a high-end neighborhood. These sprawling, wonderfully lavish homes were a far cry from the relatively low-budget places built after the end of World War II. I’m not sure what happened in the last sixty years, but the decline has been evident. I’ve seen old reel footage from what this place used to look like in the 50s; it was still safe enough to have street parades without having to worry about drive-bys. What changed? Was it the influx of people who couldn’t afford to live in Oakland or San Francisco? Was it corruption? Poor planning? All of the above? Whatever it was, this place has been perpetually broke since the turn of the century. This side of town has borne the brunt of it; all the modern establishments are far off in the hills. The schools here have a 30% dropout rate, crime is common, and even Starbucks won’t dare come within three miles of this area. The old Main Street is just a couple of blocks away, but aside from the local tavern, most of its storefronts are abandoned. It’s not safe – both physically and financially – to have a business in an area like this.
I pass by a rusted pickup truck and look at a neighbor’s window. The shades are drawn, but the sound of baseball on TV barely filters through. A police siren fades off into the distance, and I quicken my pace. The night is still young, after all. The top of the hill is there in a few seconds, and I lean against a decorative rock wall. Three trees grew for decades on this corner, but now there are only two. About a month ago, one was toppled in a storm, cutting off the street from two directions and nearly flattening the stop sign. It took almost a week for all the wood to be chopped and cleared out, leaving only a gargantuan stump in its wake. As I stare and reminisce, a cacophony of barks and howls brings me back to the present. A neighbor across the street has three dobermans, all locked up behind high and thickly-veiled fences. No one can walk by that house without getting an earful of snarls and yaps.
Not wanting to be mistaken for a prowler, I make an about face and head for the alleyway that runs back down the hill. I spare a glance down the adjacent street and freeze. There’s a seedy drugstore and adult novelty shop on the far corner, illuminated by a single streetlight. I can see the silhouette of someone leaning against the building in the shadows. Could be waiting for an escort, could be getting high. Maybe both. No one just stands out there idly at this hour. Not long ago, a man was killed in broad daylight in the middle of the street here. Hoping that I wasn’t seen, I duck into the alley and start circling back to my neck of the woods. The areas back here are in even worse shape than the front. Faded green paint chips away from an abandoned house, and weeds have consumed a backyard and part of a chain link fence. A window was broken recently, but it was boarded up and left unfixed. There were wisterias blooming here months ago, but they’re long gone. As I pass by a thicket, I notice a trash bag, empty bottles, and a single, muddy shoe. Those weren’t there last week; a homeless person must have camped out. I take the time to inspect the back fences that connect our properties. The barricades and boarded sections are still undisturbed.
I practically jog the rest of the way down the hill and round the corner. Weathered sedans and jeeps roar by on the main drag, radios blaring and headlights already on. I pass by my block’s lone palm tree, a odd landmark that was originally planted sometime around 1900. If anything of this place will survive, it’ll be that. The few remaining blackberry bushes are still months away from producing anything, though. The wooden fence running alongside the pavement is starting to sag under its own weight; if the trees and shrubbery are removed, the entire thing will likely collapse. The paint has long faded into a murky, curdled white, peeling away one tiny strand at a time. It needs to be fixed. Everything needs to be fixed.
I make it back home and lock the door behind me, not looking back once. It’s time for dinner, and for some reason I really need some food and a Giants game right now. I just got back from my vacation this week; it’s time to settle in and return to the daily grind.
I can’t wait to leave this place again.
Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about the neighborhood. I’ve actually written quite a bit about my neighborhood before, and I haven’t exaggerated much. There’s the weird assumption that Bay Area residents live in one of the most affluent, progressive parts of the United States. Anyone that actually lives in the Bay Area knows better. Oh sure, we’re in this huge melting pot of international culture and history, but the whole wealth thing? Yeah, that doesn’t go so far. Unless you’re living in Silicon Valley, Marin County, or own a vineyard in Napa. Even San Francisco, for all its technology and splendor, has a huge homeless population. If you walk even just a couple blocks away from say, Union Square, you’ll notice that the Tenderloin looks and feels very different from Nob Hill. All cities have poverty, but San Francisco lets you see it up close and personal. I hate treating the Tenderloin like a modern Mordor, because there’s probably a lot of stuff worth seeing. Yes, there are strip clubs and prostitutes, but the food is cheap and buildings are decorated with murals! Not to mention it’s the only way to reach Japantown and the San Francisco Public Library from the north on foot…
I don’t live in San Francisco, though. I live in a smaller, but no less dangerous city about 40 minutes away. No, I’m not going to say which one it is (sorry, e-stalkers!), but I will say it’s one of the worst parts of the Bay Area. Not Oakland, but pretty close. I’m talking about a city that’s been mired in perpetual debt even before the economy crashed in 2008. It’s much like the Wild West out here; crime is rampant, and the police force is so underfunded, it’s not even funny. Someone tried to burn down the courthouse not long ago. No, seriously. The school system here is probably one of the worst in California, and that’s saying something. The other end of town has been developed into a modern urban sprawl, leaving this end perpetually stuck in crappy-1970s-crime-drama mode. This part of town is definitely working class…for those people that actually work. My neighborhood used to be one of the greatest districts in the city, but it’s long been forgotten about; the century-old buildings are in disrepair, and the former main street is a deserted husk of boarded-up shops. All the major chain retailers are, of course, at the opposite end of town. The closest business to the house is an adult bookstore, a yoga place, and a seedy corner drugstore. It is not safe to walk around at night, and it’s not much better during the day. A man was murdered in the street in broad daylight about three houses away. Police sirens are common at night, and gunshots only occasionally. I’ve heard screams a few times. That story I wrote about a drug deal going down in front of my driveway?
Yeah, that happened.
So, why do I still live here? Family. The house I live in has been part of my family since it was built about a hundred years ago, and it’s been my pseudo-base of operations for my entire life. The neighborhood has just gotten worse over the decades, but the house is still quite liveable. The recession hit my family hard, so a little banding together was needed to make sure we got through it. I’ve been saving up, but it’s hard when you have to take care of the disabled and elderly. Now that I’m unemployed, I can’t just strike out and look for an apartment. It’s expensive to live in the Bay Area, and I’d need something way better than minimum wage to maintain a decent standard of living. It just feels…I don’t know. Like I’m stuck in a trap. I know I’m smart and capable enough to find something better, but how? Where? No wonder I like traveling to the city so much; it takes me two miles to get to the nearest bus stop, but at least it’s an escape from all of this.
Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about being bold. As in, stepping in and helping someone in danger. I have a few experiences like that, but the one that sticks out the most (and is the least graphic) is when I fought a fire in my neighborhood. It was a few years winters ago, but I can recall it clearly. I was playing Street Fighter III when my uncle came barreling through the room.
“THERE’S A FIRE NEXT DOOR!”
As he ran for the phone to call the fire department, I dropped the controller and made a beeline for my shoes. I needed to get out there, and fast. I couldn’t see the fire directly from where I was standing, but I could already smell the smoke. It was close. There wasn’t time to look. Okay, I thought. it’s the weekend. Someone has to be home! I bolted for the nearest house and desperately rang the doorbell. I pounded on the door, yelling for help. A few heart-pounds later, an older man answered the door.
“The house is on fire! Over there! Help!
My neighbor grabbed his extinguisher and sprinted across the street. I didn’t join him just yet; I knew we would need more people. So I went around to more houses, banging on doors, begging for help. Luckily, a few neighbors were actually home. We all met in front of the fire – it was still limited to a single room facing a back alley – and let the extinguishers loose. I’m not sure how effective it was – none of us had any fire fighting training – but it was certainly better than just standing there and watching the place burn down. Given the proximity of other buildings and trees, the fire would’ve spread across the neighborhood within minutes. I noticed a side door was open, so I ducked inside to make sure there wasn’t anyone trapped. There was nothing but searing heat and smoke. When I heard the sirens, I ran back out onto the corner and waved the fire trucks in the direction of the blaze. I returned to the front lines and kept my extinguisher going until the water started flying.
As the professionals shunted me aside, I focused more on keeping people organized. As a precaution, my power and gas were turned off. I guided the workers to the breakers, answered their questions, and paid close attention to everything they told me. The temperature was just below freezing, so the house was going to get cold really fast. I didn’t want my family shivering and huddling in blankets as night fell. So I kind of hounded the workers and made sure that everything was getting done as quickly and accurately as possible. I’m sure they thought I was annoying. Just as we were lighting candles – very carefully – the lights came back on. Everyone was too shaky to cook anything, so we all opened a can of beans fell back on the microwave. The stench of smoke and burnt wood choked the neighborhood air for days, but that was fine. The house and people next door were safe, and so were we.
The time between me putting down the controller and the fire department arriving was less than five minutes. But in that tiny stretch of time, I moved and thought faster than I’d ever done before. I didn’t even realize until an hour later that I had been standing in subfreezing temperatures in only shorts and a t-shirt. I had been too focused to even notice. Adrenaline can do funny things to you. I don’t know how much I helped, but I did everything I could. And considering that the house is still standing, I guess it was enough.