I’ve lived in a few rough areas. But oddly enough, I’ve only been threatened once or twice while wandering around the neighborhood.
Summer in Tacoma is a wild experience. Everyone who’s never lived there claims it rains every day, and that we never see the sky, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Really, I’ve never experienced a more temperate and enjoyable climate since, and it’s easy to wish for the broken clouds and crisp breeze off the Puget Sound now that I’m sequestered here in the harsh extremes of Illinois. July of 1990 proved no different than the rest, and we’d recently moved to a house in the northern end of town.
I liked this place more than most, because it was a lackluster Queen Anne, where part of the porch had clearly come later than the rest. It might seem strange that I liked it, but the architecture was inescapable, a wild cherry tree grew in the front yard, and the back yard was more than large enough to support even the most ambitious landscaping; it was however, torturous to mow. My favorite feature was probably the old and craggy oak which also stood in the front yard, but was long dead. It imposed a surreal quality to the place, almost as if it were transplanted directly from a horror film.
It’s just one of the many places we lived while being somewhat destitute. One benefit to being a veritable Gypsy is the variety of living conditions we experienced. Out of them all, this had the most charm. Unfortunately the neighborhood itself nestled firmly in a well-known Crip territory, though we didn’t learn this until much later. Our street was actually not very far removed from several run-down apartment complexes, an A&W joint, and a Taco Bell–maybe three blocks total from all three. As a consequence, I often explored the immediate surrounding blocks, if only because it’s what kids do.
One day that summer, I was dispatched to acquire food at A&W, which I’d only recently discovered since it was slightly beyond my usual radius. On the way, two girls asked me for some money.
No way, I thought. I shook my head no. I was just as poor as they were, and I didn’t want to risk getting into a fight, so I shrugged my shoulders and kept walking.
“C’mon, man! We live around here. We’ll pay you back.” Her voice was too close. It was clear they had started following me, and I didn’t really know what to do. I kept walking.
“Fuck you too, cracka! I’ll get my brother and bus’ you!” she yelled, her friend adding a few choice curses to emphasize the point.
I kept walking. A distinct chill ran up my spine, but I knew she was just bluffing; I’d heard it all before. At least, that’s what I hoped. In reality, shortly after we finished eating, the neighbor kid from across the street came over and informed me they paid him a visit. Apparently, they did live in the area, and had seen me at his house at least once in the past, so they inquired where to find me.
Of course he didn’t tell them, but upon hearing this story my mom got scared and said, “You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.”
I whistled for a cab and when it came near The license plate said ‘fresh’ and it had dice in the mirror. If anything I could say that this cab was rare, but I thought, “Nah, forget it. Yo, homes to Bel-Air!” I pulled up to the house about 7:00 or 8:00 and I yelled to the cabbie, “Yo homes smell ya later!” Looked at my kingdom; I was finally there, to sit on my throne as the prince of Bel-Air.