Monday, March 1, 2010

Straddling The Tracks

In the city where I live, if you head uphill, chances are you're entering a nicer neighborhood.  If you go downhill, you're likely watching the 'hood get worse.  Our house is on a steep hill.  We're the first house at the bottom of the street, as it heads up.  I always have one foot in each world.  I come from poverty, or working class, or blue collar roots, whatever you want to call it.  Now I have a masters degree, a professional position, and a student loan back in forbearance for another year because I still can't afford to make the monthly payments on all that fancy schooling I bought myself.

I leave my house to go for a walk.  I walk uphill, because I like the cardio.  Except that's not always true.  I also walk uphill if I'm pushing the jogging stroller.  You can't rock a golden yellow double jogging stroller walking in the ghetto.  That shit just ain't right.

So if I walk uphill with the jogger, I see other moms, mid-thirties, early forties, also rocking jogging strollers and toddlers.  We smile at each other as we pass.   I don't know any other middle class moms around here.  Our circle of friends fell apart right before I got pregnant when everyone else got divorced or procreated and high-tailed it to the 'burbs, and we never got around to making any more.

I wonder when I see these mothers walking with their jogging strollers and yoga pants, while I'm walking with my jogging stroller and yoga pants: are we the same?  I don't think we're the same because I don't want to smile as we pass.  I want to look down at the ground, avoid eye contact, walk fast, hide in the hood of my XXL black hoodie.  But maybe they don't want to make eye contact either.  Maybe they do it for the same reason I do it: that's how shit's done in this neighborhood.  And it has nothing to do with them that I'd rather avoid eye contact.  I've been known to pretend I don't see my own friends at the grocery store.  I'm just like that sometimes. 

If I don't take the jogger I might go uphill and I might go downhill.  Usually I start off going up for the cardio, but eventually I take a turn that leads me back downhill and I cross that notorious street--every town has one, cities have a bunch of 'em--that street where the neighborhood officially becomes no good anymore.  The windows in the houses are boarded up; there's garbage in the streets and the sweet smell of blunt wrappers and weed wafting through the air.  If I pass someone walking here, we both do the same thing: look down at the ground, avoid eye contact, walk fast, hide in the hoods of our XXL black hoodies.  Aaaaahhhhh.....

There's always a certain sense of relief for me when I cross that invisible class line, over to the the wrong side of the tracks, a sense of freedom, like I'm going back home, like I'm safe in anonymity and no one will bother or question me.  Unless I have the jogging stroller.  Then I just feel like a tool who probably stumbled into the wrong part of town accidentally.

I wonder if I'll always breathe a little easier on the wrong side of the tracks.  I don't know.  I have to walk back uphill to get home.  And that golden yellow double jogger is mine; I chose it myself after searching long and hard on Craigslist.  But so is the oversized black hoodie.  I think I'll always be standing right at the intersection of that street that separates us.  No matter where I walk: uphill, downhill, or for how long, I'll always have one foot on either side of the tracks.  Maybe that is where I belong.


  1. Hmm, I ponder this all the time. Will I always be so aware that I come from the wrong side of the tracks? Does that ground me, or limit me? For where we live now, I might as well have come out of straight-up ghetto, yet for NF standards I guess my life was pretty good. There are always wrong-er tracks, I guess; like when my mom flipped out about me riding my bike up Highland to get to your place - but it was so much more direct. And I always felt more threatened by privileged Deveaux kids than anonymous Highland thugs... now the Deveaux kids equivalent is the moms at the bus stop in their size 4 velour track suits, and I'm the Highland kid, as I rush out the door to a (shh..) job each morning instead of cradling my travel mug of coffee and gossip with the crew. They're always smiling, though - and I'm the one avoiding the chitchat. The black hoodie is comfy and familiar and hard to abandon.

  2. this post. wow. i feel the exact same way. i feel like a faker, an imposter, a stranger in a strange land any time i even put on make-up these days. the downtown homeless men from the shelter a block from my building would often approach me, an the conversations I had with them were some of the most comfortable i have ever had. why is it that poverty just feels natural to me? is it the lack of BS that comes from hard living? I don't know.

    i come from a middle class family with a dad who was an RCMP officer and a mom that stayed home with us until I was in middle school. We moved from little town to little town in New Brunswick, where we were the middle-upper class, if there was one. By the time we moved to big Ontario in the mid-80's we were no longer considered upper-middle but more middle. And our new neighbourhood was low-middle for sure. The kids made me quite aware of the class divide from then on.

    I am the first, and still only person to obtain a degree in my family. I dated a harvard boy i fell for one summer in university and visited his world a few times. I loved it, then, when adventure called my name and I answered it. Now, I live in a neighbourhod that borders the wrong side of the tracks. I love it. I bought this house with my ex 7 years ago, and it feels great to be a part of a community that is alive and real. Working parents, newly landed immigrants all surround me here. No suburbs for us either. I am so glad. I feel at home here. I can see the public housing from my window. The kids from all around us march to the public house 2 doors down all year long. I see and hear them play basketball in the schoolyard on the hot sweaty nights of the summer, the bounce of the ball a soothing pattern of life you don't hear if you dont live where I live. I see them, the girls with their headscarves and lyrical foreign languages I wish I understood. Smiling and running, they kick the soccer ball in the sunshine and remind me that life is good. So yah, I like where I live.

    Again, this is a great post. I love how you write!!!


  3. I so relate to this. I contemplate issues of class and income and poverty far more than I think I should. It's a serious preoccupation of mine. This town is predominantly a yuppie/hippie mix and I find myself confused about where I fit on a daily basis. Last night I visited the free clinic downtown for my bi-polar issues, looking into the idea of meds (finally) and was surprised to find that the space they occupy is now shared with a homeless shelter. It was a bizarre and eye opening experience, even though I grew up quite poor and still am in some ways (otherwise I'd have insurance visit a regular doctor rather than a free clinic)... bleh. It's all so complicated, but frankly, I think I dwell on it and spin it all so it's more complicated than it needs to be. But these are complex issues that deserve attention and thought, so I dunno...

  4. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who obsesses about this! At times I've tried to talk myself out of thinking about it so much, to no avail. Luckily, differences between poverty and middle class, and how people move between social classes, or don't, are a huge focus of my work now, so I kind of get a free pass on being obsessed with it. Our awareness of it, or even hyper-awareness, is part of what makes us who we are, just as we carry so much of our childhood around with us in our adult lives. I'm sure I'll end up revisiting this topic. It fascinates me too much not to!

  5. so glad to see someone who has the same passions as me kickin' around. the anthropologist in me craves this sort of dialogue. keep talking about it! (getting caught up on your blog. i tend to drop, read your post, think about it, and come back later (or forget to) to comment. you'll see. :)