It’s been said that “Ghetto’s are the same no matter where you go”. Wait…that has been said, right? It sounds like something some dude dropped as a supposed pearl of wisdom when, in reality, he just didn’t feel like having a conversation. Whatever the case may be, I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with that possibly said phrase.
This past weekend I did shows in Detroit and Milwaukee. Being in these two cities got me thinking about “bad neighborhoods” and how they are perceived by the people outside of them. As we’ve all been told, Detroit is hell on earth. From the time I got there to the time I left, every person I spoke to couldn’t stress enough what a disaster that place is. The thing is, from just walking and driving around in it a little , it didn’t seem THAT bad. Granted, it was run down. I mean, REALLY run down. But no one lives there. It felt more like a ghost town than a ghetto.I guess my basis of comparison for all ghettos is obviously NYC. Because of this , I’ve learned that NYC ghetto’s are not typical when compared to other big cities. In no way am I claiming our ghettos are “Better” (only dickheads brag about squalor), just different. But , then again, Milwaukee is different from Detroit…and Baltimore…and Philly..and Miami. All these places have some seriously fucked up parts but , for the most part, you can tell the differences between them just by looking at them. Which brings me back to Detroit. What sets detroit apart from all these cities is that, apparently, there isn’t a single safe neighborhood in the entire city. At least that’s what EVERYONE told me. Sure, you can walk around during the day. But come nighttime motherfuckers were talking like , once the clock strikes midnight, it becomes “I am legend” in that bitch. My hotel was about 5 blocks from the venue I played at. The lady at the hotel gave me easy instructions to get there but , before parting ways, she was sure to add in “Oh, and do not try to walk back tonight”. Ok. The thing is, the walk there was harmless. It seemed actually kinda nice. It was right by Comerica park and , most noticeably, there was no one out. That’s the thing about Detroit, it’s the most desolate big city I’ve ever seen. But, to me, that doesn’t automatically mean dangerous. However, even after I got to the venue and spoke to a few more people, they all said to not walk home. So I didn’t. I got a ride for those 5 blocks and saw..well…nothing. No one was out (it was a friday). It reminded me of what Dumbo in Brooklyn used to look like before rich people found it. So, I was left with this feeling that “This city can’t be THAT bad”. I mean, i get that it’s rough, but could it really be all shitty? the whole fucking city?
The next day I was talking to a dude I performed with the previous night. Turns out he got punched and robbed last night…IN A HOTEL. Ok..now that is some gully shit. Consider the skeptic learned.
The next night I was in Milwaukee. not a place I’ve really ever heard anything too crazy about (except for that whole Jeffery Dahmer thing). As is the case with most big venues in most cities, the place I played was in the hood. A hood, that didn’t seem like a hood at all. It was just some typical shit. It was on main strip no different from countless others I have seen all over America . I went to a diner a block away from the venue. Walked back. It seemed very normal. I actually had the thought “I bet this would be a cool place to live, if I had to live here. There’s stuff around. Activity and food.” Then I walked into a Qwik-e-Mart and realized I was in fact in the heart of the ghetto. Who knew? Bullet proof glass in front of the teller. A bum fiesta gathering outside the door harassing every person coming and going and just and overall shady vibe through out the whole place. I mean, who just kinda hangs out inside a qwik-e-mart? Dudes were posted up all over the place , just chilling. Not talking. not shopping. I bought my nerd rope (FTW!) and bounced.
After the show, I needed to catch a cab back to my hotel and , due to the flood of people leaving the venue, that was basically impossible. Using a tactic I often use in NY in a situation such as this, I wandered up a few blocks to separate from the crowd. This bought me to an off shoot street that was all houses (25th and Wells for all those familiar with Milwaukee). By my account, nice houses (My gauge of this is admittedly terrible as , unless it’s the projects, i think “houses” = Nice). So, I call the number for the cab and wait. As I reach the corner, I see these two people chilling on a porch. It’s dark and I’m drunk but I pretty quickly recognize them as crackheads. The guy looked like gregory Isaacs and woman , sans teeth, looked like..um…a toothless crackhead. The dude started talking to me from the porch and they converged. Now, growing up in NYC , I’m certainly no stranger to talking to weird people on the street. In fact, I’d say my bum speak IQ is pretty much off the charts. So, using my powerful skills of bum speak deduction, I gathered that they were harmless and just shooting the shit with me. Being that I’m a friendly and jovial drunk, I had no issue chatting them up. We spoke of nights past and how Milwaukee has changed over the course of the century. They even gave me insight on who Laverne and Shirley were actually based on. Just kidding. We drunkenly small talked about nothing until G. Isaacs asked me for a dollar. I told the dude I’d give him one if I get a cab. Then the lady crackheadedly scurried off around the corner. Down the block. I saw a group of people approaching. From what I could see they were a bunch of drunken, aggressive teenagers and I wanted no part of that. I told Bummy Gregory Isaacs that I was gonna go back to the main street to get a cab and I hit him with five bucks for being helpful (He was willing to wait with me on the corner until a cab arrived). As I was walking away the lady crackhead ran up on me. i was expecting some sort of “I need money” Pitch but all she did was ask me for a cigarette (That I didn’t have) , called me sweetie , gave me a hug and bounced. between you and me, I think I coulda hit that shit. Anyway, I caught a cab and was taken away but I couldn’t help but be confused by my uneventful experience. What kinda ghetto was that? It was nice. It was pretty much just suburban houses in a city. But, still, that’s a Milwaukee ghetto I guess. Who knew? Sure,all the elements of ghetto’s were there, I guess you just can never read a book by its cover. Even if that cover has crackheads on it.
It makes me think about some places I’ve seen that were truly fucked up ghettos. Places like New Orleans and Baltimore. The type of neighborhoods you could fly over in a plane and tell they’re not a place you wanna hang out in. Strangely, in all my life, the most fucked up place I’ve ever seen was in , of all places, Connecticut. I don’t even know what town it was as I only saw it passing by on an amtrak train. While it didn’t reek of danger, it was , without question, the most run down shithole I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget. I saw a grown man riding a big wheel…as a means of transportation. Dude was full gown , peddling like mad with his knees beating into his shoulders, on top of a toy bike made for kids too young to figure out real bikes.
It looked as if a bomb had hit the place. boarded up buildings (with people in them) and people just kinda wandering aimlessly like confused zombies. I saw a basketball court with no rims on the backboards , but a self-made rim on the side made of a carved out milk crate. Safe to say, if you live there, you’re in the most dire of life situations.
That’s the thing though, that’s that “kind” of ghetto. I’m sure there are similar ones all over the country but no way are they all like that. Not even close. Even though they may share similar characteristics (poverty, drugs, crime and neglect) , ever place has its own nuances. It’s funny that it took being drunk in Milwaukee for that to dawn on me.
Oh , and you know what? Dude on the big wheel was white. Bet you didn’t see that one coming you racist cocksucker! Yup, poor is poor. There is no skin tone to being broke.