School of the Hard Knocks
Growing up in the inner city, I learned to constantly keep my guard up, avoid contact with strangers, and avoid trouble. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do and there were lessons that my parents couldn’t teach me. The kind of lessons that my family would never come to discover and things that I had to learn on my own. I grew up ok so it worked out, thankfully, but it was a struggle at times. Like most kids, I was guided by the most basic of rules: I always had to be home by a certain time, inform my parents of where I was at if I visited a friend’s house after school, and I absolutely had to stay in the area in between Lincoln Park and Duncan Avenue. That was our neighborhood. My folks never set those parameters. I set that for myself. I quickly learned why. Looking back, the core rules of the house was all that I needed. I’ve seen enough of my Dad and how he dealt with my siblings to know that I must not and cannot cross the guy. That was enough to keep me in line. The other environmental factors? I had to deal with head on and I had enough sense to learn who and what to avoid.
The Choice is Yours
Most of the time, when strangers start talking to you in Jersey City, it doesn’t end well. “Greetings” are often followed with being asked for change, a light, and directions to a place, just to name a few. Afterwards, you’re met with an impossible choice if you didn’t want to get hurt. More often than not, you’re left with no choice and you have to deal with the consequences. You can ask any kid I went to school with in elementary school and everyone knew someone (including themselves) that has been robbed, jumped, or both. That all came with the territory. You pick your battles and accept the wins and the losses. As Omar from “The Wire” would say, “It’s all in the game.” I could explain further but I digress.
Social dynamics change as you get older and you encounter more and more people outside of your hood, obviously,but despite of that, I was conditioned to mind my own business and be wary of strangers that greet me regardless of how much older I got and regardless of how many more places I visited. Even cashiers at local stores aren’t forthcoming. Just go in, get your stuff, check out and leave.
Fast Forward to July 1, 2017
So, when we first moved here, my disposition to keep my head down and mind my own business was about to get challenged in a BIG way.
The people here, for the most part, are among the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. I believe it’s a function of a slower pace of life. It allows people the time to be friendly. From the moment we set foot in our first restaurant, strangers are holding doors , saying hello, and asking how you’re doing. I’m standing there, taken aback because I’m just not wired to greet people in return with as much gusto. People at the local supermarket will greet you with a smile and tell you how cute your kids are. The person assigned to bag your groceries will small talk with you and despite of my skepticism, I quickly realized it’s coming from a genuine place. Most transplants I’ve encountered have all told me the same thing; it’s the kind of friendliness that they would quickly respond with a snarky, “what do you want?” but in time, they eventually became the kind of people they were once weirded out by when they moved to the area for the first time.
Till now, I’m still adjusting to it and it’s a good thing. My guard will eventually let up, the more I allow myself to smile and greet people warmly in return. You can chalk it up as one of many reasons that motivated us to move here and it can all be blanketed under the category: Quality of Life.
Consider this part one of a series because there are many other factors that I feel have contributed greatly to an improved Quality of life here in Austin.