Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Day I got Lost in an American Ghetto

I was 19 and Greyhound Buses were having a promotion on that you could travel all over Canada and the US for $99 for a whole month, with an unlimited number of trips. I'd only ever been to the States once with my parents, and I especially wanted to visit Disneyland, so I went.

I had a lot of adventures on the trip, but one that was especially dangerous was when I was in Kansas City. I had gotten off the bus in the morning and planned to spend the whole day there. I got a map and saw there was a museum nearby so I decided to visit it.

I hopped on a crowded bus, paid the fare, sat down and started talking to the guy next to me. The further we went, the less people were on board, until we hit the end of the line. The bus driver said we had to get out.

That's fine, the guy I'd been talking to said he'd help me find this museum, so I wasn't particularly worried. I had noticed however that there didn't seem to be any white people around. My new friend told me that was because we were in the middle of the ghetto and whites just didn't go there. I looked around. It didn't seem like the ghettos I'd heard about. It had a beautiful well kept park, and the streets were clean. There were lots of people around and they all greeted my friend enthusiastically. He was well known and well liked there.

He told me that he wanted me to meet his Aunt who lived in an apartment building we'd just got to. Me, I was wary. I said I'd wait in the foyer for him. Not long after he'd left, he came back down again and said we'd have to leave because the caretaker had complained- he said he didn't want no white people in his building, so we decided to walk in the park.

I was curious about the caretaker and what he said, and my friend explained to me that if I had been an American, terrible things would have happened to me by now, but because I was a clueless Canadian, well, I was safe. Especially since I was with him. He was my protection.

I wasn't at all worried about this. Anyway, we decided to walk in the huge park and talked about religion. He told me that the pastor of his church was cheating on his wife and had 3 or 4 parishioners as girlfriends. I told him that that was scandalous, and that is NOT the way a Pastor should act. He said "No?" I said "Of course not. Pastors are supposed to act better than ordinary people, not worse!"

He agreed with me. We talked about religion for another hour or so, but by then it was getting late so he set me on a bus that took me to the station so I'd get there before it got dark. Again, I was the only white person on the bus, but soon white people got on, and I was back in the middle of the city again.

It was a great day. I got a glimpse into another culture and got to go where it was too dangerous for others to go. I felt quite privileged- and protected. And enlightened.

But please my children, don't do this yourselves. The rules might have changed by now right?

But of course you know this, because you read "Gang Leader for a Day". I can tell you what's written there is true- you'd never know it was a ghetto just by looking! I only have fond memories of it. And of that young man who had shown me a bit of his world!

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