February 24, 2013

Night and Day

As we grow we realize... we know what we know. Life experience shapes us. They give us our fears, our expectations of how an event will turn out, and anticipations.

I've told the story before here, but I remember when the assistant in our group when I worked for Company X, had a dream about her husband being shot in their street near their home and she was kneeling before him yelling for help. In real life, they lived in a very very bad part of town. Very bad.

She told me this story and after we all stood there speechless I finally said, "I can honestly tell you, I will never have a dream like that." Likewise, she's never had the dream where you're 2 weeks from college graduation and forgot to attend a certain class required to graduate.

Life experiences.

And as I reflect on an incident last week, I realize, they truly shape our views and reactions.

I know a woman who used to work for an 'Agency' that I will just say has three letters, beginning with C and ending in A. And I think when you work for a group like that, when you've been all over the world, in some of the worst or more trying times, like say... during the Fall of Saigon... you have witnessed things that put most things here in America, into a different perspective. Maybe if you've lived in some seriously crappy scary parts of Africa, some of the things one would witness here, might make anything here not feel so... intimidating?

I was in St. Augustine last weekend and a woman I've gotten to know, invited me to stay in her home. I was with her for just over 24 hours and she ended up being my tour guide. (She's the one that went to the quarry with me.) Her prior life until this weekend was unknown to me.

I thinks she is fascinating, but I don't ask questions. I only listen if something comes up related.

There is an old home in a not good neighborhood in St. Augustine that was owned by Thomas Jefferson's great great granddaughter. The woman that was with me has been wanting to show it to me. (I linked it in Google maps...drop the little man in the street and you'll get a great view of the house.)

So we made our way to the home... a home built in the mid to late 1800s, in an area of St. Augustine that is slowly becoming 'gentrified' or as some call it a 'transitional neighborhood'. This is a home that has seen better years, it's Victorian decor on the front, long ago removed.

It's been a gas station and a grocery store.

The photos on the 'net don't do the neighborhood justice. It looks clean and nice, but it has a very bad element. I didn't feel it at first. I didn't witness it, ever.

But it's there.

She and I were parked out front in the parking lot, got out, started to walk around, when we were approached by a local. He'd been walking the streets and immediately that little warning bell inside me started to go off.

She doesn't have this bell and if she does, it's not because some strange man has approached her.

White, black, green, yellow, pink, I don't talk to strange men in the streets. If I'm alone and I see a man alone, I'm instantly on guard.

I'm not a big woman. I'm actually considered small. I'm fully aware of my physical limitations. I don't walk around armed (although pepper spray is not a bad idea). I'm not strong. But I'm fast. But I'm not faster than someone who is bigger, unless they're heavy enough where it impairs their running.

I try to avoid situations I might deem stupid. This would include, but is not limited to, dark alleys at night.

But the woman with me, she is smaller than I am, by 20 pounds, but she's flat not afraid of anything. This local walked up, my inner voice is saying, "Be ready", and she talks to him big as day when he started a conversation with us.

He volunteered to show us around, as he knew the area, and even though she knew it well enough, she told him to go ahead.

They start talking about the history of the house, how it may have been a grocery store, but there were other things sold in this home... illegal things. And SHE is the one that started this conversation with him.

And as we're walking and they're talking he says, "Yup. And there was a lot more than those drugs in that there home. There wuz wimmin..."

At which point I stopped and said, 'Wait. Drugs AND prostitution? Like a brothel?' and he just nodded his head and replied, "Yup. Them too..."

We were walking to the front of the house when another local rode up on a bicycle.

They did some kind of funky handshake, greeted each other, and the voice deep down inside is now saying, "Calculate how quickly you can get in that car, close the door, lock it and call 911... all at the same time..."

But not my friend. She has no voice like that. She strikes up a conversation and I listen... as the two locals start talking about the guy down the street that was so happy this grocery store was closed because it was infringing on his 'bidness'. It had put a dent in his profits and so he was glad they were gone and he was making money hand over fist and just gave his daughter 1 million dollars.

Tall tales were being told, I suspect.

Except I didn't care, because I'm standing there with the two locals, doing their thing thinking, "Am I seriously in this neighborhood talking about prostitution and the drug trade? Really?"

After he left and we finished out little tour, my friend and I left and when we got in the car she said to me, "Bou, you looked like you were going to crawl out of your skin when that second guy showed up."

I said, "Really? I was trying to seem so calm. I made sure I had my blank face on..."

To which she replied, "Yeah, blank face with body language saying you were seriously freaked..."

I said, "Not freaked. Just calculating how quickly I could run to your car and call 911 at the same time if things went south..."

She laughed.

I'm still amazed that I started the afternoon at a Catholic Mission, talking about a marker I'm trying to place, and ended up at an old crack house listening to conversations about the local drug trade and prostitution.

You can't make that stuff up...

And for the record, in reflection, I think she wasn't nervous because life experience... kept her armed.

Posted by Boudicca at February 24, 2013 10:04 PM

That is awesome. It always helps to have new life experiences.

Posted by: vwbug at February 25, 2013 06:05 AM

I love new life experiences, but that was a little bit edgy by my standards.

Posted by: Bou at February 25, 2013 06:49 AM

Sounds exactly the way I would have been thinking... I'm always calculating risk, looking for ways out, even when driving.

I would have gone back to the car on some pretext or other when the second guy showed. Now, some call that paranoia... I just say I have a well-developed sense of self preservation... ;)

Posted by: pam at February 25, 2013 08:26 AM

Interesting use of iron-work to decorate that "store". Reminds me of the places I used to walk by when I walked home from High School via the Olds plant.

It looks bad, but if you knew the people you understood. Not that I would walk through there at night time, but there was no trouble during the daylight hours.

It comes back to the old question, why are all the run-down parts of town around the heavy industries? Cheap Land.

Oddly enough the original mansions were built just east of where the expanded Olds plant now lies. All that is left are Cooley Gardens and a couple houses.

Posted by: The Thomas at February 25, 2013 02:31 PM

Pam- Exactly. Self preservation. Look, I don't know how I'm going to die, but I can have some semblance of control. I can stay out of bad places, try to eat right, and don't run with scissors. ;-)

Thomas- That's the thing, if you know the people it's never so bad. But, yeah, I didn't. And there is no way in hell I'd walk it at night. That's when all the truly bad comes out. Blech.

They are practically giving that house away. They really really want someone to buy it and fix it up. It would be tempting if I won the lottery... except for the small issue I have with self preservation...

Posted by: Bou at February 25, 2013 10:56 PM

Not too long ago, my husband was trying to buy a paint sprayer off of craigslist. We drove out to the place to meet the guy. The address was this abandoned house with a board covering the front door and six foot weeds all around the house. A guy comes walking around from the back of the house to talk to my husband. I kept my butt in the car with my cell phone in my hand. My husband went with the guy back around the house to see the paint sprayer. I was terrified. All my alarms were going off. Finally, my husband got back in the truck and we left without buying anything. He said the guy kept trying to talk him into driving the truck around to the back of the house. That guy was up to no good. I never want to experience that again.

Posted by: sticks at February 27, 2013 07:12 PM

I've seen enough things in various circumstances to be comfortable in situations like that. When I find myself in them.

Usually by accident.

I generally try not to end up in places like that if I can see it coming. I suspect that she didn't see it coming, but knew to act like she belonged once she found her self there.

That's the key, act like you're at home until you can extricate yourself.

So, now you've been in something like that and have a better feel for how to handle it if you end up there again. By accident or by design, though I suspect that it would be by accident in your case. :)

Posted by: marcus erroneous at March 2, 2013 12:40 PM