|Andrew, Willie and Fred, my new friends.|
After freezing to death at Dunkin Dunuts and their Internet going out three times in an hour, I moved over to Mr. Wonderful's Chicken and Waffles, a black owned business. They don't have WiFi, but the dumpy coffee shop next door does and I can get their signal.
I arrived at Mr. Wonderful's about 8:28. Floyd, the chef, came to the back door to unlock it and let me in. I said, "Gee, Floyd, I'm making you go to work 2 minutes early today."
He replied, "You can come 10 minutes early and I'd let YOU in."
I'm already a legendary customer at Mr. Wonderful's. I've eaten the food several times, spent hours and hours using the Internet from the coffee shop next door and I even posted a review of their breakfast special on the Internet. Most importantly, I made friends with the Pastor that owns the restaurant, his wife, the cook, and all the help - all of them are black.
Part of the reason I get along so well in an urban environment is that I'm fluent in Black. My Spanish sucks, but I'm down with Black and can chat some shit with jes 'bout any body.
Knowing how to talk is a big part of the battle. I still think that some black people are afraid of white people, but I do my best to make conversation and be ranked, "This dude's alright" as often as possible - the street equivalent of someone clicking on your LIKE button.
You also have to know who you're talking to. Most of the people in this neighborhood have messed up lives. They're either looking for a job, on disability, on food stamps, hustling something on the side, driving a $50 car, been kicked out of a place within the last year or some other crazy thing. So, you have to tell them that you're in the same boat and you get it. And I am in the same boat in a lot of ways.
After putzing around on my laptop at Mr. Wonderful's for a while, I decided to step outside for a smoke. Just outside the restaurant door, parked along the curb was a beaten up tan Crown Victoria. Inside were two older black men, one in the front seat, one in the back seat. A common conversation starter in a black neighborhood when you are about to light up a smoke is the black person nearest you will say, "Hey buddy, can you spare a smoke?" Since I was low on cash and couldn't afford to buy more cigarettes until later, I didn't want to give up any of my stash. I said, "Hey brother, all I gots is two and that's my whole day's supply."
"But I pay you. For real. I pay you." The man in the drivers seat with sunglasses and a scruff of white curly hairs around his chin pulled out a handful of change.
Immediately, I responded, "Well look aaa choo... wavin' all that big money 'round like yooz rich." I reached in my pocket and pulled out two quarters and said, "This is MY money. This is MY money. That's right. All day, I got dis money." The two guys in the car broke out laughing. "Hey, you alright. Ain't he?" said the guy in the front to the guy in the back. "Yeah, he alright." They kept laughing.
I went on. "Earlier, I gave the cook a dollar for a soda. That was MY dollar. Yeah. He says, you want food now or later? I told him. That dollar I gave you was MY dollar." Now, the two guys that reeked of alcohol were howling. Both of them repeating over and over, "This dude's alright. This dude is all-right, man." Which translates to: We just met a white person that isn't a jerk.
They 'bout fell out when I told them about the crack-ho I used to date. Translated, that means they were laughing, doubled-over and slapping their thighs; and they knew I had a black woman in my life that was draining me of all my money. "Damn hoes take every damn thing from ya," they both said.
By this time, I had heard them tell me that I was alright and "This dude is cool, for real," so many times that it was time for introductions. First, the slouched driver said, "My name is Fred. Nuthin' to be A-Fred of." The big lighter skinned man with sunglasses in the back seat shook my hand and said, "You cool. I'm Andrew." Fred mentioned that they were brothers, although, there was no family resemblance at all. Then they both started laughing again. I began to wonder if I was that funny or if the liquor was helping me along.
|Fred's Crown Victoria with the bike in the trunk.|
We continued to discuss the adverse effects of hoes in our lives and then we got talkin' 'bout how nasty crack is. I told Fred, "I've been clean and sober for five years." He gave me a fist knock for that. Then I added, "But I need weed." Everybody fell out over that one. "Seriously, I need weed. My medication don't do shit and I know weed would set me right." More laughter.
Fred told me when he got out of Vietnam in 1968 he bought 24 kilos of weed for $20. "Nobody believes me, but I ain't got no reason to lie. It be the God's honest truth. Twenty bucks, 24 kilos. Now that was some shit." Then, he pointed to two cups filled with brown liquid in the cup holders on the front dash, "Ain't nuthin' but ice tea in there." Yeah, right.
"Where you stay at?" Translated: Where do you sleep? It could be your place or a temporary place. This does not imply ownership or a current rental agreement.
"Two blocks that way."
"Damn, you right here. We's 'round here all da time. When you see us, holler."
While we were chatting, a white man in shorts walking an all white dog walked by. Fred started yelling, "What kind is it? What kind is it?"
The man shouted back, "A Sheppard and Lab mix."
I told Fred, "Vice dog. Undercover vice."
"You right, man. You right. Man, yooz a funny dude."
More silliness continued for a few minutes and then I excused myself and went back into the restaurant. I wanted to write about my new friends, but I wanted a picture, too. So I grabbed my digital camera and headed back out to the old Crown Victoria. Now, there was a third passenger, Willie - a dark skinned man with white hair and beard, sitting in the front seat, next to Fred. He had put his bicycle in the trunk of the car. Don't know why, but it was there and the trunk lid was not secured. I knew it would bounce up and down on that poor bike until they got to wherever they were going.
My first shot was going to be a wide view of the car. All three of them started yelling, "You gotta get closer, man. Get closer. Ca'mere."
I told them I wanted a long shot of the car, then I'll do a close up. After snapping the car, I moved closer to the passenger side to get a shot of everyone. They all straighten up, took off their sunglasses and smiled. It was suddenly like they were at church and taking a family picture.
Once I took the first picture, I clicked the camera so they could all see it. Fred said, "I can't see 'nuthin."
I said, "Well, it's a good thing you're the driver." Everybody laughed, again.
After passing the camera around and everyone taking turns using Andrew's cheaters to see the picture, Andrew remarks, "That picture is kinda dark."
I quickly replied. "If you haven't noticed, all you guys are BLACK." They fell out for 'bout a minute before I could take the next picture to see if I could get more nature light. Everyone liked picture #2 better.
"You is allll-right, man," they kept saying. Everybody made a point to say, "If you see me, holler."And they drove off.
And that's how to make friends in a black neighborhood when you're white.
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