Next stop NC. I stepped off train, and was greeted by my parents. No sooner than I got to their house, did I test positive for the Rona. After all this time living in my redwood cloaked, clean California bubble, I figured it was only a matter of time before la covida loca got me. To avoid infecting them I jumped on an app to book a hotel room. I book a spot that seems affordable and decent. The Uber comes and takes me. As we arrive I realize I am “not in Kansas” anymore. Vigilance a little high as I arrive looking extremely out of place. Hotel is more of a motel and the residents are all turning to look at me as I go in to the office to checkin.
I get the keys and take the long walk to my room on the very back side of the building. There was a car parked out front, complete with driver side window smashed and a bath towel hanging over it for protection from.. nothing really. People sitting outside on the terrace smoking. The smell of blunts burning and fake floral air freshener when I entered the room. Fruit flies swarmed upon arrival. The bath tub grey with scum and broken faucet hanging to one side. ”I can do this”, I tell my self. I’m not high maintenance. These are my people too. This is that underworld, the wild that I write about. I settle in and ensure the door is locked well and curtained closed.
I start to get an uneasy feeling. So I reach out to a local friend. He tells me this hotel I’ve chosen is the home of prostitutes, drug dealers and others who simply can’t afford to rent in apartments anymore. Again I think, I can handle that. I’m minding my business. No one should bother me. Simultaneously worried that they might think I’m the police or a competing dealer. Or just some mark thats prime for the robbing. Then a flood of fear thoughts comes. Recollection of social media reels of armed robberies by people posing as candy peddlers for charity. Stories of innocent bystanders being slain in the cross fire of hotel drug dealer shoot outs , and the words of my friend telling me that our hometown has gotten worse than a high crime big city. Fear creeps in more. How much of this fear is unfounded? In my life in general, I’ve been told to fear police, fear success, fear speaking out, fear sexuality, fear my own people. Though I haven’t had experience that would have me expect these things to manifest.
Then a knock on my door snaps me out of the fear fantasy into actual fear. Who’s this knocking? I’ve see the videos of the homemaker that gets zip tied and robbed when they opened the door. The fear is unreasonable. I’ve never had this experience. But this is not going to be my initiation. I stay quiet. Still. Who’s knocking and why? I start thinking of sleeping on the floor in case stray bullets fly in the window over night. My mind spins into every possible scenario. That is some peoples everyday reality. I gain a new level of empathy for those who live this. I get to see how judgmental I am and how biases run in me. I pack my things and call the Uber to pick me up. Maybe I failed this test. To integrate and really be with people no matter where they are. To not let fear inducing viral videos run my life. But I will retake this class if I need. For tonight, Im out.
I hop in the Uber. Assuming the driver is probably as paranoid as I am. I get in and he turns to me, quickly, as if to verify my face. His name is King. He speaks with an accent. My guess is West African background. As we ride he looks around at the hotel buildings curiously, and says, “I get emotional here.” That’s not what I had projected on him. I expected him to have the same fear as me. I ask, “Why emotional?” King proceeds to tell me the story of the time he hit rock bottom, and lived here. His wife left him. She had cleaned out the bank account and hadn’t been paying their rent, and he found himself homeless, depressed, out of work, and this place gave him shelter in that time. What a twist, I feel the guilt of my prejudice and projection. Upset that I’d let the media induced fear influence my perception of a place where many people were just having a hard time. He goes on to tell me how he rose from those circumstances. How he now has a three-hundred thousand dollar house and two cars. Those things may just be symbols of success for some. For King, they’re a testament to his power. A power that used that oppressive time as fuel for making a better way. A skill that the world needs. A gift that can only come through experience. How many more Kings are being birthed right now from the hardship and heavy pressure of times like these. When you truly feel the suffering and commit to converting it. Not fearing it or jumping in an Uber to out run it.