We have moved to an odd neighborhood. It’s a place where every block of beautifully restored Victorian homes also has at least a couple of moldering hulks marked “condemned.” You’ll see people tending immaculate flower beds in the morning, and next door you might also see three men and a woman drinking beer and smoking on a dirt lawn. Also in the morning.
We’re in one of the beautifully restored houses. We are blessed with friendly neighbors. There’s a lot to see from the front porch. Occasionally a guy will wander by tugging a shopping cart full of scrounged refuse. He might pass by a group of well-dressed women stepping out of newer cars for lunch at the cafe a couple of doors down. Yesterday the owner of that cafe strolled over during a rainstorm to present us with a cake. When I walked the dog this morning, I saw a guy in a motorized wheelchair running at top speed down the middle of Liberty Street, the boombox in his lap playing Stevie Ray Vaughan. If I happen to be piddling around in my own small yard, a guy might stop to ask if I need some help with that, in exchange for a few bucks. Most people say “hi” when you pass them. What we have here is the very opposite of a gated community.
One of the cliches I remember from geography class is “land of contrasts.” That’s Springfield. Some folks who live around here are dirt poor; some seem pretty rich. Some of the bicyclists favor lycra festooned with logos; most use battered cruisers as the fastest, cheapest way to get around. The streets are wide but there isn’t much traffic. A lot of the houses here, you put them in San Francisco or Seattle or Savannah, they’d be worth millions. Some of the worst ones in Springfield aren’t even worth thousands. I guess that’s what’s still bringing in the gainfully employed: it’s possible to buy something dirt cheap, put $150k into it, and end up with a roomy showplace that still costs less than bungalows in San Marco or Avondale. Then you’re within walking distance of downtown, in a neighborhood that seems about as safe as anywhere I’ve ever lived. Gentrification at work.
They say Jacksonville is more a part of Georgia than it is of Florida. The culture and attitudes of the Deep South prevail here more than in Miami or Tampa. In this neighborhood it’s easy to grasp the downside of that: The people towing the shopping carts or doing odd jobs for cash are nearly all black; the ones buying up and restoring the Victorian homes are almost all white. The woman from whom we bought the house told us she paid a “boy” to mow the lawn. I met James recently and he’s about 45 years old. As I write this he’s mowing my lawn. I’d do it myself, but the neighbors say James is honest and needs the cash. So illogical white guilt now makes me complicit in something that feels like racism. Next thing you know, I’ll be asking him to bust up this chifforobe.
As I say, an odd neighborhood.