Sparrow didn’t grow up in a rich-ish part of Oakland, but her folks live in one now. Oh, let me clarify something. People who don’t live anywhere near the Bay Area sometimes assume Oakland is like Bartertown or something. It’s not. Oakland is huge, and it’s like LA or Chicago or DC or Brooklyn. There are sketchy parts, and gorgeous parts with multi-million dollar mansions. Unlike New York, though, the ghetto goes on for larger stretches, and the bourgie areas are bigger. It isn’t like a checkerboard, block by block, with abandominums across from co-ops across from the projects across from brownstones. You can drive everywhere and not see really poor people–or really rich ones–if you don’t want to.
So I was walking up to her folks’ house for the baby shower last Sunday, and a car pulled up to me. In it were two gentlemen who were lost and needed directions. This doesn’t happen that much in this day and age; most people have phones that tell them where to go. They don’t need your help.
What also made this encounter unusual were the two people in the car. They were young Black men, and they were a little sketched out to be lost in that neighborhood. I don’t blame them. There’s only so much aimless driving around certain people can do in a neighborhood like that before they get stopped by the cops. I think I might have been the first colored person they saw, actually, and that’s why they asked me for help.
What I feel bad about is it took me until today to realize that I was very helpful, but I gave them useless directions! Oh yeah, I got them back onto Broadway, but I realize now they were trying to go to an address that does not exist. There is no Broadway & 110th Street in Oakland. That’s in Neverland, dude. So no, the numbers never do get higher. I did send them back to where the Black folk are, which is what they wanted, but after 51st, I think the numbers just kind of stop. I think that’s where Broadway hits College and the street names begin, and soon it’s the end of Broadway.
So I have no way of apologizing to them. I suppose I could place a Missed Connection on Craigslist. But I got all excited about being helpful, and it didn’t help that they were both very handsome. The helpful useless person in my family’s vernacular is called “Helpful Jones.” I’m not sure why. We say it either very derisively or as if that person is a superhero. Helpful Jones means well, but is an idiot. Sit down, Helpful Jones. You alphabetize everything under “T” if it starts with the word “The.”
So beware of me, especially if you’re handsome, anxious, out-of-place, and bewildered. I will not help. Oh, I’ll try, and I’ll sound confident, but I’ll just give you misinformation that’s almost correct, which is kind of worse that just flat-out wrong stuff. Then you might be tempted to think I’m right for some time. You may actually follow my lead for ten minutes and get even more lost.
Sorry, my friends. I hope you found someone with a clue.
Donny Hathaway — “The Ghetto” (Part 1 &2) (1970)