We are speaking of the history of BK, of the areas through which we drive. I try to give the driver directions, but he’s like, “oh I know. I’ve lived here my whole life. Before Atlantic Avenue was even a thought in your mind, I was riding my bike down it.”
It used to be bad, he says. In the fifties, all middle class white people used to live in these areas. Then they built the projects, and all the white people moved out and all the black and Hispanic people moved in. When my cab driver was growing up in this neighborhood, it was poor. “It was bad, so violent. I used to get real mad.”
He thinks it’s better now. All the artists and students living in this part of BK bring in the attention of police and authority. The crime is kept in check, or at least it’s not in the streets anymore. He says a lot of his younger passengers have parents and aunts and uncles who used to live in these very neighborhoods; but these individuals moved out once they became economically/financially stable. Now the children live here again. Cycles..
We talk about education, cops, the environment; covering an extraordinary amount of ground for such a short cab drive. I do not mention the guilt I feel for taking a car home; this is his livelihood.
As we pull up to my apartment, below the rumbling LIRR, he brings up the subject of Occupy Wall Street. He sees the world changing. The driver has a daughter, and he has her enrolled in a charter school in Harlem. “I don’t want her in any damn public school.” I ask if he knows about the protests in Harlem the other day: 500 people howling in front of a public school being closed down. No, the driver had no idea. I ask him about the #1 Slave Theater; did he know about that? No. How about Occupy Bed-Stuy? Nope.
“I wanted to go down to Zuccotti, but never got the chance before they shut it down.”
Just wait until spring, my friend.
Words by Kathleen Purcell