Saturday, July 17, 2010

Carte Verte, and not judging a book by its cover

I spend time working by myself in areas of Houston where middle-class white people do not go.  I used to get hassled by pimps and pushers, but that was before I smartened up and put the signs on my van, the ones that say "environmental".  This plus my other nonconformances to white stereotype (the facts that I'm skinny, unafraid, wearing steel-toed boots, don't dye my buzz-cut greyish hair, and am driving an 11-year-old vehicle) give people pause.  The result is that the neighborhood folks don't know whether to shoot or shake hands, but they end up concluding that if I'm obviously not in-their-faces wealthy and am doing something "environmental", my presence is tolerable and maybe it's even for the greater good, so they don't invade my space as I am sorta doing to theirs.  God bless the green scene - it's my ticket to social legitimacy. 

I love driving through the Wards (Houston's oldest neighborhoods, now flagships of urban decay) because one never knows what interesting and unprecedented scenes one is going to encounter there, such this motor vehicle crash fragment discarded on a rubbled vacant lot, which basically says it all:
While tooling about the area yesterday, I decided I would stop at a Subway sandwich shop, which is the only fast-food franchise we patronize in my family.  This was the first Subway I had visited with bars on the windows and doors.  I don't mean the decorative kind - I mean the kind you couldn't get through unless you drove a car at high speed through the front of the store. 

In order to get to the ladies room to wash my hands, I had to wait until the cashier was free.  She then unlocked the doors for me.  In other words, at no time was a key handed to me.  I had to be escorted.  To the restroom.  Part of the deterrence programs for junkies and johns, I assume. 

It was without a doubt the cleanest restaurant bathroom I've ever seen in America, or Canada either for that matter.  It was cleaner than the restrooms in my own home.  Then, as I was sitting there in the booth eating my oven-roasted chicken six-inch and my coveted Miss Vickie's jalapeno potato chips, a worker swept the floor that didn't need to be swept, then washed the floor that didn't need to be washed.

So the Subway in the Ward turned out to be the best Subway of all.  We'll probably never know the story behind the place, but my first guess is that some poor person in that neighborhood worked very hard to acquire that franchise, and was giving it all they had, because maybe it was their only shot in life (I do realize that this postulate is, in itself, stereotypical).  That's exactly how I felt when I took on massive student loans in university: I didn't intend to be the academic star I became - my performance was driven by the fact that I was spending a fortune of money that wasn't mine, and I couldn't look myself in the mirror unless I gave it my best effort.

When I told Cayley about this great "things are not always what they seem" experience, she asked me if I would one day take her to that Subway in the Ward.  I do believe I will. 

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