Why a month in the ghetto made me hate ice cream

When I came here, we didn’t have an apartment of our own yet. For the first month after my arrival, we shared a 160 square feet (14 square meters) bedroom in a house with we’re not sure how many other people. In a neighborhood that is rumored to have had the highest homicide rate in all of the US 20 years ago. Wikipedia confirms this, so it must be true.

Picture this: East Palo Alto (a misnomer as it is actually exactly north of Palo Alto) is a dusty, dry ditch populated pretty much entirely by non-white people. Palo Alto is an economic gold mine with exorbitantly priced homes and one of those fabled tech start-ups at every street corner. They are about 160 feet (50 meters) apart from each other. All that physically separates them is the 101 freeway, and a bridge spanning across it.

One side of the bridge is all dirt and potholes, the other side of the bridge is sparkling fountains and tall trees arching over the road and bike lanes.

North of the bridge:

Heap of trash in the dirt

By the side of the road just north of the bridge

South of the bridge:

University Ave, Palo Alto

University Ave, Palo Alto © 2014 PlannerDan, plannerdan.com

Lucky for me, East Palo Alto may still be ugly, but it’s far less dangerous now. Gentrification has had its effects, and though the place is still dirty, at least it’s no longer dangerous.

I’m sure that white poodle that always strolled around the neighborhood without a leash on and without an apparent owner is part of the new neighborhood watch.

To my suprise, sharing a tiny room between the two of us wasn’t so bad, as I was alone in there pretty much all day. And sharing the house with (rough estimate) 10 Mexican migrant workers wasn’t so bad either, because they were also working all day and otherwise clean and quiet. I never found out how many there were, because there seemed to be a very high fluctuation. I suspect there were 10 – counted by the number of cars that parked in front of the house at night. The only constant face was the guy who slept on a floor matress outside our door. But even his name I never learned.

The actual challenges of living there were things I hadn’t expected: our Mexican neighbors playing Mexican pop songs (and Céline Dion) at full blast from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. every evening, and their cocks’ crowing waking us at 5 a.m. every morning. Around 10 a.m., when I was trying to get some work done on my laptop, they’d usually tend their tiny front yard with extremely loud machinery such as leaf blowers and gasoline-powered hedge trimmers.

Whenever the neighbors were quiet, I was entertained by a turbaned elderly Indian-looking ice cream vendor who drove his shabby ice cream truck by our window at five minute intervals, always playing the same melody, over and over again.

Example of an ice cream truck

Not the actual ice cream truck. His was smaller, probably backyard-selfmade, and definitely wouldn’t have passed any health inspection. (C) icecreamtrucksforsale.com

In between the Indian ice cream vendor’s rounds, an elderly Asian lady pushed her candy cart down to road, incessantly ringing a bell to anounce her coming. She was usually closely followed by a young Latino drawing a hand car full of tamales for sale. His prefered method of noise harassment was a squeaky horn.

I have now developed a thorough dislike of food vendors. I also found out that that ice cream truck jingle is a thoroughly racist song which justifies me in my violent hatred thereof:

After four weeks, my ghetto experience ended. We found an apartment in a different area after just one afternoon of nervous searching. We saw it, liked it, and put down $150 to have it put off the market and reserved for us immediatly.

On September 30th, 2014 we finally moved.

Shared house in East Palo Alto

Goodbye East Palo Alto …

Apartment front

… hello Redwood City!

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