As I pull into my neighborhood market near the corner of Euclid and Imperial, I’m flagged down by a homeless gentleman who asks if I have money to spare. I reply, “Fresh out,” hopefully discouraging further inquiry. Doesn't work. He leans back a bit and cocks his neck to the side and says, "Dang, not even a dollar?” with a look of disgust.
I roll my window up and look away from him hoping he gets the gist. Another man is stooped beside a concrete trash can, smoking crack — yes, crack. I think, Do I really need an energy drink that much? then tell myself, Well, it'll be quick. I open my door and bump the man asking for money. He's still here? He looks at me, smirks, and walks away. Awkwarrrd.
I lock my door, triple-check the handle. Glance over the lot and see 20 individuals in small groups. Some hunched in a circle in front of a defunct 99-cent store, playing craps, money thrown about on the ground. Others are standing backs to the wall that connects the market to a legal-aid office next door. They're sharing cans of beer, cigarettes, liquor. Others are sitting on the ground in the lot. They're pooling money and one of them walks toward a car in my direction. I walk in the store.
I grab my drink and cigarettes. Glance at the monitors above the counter and see a guy from the group standing next to a car. Leaned over, his head in the window, talking with hand out showing the driver something. Money is passed and the salesman walks away happy.
I leave out seeing three more cars, people smoking even more crack. Lighters spark, clouds of smoke billow out the window. I drive home thinking, How is this remotely legal? It's almost "the Carter" from New Jack City, only it's a store, not subsidized housing.
I’ve experienced the same situation numerous times. I’ve left out the profound smell of urine coming from every corner of the lot, torn sleeping bags, and dingy clothing on the sidewalk. I live in an area some call “disenfranchised,” but this place could give the Bronx 1970s a run for their money. Police pass by numerous times daily. They rarely turn an eye toward the crowds of people.
You can go to that same market and see the same thing as me on any day.