Writer and humorist James Thurber, having been born and raised in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, once said “the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus.” I can’t recall the striking of any memorable clocks during my Ohio childhood, but it seems I’m haunted instead by the cars of Columbus, finding them evocatively indicative of the kind of neighborhood where I grew up and my parents continue to live.
It’s not uncommon to see wrecked cars parked in my parents’ neighborhood. On-street parking is free and ample in my parents’ neighborhood, few folks have garages, and even fewer can afford expensive repairs. If you live in my parents’ neighborhood and your car gets totaled, you probably have to wait for an insurance check–if you even have insurance–before you can make repairs or buy a new ride. In the meantime, you and your family might have to rely upon a different kind of wheels to bring your groceries home.
When I walk Reggie in my parents’ Columbus neighborhood, I take far fewer pictures than I take in either Keene or Newton. It isn’t an issue of Columbus being less interesting or photogenic since I’m convinced my penchant for the old and abandoned was born in the gritty neighborhood where I grew up. Instead, I take fewer photos in my old Columbus neighborhood because I, unlike Thurber, haven’t yet discovered how to bridge the space between the world I come from and the world I now find myself.
Being a wandering photo-blogger is strange enough in New England, where my neighbors have both computers and Internet access. In a high-crime, low-income, digitally-deprived suburb of central Ohio, my laptop finds No Available Networks when I try to pirate free wifi, and wandering with dog and digicam is outright strange and possibly dangerous. As a result, I try to be extremely discreet as I explore my old neighborhood, pulling out my camera only when no one is around and something is odd or unusual enough to scream “snap me.”
My old neighborhood, after all, likes to keep its secrets as well as its treasures hidden, and as a former-resident-turned-outsider, I try to respect locals’ sense of both privacy and pride.
More than anything, I think, it is culture shock that makes it difficult to photograph, make sense, and then blog the world I come from now that I’ve returned to this, the very different world where I now live. Yesterday morning, I packed my car in a gritty Columbus alley; this afternoon, after driving all day yesterday and now finding my feet after a good night’s sleep, I unpacked the same car here in Newton, a tony suburb of Boston. Here in Newton, I needn’t fear the neighbors’ chained pitbulls and Rottweilers will attack me or Reggie when we go for a morning stroll; here in Newton, people don’t park wrecked cars in front of their houses. When I walk my dog in my parents’ neighborhood, I am acutely aware that I am the only lone white woman walking a street where brown faces are the norm; when I walk my dog in Newton, I am acutely aware that I couldn’t on an adjunct instructor’s salary afford to live here.
How far, then, is it from my parents’ neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio to the lush and leafy streets of Newton, Massachusetts?
A long day’s drive will take you from one world to another, the divide between them being more than miles.