"I want you to go to the Courthouse, go cover his trial. 10 AM Monday. It's hard to find parking there, you should probably go down Gra-"
"Don't worry, I been there," I say.
"Huh? What do you mean?" My editor gives me a strange look.
"Ah, nevermind. Don't ask questions. I can get there."
I'm coming back from the Courthouse, and it's been so long since my youthful indiscretions made me an expert on the location of the courthouse and probation office that I've gotten myself completely lost again. I've been driving around the hood for maybe an hour, making rounds in the same roads, nearly running out of gas a couple of times.
As I finally find my way out, I pass the collection of project buildings that rise straight from the ground, dead grass surrounding the brown pillars, piles of garbage and old plastic chairs on the balconies.
It's as if the Earth itself has died around these places. Cracked out hood rats wearing heavy winter jackets in the 60 degree weather stumble along, eyes blazing under flat brimmed hats.
Black kids walk around in groups. One is wearing an oversized red t-shirts, rapping as he walked walked. He leers at me when I drive by, dark eyes under a red hat. If I had been walking instead of driving, this is the motherfucker that would mouth off about a white boy in the hood. I'm not good at much, but I'm a pro at reading people, and I can tell by his smirk that he would mouth off, and then not do a damn thing except let his boys come after me. He might get a kick in should I go to the ground, but that challenging smirk screams about where he's at in life.
One thing that's changed for me, and has changed me, is that I'm no longer that guy with nothing to lose. I'm not working where I used to. I'm not hopeless. I'm not angry, and I'm not so quick to do the things that would get me locked up. I like to think I'm using my brain more. But that kid... no, he's got nothing to lose. And that's the most dangerous type to tangle with. Just like the Peruvian in the club, as opposed to his friend with the wife and kid. One has a reason to stay out of jail... the other has nothing.
When I was walking from the courthouse, I saw a nursery school, with young kids riding around brand new red tricycles. I watched them as I walked by, my view cut by the heavy metal fencing. Across the street, there are signs saying "Vote Santiago- Put Children first!" This is the future of this once great town- the kids. It's a great political catchphrase, of course, but it's the truth. And I look at these five year olds, these purely innocent little beings that deserve to be safe and taken care of, to have their potential fostered and saved.
The next guy I drive by is another black guy, this one maybe in his mid-30's. He is pushing a stroller with his son in it, and he never takes his eyes off of him, always hovering, protective. He is a tough looking cat, but tough in the way that a bear would be if you came near it's cubs- he's not going to start trouble, but be wary of any man who is with a child he clearly cares about so much. It gives me the merest glimmer of hope.
But then I see those dark, smirking eyes again, and I think that these are just the next generation of bangers and wannabe rappers. I hope I'm wrong.
But I doubt it.