The Poor Side of Town

by Jim Farrar (1977)

The poor side of town. Johnny Rivers wrote a song about it. The folks on Capitol Hill discuss it from time to time. The public is always complaining about it. But nobody’s really done anything to change it. And me? Well, I worked there for five years.

Where I come from, it’s called South Park. The “other side of the railroad tracks.” Both are euphemisms. The right word is slum. The poor side of town, where the so-called lower class of this society lives and sometimes works. No more, no less. And I waited on them for five long years. It was fun at times, painful at others.

I worked in a grocery store there. Nothing big, just a small run-down IGA franchise. I was the produce manager, box boy, checker, and janitor all rolled into one. Like I said, it was (still is, actually) a very small business. We didn’t even offer our customers double cash bingo, although we did give away some Corningware once. The store itself is a tiny affair. The aisles are narrow, the tin cans dusty, and the people that work there very casual. Outside, the paint, which is now a filthy white, is starting to crack and peel off a little more each day. The roof leaks whenever it rains or snows. And the main parking lot is not paved but, rather, consists of bare earth lightly sprinkled with gravel.

This grocery store is a fascinating place, fascinating because of the type of people that frequent it. Being poor, most of the patrons are forced to subside on food stamps. Even though people that use food coupons have become somewhat stigmatized by the upper and middle classes in this country, I found that the folks in South Park really aren’t that sensitive about it. Maybe they just don’t know that other people feel this way, or maybe they just don’t care. Whatever the reason, one thing I am certain is this: the people that live in this area usually spend their entire lives there. In this neighborhood, poor kids grow up to be poor adults. They’re trapped there, in other words.

Such confinement has produced some pretty pathetic results. It seems that social stratification leads to frustration, which, in turn, breeds crime. I know. I’ve seen it in South Park. While I was working there, several people were stabbed in the alley that runs behind the store. I saw a woman try to murder her husband in the parking lot one night. A drunkard threatened to kill me over a bottle of wine on another night. One fellow even pulled a gun on me after I’d seen him steal an ice cream sandwich, and then confronted him about it in the parking lot. I let him have the ice cream sandwich.

Such examples run on and on. Broken windshields, ripped-off tape decks, and shattered mirrors. My car was an insurance salesman’s nightmare during those five years. But I’m not bitter about it. I’m not even pissed off anymore. The whole thing was fantastic experience an education, as it were. My conclusion? Well, I’m glad I’m lucky enough not to have to live there.

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