Saturday, December 03, 2005

1 Neighborhood, 2 Parallel, Never Intersecting Lives

The Houston Heights is, as I have mentioned in other posts a transitional neighborhood. It is located near downtown and appeals to those who like an eclectic neighborhood and loathe commuting. As with most transitional neighborhoods it is a mixture of the old and new, the rich and the poor, the falling down and the under construction and the Anglo and the Hispanic.

The same mix goes for the restaurants. There are a number of fast food places and independently owned cafes and coffee shops. Not much in the way of fine dining, due an early 20th century quirk, The Houston Heights is dry.

Normally on the weekend, we will go have breakfast at Java Java or one of the other cafes. The clientele there is much like us, gay & lesbian couples, single professionals reading the New York Times, young couples with one, very well cared for, doted on child, and retired folks with good pensions who have moved back into the city from the suburbs.

Dressed in name brand casual clothing, they talk in muted tones over their omelets, hash browns and lattes. They have the look that comes from time to exercise, money to pay for professional hair coloring and dental insurance.

Today I felt the need for my annual grease fix so I headed to Mickey D’s for a sausage biscuit and a potato cake.

I ran smack dab into the other population who live in the Heights.

I was the only English as first language person in the place. Actually, considering that I spoke Dutch before I spoke English it would be safe to say there was not one person, either in front or behind the counter who was born speaking English. The menu and all the signage was in both English and Spanish.

It was crowded with multigenerational, extended familes – mother, father, cousins, grandmother, children and assorted shirttail relations. Everyone dressed in that thrift store look – clothes that don’t quite match or fit. The women & girls like their clothes much to small and much to tight and the boys like their pants baggy and their shirts hanging to their knees.

Despite the fact that most people there were carrying an extra 20 pounds or more; food was being ordered with no thought to fat grams, cholesterol or future diabetes. The children carried much more poundage than their parents – the American passion for fast food is playing havoc with the offspring of the Hispanic immigrants. We see the same among the students at my school; so many of them, especially the boys are overweight.

No New York Times, no reading material at all and not much conversation. About the only activity was the chomping of jaws and fussing of the babies. Very little coffee was to be seen, most folks were drinking soft drinks. Mickey D’s prides itself on offering “healthy choices” but nobody appeared to very interested. Can’t say that I blame them – after all I skipped the orange juice in favor of hash brown cake!

It is interesting that these 2 very diverse populations live side by side, yet rarely collide. And it’s interesting to observe the businesses that have sprung up to serve them.

1 comment:

Julie said...

"that thrift store look" -- moment of panic, since that's where I mainly shop for myself. Is it that obvious? Heh heh, but seriously, Guusje, a very interesting post. I am pretty sure there is not one single fast food restaurant in Ann Arbor that has Spanish signs in it.