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The Hotel Hood
7/22/2015 3:23:35 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Had an experience over the past couple of days that’s reawakening me to some stark realities. Sometimes it feels like I live between two worlds - one professional, the other personal - both with distinct differences.

I know, I know. That’s probably not so unusual, everybody’s life is different professionally and personally. But my professional life and personal life sometimes are so vastly different it’s more akin to the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing.

Recently I got caught between a rock and a hard place. I’ve been living downtown in a rented house the past few years. Well, the owner decided to sell, my greatest fear realized. I’m a downtown guy. I like the city and its sidewalks and Charleston is a pedestrian friendly city. Give me the concrete and asphalt, baby.

However, I’ve been forced to face the reality of gentrification in recent years. Whether property owner or renter, gentrification means some disconcerting things for minority residents targeted for displacement. That’s a whole another story in itself.

If you own your property, you’ve got some leeway. But owning property ain’t no guarantee you won’t face displacement. For those of us whose parents bought property 30/40/50 years ago as well as those who’ve had stuff several generations, maintaining their properties is becoming more difficult without adequate financial resources. Them other folks are good at the wait ‘em out game - the old folks die, the young folks sell.

Perpetual ownership of downtown property by minorities is difficult at best, especially when the lending institutions won’t give up any money. If you don’t own your property you can dang near forget it. That’s the situation I found myself in recently.

I’ve been renting a place just blocks from the job for the last few years. During a rainstorm, I could get to work before I got wet. And the price was right! Well, the old guy I was renting from is sick and the place needs a lot of work. With them other folks offering more money than Black folks ever saw in their lives for downtown property, the old guy took a reasonable course of action. He sold.

That’s cool. When you don’t own your stuff, you’re subject to such changes. That’s why them other folks run the schools, businesses, banks - even our churches. When you own the stuff, you get to dictate the changes. So the other day I got notice to vacate immediately. Not legal, but that was the deal. Lemme tell ya, find out what your legal options are. Don’t go by what somebody told you or what you thought about your rights in any given situation. Call a lawyer, ask the court, do whatever you should to get accurate information. Ya’ll know how we are. We’ll spit out inaccurate stuff we believe or stuff somebody has told us before we take the time to find out the accurate info.

Anyway, I knew better and I called the magistrate, but I wanted to help the old guy out. I’d been getting some ducks in a row anyway, still his request came too abruptly. I needed some help. That brings me to the point of this column.

To bridge the gap between where I’d been and where I was going, the old guy put me up in a hotel. I wasn’t thinking. In my professional life, when I go to a hotel, there’s a concierge at the front door. At this joint Maria traded me a working television remote for the one that was in my room. Need I say more? Folks, the joint is a flop house. Now, I’m a Charleston boy born of parents with meager means. My professional life has taken me to the Hotel Hilton, but this personal situation had me in the hood. Mind you now, at my old place if I saw a roach one day, the old man called Terminex the next. Despite that, I was cool with the Hotel Hood. I’m flexible.

The fact that Hispanics who can’t speak English are running businesses in communities where Black folks are their primary customers I found uncomfortable. And like everyone else who exploits Black consumers, they’re selling us substandard commodities.

But what was more uncomfortable was that at the extended stay Hotel Hood exists a subculture I’d forgotten. You see, sometimes, no matter how close we live to the streets, we forget there are wholenother lifestyles besides our own.

At the Hotel Hood there are young Black men and women, some in family units, for whom the Hotel Hood is their way of life. I saw more ho’s in two days than I’ve seen in the past two years. Beautiful Black women who live from one trick to the next. Young Black men living from hand to mouth, as my mom used to say. Apparently these young people are on their own. I can’t imagine what their upbringing must have been like.

The God of the universe puts us in places for a reason. My last stay at a hotel was in a marble-enamored high-rise some place either in Baltimore, Atlanta or Minneapolis - I can’t remember. I believe I was sent to the Hotel Hood to be reminded there’s a lot of work to be done before adequate housing is a reality for everyone.

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