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You'll be driving down the freeway, the 405 from L.A., through O.C., on down to San Diego. Maybe you're heading to Disneyland with a carful of kids. Or maybe you and your homies are out to have some kind of illegal fun, 'cross the border in Tijuana.
You get down past LAX, moving on through Torrance and over by the oil refinery right off the side of the road in Commerce, with flames shooting right out the motherfucking smokestacks, like the devil smoking chronic. Then you hit the straightaway coming up on Signal Hill and maybe you get a look at the Queen Mary in the harbor off in the distance, but you don't think to stop. You'll just be moving through, getting past nowhere on your way to somewhere else.
But if you took the time to turn off one of those exits and drop down through all those side streets of one-family homes and mom- and-pop liquor stores and schoolyard hoops, down around Lewis Avenue or Corinth Street or on out Twentieth right through the east side of Long Beach, you'd be crossing the border, the demilitarized noman's-land, into my world.
Take a look around-there's no place like it on the planet, and even though it might seem like any other urban battle zone in any other ghetto 'hood from here to D.C., this is my 'hood and no one could be prouder of where they call home than I am of Long Beach, California.
I expect most people feel that way about the place they come from, whether you were born in a city or a small town, a castle or a shack. When you're a kid that's your world, and everything you know, from horizon to horizon, is situated right there. And when people think of the ghettos of Los Angeles, they most likely fix on the famous ones--Watts orCompton--where brothers burn shit down and got attitude. But, for me, those places are just names on a map, exit ramps I drive past to get where I'm going. For me, Long Beach'll always be the one place where I know I can always come back, no matter how far off I've gone or how long I've been away.
Long Beach may not be much to look at, at least not the east side, which was my turf growing up. Neighbors along the block tried to keep their front lawns mowed and their fences painted, store owners knew the names of their regular customers, and you could always get into a pickup game down in the schoolyard at Roosevelt or Lafayette or Cleveland Elementary. But, aside from that, you probably wouldn't give it another thought. It was like any other town at the edge of a big city, where whites moved on and left the streets to the blacks. But Long Beach was my home, my 'hood. I loved it, and I always will.
That might seem strange, speaking about the ghetto like that. Most of the time, you hear about people trying to get away from places like the east side of Long Beach, moving out and up to a more respectable address and leaving their roots behind. And, sure enough, these days, I don't live in Long Beach myself. Part of that has got to do with the 'hood not being the way it used to be, the way I remember it growing up. Part of it has to do with me changing and growing and moving on. But I never thought of my hometown as a place I had to escape from. I'm part of it, and it's part of me ... the best part, the part I'm proudest of.
The family I came up in, the homies I ran with, the secrets I kept, and the lessons I learned: those are the things that make a man who he is, and the man I am found his way on the streets of Long Beach.
People think living in the ghetto is all about misery-about rats and roaches, crime and poverty. And we had all that, but we never cried about our place and felt sorry for each other. We never whined or complained or looked at what someone else had and wanted to take it away. We were proud of where we lived, and we took all, the good and bad together, because that's the way it came to us. You deal with what you got and in Long Beach, California, what you've got is identity-a place where you belong and people you belong to.
That's how I remember it, anyway. And, if the 'hood didn't exactly stay the same as it was back in the day, then it's up to the youngbloods out there now to make it into the place they want it to be. A 'hood is only as good as the friends and neighbors who call it home. And I was blessed to be born in Long Beach.
That event came to pass at the Los Altos Hospital on October 20, 1971. 1 was the second of three boys born to Beverly Broadus, who herself had come out to California years before looking for a life a little better than the one she knew as a sharecropper's daughter in McComb, Mississippi.
It was back in McComb that my mama first met my daddy, Vernall Varnado, himself a son of the Deep South who was also looking for a way out. I still have a lot of family down that way, both my grandmothers and a few aunts and uncles, but growing up, McComb, Mississippi, might as well have been on the dark side of the moon. Like I said, my world ended at Long Beach city limits.
I do remember a trip we took out that way when I was a few years old, though. The recollections are dim, but a picture of all that flat farmland laid out as far as the eye could see is still fresh in my mind.
Copyright 1999 by Calvin Broadus