1.13.2010

In Four Blocks


My son's school is just four blocks from my office. I have to get him by 6 at the latest, and lately I've been so busy at work that I've left at the last possible minute, tearing down the street like, well, a dad who is running late to pick up his son. My mind is often still racing about the day's tasks by the time I arrive at school.

The other day, it occurred to me how jarring the differences are, in just four blocks. My company has barely 15 people in it, and yet counted among us are eight PhDs. For business and for pleasure, we discourse about the most complicated economics and statistics topics you can imagine. We are surrounded by high-end restaurants and retail catered to the office and university crowd: cosmetics stores, a French bistro, a Stephen Starr Asian fusion joint.

Within the span of four blocks, I have managed to find myself in the midst of far lower-end retail: second-hand furniture, hair salon, nail care, dollar store. My workplace may be racially diverse, but my son's school is not: my son and two white kids are the only non-black kids in the place. There, I am by far the most professionally dressed parent, and one of the few dads.

I offer this description as neutrally as possible: my intention is neither to show off how much better off we are than the poorer families of my son's classmates nor to lament at a society in which there can be such stark racial and economic differences within four blocks. There is much commentary to be made from these observations; my goal is simply to offer the observations.

Only in cities can you go from Point A to Point B in four blocks and find such a contrast. There is good and bad about that. And, to the extent that retaining what is good and fixing what is bad is a complex and important task for our generation, I am glad I can make that four-block walk twice a day.

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