Thursday, September 20, 2007

You can take the C or the 3 to Rockaway Ave

Between the two Rockaway Avenue stops in Brooklyn exists a stretch of road that fuses the marketplace feel of Chinatown with Dinkins era NYC, when crack wasn't understood to be so whack. Coming down the steps from the above ground 3 train, you're immediately beckoned by vendors selling $5 belts, bracelets bearing the names of Caribbean countries and untold amounts of nontraditional Yankees fitteds.

Further down on Rockaway Ave, you'll find one of the best shopping areas in Brooklyn: Pitkin Ave. Here you can get a beef patty, a weave, and a pair of Jordans all on the same block. But seeking out a place to get fresh veggies or a jug of milk might send you wandering into some uncharted Brownsville territory. Despite this unusual shortage, anyone who walks down the street will be asked if they have health insurance or not. Free Health Plus is a mainstay on the corner of Pitkin and Rockaway and there's usually a someone in a haggard looking bunny costume (the Free Health mascot) handing out free info on the policies.

may 9 011
Free Health Plus van

A friend of mine who likes conjuring up arcane and hard-to-prove statistics told me once that Brownsville/East New York had the highest AIDS rate per capita in the world -- even more than sub-Saharan Africa. I thought about it for a while and had to say "That dude's crazy," but a little research shows that it's still pretty severe. In 1996 there were 1,769 reported cases of HIV/AIDS per 100,000 adults -- the highest in Brooklyn, but not in Africa. (1)

I knew a bit about Brownsville before I started working here. I knew M.O.P. was from here and there's also a line in a Biggie song that goes "Remember them nggggs from the hill up in Brownsville?" I think that's what most people who are into hip-hop associate with Brownsville. Otherwise, people generally acknowledge that it's a pretty rough place and say "Damn, you work in Brownsville!" when I tell them what I do.

I've been teaching at a public school here for a little over three years now. Which, in teacher-speak, means that I'm a tenured professional. YEAHHH BOYYYY. Maybe that's why I didn't start this blog until now -- I am posting this at a time when I should be "on the clock" or "doing work," but my next class doesn't come in for another twelve minutes or so.

Next time I'm going to touch upon the food issue here in Brownsville. I wasn't kidding about the milk! If you want a quart of it (probably not skim milk), you better lace up those Jordans and get ta steppin'.


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