I want to live on a paid street. The paid streets have the nice buildings and the good stores. There’s no good stores on the free streets where I live. On the paid streets they got grocery stores with fresh stuff in all the windows. They got real herbs in the stores on the paid streets. These big bushy green things that look like trees. I don’t even know if I want to eat any of that stuff but I know they got it. Plus they got coffee shops and bookstores and other places like that. There’s hardly any stores on the free streets except for the check cashing spots and bodegas and the bodegas got nothing in them but black bananas and ramen.
The roads are better on the paid streets and there’s hardly any traffic on them because they got these trolleys that run right down the middle of the street. The trolleys don’t even got drivers. They’re like robots and they know where to go and when to stop. The roads on the paid streets don’t got all those potholes like the free streets do. Mom wrecked her car going over one when she was driving a little too fast because she was running late to work and she bottomed out and cracked an axle. Now we gotta ride the free streets buses that smell like shit. The fare is $3.75 and they only take quarters so I gotta lug around 8 pounds of quarters just to get to school and go back home again.
You can’t drive on the paid streets unless you live there. If you live on the paid streets it’s because you work for the company that maintains them or you live in one of the buildings the company owns or something like that. Mom explained it to me once but I still don’t get it because she works for the company too. She says it’s because she only works in the cafeteria and I said to her but that’s still working for them and she says it’s not enough. The rules say she could live on a paid street if she made enough money to get a place there but you don’t make enough money working in the cafeteria and that’s just how it is.
They got these toll booth things where the paid streets start and the toll booths scan your plates so they know if you’re allowed to drive there. If you’re not supposed to drive on the paid streets these barriers go up that cut your tires to shreds. But the paid streets are right in the middle of town and you gotta go around them to get from the east side to the west. It takes forever. When we had the car and mom wanted to visit my aunt sometimes she’d try to go through the paid streets because some of the toll booths worked better than others and you could sneak through if you were lucky. And sometimes it worked although she felt weird because she thought her old car stuck out against all the Lexuses and Priuses the paid street people got.
One time we snuck through a toll booth and we got into the paid streets but when we got to the end of the paid streets the barrier went up ahead of us and these cops came out to give mom a hard time telling her, You know you not supposed to be here. The cops got different uniforms on the paid streets. Not dark blue but light brown that’s almost green. They made mom go back the way she came and followed her in a squad car the whole way with the lights on like she was some dangerous criminal. Then a couple days later she got a bill in the mail for using the paid streets when she wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know how much it was for but she was pissed.
We can’t go the paid streets but the people in the paid streets can come to the free streets any time they want. You see them pull up in shiny cars at the Mexican place down the street. I think it’s Mexican. The sign’s in Spanish. My friend Javy is Colombian and he says it’s not Colombian but that’s all he knows for sure. It got a good review in the paper or something and all of a sudden the place was packed past midnight every night with paid street people spilling out onto the block. I can hear them all the way down in my bedroom which is four buildings away and five stories higher. The paid street people never shut up. You see their cars at the dispensary too. They didn’t want to put a dispensary on the paid streets. They fought it like hell. I saw the paid street people yelling about it and shaking signs at the mayor on the news. But you sure as hell see a lotta paid street cars outside it all day long.
They used to open the paid streets once a year around the Fourth of July. When I was little that was my favorite thing to do all summer. When the paid streets was open they gave out free ice cream cones and balloons which is all you need to make you happy when you’re a little kid. They had an inflatable bouncy castle I went in maybe a hundred times before mom dragged me out of there. They had fireworks at night. It was great.
And then there was the Fourth of July when mom said I was too old for her to take me there but I still wanted to go so I went to the paid streets with my friend Javy from school. But it felt different. I felt it right away but I didn’t want to feel it. I wanted to think it was still the same way it always was. So I just pretended like the feeling wasn’t there and everything was fine.
We got balloons and ice cream even though we were in junior high already. I don’t even know why we did that. I guess because in my head that’s what you were supposed to do when you went to the paid streets and I didn’t know what else to do. Me and Javy waited on line for a half hour to get a tiny little ice cream cone and when we got to the front of the line the guy in the ice cream truck took a look at us and he squinted like he couldn’t see us too good and he said, Really? You ain’t too big for this? Before we got to the front I seen him serve tiny ice creams to grown ups from the paid streets. Some of them was old too. White hair or bald heads. And he didn’t say nothing to any of them. So I said, Yeah really. It’s hot. We want ice cream. The ice cream guy sighed real loud like we was asking a huge favor. Like we wanted more than everyone who came before us.
And as soon as me and Javy got our cones I could feel all these paid street eyes on me. I’d look off to the side and they were staring at us. But they’d look away soon as I locked eyes with them. They were ashamed of staring at us but not so ashamed that they didn’t do it.
Me and Javy sat on a bench outside a coffee shop to eat our cones and this lady with an apron came out and she said to us, Excuse me can you please eat those somewhere else? And I asked her why and she said, I would just appreciate it. Thanks. My friend Javy asked her what we were doing wrong but she went back inside and we saw her take out her cell phone and talk to someone while staring at us the whole time. So we figured we better move.
So we’re eating our cones walking down the paid streets and Javy tells me that the trolley thing that runs down the middle of the street will stop automatically if you step in the track. I saw one of the trolleys was coming down the track so I told him to prove it. When the trolley was about 20 feet away from us Javy jumped on the track and landed in a karate stance like he was ready to fight it. The trolley stopped short with a squeak and the power lines up top shot out a few sparks.
Then Javy told me, Now you have to. So I ran ahead a little bit and I waited until the trolley was a little closer than when Javy jumped and I ran across the track. Javy called me a punk because I didn’t stop and stand on the track like he did but the trolley stopped anyway and there was even more sparks this time.
Then we took turns doing it. We’d let the trolley start up and move a little bit and then one of us would jump on the track or across the tracks or sprint through them. I would jump over and make a stupid face toward the trolley in mid-air. Me and Javy couldn’t stop laughing.
There was only six or seven people on the trolley maybe but I could see all of them was pissed. This nerdy looking guy with glasses leaned out a window and called us thugs and told us to stop. So Javy yelled back, Come out and make us. Of course he didn’t do nothing about it.
Then we see the paid street cops come running after us. The paid street cops don’t got guns but I heard they got tasers because there was a kid in the next building who got zapped the last Fourth of July when a paid street store thought he stole a pack of gum. And I knew for sure the paid street cops got clubs because I could seem them flapping back and forth as they jogged toward me and Javy. So we booked it. There was five blocks between us and the end of the paid streets. I never ran so fast in my life. My lungs was burning by the end.
Me and Javy made it out safe and when we got out into the free streets the paid street cops stopped short because they couldn’t do nothing to us once we got there. Javy grabbed his balls and screamed at the paid street cops and all the paid street people who was staring at us from the other side of the border. That’s right, Javy said, you can’t do shit to us now you punk ass bitches.
But the paid street cops and the paid street people looking back at us didn’t look mad or scared or nothing like that. They looked sad. And that made me so god damn angry. Don’t look at me like that. Don’t be sad because you see me. I can be where you’re at. All you got is money and all I need is money and we’ll be in the same place and you will look me in the eye on a paid street.