It didn’t take long to get assignments in the roughest neighborhoods. If the children were outside playing, I felt like it was safe for almost anyone to walk the streets. That usually wasn’t the case on a late Friday or Saturday afternoon.
I learned really quick that I needed to strategically park my car. I couldn’t leave my car running in the driveway in that neighborhood. I would park my car and walk. If the weather was beautiful, and one address lead to another address a few houses away, at times I found myself a couple of blocks away from my car. If I needed somewhere safe to go this was problematic because my car was a couple blocks away.
I worked 10 hours that Saturday. I knocked on a door and a man answered in a wheelchair in his underwear upset because I woke him up in the middle of the day. Not a lot of people answered although a lot were nicer than that man.
Many of the houses had half addresses such as 123 1/2 Main St. I had to search in the back of people’s houses for rentals. I climbed up rickety outer staircases and at times was told to go into the middle door in the back of the house up the stairs. I always felt uncomfortable, especially when the back door was by a dark alley.
Many times I felt like I was poking around where I didn’t belong. On that particular evening, I saw four older teenage youth strutting the streets. They all wore red clothing. Were they gang members? Or did they all work at McDonald’s? I looked down at the red shirt I was wearing which gave me a little consolation that I was safe. I tried to avoid them.
There was a man on the street corner outside of his apartment yelling the lyrics of an explicit song that was playing. I tried ignoring him too. I was afraid but tried to appear calm. Thankfully I was a lot older than the man so maybe I wouldn’t catch his eye.
As I was heading towards a house on my case list, I saw a car with a bunch of teen males in it pull up to the curb. A teenage girl came out of the house. One of the guys got out of the car and started quarreling loudly with the girl. I could hear the obscenities half a block away. It was time to skip that house and turn down another street the whole time acting like I belonged there instead of being shocked by everything.
In the meantime, I interviewed people with young children huddled inside their house. It was hot and they had no A/C, but I couldn’t blame them for wanting to stay inside.
By the time I made it back to the street of the altercation, no one answered the door at that house or the houses nearby. I walked back towards my car to call it a night.
On my way I saw another census employee. We talked briefly and she wondered if we were sent to similar places around the same time to ensure the safety of other census employees in rough neighborhoods. I wondered that as well. I always felt more confident when there were others like me in neighborhoods I didn’t feel safe in.