In the Ghetto
(It Ain't Your Mama's Elvis Song)

If you have kept up with my articles at all, you know that I live in Southern California. It's a heavenly place to live, it really is, except for one little thing, the cost of living. If you don't believe me, here is a little comparison for you. The average cost of a 1 bedroom 1 bath apartment in Memphis TN is $600, in Dallas TX its $650, in Denver, CO you'll pay $700 and in Las Vegas, NV it's about $750. But here in sunny San Diego, CA the average cost for the same 1 bedroom is $1,250 per month. It's at least double what most people in the rest of the country pay.

So out here, this one little thing forces a lot of people into some very unusual living circumstances. And for a single gal such as myself, with a big ol' dog and too many neuroses to live with roommates or a man, it makes it that much more challenging. So, seven years ago, I moved into what I lovingly refer to as "the Ghetto Shack". It was meant to be temporary, but you know how life goes. I got busy, I got sidetracked, I had other things that were priority and before I knew it, seven years had passed.

Wow, seven years in the ghetto. And kids, I am not mincing words here. I straight live up da ghetto yo. An honest to God ghetto neighborhood complete with gangsters, pimps & ho's, liquor stores, shady types, homeless people, police chases and all kinds of bizarre happenings. It has been a bumpy, dangerous, colorful, scary, hilarious, heart breaking ride.

Because I have been here so long, I've have been given the opportunity to really know these people and to really observe people in their most desperate state. And although by most society standards, they would be considered undesirable as human beings, for the most part, they are just people who have been denied most of the luxuries that you and I take for granted and are just simply trying to get by the only way they know how.

Take Pro-Mac for instance, he's the neighborhood pimp. The brotha' is as authentic as they get. He's got a white Cadillac, gold teeth and wears pimp suits with a fedora. I fuckin' love the guy. Now, I don't have him over for cocktails and conversation, but I do always say hi and engage him in some kind of rapport. He calls me "Snow White" and he looks out for me. If I happen to be in the liquor store and some homie starts in on "mmm mmm, c'mere sugar and show me dat ass", Pro Mac will always set the boy straight and I am free of that uncomfortable conversation in which I have to explain that although his smooth talk is slicker than cat shit on linoleum, I will have to decline the offer. Which always leads to "why bitch, is it cuz I'm black?" To which I have to explain no, it's just that I make it a rule not to date gangsters that I meet at the corner liquor store.

Saving my ass from the big booty lovin' locals is not Pro Mac's only advantage. He keeps the neighborhood relatively safe. He has to. The girls have to feel safe to walk the streets and the Johns have to feel safe to drive around and pick them up. This means keeping the area free of gangsters and rampant crime, which in turn makes it safer for me to come and go without getting mugged or shot.

I absolutely hate it when he gets arrested. The neighborhood goes to hell in a matter or hours. Over the past seven years, I have been broken into twice, my window has been shot out three times and I had a vehicle stolen once and all of those things happened when the 5-0's had Pro Mac behind bars. I say legalize prostitution for fucks sake! (no pun intended) They are going to do it no matter what you say and they have for thousands of years. Plus prostitution serves a much greater purpose than just getting some randy dude laid, it keeps crime rates down. And it could provide valuable income to the city via taxes as well as cut down on needed police force and would free up jail space.

Living in the ghetto can give you insight into not only prostitution but other social topics that in regular neighborhoods are easy to miss, like the homeless for instance. I've got a group of three to four guys who hang out in the alley just outside my back gate. They are pretty ok fellas, they will haul any big trash away for me for 5 bucks, they let me know when UPS is trying to deliver a package and sometimes, I like to give them beer and healthy snacks like apples or grapes, just so I know they get some nutrition. There is definitely a fine line, you can't be too friendly, or they will constantly be knockin' on your door, but you can't be a bitch either. After all, that alley is their home. And I can't fault 'em for that. Like I said, trying to find a decent place to live in this city is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Here are a few other facts that you might want to know about San Diego. There are 2,000 evictions a month in San Diego because of escalating rent costs. Nearly 50 senior citizens a month join the homeless on city streets because their incomes do not keep pace with rent increases. San Diego County's high housing prices, coupled with its relatively low wages, make it the second least affordable area in the country. As many as 40 percent of homeless people work full-time but cannot afford to pay rent. The San Diego region maintains 2,019 shelter beds for an estimated population of over 8,000 and this year, so far, 2,500 illegal lodging tickets have been issued. Now I'm not trying to preach here, but riddle me this batman, where the fuck are the other 6,000 people supposed to sleep? You seriously have the balls to write them tickets for not being able to find an indoor bed.

Not only will San Diego police cite them for sleeping in the alley, but they will cite me for feeding them a fucking apple and they will confiscate all of their personal belongings, literature and survival items. I've had the most amazing conversations with these guys. They will tie all of their belongings in blankets and leave them high in the trees at a park for safe keeping so that the cops won't take all they have left in the world. If there is an ounce of humanity in you, you can't help but feel for their circumstances. And I can't help but question which ones are really the crooks here?

Yep, living in the ghetto can change your views on social topics for sure. It can also make you laugh your ass off. I could do a whole Jeff Foxworthy skit on living in the ghetto. - You know you live in the ghetto when the entire dairy cooler at the neighborhood quick mart is dedicated to Mad Dog and Boone's Farm. You know you live in the ghetto when you see a hit and run and the victim doesn't want you to call the police because the car he's in is stolen. You know you live in the ghetto when you can buy single cigarettes for a nickel and strawberry flavored blunts for a quarter. You know you live in the ghetto when the police helicopters are more of a noise nuisance than a warning. You know you live in the ghetto when 6 black teenagers walking down the street in matching red jerseys are not on a basketball team. You know you live in the ghetto when not only are pay-phones readily available, but people still use them.

You know you live in the ghetto when..... Well, you get the picture.

It's not just the stereotypical shit that I find hilarious. Ghetto neighborhoods are ten times more creative than the most artistic upscale neighborhoods. Creative use of found objects and creative use of space takes on a whole new meaning my neighborhood. Broken benches and old toys become screens for a trash area. Front yards become driveways, discarded holiday lights become window treatments and because there are not home owners associations to answer to, people decorate and paint their houses in all kinds of colorful ways.

Every week, trash day is like Christmas. You can walk down the street on Friday's before the city trucks come out and not one trash can is left un-scavenged. They are picked completely clean. Any piece of furniture, no matter how broken, soiled or ugly with a "Free" sign on it will be gone within 15 minutes, only to have a new life as patio furniture somewhere down the block. These people have a far better concept of recycling than anyone from our city's recycling center.


There are plenty of upsides to living in the ghetto too.

You can get the best damn handmade tamale ever for a dollar, you can get a full car wash with hand dry and vacuum for 6 bucks, gas is always cheaper and the corner store has a whole isle dedicated to individual "Little Debbie" snacks.
Girl loves a Nutty Bar.

You don't ever have to get dressed up to go to the store or to do laundry, in fact, you are better off if you don't. Looking fancy in the ghetto can draw unwanted attention and be downright dangerous. Oh, and I almost forgot, there is wildlife too. The city doesn't spend any money on pest control in the ghetto, so every year there are hundreds of those nasty, hissing little opossums to contend with and although they are not really an upside per say, the dog loves to chase them and they can add an element of surprise to an otherwise uneventful evening.

I know the reality of the situation. I know that eventually I am going to have to move, it's inevitable and this last recent attempted break-in left a really bad taste in mouth, not to mention a nasty bruise on my ribcage, especially since a couple of days later, I saw two of Pro Mac's girls strutting by. It was the first time that some shit went down while my man was on the beat. It means that it's getting worse. The overdevelopment of downtown and the restructuring of older neighborhoods are forcing the gangs and the crime into smaller and smaller regions and I am in the heart of one of those regions. And my precious pink ass and blue eyes are not going to hold up unscathed for long under those conditions. Word will get out that a single white female who drives a shiny SUV lives back there and I will get popped, so I gotta get out while I still can.

Truth be told, it makes me a little sad. I mean, of course I dream of living in one of those adorable and perfectly painted little bungalows in the primarily gay neighborhood or one of those downed up little houses in the artsy neighborhood or one of those lovely hardwood floor little numbers over by all the coffee shops and music venues. But living here has changed the scope of who I am and although it has definitely made me stronger and braver, it has also made me softer and a little more forgiving and understanding of people who are less fortunate than myself. Call me crazy, but in my own little way, I'm really going to miss it here.

me jones, me likey

Jones is currently working in San Diego as a photographer & promotions director.
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