I have two brothers. Both are close to me in age, and both live far away — in Minnesota and New Mexico — so it's rare that the three of us are in the same place at the same time. When that happens, we have a simple plan of action: go play golf and drink beer. It's what we do, every time. It's in our DNA, like salmon returning to their home waters to spawn. We see it as clear genetic evidence that none of us was adopted (though I still have my suspicions about Chris).
They were in Memphis recently, and on our way to play golf one afternoon, I pulled into a gas station on North Watkins.
"We're stopping here?" Chris said.
"I need gas, yeah. Why?" I said.
"Looks pretty sketchy."
I looked around and saw the station through my brother's eyes: He was looking at a grungy, funky building in a grungy, funky neighborhood, with no white people in sight. He saw "scary." He saw "dangerous neighborhood." I saw "gas station where I sometimes stop on my way to Millington." This was my city, my Memphis. He was in unfamiliar waters.
So much of how we feel — the things we fear, the things we're comfortable with — is based on what we're used to.
On Halloween, I took my 13-year-old stepson to a meet-up with some of his friends for a midnight movie. The agreed-upon theater was in Bartlett, and it was funky and grungy, not at all what I'd expected. My wife and I sat in the lobby, waiting for our non-teenage movie to start and watching the hormonal throngs milling around us, texting, laughing, chattering. My wife said, "We could be in Brooklyn." And it was true. The young crowd was Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Caucasian, you name it. It took a minute to get used to. At first, it almost felt, well, sketchy.
Then I looked at our bunch — three white kids, two black — texting, laughing, chattering, totally at home, relaxed. This was nothing to them, nothing to fear, anyway. This was their city, their Memphis. We were in unfamiliar waters.