Notable Quotes #26: Gordon Parks describes Life on the Streets of Rondo, c. 1927

It was all behind me now. By the next day, there would be what my mother had called "another kind of world, one with more hope and promising things." She had said," Make a man of yourself up there. Put something into it, and you'll get something out of it." It was her dream for me. When I stepped onto the chilly streets of St. Paul, Minnesota, two days later, I was determined to fulfill that dream...

[My sisters house,] It was a nice house — two-storied, handsomely middle-class, with large comfortable rooms. And that night, lying in bed, I marveled at the hundreds of deer leaping the bushes on the wallpaper around me, and my thoughts were charged with vague imaginings of the future. Yet I felt that whatever security lay ahead would be of my own making. There was no feeling of permanence in the softness of the ornate bed. I sensed that this was to be an uneasy stopover, and that it owed be necessary to move on before long...

I awoke early the next day dressed and went out of the doors, eager for a look at the new surroundings. The morning was already brisk and alive, with sunshine full upon the big porch. The tree-lined avenue seemed clean and beautiful. The leaves, yielding to the first frosts, had taken on the golds and oranges of autumn. Stretching full length upon the steps, I was suddenly thankful to be in this bright new land.

People were now on the street, moving with the quickness that autumn mornings enforce. I thought that I too would have to move much faster here; otherwise I would be left behind. Maggie Lee had made pancakes and sugar for breakfast. We ate quietly, this three of us; then my brother-in-law, a Pullman porter, went away for a week — the only week that I was to know happens in this house.

I enrolled in Mechanic Arts High School, and got an evening job bussing dishes in a diner, where I was paid six dollars a week and given one meal a day. My brother-in-law took two of this for my rent and meals, yet the four dollars left seemed adequate. It was more than I had ever had at one time in my entire life. The new friends I made kidded me about my country mannerisms and dress, my shyness with the girls and my “Kansas talk.” But when basketball season came, my status grew. 

Real winter came one Friday just before Christmas. A hungry north wind knifed down like a hawk. By seven o’clock that night, the temperature had dipped to ten degrees below zero.


After the pool hall closed, I rode trolley cars back and forth to the ends of the line between St. Paul and Minneapolis, sleeping most of the time, using my suitcase for a pillow, waking now and then to the sound of snow and sleet pelting against the trolley windows. I was aware of people getting on and off at different stops, noting that they had someplace to go, knowing that I was only riding out the night. Once when I awoke, the car was empty and dark, the doors were open and wind and snow swept in from both ends. I sat up, rubbed frost from the window and looked out. Except for the falling snow, there was nothing — no trees, lights or landscape. The car seemed suspended the stormy blackness. Again I rubbed briskly at the window, and then there came a sputtering of bluish-white light. The trolley operator was swinging the contact pole to the power line from where it had slipped. The lights came on, and a railing came into view. We were on a bridge, high above the Mississippi River.

I rode the trolley between the Twin Cities for several weeks. The rent was reasonable, and there was always some heat. My food for those days and nights was the single meal I got at the diner, eked out by hot dogs and root beer.

[From Gordon Parks' amazing autobiography, A Choice of Weapons. Parks moved from Kansas to St. Paul at the age of 15.]

[Rondo Avenue streetcar, c. 1947.]

No comments: