Getting old in the city if you are not rich has never been easy. As a registered nurse who worked in Boston and Manhattan, I have always known this. It should be easier, you might think. It is not. And the rich simply do not care.
The density of urban infrastructure, like supermarkets, public transit and clinics, should make a city ideal for any older person. In fact, wealthy older people, empty-nesters, are selling their suburban manses and flooding city neighborhoods here in Boston. These folks live downtown and can walk to just about anything. It is becoming an urban shopping mall of sorts. The Boston Police presence downtown is noticeable at all times. There are a growing number of security cameras and concierge buildings. There are people walking the streets at all hours due to the feeling of safety.
Poor older people must live on the periphery of the inner city in more affordable neighborhoods. When I say "urban poor" today here in Boston, I mean anyone making less than $40,000 a year. Social Security recipients make considerably less than that. And even poorer neighborhoods are hardly affordable. We do not see police cars patrolling regularly. They pass through in SUV's at high speeds, always seeming to be responding to something somewhere else.
A couple of days ago, Peter set off for our local shopping center in late afternoon. He walks with a cane due to a neurological problem in both legs. He is 66 now. Like me, he has learned to cope with two disabling diseases over the past three decades. Unlike me, he also had to recover from nearly being stabbed to death in Boston's South End in 1990. That incident made all the papers and the TV for an instant, back before gay hate crimes existed in the law. It was a gay-bashing by a Black street gang. The Boston Police did next to nothing about it. Peter's neighbors, who watched the event from their stoops on a hot summer evening without helping, refused to identify the perpetrators, who were indeed well known in the neighborhood.
When Peter returned from the shopping center the other evening, he was very upset. On his way home, he was spat at simultaneously by three approaching Black men in a group who passed him on an isolated sidewalk which exits the shopping center into our neighborhood. The three young men laughed and mocked him as they continued on their way.
This is what it is like to be growing old in the parts of the city where the rich do not live. We do not have security cameras all over our neighborhood. One respondent on a community website, where I posted Peter's incident as a caution to others, stated with certainty that there are police all over the shopping center. That has not been my experience, unless I have witnessed one of the frequent arrests or saw a special-duty officer guarding a particular store. In any case, there were no police available for Peter the other evening.
And, what if there had been? Imagine dialing 911 while balancing with a cane. Once on 911's line, imagine describing the incident to a harried dispatcher. Would the Boston Police have taken action because an old Caucasian gay man was disrespected by three young Black men in my neighborhood? I sincerely doubt it. The first question to Peter, I would speculate, would be "Did you say something to get them angry?" This is what it is like to grow old in my city.