"Excuse me, do you know which avenue is Martin Luther King?"
I looked up, and it was an elder mother inquiring. Apparently, a European family, touring Harlem, had asked her for directions earlier that day, and she wasn't sure, whether she gave them the right information.
I replied, "I think it's 7th,” confusing Lenox Ave with 7th, because only the natives really know Harlem avenues by their numerical correspondence.
She said, "No, that's Adam Clayton Powell."
"You're right," I said in agreement. Knowing Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Lenox avenue are one and the same, I was sure now. Lenox was 6th and thus, so was MLK.
While I knew for certain that she was not a millennial transplant, like myself, she spoke with a southern twang and was equally unsure of the Harlem landmarks. So, I followed up to ask if she was from here.
It turns out she was originally from North Carolina, but she had been living in NYC for 50 years.
Having visited the Lynching Exhibit at the Brooklyn museum the previous weekend, which highlighted the Great Migration north, I had an inkling to what brought her here.
We talked a little more and she shared that she had hoped to have a place in both NYC and NC, but with the rising cost of living – in NYC especially - there was no way she could bring it into fruition.
That led her to the old days and the old ways, where even if you didn't own a place, you had a place to stay.
"Back during my time," she said, "somebody would have a place in another town or state, and you could come, visit and stay as long as you want. You don't really hear of that anymore. Nowadays, people will say 'I wanna live by myself, but you know...I guess it's just a selfish society.'"
She paused, looking down in disappointment and deep thought.
"We as a people have lost our traditions," she said. "50 years ago, you would never hear that. We would be sending for people to come up and they would get here and we'd help [them] do what [they] wanted to do. You don't hardly hear of that anymore"
Of course, I had to get off the train(always at the most inconvenient time).
I told her how much the conversation blessed me, shook her hand and told her to take care.
You know, some of us, myself included, still have a hard time defining black culture. When we do, we attribute the music, the art, the literature, the hairstyles and etc. but we can't put our fingers on the traditions. We've all probably read this story or seen it on a movie, but it's empowering to hear it from an elder's mouth and labeled a "tradition."
Here's to more black culture, story telling and pride. I love us. #subwaychronicles