Sunday, March 25, 2012

Taxes, Cab Drivers and Vulnerability's been a while since I updated this joint. I've got to do better. In fact, I am making a public commitment to blog at LEAST once a week with the goal of blogging multiple times during the week.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, here's the randomness:

I got my taxes done on Sunday, and it was definitely a lesson in vulnerability. But, not for the reasons you might think.

I'm a little broke right now because I haven't been permanently employed since June 2011 (However, I started temping part-time at the beginning of March). With the tax deadline looming, I naturally had to find a way to get my taxes done on the cheap. Luckily the IRS has a program called VITA that offers free tax help to people who make $50,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns (see, the IRS isn't totally evil). Turns out that VITA is offered at various locations in DC, including Gallaudet University, and that's where I went on Saturday.

For those who are unfamiliar, Gallaudet is a university for deaf and hard of hearing students. I've lived in the DC area for nearly 12 years, and I've always been aware of Gallaudet. I even assume, rightly or wrongly, that most of the people I see using sign language are affiliated with the school in some way. However, the fact that I was on a campus for the deaf didn't click in my head until I asked a boyish-looking security guard for directions. Before I could finish asking my question, he stopped me and handed me a clipboard with some scrap pieces of paper. Oh yeah, he can't hear me, and I've got to write down my questions. Duh!

I eventually found my way to the Ely Center where the tax preparation services were being held. As soon as I walked in, I realized that I needed directions again. This time I was keenly aware that I was probably going to encounter the same problem I had with the security guard. To be honest, trying to figure who to ask and how to communicate my need stressed me out. I wasn't used to thinking so hard before asking for directions. I know the people I saw were probably wondering, who is this chick and why does she look so confused and crazy?

Fortunately, I had the room number listed on my Blackberry calendar and eventually mustered the courage to ask a young man for directions. He read my calendar entry and showed me how to get to my destination. Once there, it really hit me that I was in foreign territory when people started signing to me because they assumed I was deaf.

I felt like an outsider, an intruder and for some reason, a disappointment to whoever tried to talk to me via American Sign Language (ASL). Was this tax prep session only for the deaf community? Should I even be here? Needless to say, my mind was reeling. It's something I should have been prepared for, you know, being on  a deaf campus.  But again, I wasn't thinking.

Fortunately, the tax prep session was open to anyone, but I was definitely in the minority. The coordinator was hearing and fluent in ASL, but the man who prepared my taxes, as well as the other tax preparers, were all deaf. Most of the customers were deaf. I communicated with my tax preparer through messages on paper and "thumbs up" signs when I answered I answered his questions or provided the information he needed. 

Because it was a free service, the whole process took a while (a little less than 3 hours), but in the end the people were nice, my taxes were filed, and I got federal and state refunds. However, the thing I'll remember most is this: You realize how vulnerable you are when you don't know the language. It's an uneasy feeling, but it reminds you that the world is bigger than your bubble and you need to adapt to the situation and not the other way around.

Oh, but the lessons in vulnerability don't stop there!

When I left Gallaudet, I decided to get a cab, because I needed to get back to Capitol Hill by 2pm and that wasn't going to happen on metro. At least 5 cab drivers, all of them Black, passed me before one finally stopped for me. This angered me, and I vented my frustration to my cabbie by asking him why his fellow cab drivers passed me by. He laughed and told me what I knew was true, but tried to ignore: because I'm Black.

The cab drivers were Black. WTH? It didn't matter. According to my African (probably Ethiopian) cab driver, because I'm Black, they assumed I was going to a bad neighborhood, so they didn't bother with picking me up.  You know, because all Blacks in DC live in crime-ridden neighborhoods in Southeast. Never mind that I was going to Capitol Hill, which is predominantly white. Never mind that I could have been going to other white upscale areas like Georgetown or Chevy Chase. Never mind that the white girl or guy that they picked up instead of me could have been going to Anacostia, one of the BLACKEST neighborhoods in DC, because you know, gentrification is real like a mug.

I couldn't argue with him because I knew he was right. I've been in similar situations, but it didn't make the experience any less hurtful or maddening when it happened. I mean, the Trayvon Martin tragedy is reminding us once again that just being Black is reason enough for evil monsters to kill first and not even bother to ask questions later. Given the history of this country, I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. I'm Black and because of the racists and the Uncle Ruckuses of the world, that makes me, you guessed it, vulnerable. We're still dealing with this mess in 2012. Knowing this is one thing,but wrapping my head around it is something totally different.

Last vulnerability lesson of the day/night: Financial vulnerability. 

I'll make this one quick.

I had a car. The car got stolen two weeks after I lost my job. I went carless for nearly 7 months before my parents bought me a used car. My dad paid a little over $2,500 for it and put another $4,000 into it to make repairs.

I drove the car for 3 months with no problem. Last week I took the car in to my mechanic because the door handle was broken. On the way to the shop, the car died. I ended up charging nearly $1,100 on my credit card to get a new alternator, a new door handle and to fix other outstanding issues.

I picked up the car on Thursday, March 22 and drove it home. I parked the car, went into my apartment to change clothes and got back in the car. The car would not start and made horrible rumbling noises. Towed car back to the shop that night. Got the news on Friday, March 23 that the car was dead. A rod baring broke inside the engine and the engine can't be repaired. Engines cost THOUSANDS of dollars. Most mechanics will tell that when it gets to that point, you might as well get another car.

The lesson?  Don't EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER buy anything except a new or certified pre-owned car. Buying a used car, especially from an individual seller, puts in you in a  VULNERABLE position, so learn from my family's mistakes and save yourself the grief.

OK, that's all for now. Thanks for reading, God bless and good night (or day, or whatever).

Stay random,