In the city where Popong lives, modernity is in perfect harmony with nature. The city prided itself of its smooth blend of buildings, businesses, houses, roads, parks and beautiful landscape and beaches. It is blessed with tropical weather that sustains plants that range from exotic gardenia and hibiscus to native fire bushes and cocoplums. Palm trees dotted its shores for a tropical effect, if grown in the backyards, they give a majestic feel, if raised beside the roads, consistency and alignment. Bromeliads and succulents crowd their feet while the rest of the ground is merged into well-kept lawns. The roads are pleasant to walk on especially in the early mornings after city workers sweep the debris and garbage left over by night travelers downtown. A water truck passes on a regular basis to water the sidewalk plants consisting of Queen Emmaâ€™s standing side by side Ixoras and brooding Boston ferns that seem to fight for space occupied by show-off Bougainvilleas. There are countless of these vines bearing flowers of different hues â€“ red, fuchsia, pink, white, orange, yellow.
The city roads are named after the alphabet with either north or south affixed before them. Popongâ€™s condo stands at the south of X Street alongside an alley that runs parallel to Dixie. This condo is modest-looking
In more recent years, real estate developers took advantage of the booming downtown economy, a result of the widening expansion of South Florida that has been catering historically to tourists and snowbirds from the north. Add to these the new retirees full of 401k money or proceeds from selling their houses in Boston, New York or Chicago and are ready to downsize by living in luxurious condos surrounded by their fellow retirees. Big construction companies saturated Miami with condos that were snatched hungrily by buyers and investors. Not to be outdone, nearby cities offered big tax breaks to build in Fort Lauderdale, Boca, Delray, Boynton. Now, looking for more spaces to expand, the condo commandos entered into Palm Beach constructing buildings that are taller, more luxurious, more expensive bearing coveted addresses of names like The First, The Exclusive, boasting of amenities beyond oneâ€™s imagination.
This real estate expansion did not proceed without resistance from the locals who are mostly native residents still pining for the days when the city was a village made of Sears-designed cottage houses and white picket fences. Most of them were immigrants from Europe that failed to increase their population. The â€˜nativesâ€™ soon died and their children moved away through intermarriage or for economic reasons. Who were left behind were their first generation children who have gotten old, lingering in the village and stuck to the old villageâ€™s early 20th century appearance and traditions. They fought hard to keep their village historically intact until money did the talking. How quickly they moved once ridiculous prices for their lots and homes were offered.
When Popong bought his condo most of his coworkers thought he was stupid. This was six years ago when he needed a break from the constant influx of roommates and lack of privacy living with others. He was used to living with roommates, let me be clear about that, but at 50 years old, he wanted to break out from that lifestyle. He wanted to own a place he could call his own. The final straw was when a new tenant in the neighborhood took his assigned parking spot. This tenant was so aggressive and loud when he confronted her, she was too thuggish for him. He sat down for a long time and determined it was not worth going through the stress of fighting for a parking spot. He wonâ€™t compromise his mental and physical health just for a stupid parking spot. He calculated how much money he had saved, which turned out to be not that much after remitting almost all his income to support his family back home. But between his little savings and a small loan from his 401k, he pulled it. He paid for a small, very old, cheap condo in a town that was shunned away by the locals because of its bad reputation.
Luckily, the same location that was worth next to nothing six years ago became the most sought after real estate today. But I am getting ahead of my story.
When his co-workers heard of his purchase, they expressed their alarm and disapproval because this town where Popong would move to was not only infested with crime, it was also the drug capital of the county. There were hundreds of sober homes in the vicinity which mostly fed the addicts who soon got kicked out for breaking rules and end roaming around the downtown robbing, prostituting and killing for drugs. In Popongâ€™s desperate need to live on his own and avoid conflicts with his neighbor, they thought he jumped from a frying pan into fire.
â€œDid you even check that location before buying?â€ they interrogated. Popong looked at their curious, wide eyed expressions. He was puzzled. But it immediately occurred to him that they are mostly professionals who lived all their lives in gated communities. They are the likes who would never step into a place considered beneath them. Popong sensed that he was metamorphosing before their eyes as one of â€˜themâ€™ they would not invite in their exclusive neighborhoods, or be mistaken as an acquaintance on the street, the one who is probably attracted to crimes and drugs and prostitutes. No decent dude would live in that town. Except someone who is living and dealing with that lifestyle.
â€œThe condo was cheap,â€ he responded while eating his lunch made of chicken and rice and veggies in the lunch room with them. He wondered why he sounded defensive all of a sudden. He thought owning a property is not a small feat and wherever that property is located does not matter. Ownership is ownership.
This made him think how different he is indeed from all those around him. Their reaction was not far from his Manila friends during college. He always had the misfortune of being at the wrong place with wrong people. In college, he was also surrounded by wealthy scholmates who showed shock if not disdain upon discovering he was no better than their maid or janitor. It was no fault of their own to act that way towards him, he never expected them to pretend tolerance or acceptance to his kind when they never encountered anyone like him among their intimate friends.