Yesterday morning I did the food shopping and was walking to my car after finishing up at Hannaford’s when I was approached by an African-American gentleman. He looked to be about my age, maybe a little older. He had on an orange hoodie that said “Pat’s Peak Staff” on it.
I paused, and he said, “M’am, I’m just out of prison and am trying to get home to Boston. Could you spare $7 for a bus ticket? I just want to get home.”
Here’s the thing…
I’m not real savvy and I’m not real fast on my feet. I’d say that I’m at once gullible and skeptical — kinda naive and kinda mistrustful. There’s not a lot of middle ground there, and so, needless to say, there was a lot going on in my head as soon as he approached me and made his request.
Some months ago, a young man on Main Street asked me for money because he needed to get some water. I was going into CVS and so I invited him to come in with me and get it. (I think he was actually quite disappointed when he left with a bottle of water.)
Yesterday, in the Hannaford’s parking lot, I pulled out my wallet and gave the gentleman a 20-dollar bill, wishing him good luck. He thanked me and walked away. Moments later, as I drove out of the lot and turned right onto Fort Eddy Road I looked for him, hoping to see him walking in the direction of the bus station. But there was no man in an orange hoodie visible — at least not where I’d have expected him to be. So who knows where he went. I hope he got his bus ticket.
I checked online just now and those tickets are actually $17, one way. Maybe I misheard him. Or maybe he was planning to ask several people to get the money. Or maybe I was duped.
But here’s what I wish…
I wish I’d had the presence and the courage to have a bit more of an interaction with him. I never would have said it this way, but what I was thinking, as I drove away, went something like this…
I do hope you are going to use this for a bus ticket. And I know that maybe you won’t. And there’s actually a part of me that wouldn’t blame you at all for ripping me off.
Whatever you do with those 20-dollars, feel the need to acknowledge, standing here face-to-face with you, what a racist country we live in. I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I DO know how deeply our lives have been affected by the random fact of the different colors of our skin. It’s, in many ways, a pure accident of birth that ends with us here and me giving you $20 rather than vice versa. And that really sucks.
I absolutely despise our President and am horrified that so many Americans voted for him. We have been unmasked as the hypocrites that we are, as a nation. Shining light on a hill… bullshit.
And not just unmasked, the festering ugliness of American racism is now being empowered and encouraged from the bully pulpit. (Hmmm, bully pulpit takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?) We all own it, the racist legacy that built and continues to putrefy the hyperbolic myth of America. I’m not sure what to do about it, except to listen and learn, to acknowledge and apologize and change, and to VOTE. Everyone has got to VOTE! I wish you could, but since you’re just out of prison, I’m guessing you can’t. That sucks, too.
I didn’t say anything, though. This was all stuff I thought about afterward, as I drove home, listening to the latest Trump crap on MSNBC and thinking about life in an America where national emergencies are fomented out of racist fear while actual existential challenges go eternally unaddressed.