This afternoon I decided to make a tour of the local office supply stores to see if any have document scanners in stock. Everyone needs a printer but a document scanner with a bulk feed tray and network interface is a bit of a niche market. I didn’t expect anyone to have a selection to inspect and figured I’d be lucky to find even one network scanner. The chance of actually finding one that met all my requirements was slim to none. But if I don’t expect to acquire anything I’d need to carry then it seemed like a great excuse to get the sport bike out of the garage. It is a stunningly beautiful Fall day after all. I grabbed my shades, strapped on my helmet and headed out the door. I didn’t anticipate the storm brewing ahead.
I arrived at the first store, parked my bike and headed for the door, removing my gloves and helmet as I walked. As I crossed the parking lot a shiny black sports car with blacked out windows and massive chrome spoked rims pulled up in front of the store, directly in front of the doors and blocking the only ramp. The hazard lights came on and the driver got out and walked briskly into the store. My path to the document scanners took me past where she waited in line and, as I walked by, my mental filters hiccuped.
“Hi, excuse me?”
“I was behind you as you came in. I don’t know if you realized but the car is blocking the ramp.”
“Well, wheelchairs and carts can’t get past.”
“Is someone in a wheelchair here now?” She looked for a split second as though she might be prepared to move the car. I couldn’t exactly claim that I needed the ramp for a cart or a wheelchair while carrying my helmet and wearing an armored riding jacket. So I argued on behalf of all the wheelchair-using people I personally know and shoppers in general. My father was an amputee who’d lost a leg serving in the US Navy and I grew up watching a seemingly endless stream of inconsiderate people mindlessly interfering with his ability to do everyday things that they take for granted. Like navigate a ramp.
“No. But if you were parked just 5 feet back anyone with a cart or wheelchair could get by.”
“No? Then git outta my face,” she snarled.
“No problem. I’m sorry.” I stepped back in genuine surprise at the ferocity of her response. She made no overt threat but her tone and stance had caught the ears and eyes of the other customers and at least a couple of the staff. But I wasn’t done.
“I’m sorry I gave you the benefit of the doubt and assumed you were a caring human being who’d made an honest mistake. Way to perpetuate the angry, bitter, entitled, and self-absorbed stereotype. I hope someone with something heavy in their cart runs it into your car trying to get around.”
I half expected to be hit from behind as I turned my back on her and walked away but that was the end of it.
As expected the store had no high-capacity scanners so two minutes later I was done and headed for the parking lot. The car was still blocking the ramp when I walked out and I faced the other way as I put my riding gear back on so I didn’t have to look at it. The sound of a cart coming down off the curb caught my attention. Glancing over my shoulder I saw a woman easing the back wheels of her cart down to the road about 5 feet in front of the parked sports car. If I’d seen her in time I’d have offered to help. But then again, my brand of help might have been to attempt to use the ramp and “accidentally” hit the parked car in the process. Maybe it was just as well.
Cart Lady turned out to be parked in the handicapped spot right next to me and she had a case of printer paper in the cart which I offered to put in the car for her. She accepted and I eased the heavy carton into the trunk..
“Thank you,” she said when I had closed the trunk.
“Glad to help,” I replied. “I can’t imagine why one of the store staff didn’t come load that for you. You aren’t going to try to lift that at home are you? If you want I can undo the strapping. That way you can carry a ream at a time if you like. More trips but lighter loads.”
“That’s very kind but my son can handle it when he gets home. But I wasn’t talking about that. Thanks for seeing people and not racial stereotypes.”
“Racial stereotypes?” I was genuinely puzzled. The carton of paper was at least 60 pounds and she was parked in the handicapped spot. It’s not like middle-aged white guys as a group would have withheld an offer to help anyone in this situation, regardless of race, right? Right? My mind boggled at the thought. This is why I left Florida. Where and when I grew up the answer to that question might easily have been “yes” and a minority of any ethnicity might have been told “don’t buy something heavier than you can carry” and left to fend for themselves.
“Black people – African Americans they say these days – are just like everyone else,” she explained. “We are not the stereotype of angry, bitter…” She paused, apparently trying to remember my words.
“Entitled?,” I asked, now understanding where she was going with this.
…entitled and hateful that people make us out to be. That woman may be all those things but she does not represent me or my race.”
“Oh that,” I said with a bit of relief. Now I knew what she was getting at but she had it all wrong. “Well, umm… I don’t know how to explain this but I wasn’t talking about her race.”
“What was all that about stereotypes, then?” It was Cart Lady’s turn to be puzzled.
“Well, I saw a $50,000 car with at least that much more in custom paint and other modifications, including illegally blacked out windows and the thing is blocking the only ramp in and out of the store. I figured here’s someone who is conspicuously wealthy, doesn’t feel that laws apply to them, believes they are better than everyone else and holds everyone they consider to be lesser people in complete disregard.”
“And that’s not your idea of a black stereotype?”
“I assumed she was a Republican,” I shrugged.
At that point she stepped in and hugged me. “Well, aren’t you a treat!” she exclaimed.
As she moved to get into her car I called after her. “I trust you’ll be voting this year?”
“Every year they try to find a way to stop me and every year I manage to cast my ballot anyway. Maybe this is the year things start to look up,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“Maybe they will,” I thought as she backed out. “Maybe they will.”