Background for the On The Road series.
This stop gave me another up close and personal cultural experience, but one quite opposite from what I described in On the Road #2: Schooled at the Corner Market.
My target stop was a small market in a run down section of the city. I found it operating out of the first floor apartment in an old, dilapidated building. While getting my paper work together, I noticed a group of children playing in front of a building about two doors down from where I parked. Before I left my car, a boy in his mid teens walked out of an alleyway next to the market and set his gaze on me. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, undoubtedly to advertise the results of some intense body building.
Inside the store it was very dark, with just a few bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Some customers were talking with an old man who was working the register and they all gave me a quick once-over in a manner which increased my feeling of not being welcome. To avoid catching grief back at the office for not completing this stop, I decided to wait for the customers to finish their business and leave. It was a very long wait.
Just as the last customer in the store was getting ready to leave, the teen I saw outside entered with what seemed to be the entire group of kids I had seen playing in the street. There were a dozen or more and he had them line up single file at the counter, which pushed me further back into the store. He told the old man to give them each the candy or soda of their choice, leaned up against the counter facing me directly, and glared at me nonstop.
I decided this visit was not worth possibly getting my ass kicked, my car damaged, or being relieved of my earlier collections, so I left. Being a short, lean, 65 year old man, I would not be able to defend myself against this kid. After I started my car I looked back and saw him leaning out the door, arms crossed, with a smug look on his face.
This story may seem overly dramatic, but it is how it occurred. Blatant intimidation worked well for the teen, and the use of his young gang to block me from getting to the old man at the register was a pretty slick move, one I imagine he had used before. I have no guilt or shame over my reaction to it all – I felt threatened, eager to leave, and never wanting go back.
I did not take anything positive away from this experience. It was my first exposure to a bully since my college years. It felt just as uncomfortable as it did back then. I did encounter this type of behavior on later runs, but none quite so “in your face”. It was often just ignoring me until I went away.