On the Road #3: Another Market Stop

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.

Background for the “On the Road” series

On the Road

I’ll be rolling out a thread of posts relating days spent working as a bag man for an organization which will remain nameless, as will the places and people I visit. It’s all legal, but identities and locations are best left unspecified in the interests of privacy and keeping this job.

In a day’s route I can hit up to twenty different businesses across the state, ranging from 18th floor lawyers’ offices to neighborhood markets, government offices and banks to manufacturing plants and warehouses. I meet lot of new people and some will remain in my memory for both good reasons and bad. Overall, it’s been a very pleasant eye opening adventure, at times forcing me to adjust my thinking on how things are, and the human species in general.

I realize the “On the Road” theme is not original, but due to my previously reclusive nature, some places I’ve been and people I’ve met since I started this gig have had impacts on me I consider worth sharing. So come on along for the ride.

UPDATE: I managed only three posts on this planned thread so far. I left the job sooner than expected – it was my call as it was beginning to stress me out. Those of you who know me are not surprised. The amount of road construction and repair going on in the state this past summer reached critical max on my brain.

I’m leaving the three posts out there as I enjoyed putting them together, and they are two of most memorable stops I had. There were a couple more deserving report, and maybe I’ll get to them later in the year. They’re still in draft, I just couldn’t get the point I was trying to make across clearly enough. Like this updated post, all related the posts are tagged On The Road.

On the Road #2: Schooled at the Corner Market

Background for the On The Road series.

On the road.

My next stop was a grocery market, the name inferring Latino. I gathered my paperwork, locked the car and headed for the door. Outside of the market were three kids, two boys about 9 and 13 years old, and a small girl about 5. They eyed me curiously as I passed, said “Hello”, and entered the store.

The lighting inside was dim but I could see it was a small place, jam packed with groceries and other items for sale. The decorations and signs told me its main customer base and ownership was Peruvian. The woman behind the counter smiled as I walked up and I started with my usual greeting and reason for being there. It was immediately obvious she wasn’t understanding what I was saying. I’ve encountered this before in my life but accept that I’m in her store, her neighborhood, and I need to do a better job of explaining myself.

It wasn’t going very well, but she was forgiving and trying as hard as I was. Suddenly, the 3 kids outside came running in and surrounded me at the counter, the younger two on each side of me and the older boy looking over my shoulder. I admit an immediate uncomfortable feeling, but I was as immediately relieved when the oldest boy laughingly said “Hey! Let me help – my Mom’s not too good with English”. This made the younger kids giggle and put me at ease. He translated for both his mother and me, and our business was completed. The 3 ran back outside as quickly as they came in. As I left the store, I thanked the oldest for his help and said “Good Bye!” to all.

The 5 or 10 minutes of time related here stays with me still. It’s hard to explain. Or maybe just hard to admit. I tell myself I’m not a bigot, thinking of myself as an aged hippie. But how much these minutes opened my eyes to how I sometimes fall to stereotyping peoples and places was a needed whack to the back of the head. Isolation from other cultures around you does not help you see the things we all have in common in our lives. Meeting people of other cultures up close and personal in their environment, like in this encounter, can help to dispel that stereotypical thinking.

This was a family, making a living like the rest of us. Mom was running the store, and I would bet the oldest son was taking care of and entertaining his younger sister and brother to help Mom out. And watch out for her too.

This day was in my first week on this job, and I’ve often been in many different ethnic neighborhoods since. This visit helped me be a hopefully more aware and open minded person in these later stops.

On the Road #1: Alarming the Fire House

Background for the On The Road series.

Back in late March, my first route stop was a firehouse on outskirts of the city. Started my day by setting off the intruder alarm with the opening of a door. Since the door was unlocked I was hoping to find someone inside – no such luck. I went back outside thinking it best to greet the police that would eventually show up, but after a 20 minute wait with no responders I left to take care of two nearby scheduled stops and then return.

Arriving back at the firehouse I noticed a car that wasn’t parked there before. As I got out of my car, a man talking on a cell phone came out of the building and I could hear him reprimanding someone for not doing a good job securing the building before leaving the night before.

When he finished his call, I raised my hands in the air as I approached and accepted responsibility for setting off the alarm. He laughed and said it wasn’t my fault, the door should have been locked. Introductions revealed he was the party I was supposed to meet, and Ed led me into the building and up to his office.

As I had noticed on my search for someone in the building earlier, it was apparent this building was no longer an active firehouse, and was undergoing a substantial restoration. With the exception of a modern full glass door on the side of the building, the outside appearance looked like it must have on the first day it opened for business, about 80 or 90 years ago. The interior had a more contemporary flare, the second floor sectioned into large offices with modern furniture and cosmetics, and a beautiful, polished hardwood floor throughout. The outer walls were brick and the originally sized tall windows made the rooms bright.

I remarked to Ed how great the renovations looked and gladly briefed me on what the firehouse would be used for going forward. The retired building was to be the new home of the Fire Fighters Association and also serve as a place for the association and local community for meetings and events. I also learned that the renovations to the interior were all the work of city firemen on their own time. After completing our business, Ed gave me a tour of the work done (and near completion) as he led me back outside.

The parts of the first floor I had not seen on my earlier visit were equally as impressive as on the second floor. The section behind the large doors in the front of the building, behind which the fire trucks spent their idle time, was now a community room with a large magnificent bar matching the theme of the flooring upstairs. In rooms behind this area was a large kitchen, a meeting room, and storage space.

I ended up spending more time than I should have with Ed, being on the job and all, but he was a very nice guy and I enjoyed meeting him. The visit to the firehouse started with an unnerving situation but ended up very well.