Because I had a delayed counseling session due to the excessive rain and flooding last week, I took a walk in South Fayetteville today. I listened to TED en Español. And because I didn’t know the area as well as I thought I did, I went a street too far. As a result, I walked an hour and a half instead of thirty minutes. The breeze and the unfamiliarity of the area made it glorious. I went past Baum Stadium, past the not-yet-completed “Marhsall Place,” as well as another complex whose name escaped me, both uncompleted. I witnessed several exciting events, including a lift operator lowering himself with a surprising weight of siding (even as an excited co-worker shouted at him in Spanish from below), a car speeding through a huge parking lot at 100 mph, passing within ten feet of me, and a man sitting in the abandoned Cobb complex (which I didn’t know existed) smoking pot. And another contractor who broke a 3rd or 4th-floor window with his hammer, presumably accidentally. He looked down at me as I waved. He laughed and waved back, shrugging his shoulders. I gave a man $20, and his smile and surprise were so tangible that I almost failed to keep my composure; his reaction was so genuine that I wondered if I had imagined it. A woman who probably didn’t know someone was approaching exited her car and put her pants on. I’m not sure what proceeded that. She nodded as I looked in her direction. I ate at Mr. Taco Loco, consuming a portion of pico de gallo so immense that I felt guilty for eroding their profit margin. And the counselor? She was so surprised I ordered and read the entire book she recommended. I set my next session earlier for next week, even as I wondered what I might miss by removing the ‘extra’ time between work and my session. While none of these events were momentous, they reminded me of the millions of encounters that comprise the sum of our days.
“It’s called a Food “Court,” because if you eat at one, it feels like you’ve been to trial and sentenced to eat prison food.” – X
It was once a thriving place, one that thousands of people a day visited. It’s heyday arrived before the virus. I rarely go there anymore. Looking at the bricks on the outside evokes a “Walking Dead” vibe that is difficult to shake.
Before entering, I noticed the mask signs everywhere. “We proudly require our employees to appropriately wear their masks at all times for your safety” indicated one such sign. I knew well that this couldn’t possibly be true. Even medical professionals start doing stupid things with their masks and protective gear if given enough time to get sloppy.
Like many places, this place added security to ensure that people coming in would wear their masks. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, such public places provide great and literal ‘security theater’ that you can watch from a casual distance. It always provides something to enjoy.
Before the anecdote to follow, I’d like to mention that I did my double-order maneuver. I chose the eatery at the food court and ordered. I stood to the side. Known for its very rapid service, I waited patiently for about five minutes. People picked up their orders. I began to notice that people who ordered after me were getting served. Still, I waited. After ten minutes, I walked up to the counter again. I ordered the same meal I already purchased and paid for. I paid for the second order, too.
As I finished, the cashier who helped me with my first order said, “Hey, did you get your order?” I leaned in and said, “No, so I gave up and just ordered again.” He looked confused. “And you paid again?” I nodded in affirmation. The other two people in front looked at me and then each other, knowing they’d messed fairly spectacularly. A whirlwind of activity then commenced, with each looking at the order-up screen, previous orders, etc. They decided that they’d given my order to another guest. The other guest had said nothing when given the extra order. All the possible guests guilty of such a thing were seated in the food court. I interceded: “While they should have said something, they are blameless. One of you combined the orders and handed it to them. It’s not their fault. I paid twice because I wasn’t upset. Mistakes happen. I don’t want a refund. Just give me my food. By the way, that’s why I call it the Double-Order-Maneuver.” Because this particular thing had obviously never happened to any of them, they were clueless about how to proceed. A minute later, the cashier handed me my bag. “Thanks, Fred,” he said. “My name isn’t Fred. I used a fake name when I order in these places to cut down on communication problems. Obviously, I need to reconsider that tactic. Y’all have a good day and don’t worry about all this.”
I imagine someone had to figure out a way to explain to the manager that a customer gladly paid for the same meal twice.
I sat at a table for two in the food court, watching. There were more people than one would imagine. Several of the eateries in the food court were closed, with a couple barricades permanently. Covid keeps pounding coffin nails into the ones that attempt to survive there.
The kiosk of gumball machines sat forlornly to one side, it’s inventory inaccessible due to the ropes and tape. The piano, once attended by a cheesy but talented pianist, sat covered and forgotten.
A security guard and cleaning tech walked past me on my right. The cleaning tech was furiously gossiping to the security guard, who walked a foot away from her, leaning toward her to catch each word. The cleaning tech’s mask was already below her nose. As they stopped to wipe a table, the cleaning tech pulled her mask down to her chin. Though it seems like an exaggeration, I could see the spittle from her mouth arcing toward the female security guard.
People walked past. The two moved around, still standing close to one another. Whatever vexed the cleaning tech must have been very important. As I was about to circumspectly snap a picture, they moved to another table. The tech angrily pointed at a dropped straw wrapper as she snatched it. I took a picture anyway.
I took out my marker and wrote on a napkin, “Having a mask below your nose, much less below your mouth, is like having no mask at all.” I laid the napkin in the center of the table as I collected my trash. Doubling back, I walked the long way around the food court. By then, two more security people walked up and joined the two gossipers. Another food service worker joined them. Three of them had their masks on incorrectly. I took a picture of the group as they moved along. I noticed a few people were looking at the group with differing amounts of “What are you doing?” written on their faces.
I stood on the other side of a kiosk in the middle of the indoor hallway, watching. In less than a minute, the original security guard and the cleaning tech made their way back to my table. The security guard leaned over and read what I inscribed on the napkin. Her head snapped immediately back up, scanning around her. She then looked incredulously at the cleaning tech next to her, who still had her mask down. I didn’t need to know what was said. The body language might as well have been expressed using nautical flags.
I burst out laughing at the over-reaction. Instinctively, I moved all the way around the kiosk.
I waited fifteen seconds and when I emerged on the opposite side, the female security guard clutched my napkin. Her frenzied gait communicated that she was about to catch the other loitering security people and show them the napkin.
Her time would have been better served to tell the cleaning tech and her fellow security guards to stop walking around without their masks on their faces. This is especially true since it is the essential function of their presence. Barney Fife could keep the potential mayhem at bay without assistance; no one needs multiple security guards milling around asking for trouble.
The security guard pulled her mask completely down as she aggressively explained that someone had left an unwelcome napkin on the table. Naturally, the other guard pulled his mask down, too, possibly in an effort to hear better. It’s a common and stupid tactic that many of us are guilty of when wearing a mask for long periods. (Like we do when we turn down the radio when we’re driving and looking for something.)
In a move that should be noted for posterity, a man standing with the other two guards leaned over and read the napkin. Although I couldn’t hear what he said, he pointed at each of the guard’s faces, then up, then around. I’m sure he was mentioning cameras and people watching. As if on cue, both guards grabbed their masks and yanked them up above their noses.
The original security guard said something angry and crumpled the napkin in disgust.
I laughed again. She crumpled the napkin so theatrically that I couldn’t help myself.
While no one looked toward me, at that point I didn’t care. What were they going to accuse me of? Writing truths on a napkin?
This is a dumb little anecdote about something that happened to me after work a few weeks ago. I mentioned something had happened to my wife but didn’t want to talk about it. Yes, it was a crime. I chose not to call witnesses though, so I don’t think it counts.
After work, someone suffering from road rage attempted to perform his dark arts on me. I was first in line to make a right turn when I first encountered this gem of a person. The traffic coming from the left was obscured by buildings, a fence, and utility cabinets jutting out into my field of vision. Combined with people driving as if Doc Brown was counting on them to get the 1.21 Gigawatts needed to travel in time, these details make the intersection more unsafe than many. I’ve seen 5 or 6 great accidents at this intersection over the years. Because of this, I not only never go past the white ‘stop’ line on the pavement, but I also do not pull out to turn right until I am 100% certain that oncoming traffic has stopped. Invariably, there is at least one vehicle going 50+ mph through the red light. As a result, I get honked at every once in a while.
There’s rarely a day that someone doesn’t do something stupid and/or dangerous when
I’m coming home from work. (Sometimes, admittedly, it’s me!) Even though it’s hard to believe, I ignore them, even if they bring me to the brink of death or despair. If bacon hasn’t killed me, traffic probably won’t.
I pulled up to stop at the red light. Immediately, someone behind me hit their horn as if they were playing Family Feud with a hand that weighed fifteen pounds. I peered into my rearview mirror. The idiot blaring his horn was a white middle-aged man with whitish hair and beard. (Let’s face it: it’s almost always a man.) He was inarticulately shouting at me and giving me the finger. I ignored him and waited for the light. He hit the horn three more times in the four seconds it took for the light to change. Then he bumped me. Literally a bump. He was driving a truck. Because it was a low impact, I opted to just ignore the idiot. I’m not one to worry about the paint on my car. I didn’t feel like finding out exactly how stupid and irrational he might be by getting out of my vehicle. If he ran over me, I’m not sure my gut would clear the universal joint on the rear of the truck. Being dragged is no way to get from one place to the next.
I turned into the right-most lane, as required. I then indicated a lane change and moved to the left, as the right lane is reserved for a right-turn-only further up. Mr. Idiot hit his horn again. I looked back and realized that he had changed lanes and was right behind me. Because I’m averse to idiots, I went to the right again so that I could detour and get away from the idiot. Mr. Idiot blared his horn again and changed lanes. I couldn’t help but laugh. I could imagine his face turning beet red. Mr. Idiot gunned his truck and went around me. Because he is an idiot, he took a page from the Idiot’s guide and hit his brakes. Knowing he would do so, I’d already slowed down. He floored it and then came to a stop at the next light, behind a green Honda. As he did so, I changed lanes and stayed slightly behind his spot in traffic. His driver window was now down and he was flipping me off and gesticulating like a swarm of bees had attacked him. His horn was still blaring in time to an imaginary metronome based on anger. The light changed to green. It’s important to remember that my only crime to this point was stopping and waiting to make a turn until I could safely do so.
Much to my delight, the Honda didn’t move. I’m certain that the Honda driver was confused by being honked at repeatedly. I noted that Mr. Idiot had a Realtor vanity plate as I passed, as well at two bumper stickers. I hoped that the green Honda would now be the focus of this Realtor nutcase.
At the next light, I heard the horn again. Mr. Idiot had ignored the must-turn lane and forced his way back to the lane I was in, several cars ahead of him. I could only assume he was late for his penis-enhancement surgery. I went back to the right lane, behind a slower car. I knew that Mr. Idiot was going to catch up to me. I couldn’t wait to hear what poetry he might recite in my direction. As he pulled up, I looked to my right, away from him. I had already turned up NPR to an ear-splitting volume in my car. Terry Gross had never played so loudly. I couldn’t hear a word he said. After a few seconds, he gunned it. As he did so, I quickly made a right turn at the next intersection. He had no means of getting back to me without killing several people.
I knew he was a nutcase. On a hunch, I drove down the road and pulled into one of the business parking lots there. I walked over to the edge of the lot and sat on one of the utility cabinets. Within two minutes, Mr. Idiot came roaring up the road. I knew that he would turn around and try to find me. He passed me going at least 60 mph. I waved as he passed, as I felt like I owed him the chance to recognize me sitting there. He didn’t acknowledge me. Note: the speed limit where he was exceeding 60 mph was half of that.
We might have been friends, if he hadn’t been such a douche in a god-awful hurry.
Apart from the vanity plate, he had two bumper stickers on his truck, neither of which surprised me, given his general attitude. You’d think he’d stop and consider that his vanity plate makes him extraordinarily easy to track.
P.S. There’s no point in telling me I should have called the police, or stopped to get his information when he bumped me. It’s a waste of time and effort on multiple levels. In my defense, I wasn’t angry. I thought about wasting my time and the police’s time by reporting the crime. Instead, I noted the license and make and model of the truck and laughed. It’s enough to know that I could track him down if I were so inclined. Someday when I’m motivated, I’ll write a letter to let him know that he needs help. I’m certain that he’ll appreciate the concern.
He doesn’t know who I am – but I know he is. And that’s enough for me.