Excuse me, Miss.

I’m leaving the Wawa today, the convenience store where I buy my breakfast. I’m wearing these old boots, boots I love because my mom bought them for me and it’s her birthday today, even though they’re honestly falling apart, causing me to shuffle along even more than I typically do. I tend to drag my feet when I’m tired, and today was no exception — shuffling back across the parking lot, keys in one hand, coffee in the other.

I hear it before I see it: “Pick your feet up, sweetheart.” 

I turn. Two dudes, hoodies, cigarettes. Older guys, grey in the face, lurking in the overhang above the pizza place next door. My car is already unlocked and I can see that the fact that I’ve made eye contact is surprising, that this alone is unexpected.

I don’t say it to him, exactly, but to myself, loud enough for him or anyone to overhear: “You don’t know me. You don’t talk to me like that.” 

I hear him mutter something, say something else, and I’m not listening because this is usually the part of the exchange where I’m called a bitch or worse, and I lug my purse off my shoulder and I’m stepping into the driver’s seat before I hear it again, “Miss? Excuse me. Miss! Did you hear me?”

And I turn, and this time, I’m ready, and he says,

“I’m sorry. I’m … um. Sorry.” 

I look at him another minute, give him a nod, a truce. I get in the car and drive away.

Later tonight, I’m leaving the theatre where I’ve been working long hours, a project with my own company that’s keeping me on my feet, as costume and set designer and marketing director and generalized person-running-around-doing-all-the-things. It is both deeply satisfying and bone-crushingly exhausting. I normally find free parking and walk up to our space, but I caved today, and parked in the lot next door. I’m standing with my good friend Dan, and we round the corner around 11:30 pm in time to see that there’s a huge line of well-dressed people — the theatres nearby have all just let out for the evening, and there’s only one guy working, hustling madly between the payment kiosk and the unseen parking spaces above. We’re standing there as an older gentleman brushes past us, practically elbowing us, claiming his space before us in the payment line.

He’s older, sixties or seventies, expensive horn-rimmed round glasses, a long grey wool coat, wearing a hat and one of those white scarves knotted neatly at the neck. Adjust for time period and he could plausibly pass as an extra in that scene at the Ascot Races in My Fair Lady. 

And everyone in the line sees it happen, and everyone just sort of rolls their eyes and exchanges those, “Ugh, people,” glances. And I take a deep breath, and I tell my friend, in a voice loud enough for anybody to hear, about the guy outside the Wawa who said something rude, and then apologized.

“Isn’t it amazing, when people decide that it’s so much easier to be nice, to just treat other people as, you know. People?” says my friend.

The parking attendant makes it back to the booth, and the old guy fumbles for his ticket and then — just before it’s too late — turns around. For the first time, he makes eye contact with me.

“Oh. Excuse me, miss. I’m sorry. Were you here first?”

I smile.

“No, you go on ahead.”

*

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