Sep 072004

Yesterday after running some errands I stopped at the Meijer at 14 and Coolidge for gas. Right after I got out some guy approached me with a small gas can in his hand. I knew he was coming to ask me for gas. I was already slightly irritated at people after driving around and my shields went up immediately. I actually felt myself clench up and go cold.
“Sir, I ran out of gas and…”
He turned and left immediately. After he went inside the station I relaxed and thought about it a bit more: He wasn’t dirty, didn’t look like a beggar, and he actually had a gas can in his hand rather than just asking for money. I’ve had a couple times when I’ve nearly run out of gas and happened to not have any money on me, so no matter what your usual situation may be, shit still happens. I decided that if he came back out I’d wave him over and tell him I’d changed my mind. When he came back out he went past the front pumps and didn’t look my way, and I was too embarrassed to call out. He went to the far pump and asked a woman on a motorcycle for gas, and she helped him out.

I was really ashamed of myself afterward and it pretty much shot my mood for the rest of the day. I like to think of myself as a good person, and willing to help people when they need it but, when it came time to walk the walk, I choked. I guess that I’m so used to beggars looking for handouts that I reflexively turned down someone in need out of fear of being taken advantage of. I certainly could have afforded the $1.79 to fill his one-gallon can. I’ve noticed before that I tend to get approached when others around me do not. Is it because I look gullible, and an easy mark? Is it because I look friendly and approachable? I always assumed it was the former, and actually practiced looking cold and hostile just to keep people away.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about how Detroit-area people tend to be suspicious and distrustful of strangers; always wary when approached and reluctant to make eye contact. I’ve seen it on the street, I’ve seen it in bars and clubs. Not everyone is like that of course, but it seems to be the majority demeanor. I’ve also seen that this is not universal. I’ve been other places in the country where people are open and friendly, and don’t automatically assume that when a stranger approaches they want to rip you off. Because I’ve seen that things can be otherwise I thought I could break the programmed response that living in southeast Michigan had instilled in me, but I found out yesterday that I’m still just as guilty of it as anyone else.

 Posted by at 8:47 am
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