The Parking Lot

Wendy Hornsby

It’s my birthday, one of those divisible by five birthdays.  I don’t feel old, or feel my age, or have any special coulda-woulda-shoulda regrets about the way things have gone so far.  Indeed, I decided last spring that it was time to quit pretending that the “highlights” in my hair were other than swathes of gray showing through the latest application of Havana Brown chemicals, and to just let it go natural. 

I’ve had the summer to get used to my new white feathers, though a recent incident has made me wonder if graying hair might make me a target.

Case in point:  It was a hot Sunday afternoon, the parking lot outside a certain big box store was packed.  There were random open spaces.  My husband, Paul, cruised a couple of aisles looking for a little bit of shade to park the front end of the car under.  He found his spot and began to turn in.

We both noticed the young man sitting in the driver’s seat of an old black beater of a car parked two slots over.  Nothing about him stood out, except that he had backed into his space, leaving himself in full sun and his trunk in shade.  Waiting for wife, girlfriend, mother?  Or, as we do from time to time, for a ballgame score or for a favorite piece of music to finish?  

There were a lot of people coming and going, and we took notice of them as well.  We are big city folks so we are always aware of our surroundings in case we suddenly need to duck or run.  Also—occupational hazard—I am always collecting bits of conversation, interesting people, whatever might be useful story material.  I did find it interesting that the young man had seemed to notice us when we drove past him.  We have reached an age where we seem to be invisible to many people under thirty.

As we pulled forward, the man opened his car door and looked to be getting out.

Someone had left a cart in our space.  Paul pulled halfway in, stopped, got out, moved the cart, got back in and finished parking.  As we collected our things, I looked up, a habit of watching six—checking the rear.  I expected to see the young man’s back as he walked toward the store.  But he was standing inside his open car door—hoping to catch a breeze?

We went through our usual getting out of the car cha-cha:  Paul opened my door, slid my purse over his shoulder—he’s nice that way—and took me by the hand.  Holding hands, purse between us, we headed toward the store.

The young man slipped back into his seat, started his engine, and pulled out of his space.  He slowed nearly to a stop when he came abreast of us.   His face no more than two feet from us, he said, “Have a nice day,” and peeled off toward the exit.  There was nothing “nice” in his tone of voice.

Clearly, he had changed his mind about the sort of day he intended for us to have.  I can only speculate about why he did, or why he had singled us out to begin with; does gray hair connote an easy mark?  He might have had a chance against either of us alone, but maybe the poor guy didn’t count on cuddly older folks forming a two-person defensive line.

There are two scraps of wisdom that we always keep in mind when we are out.  The first is, be prepared.  And the second comes from Robert Fulgham:  Always hold hands when you cross the street.  Holding hands won’t always keep you from harm.  But having someone to hold onto will make whatever happens easier to bear.

I’ll let you know by Christmas whether I cave and go back to Havana Brown, or just let nature take its course.

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3 Responses

  1. I love the thought of holding hands crossing a street, Wendy. In cities my man reaches for my hand. in our small Vermont town we cross alone. Relatively little crime in Vt and what there is–is mostly domestic. And parking garages do scare me! But, holding hands is a lovely idea, and I intend to do this from now on–along with letting my hair go native. I really don’t mind being invisible. A woman may lose her “power” as she ages, but she also learns to empower herself.

  2. And let us know if you go back to that store!
    Creepy story; thanks for sharing.

  3. we’ll go back. That store has the best $6 pajama bottoms – perfect writing attire. But we’ll park as close as we can get to the store, shade or not.

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