Last week I stopped at the grocery store in my neighborhood on a bright, sunny day, at noon. Usually I park a bit of a walk away, but I was in a hurry, so I joined the lines of cars in line for a parking space on one of the aisles right outside the door of the store. As I parked, I was looking into the next aisle. As if in slow motion, I saw a grey/brown van pull through the aisle ahead of me, and turn to the right at the end of the aisle. I saw a crouched over figure – can’t tell you more than that – jump into the van as it turned the corner, and watched it speed away through the parking lot.
As I witnessed this, I saw a woman, dark hair blowing around her head and face, as she ran after the van, screaming and raising her hands into the air. At the same time, a young man who had been walking on the sidewalk nearby crossed over the curb into the store’s parking lot, walking toward the woman. She sat down behind her car, the door open, and yelled and screamed: “they took my purse! they took my purse!” Then she was quiet. I locked my own car and walked toward her as others in the aisle did the same.
“Do you need to use my phone?” the young man who had been walking past asked. Folks were gathering a circle around her. “I have to call my credit card!” she said, apparently thinking out loud. “Was it the brown van?” an older man who had walked up asked. I would have said it was grey, myself. With the crowd gathering, I thought maybe she had enough help, so I turned toward the store. As I did, I saw the manager coming out into the parking lot, walking toward the commotion.
“See? Everyone wants to help,” a dark woman with a face said to me as we walked away. “Folks are crazy now,” she said to me. “They’re stealing from the guys working on the streets now,” she continued. I nodded and said I that people were crazy now. “Have a blessed day,” she said as she turned toward her car. “Thank you! you too,” I answered, receiving the blessing, looking into her eyes and nodding.
As I walked into the store, on of the neighbors who sits in a stand outside the door and collects money for teen drug programs asked if it was the van that had driven down that aisle. “Yes,” I answered. “It was parked right over there – ” she pointed – “it must be on security cameras.” I returned to tell the store manager, at the same time knowing it would come to nothing, just another purse snatching, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a crowd of people, in the middle of a busy parking lot.
Still, aren’t we all crazy? Not just those young guys, hoods covering their identities, but all of us, trusting the world enough to go about our business on another sunny day?
Thank God, no shots were fired. The woman who’d been robbed hadn’t seen a gun, just a fast moving guy who grabbed for her purse, and got it. When I left the store a few minutes later, she was sitting next to the outside wall, making calls. Her face was less frantic. She smiled a bit.
By this time, the security guys who work inside the store, big guys in dark shirts, were standing at the curb, as if to guard the outside of the store.
Folks had shown up. Folks do show up, when they’re not scared themselves. In community, it seems natural enough to show up for each other when we can.