“Surprises are everywhere in life. And they usually come from misjudging people for being less than they appear.”~ Brownell Landrum
As an interracial couple in the foothills of Western North Carolina, Erica and I receive no shortage of grimaces and glares when we go out together. Erica has shared that it is normal for her to find herself the only person of color in a room. Over the years, she has honed the necessary skills to move through these occasions seamlessly. I tend to stay stuck in my head. As a result, I am often unaware when we are publicly being honored with “the look.” When I do take notice, unlike Erica, my response is usually to lock eyes with the offender until he/she looks away.
So, earlier this week, we went out to dinner at the local steakhouse intent on ordering our Aging Heroes favorite, the salmon and broccoli. We were seated at a table near the bar area and I noticed a man and his wife watching us as we walked by. I assumed that we were once again on the receiving end of the look. We were seated at the table adjacent to them.
Shortly after we settled in, a kitchen worker walking through the bar after his shift ended started making very loud declarations that he was heading home to use his beer bong. The man at the table next to us leaned in our direction and commented that young people these days don’t have a clue about how to have fun.
Erica and I burst into laughter, saying that the kitchen worker definitely wanted everyone in the restaurant to know his plans.
The man, who we later learned was named Chris, looked over at me and said, “I know you are a rider.”
Being a little hard of hearing, I thought he said “writer.” I was amazed. How the hell could he know that?
I answered in astonishment, “Wow, yes, I am.”
Chris then asked, “So what do you ride? I’m a rider too but had to give it up for the wife and kid.”
After putting the pieces together correctly now, Erica and I shared the story of buying an Indian Scout motorcycle just a few days earlier. We went on to have a friendly exchange about motorcycles and our work. As the discussion progressed, it moved in a more personal direction. Chris shared that he had recently lost his child and brother in the same year. He talked about the emotional turmoil he had endured and how his perspectives on life had changed. We sympathized and listened intently.
Our food came, and Chris ended the conversation abruptly, saying he did not want to hold us up and telling us to enjoy our meal. Erica and I ate our dinner and chatted through some Aging Heroes' business. The food was good and the company pleasant. As Chris and his wife were leaving, he stopped by our table and told us that our dinner was on him! We were speechless and blown away by this random act of kindness.
We thanked them profusely but words didn't do justice to what we were feeling.
He replied, “Y’all have a great night, and be sure to pay it forward.”
I began to process the judgmental thoughts that passed through my mind when we arrived at the restaurant. I thought about how I might change my internal narrative the next time such a situation arises. Maybe leading with the benefit of the doubt, and returning what I perceive as the look with a smile and a friendly “hello” would be the best response. Chris wasn’t staring in disapproval when we entered the bar. I was sporting my dew rag, long hair, and a sleeveless t-shirt that showed off my tattoos. He was a biker who felt a sense of kinship with me.
In reflection, it reminded me of when Erica took me to New York City for the first time. The place had a vibe, a beat, and a look. My biker duds didn’t fit the scene. I stood out as a tourist.
So, when the only other guy I saw in the city wearing a black motorcycle jacket reached out for a fist bump as we passed, I felt a crazy sense of connection. The unspoken message? “You and I are a couple of fish out of water, buddy.”
We are all connected as members of the human race. For some reason, that seems to be an easy thing to forget. Chris taught me a lesson I will try to remember.
And don’t you worry, my friend. Your kindness humbled this biker. We will most definitely pay it forward!
Until next time, you Aging Heroes, keep the sun on your back, fists in the wind, and the horizon teasing you further down the road!