Once a month we pay a visit to a large grocery store in the area to stock up. As in most poor areas, the produce is one day away from being rotten, but the prices are low. This particular store has a fairly wide range of clientele, but mostly I would say it is a low-income crowd.
I typically don’t go along on these trips—I like to avoid the depression that threatens to overcome me when I see the collapsed roofs and graffiti-covered walls of the houses lining the roads along the way. One weekend I decided to go along for the ride.
Arriving at the checkout line with our grocery carts stacked high, we hesitated to let a group of five men go in front of us. The men were anywhere from nineteen to the mid-forty age range. They didn’t appear to know what they were doing, whether they were going to join the checkout line in front of them, or if they were going to return to the aisles to shop. When they did not appear to want to go in front of us, we went ahead and got in line. We have two young children, and as anyone with children would know, you have to strike while the iron is hot and keep moving—little kids do not like to wait in lines. We took our place in line and began unloading our groceries onto the conveyor belt.
“Why don’t you just put us at the back of the bus?” I heard someone yell.
Startled, I turned to see the now very agitated group of men, none of whom could look me in the eye. They began shouting at my husband and our one- and four-year-old children. Our little blond and redhead were now being cursed at and referred to as “crackers.” All because we wound up in front of them at the grocery store checkout line.
Big blue eyes wide, our children both stared back at the men and then began shrieking in unison.
It seemed the entire store was now staring at us. A manager came over and shuttled the group of angry men away from us to a newly-opened lane. Our cashier, looking terrified, began explaining that we needed to be very careful out in the parking lot as we left the area. The manager returned as we were paying for our groceries and nervously assured us that the group of angry men had vacated the parking lot.
Prompted by his mother, a young boy attempted to take some items out of our cart as we prepared to leave the store.
We made our way out to the parking lot.
I struggled to free my son’s foot from a piece of passing litter that was now wrapped around his shoe.
A homeless man asked my husband for money as he strapped our daughter into her car seat.
Our kids babbled happily as we drove home.
This is California.