What would you do?

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I was waiting for my mocha latte inside Starbucks earlier this week and a guy walked in. He looked very Middle Eastern. That wasn’t the scary part. We have a lot of local people who immigrated from Syrian 30 years ago so that doesn’t make someone stand out.

He was carrying a small bag but that wasn’t the scary part either.

He was very sullen and gloomy. That was the scary part.

I didn’t see him order. He walked past me and sat down without a drink or food item.

Now the bag comes in. It looked like a plastic grocery bag with a few small items. I don’t know what explosives look like. It wasn’t big enough to contain any shrapnel items. I felt slightly better.

In that instance I was extremely conscious of everything around me. I had a need to get out but what about everyone else. These baristas are my friends. We’ve been together through S’mores and chestnut praline lattes.

There was a young boy standing next to me. He wasn’t in school yet. I may not know much about young children but I do know they shouldn’t die before they’ve had a chance to make their mark.

Do I yell “terrorist” and create chaos? Do I sashay over to grab his bag?

In the end I decided that the bag was too small for a bomb. The contents looked more like two or three boxes of aspirin or antihistamines. Being dark-haired, sullen and bearded doesn’t make you a terrorist. Having a headache or allergies may make you sullen and cranky.

If he had come in with a smile he wouldn’t have aroused my suspicion. If I had seen him order and pick up stuff he wouldn’t have aroused my suspicion. 

This was my first experience seeing someone who looked out-of-place and scary. In the “old days” it was robbers. Being robbed never occurred to me. 

Now it can be anything. It’s a new world.

 

62 thoughts on “What would you do?

  1. I have been spending a bit of time in London lately (normally I live in Cornwall and work in Plymouth – Cornwall is empty, and Plymouth a very small city), and I must say getting on the tube has been a bit weird. London is the rainbow nation – but everyone looks sullen because most people are exhausted. I just think you have to accept it’s a possibility and that you’ve done what you can and had a good life. Well, that’s my rationalisation. Then I get out into the fresh air and breathe.

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  2. Scary! What I notice is so much of the crowd with noses in phones in airports or other public events ~ if something terrible happened they would be slow to react because of the need to type LOL one more time. I tend to sit, facing outwards, with my back to an exit and watch carefully. like you, I trust my spidey senses, they haven’t failed me yet.

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  3. It is always good to be aware of your surrounds. But sad that we have to worry about bombs at a coffee shop and a man with a surly look. He could have been a terrorist or simply a man having a bad day. Stay safe! As someone said, it is the new reality. Who thought we would ever have to be searched the way we are at airports? Or have our handbags searched. Well, at least you got your coffee!

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  4. I’m incapable of going into a theater or public place without first eyeing the exit, and I’m always looking at people aware of suspicious behaviors. Los Angeles is a magnate for the “unusual” so at some point it takes a lot of faith just to leave the house.

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    • I do that too but mostly for fire and robbers. This was the first time I thought of terrorism. When I worked in human resources, that was considered an “at risk” job since you fired people and introduced unpopular policies. There were many shootings of HR employees. Now it seems like teaching is the new “at risk” job and I don’t know why.

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  5. Yes, it is a new scary world. I know when I’m not feeling good (especially if I’m in pain), I can look pretty scary. Trust me. People give me a wide berth when I look “unhappy.” You probably were right about the man. And maybe he felt too bad to stay in line right away.

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  6. It’s hard because we’ve become more aware of a couple of things. On the one hand, we hear about crime and terrorism. On the other hand, we’re warned about prejudice and profiling. It’s hard to decide whether we’re overly influenced by one thing or the other or whether we’re making a reasonable assessment.

    I grew up in a small town, which may be why I usually fall on the side of trusting people. Our gardener in the Philippines used a machete, so I don’t mind machetes. But guns make me uncomfortable. During the period of Martial Law, we saw lots of guns in the Philippines, many of them assault rifles in the hands of very young, poorly trained men.

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  7. It’s a tough judgment call these days. We’re often very hard on those who decide not to pursue a suspicion (law enforcement mostly, but still others such as neighbors, etc.). But sometimes we have to stick with a gut decision not to do something too. – Marty

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  8. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one on alert since most people are buried in their phones. One thing I’ve learned on my patrols is that even the most “normal” looking people are capable of raising eyebrows.
    We should get cute uniforms and be the new Cagney & Lacy.

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  9. My mother and I were sitting in McDonalds parking lot a few years back when the guy beside us stuck a high powered rifle out the window and started aiming at people. Luckily my car was still running, so I threw it into reverse and put the pedal to the floor as he aimed the gun at the mall across the street. Before I had a chance to make any decision, he pulled the gun back in the window and tore out of the parking lot. No mass shooting occurred, and he was probably some bozo checking out his new gun. (I’m not anti-gun, but this fool shouldn’t have had one!)
    I often look back and wonder, if he had started shooting, what would I have done. What should I have done to save the lives of innocent people, and could I have done it without endangering my elderly mother? It’s a question that sticks with me.

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  10. Right after 9/11, I went to Walmart and the electricity went out. My first thought was that terrorists were attacking Walmart. 🙂 Actually, they could probably do more damage to Americans by wiping out our Walmarts and Starbucks than anything else. LOL Right now my concern is more for a nuclear disaster than a bomb.

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  11. Hi Kate, it is another world now. As a kid growing playing in the street, even by myself, was normal. Now you twitch at every stranger. I think however the one things you have to go with is gut feel and not predigest. Because, even our own children are being turned against us within the ranks of some of the terrorist organisations. So appearance is nothing to go by.

    I think focus on what is out of the normal, what makes you question someone. Now you asked what would I do. Discretely tell the shop owner, or head staff. Do not make a scene. If it was someone about to hold up the place or blow it up, they may be sitting there questioning if they should or shouldn’t and by making a scene they may panic and rush ahead with it.

    I once saw a guy walking down the street carting a machete in his hand. If it was innocent , then you would not carry it exposed and by the handle. So I called the police and told them what I saw.

    They guy was arrested and was on the News that night. My action may have saved a life that day.

    Stay safe. have fun, be yourself, but trust your instincts .

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  12. With everything that’s going on and in the “foreground” today, I’d suggest that you have been “primed.” Like a pump. You take in and measure details differently than you would have done a year or two ago. These days you are looking through a different set of eyes. Pre-coffee eyes, to boot.

    Sometimes, I experience an emotional/intellectual misfire and I respond much more strongly than I would “normally.” I feel more vulnerable – like I feel in the middle of the night when I’ve been startled awake. Though it’s day time and I feel compelled to intervene. But something holds me back. Fortunately, my suspicions have never proved correct, and it would *seem* that my better senses prevailed.

    Back in my college days as a student teacher, I did follow through when I saw and reported what I thought was child abuse. The child protection agency suggested it was just a harried couple trying to do the best they could. That I had maybe over-reacted. Did I? I’ll never know. Was I primed? Certainly.

    Did you over-react? Impossible to say.

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  13. “These baristas are my friends. We’ve been together through S’mores and chestnut praline lattes.” LOL

    I think about it every time I am in a crowd now, and I don’t even have to see anyone suspicious. They aren’t always noticeable. We definitely do live in a different world. 😦

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  14. Such an uncomfortable world we live in. Do you remember when we were in elementary school and we had air-raid drills? To this day I still don’t understand (and did not even back then) how going under our desk, or standing in the hall facing the wall with our arm over the back of our neck would save us from the “bomb”. But it was so frightening that I can even today reach out and feel the wall in front of me! I wonder if there are any kind of drills for children in school today?

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    • I went to a small parochial grade school. We didn’t have drills. The nuns said God would protect us. So far so good. I do remember the fear of Russian bombs though. That was at the height of the cold war. People had bomb shelters in their homes. Wonder if that would have really worked.

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  15. I would have picked up on him with his sullen and gloominess and when he sat down and didn’t order anything my mind would have already been on alert and thinking of options. I think that it is good to be aware… as most of the commenters here have said, it is a different world.

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  16. We live in a very different world so it’s natural to have a thought like that. The reality is…no one has to look middle eastern or have any other threatening look based on stereotypes. Now terrorists lionlike your neighbors or baristas. It’s a very different world.

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  17. I would hope that I would do exactly as you did. Be VERY aware of my surroundings and attempt to analyze the situation with a cool head. It’s sad that our world has come to this. I’m fairly certain that if something dicey would have happened, the first thing you would have done is try to protect that child. Have a great, uneventful day! ~ Lynn

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  18. I live across the street from a middle school, and on my walks with my dogs I go by an elementary school. Once I saw a white male carrying a long package, heading for the elementary school gates. My antennae pinged, and it took me a second to realize why — there a plenty of moms and dads going into the school, but all are clearly attached to children. And then there are plenty of unattached women going into the school alone, but somehow their clothing/ demeanor identify them as parent/ volunteer or teachers, aides, etc. This guy had no badge and no kid — totally out of place.

    His demeanor was very relaxed, and so I did not let my “I love EVERYONE!” dog jump on him and knock the package out of his hand. But it made me think about how quickly my mind went to “Danger! Danger! White male approaching a school!” I mean, the guy could totally have been a young, normal dad with some project a kid forgot, but for a minute, all I could see was Newtown.

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  19. I’m not sure my mind would have gravitated to a “terrorist threat” under the circumstances. Usually when I see people who look like they lost their best friend, I try to cheer them up. Sometimes it works because they are just “lost in their thoughts” and need to be returned to the present moment.

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    • He didn’t look like he lost his best friend. He looked like he hated people (if that’s a look at all). The size and contents of the bag are what calmed me down although I know nothing about explosives. He didn’t look homeless but he didn’t come with a car. I only saw that after he left. I’m a lot more like you. I was very surprised that I got freaked out.

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  20. It’s sad that these thoughts even come into our minds and unfair for Middle Eastern people, but unfortunately, it’s the way it is because of what’s happening in the world and what we see on the news. I’ve been in the same situation and it’s very uncomfortable. ❤

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