I was exploring one of our people’s great cities, a place called Atlanta. A few years earlier, Atlanta had hosted our Olympic Games, celebrating the best in athletic competition between our nations. By this time, this part of Atlanta, near Olympic Park, had gone dangerously to seed. That might give you an idea of how quickly we let some things pass.
I found a free parking space in front of a church. Happy to get something for nothing, I pulled in, got out, and took a jolly walk in the noonday light of our sun.
A man standing nearby saw me getting out and approached. I couldn’t tell his age – whatever it was, he looked rough for it. He asked me for a cigarette.
No. I quit smoking. That’s a nasty habit some of us have, but I kicked it, and I was proud of that.
The man then asked me for money.
I had about two bucks in my wallet, but I didn’t tell him about this. I told him I didn’t have any money.
He pulled out a small gun. He asked, “Now do you have any money?”
Here you go, sir. It’s not much, but it’s all I have. Pleasure doing business with you.
The problem was that this guy had seen me get out of my car. He knew I had an ATM card, which is something we carry that allows us to get more money out of a bank, where we store it for safe keeping. He suggested we go for a ride.
You know how you have complete control of this situation, and you can do whatever you want with me according to your whimsy? I’m not trying to be hostile – that’s just how things are between us right now. This is how things were between this guy from Atlanta and me. So I followed his directions.
I quickly realized that this guy didn’t know exactly where he wanted to go. He led me all around the more seedy areas of Atlanta, at one point making a full square with four turns around the same four blocks, with no result.
It was a painfully awkward situation for me, and I guess he felt it, too. He tried to make small talk. He asked me questions. Where was I from? What did I do? Did I have any family?
There wasn’t much trust between us, I’m afraid, and his anxiety was right on the surface. “You’re lying to me, man,” he said, over and over, in response to all my answers. He seemed convinced that I was either an undercover cop, trolling for sex, or both. He mentioned both of these assumptions in ways that made me even more uneasy.
We pulled into a drive-thru ATM. I told him I had $40 in my bank account, which was about half true – it was closer to $80. I withdrew that and gave it to him. He yelled at the bank teller that he thought she was beautiful.
I thought it was over, but the man had somewhere else he wanted to be then. So our adventure continued.
At this point, my mind was floating far away. I was thinking about ice cream, about warm summer days far away in North Carolina, swimming in a manmade lake near the place where I had lived until I was old enough to fend for myself.
He started asking the same series of getting-to-know-you questions he had asked before. As a token gesture of openness, I removed my sunglasses, as I’m doing now, for you.
“See,” he said, “now the truth is coming out, man.”
We explored Atlanta for another hour or so. I didn’t know what destination he had in mind and he didn’t seem to know where it was. But with his gun, he retained control of the situation.
After a time, it became clear that he was getting almost as frustrated as I was, and, as I mentioned, his emotions were a lot closer to the surface.
“You ain’t done nothing for me, man,” he said at one point. I don’t recall the precise context, but when he said that, it pissed me off.
“I think I’ve done a lot for you,” I said. “I think I’ve been helpful. I think I’ve been as kind as I can be, considering. Give me some fucking credit, man.” Feeling a lot more calm now, I waited for the bang and for everything to go blank.
“You know,” he said, after a moment, “you’re right, man.”
After a bit more chit-chat — he advised me to carry my wallet in my front pocket, not my back, from now on, so it would be less easy to steal — we arrived at the place he wanted to be. He got out and gave me his parting words: “God bless you, man.”