Dear Redwood City

15 Nov

Dear Redwood City,

My friend E and I were trying to see Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond movie at your brand-spanking-new theater last night.  Turns out the 8:30 and the 9:30 were sold out, and we froze for a moment as we stood in front of the guy trying to sell us tickets and move on with his life.  Then we realized we were big kids and could probably handle staying up until 10:30.  We bought tickets and went for ice cream. 

So when we walked out of the ice cream shop, we saw a Scene like no Scene I’ve seen in a while.  Talk about skinny jeans, teal-colored tights, high-top converse, oversized necklaces and graphic-print hoodies.  There was about a cafeteria’s worth of high school kids hanging out on the sidewalk.  They were pushing each other and flirting with and ignoring each other and generally wanting each other. 

I asked E if the Scene was the Black, Hispanic, or Asian Scene—because in my high school, it was definitely a Split Scene.

I don’t know, she said, I think it’s all of them—welcome to California.

I’m scared, I intoned.  And I live in Seattle—so you know I’m used to diversity. (Plus, I just voted for Barack Obama, so….you know what that means…I can’t be racist!  It’s fullproof!)

Look, there are some cops on the corner, she said.  Do you feel better?

No!  They’re dark too!  I said.  Ahhh…let’s go back to Stanford, being surrounded by all that privilege and breathing overachievement in the air makes me feel waaaaay safer.  (Actually, I am often scared of cops.  ‘Cause men need uniforms, name tags, and guns to feel powerful… And you knew they were feeling useful ‘cause they were on a corner in Redwood City at 8:45 pm on a Friday night surrounded by teenagers trying to find excuses to touch each other.  So clearly something good was going to come of this, right?)

Three minutes later we were sitting on a bench around the corner, not really noticing a group of six or so teenage boys wearing all black who were just standing around about ten feet away.  We were probably talking about boys (hey, I said we’re big kids, not adults).  And a minute and a half later, two of the six were sitting on the bench with the two cops standing over them, their friends shooed down the block. 

Wait, what?  I asked.  What did they do?  Touch that BMW?

E sighed.  I don’t know. 

I think I’ve seen this before, I said.  No, no!  I’ve read it.  Or dreamt it.  No, I dreamt it, and then woke up and read it.  The cops are manifesting their anger about the radical internalization of racism.  Or maybe I’ve seen it before…

E laughed some more.  That’s the thing.  We have read it, and now we’re watching it.

We were quiet as we watched the two boys hand over their licenses, the cops ask them if they’re 18, the boys keep still at either end of the bench.

Why do they care if they’re eighteen?  Do you think they’d notice if I touched the BMW?  What if I danced on it? 

E laughed.  Well, I’m glad you think I’m funny, I said.  I can’t believe we’re watching this, she said.  I don’t think it’s funny, she said, just really uncomfortable that we’re actually watching this happen.  Maybe it’s cigarettes.

Some of the friends had wandered back and stood by our bench.  One of the cops shined a flashlight on a license, and then they just took up positions behind the boys and waited, hands on radios.

E’s eyebrows dove downward.  I don’t think it’s even illegal to smoke at eighteen, just to purchase, she said.

Shh, I said, leaning and trying to hear the group of friends.  He didn’t even want a smoke, one of the friends said.  He just wanted to try it.  Stupid.  Yep, I said, cigarettes.

The cops tapped one of the boys on the shoulder and just like that, the kid was gone.  Nowhere to be seen.  The other one slowly stood up and tossed a box in a nearby trashcan.  A second and a half later, he fished it out at the cops’ instruction and tapped the cigarettes out, dropped them individually back in the trash.  He shuffled toward us and the whole group near our bench disappeared.  The cops went back to their corner. 

Two middle-aged white ladies walked up to the BMW.  Some kids touched your car, I muttered.  But don’t worry, the cops took care of it. 

E lost it.  We white liberal 20somethings do appreciate making fun of our own awareness.  (It’s our paralysis that makes us fall silent and stay that way.) 

We threw our ice cream cups in after the cigarettes.  Forty-five minutes later, we watched a group of late 20somethings jostle for seats in the crowded theater.  The girls were in dresses, the men in tuxes.  What is this, Harry Potter? I thought. 

One very handsome Black man in a tux yelled at his friend, we just elected a Black man president, you can save me a seat in a movie theater! 

It didn’t happen.

Ten minutes later, after shuffling around a lot, somehow the group now had six people instead of two without seats.

Luckily, the theater security guards were on hand and, by getting involved and asking everybody a lot of questions about what the problem was, the movie only started five minutes late. 

So, in conclusion, Redwood City, I just want to thank you for my evening out.  And the overwhelming presence of your authority figures.  I want to thank them for keeping things under control.  Those badges really made me feel safe. 

It’s the seventeen-year old boys trying to look like they weren’t looking at the girls in teal-colored tights that made me nervous.  And the cigarettes!  Wow, those things are dangerous.  Good looking out. 




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