A few times a week, I like to go on a walk before I start my work day. Yesterday, I went on a hike. I told my boss I was going to be in by 9:00am. All the stars aligned and I got to work at 8:15am. I decided to go on a short walk. I went into the residential side of Westwood, where beautiful gardens and high rises on Wilshire Boulevard. surround multi-million dollar homes.
I said good morning to a woman walking her dog. She looked at me up and down. I looked at myself to see what she found so offensive. I had showered and changed into my work clothes at the gym, so I was more than presentable in my Ann Taylor dress and Banana Republic flats. I looked at her and said “have a nice day” and kept on walking.
“Excuse me” she said, I turned back.
“What house do you work at?” I looked around me to make sure she was talking to me.
The woman, probably in her fifties, was walking a small, fluffy white poodle. Her black velour track suit, over styled hair and heavy jewelry was suffocating.
“I don’t work in a house.” I said. She took her bedazzled phone out of her gold fanny pack.
“Then, what are you doing around here?” She asked, with slight Persian accent.
“I’m taking a walk before I go to work” I said deciding to engage her and not let her ruin my day.
“You just said you don’t work in a house” she said, raising one of her stenciled eyebrows.
Her bracelets jingled as she pulled the leash back. The little poodle was trying to get away, his little paws tapping the pavement as he tried to get his owner to move.
I point to my office building. “I work there, on the twenty second floor, do you work in one of these houses?” I asked.
She gulped a large chunk of air, almost choking, her eyes opened so wide they almost bulged out of their sockets.
“I don’t work, I live around here. I’m part of the neighborhood watch group.” She said, her coral lipstick spread over her front teeth.
“Oh, I thought you were the dog walker.” I said, smiling. “I’m also part of my neighborhood watch group and it is problematic when my neighbors profile and make assumptions about people out for a walk.”
She interrupted me. “You thought I was a dog walker? Do I look like a dog walker?” I knew I would piss her off but this was telenovela worthy melodrama.
“Well, you are walking and you have a dog, my mistake. Have a nice day.” I said, patting myself on the back for making her clutch the chunky rhinestones of her fat necklace.
My smugness was short lived when I thought about what had transpired and how different that encounter could have been for someone else. I decided to have fun at this woman’s expense because I could; I was light skinned enough, well dressed enough, legal enough, educated enough and I belonged enough.
I don’t take things like my job, my family, my health, my home or my friends for granted but I sometimes forget how much privilege I have.