Archived Story

‘Hoodlum’ stereotype proves false

Published 11:57am Thursday, September 1, 2011

A couple of months ago I took my son to a car show in Montgomery. Going to these types of events is something we’ve been doing for quite some time now. We both love looking at custom automobiles and even studying them to a certain extent in order to get some ideas about what we’re going to do on our next project.

In many ways this particular show was much like ones we’ve attended in the past, other than the fact it was outdoors and very hot. So hot, in fact, I was miserable. The heat coming off the pavement where the cars were parked was almost overwhelming.

As we stumbled around looking for something to drink, my mood began to sour. As the minutes passed (which felt like hours to me), looking at all the fine automobiles surrounding us became less and less important. I simply wanted to go home and cool off as quickly as possible.

At that moment my son directed my attention over to a display stand where a group of teenagers were selling power bands. Now, my son had been begging me for months to buy him one of these things. They’re supposed to give the person “lucky” enough to wear one better balance, posture and a general sense of well-being.

I think these claims are a bunch of nonsense. But, since my son really wanted one, I walked over to the stand to check on the price. As I approached, I noticed all of the teens looked pretty rough. Their appearance was gangster-rapper in nature. They were speaking urban slang, which I really didn’t understand. And yes, they were all black.

I immediately stopped in my tracks, thinking I really didn’t want to deal with people that might pull a knife on me. After all, that’s the stereotype, isn’t it? Regardless of these thoughts, my son’s constant protestations for one of these things prodded me over to the stand to inquire about the cost, which I quickly learned was ten dollars.

My mouth fell wide open. I couldn’t believe they wanted ten dollars for such a cheap looking, ridiculous thing. I loudly stated I wasn’t interested and turned around and walked off, thinking these guys might not have pulled a knife, but they’re trying to rob me all the same.

Then, something unexpected happened.

One of the teens working the stand began to follow us. After a few yards, I quickened our pace, thinking this guy must be some kind of nutcase out for blood. After following us for a while, he suddenly burst into a full sprint and caught up with us. Expecting the worst, I turned around to see what he was going to do.

As I looked him in the eye, he began to smile. He promptly took off the power band he was wearing and gave it to my son, saying, “Your son can have mine, I don’t mind.” Without saying anything else, he turned back around and disappeared into the crowd.

I was shocked. Expecting an uncomfortable confrontation with a young gangster-rapper hoodlum, I got nothing but kindness from someone who actually cared about my son’s feelings, even though on the surface we’re very different people. Turns out, we’re not so different after all.

Life is funny. Sometimes it can spin you around and challenge your preconceptions in a heartbeat. I experienced such a moment when that young man reached out to us on that hot afternoon.

I guess what people say about those power bands is true after all – they really can give you a general sense of well-being.

Roger Steele is general manager and advertising director of The Outlook.