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Wilton, CT

December 2003

My first business trip was to Wilton, CT. It was somewhat anticlimactic, since I was scheduled to spend a week in San Francisco for the company a couple weeks away. My boss at the time had insisted that I represent our group for a big project in Wilton. I decided to head up there the night before because there was no way I was going to make it up there on my own in the morning. In the end it was nothing particularly exciting or relevant. The memory of it stays with me years later because of what happened the night I arrived.

When I got off the commuter rail, it was dark and cold. I had no idea where I was or how to get to where I was supposed to be. Dozens of people got off the train, mostly white, middle-aged suburbanites, all with some sort of direction. I was profoundly uncomfortable. This was made worse when I found that, not only wasn't there an ATM or a taxi stand at this station, but the waiting area was closed and no one was working there. My cell phone was very close to totally self-destructing on me, but I managed to call information and guess at a taxi company to come get my ass from another town away.

With no shelter and no concept of how long I'd be waiting or if I had enough money on me to cover the cost, I watched the suburbanites walk to their cars or get picked up. I watched with a sort of envy of their sense of place. There was also a bit of fear, or at least uneasiness. I was acutely aware of being a young, black man in a strange town in the suburbs. White folks move to places like this to get away from people like me, or at least their perception of who people like me are. This is what was going through my mind as I loitered outside at the train station. I avoided eye contact and paced nervously.

A White Jeep Cherokee drove up from the back of the lot and started in the direction the rest of the cars had gone, out of the lot. It stopped. It was still facing my direction. I tried to ignore it and paced some more, hoping that the cab would suddenly appear. The Jeep eventually pulled off and headed out. I felt relieved that I was at least alone. I didn't have to feel quite so self-conscious about so obviously not belonging there. A minute later, I see headlights coming at me from the direction all the cars had gone. I crossed my fingers, hoping for the cab. It was the Jeep.

Worse than being alone in a strange place and surrounded by strangers, is being alone in a strange place with only one stranger. I tried not to freak out. This wasn't Alabama, I wasn't afraid of getting lynched or beaten. But I am from New York and an unknown quantity is not something to take for granted.

Not getting too close, the Jeep pulled up across from me. Slowly the window rolled down. Behind it, a middle-aged black man in a suit emerged.
"Are you ok? Do you need a ride or anything?" he asked.
Flush with relief and embarrassment, I smiled. I assured him that I was waiting for a cab and thanked him for his concern.

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