The traffic was thick in the city. Skies were clear, and the asphalt, hot enough to cook an egg. In a small neighbor hood in the southern city of Atlanta, people from OPT (outside the perimeter) were swarming into town to shop, drink, and take in the “weirdos” of Little Five Points.
A red Nissan Altima turned off the street and into a parking lot that ran in-front of a strip of shops.
“How ya doin’ guys?” asked a young man as he approached the driver-side window of the vehicle as it pulled in, “Where ya heading to?”
A colorful badge hung off the collar of his baby blue golf shirt. It had his photo, a red and blue logo, and said Little Five Parking across the bottom. The collared shirt and badge made him look official and being a regular looking young white guy, was trusted by most of the other white middle class people visiting the popular shopping neighbor hood. The man driving the car looked over at his girlfriend in the passenger seat and then back to the parking guy.
“I think we’re gonna be heading to the coffee shop,” he pointed straight ahead, “probably hit up Junkman’s Daughter,” he pointed to the shop next to the coffee shop, “and then we’ll probably walk around the neighbor hood. She wants to get a look at all the cool graffiti.”
“Awesome, it’s just gonna be five bucks to park.”
The driver pulled out his wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill and handed it to the young man. He held the bill up to the sun for a quick second to make sure it was real and then turned his back to the car and pulled out a thick wad of cash and then back to the driver to hand him his change.
“Thanks,” said the driver, “It’s super hot out here. I feel for ya, man. You want anything from the liquor store?” he pointed to the end of the strip.
“If you’re buying, I’d love a shot of Fireball. They’ve got cold ones in the cooler. You can park anywhere around back,” said the parking attendant pointing back towards the rear of the coffee shop.
When car pulled away the parking attendant walked back over to plastic lawn chair underneath an umbrella and sat down. He pulled his synthetic straw hat from his head and wiped the sweat from his brow. He stroked his thin mustache and watched the cars on the street in front of him roll by. He glanced down the length of the lot towards another taller and more tan young white guy in a baby blue shirt. He unclipped a walkie talkie from his waist and held it to his mouth. “Hey Ray, how’s it going down on the busy end?”
Oh you know, Charlie, just checking out the babes and talking to RC about the time he went to jail for kidnapping someone.
“He’s told me that one a thousand times. How much did they pay him to kidnap the guy this time?”
Twenty grand. Goes up every time I hear it.
“Next he’s gonna be telling you how he was a marine even though he got kicked out right after boot camp. Hey, I’gonna walk around back and take another shot. B.R.B.”
The walkie talkie chirped in response. Charlie pushed himself up and out of the plastic chair and grabbed a skateboard that leaned against the umbrella. He jogged a couple steps, threw down the skateboard and jumped on top of it, rolling back behind the store where the red Nissan had gone a few moments before. Once he had gotten to the back of the build he pretended to look for tickets on the dash board of the cars and then, when the coast was clear, pulled a small plastic shot bottle of Fireball from his pocket and emptied it with one gulp. He burped and then threw the bottle into the bushes where it landed next to a pile of other small bottles. Just then, from the other end of the row of cars, strolled a well dressed lean dark skinned black man carrying a small gym bag. He made eye contact with Charlie and then nodded.
“Hey Charlie, my man. Let me talk at cha for a sec.”
Charlie, about to hop back on the skateboard paused and waited for the man to approach.
“What’s up Chicago?” said Charlie, “How you doin’?”
They grabbed hands and patted each other on the back. Charlie wiped the sweat that dripped from Chicago’s hand on his shorts.
“Hey man, I just got back from visiting my family and I don’t have enough to pay the taxi. He’s just over there,” he point to a back street that ran beyond a row of tall overgrown bushes, “Let hold ten.”
He looked straight at Chicago’s always-blood-shot eyes and said, “Man, you know I can’t. This is Lot money.”
“Come on. I’ve paid you back all the other times, aint I?”
“Yeah, that’s true. Hold on.”
Charlie turned his back and then pulled the wad of cash from his pocket. At this point in the day it was a couple hundreds, a few fives and some ones. He hated running out of change because that meant he had to go across the street and ask the pizza joint, which didn’t really like running out of change either.
“Man, all I have is big bills,” Charlie said.
“How bout this. You let me hold one and I’ll get change and bring it right back? Come on, man, you know I’m good for it.”
The sun reflected off of Chicago’s heavily greased hair causing Charlie to squint. He needed the change and something about Chicago always intimidated him.
“Maaan. Alright.” He pulled a hundred from his pocket and handed it to Chicago who grabbed it greedily.
“Thanks man. I’ll be right back.”
He turned away and strutted back the way he had come. Charlie stood where he was and waved to a car as it parked. Minutes went by and Chicago had still not returned. Charlie began to walk to the way Chicago had left but then heard the radio chirp to life.
Hey Charlie, where you at? It’s getting busy out here. I just saw like three cars pull in on your end. Red one, a blue one, and maybe an Audi.
“Yeah yeah.” replied Charlie. He threw down his skate board and rolled back to the front of the parking lot taking one last look over his shoulder to see if Chicago was making his way back but was nowhere in sight.
Charlie didn’t see Chicago again that day. In fact he didn’t see him for the whole weekend. He didn’t mention anything to Ray but instead told himself that Chicago had just missed him somehow and would get him back the next weekend. But Chicago didn’t show up the next weekend either. Or the weekend after that. By this time Charlie realized what had happened. He had been warned about Chicago form his boss.
“That guy’s a piece of shit”, the heavily tattooed gay guy had told him a few weeks into working on the parking lot.
But Chicago was friendly and full of conversation and had always shown respect. Charlie enjoyed that respect. It went a long way with the other street-people and homeless in the neighborhood. They knew and respected the “food chain” and Chicago was higher than most on said chain. For a young white guy, this meant he blended in became a part of the scene; trusted and reasoned with.
It was a couple months before Chicago showed back up. He strutted down the parking lot in front of the shops and toward Charlie underneath his umbrella. When he saw Chicago he stood up from the plastic chair.
“Yo Chicago, you got that money?”
“Aw man. I just got outta jail. I’ll get you next week.”
Charlie relaxed a little bit. The lapse in time had been justified and the two would soon be square.
“Alright man, get me next week.”
“Hey Charlie” said Chicago, “Anyway I could hold a five.”
Charlie laughed a little bit, “Hell no, man. Get outta here.”
The next week when Chicago strolled by again, he still didn’t have the money. Again, he asked for some change and “no” was again the answer. Charlie began to feel he would never get all his money back. When Chicago, again asked for another five dollars Charlie said, “Listen, I’m gonna give you this five right now but you gotta bring me at least fifty bucks back next time and then we’ll call it even, alright.”
“Alright man, I got chew.”
It’s settled Charlie’s thought. But the next weekend, again Chicago had an excuse for not having the money.
“Fuck you, man. Get out of here. Don’t come back on this lot or I’ll call the cops,” said Charlie, shaking with anger.
Chicago glared over his shoulder as he began to walk away.
But it wasn’t long before Charlie saw Chicago again, but this time he didn’t approach and didn’t ask for money. Instead, he just glared from the sidewalk as he walked by, Charlie looking away to avoid eye contact.