“I Only Talk to People Like Me!”

I love exploring cities on foot and can happily spend a dozen hours or more walking a new city or a place I haven’t been for a while.

My walks have allowed me to get to know hundreds of cities around the world and meet thousands of people and, over the years with the help of locals, I’ve discovered coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants. shops, gardens, museums and galleries I would have never experienced. Some of the people I’ve met have become lifelong friends.

Wherever I’ve been, I’ve always felt welcome and safe and when, on rare occasions, the hair on my arms has bristled as a potential sign of danger, I’ve simply moved along and gotten myself to safety.

So, last weekend, when I found myself in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a day off before a speech to the leadership of a Fortune 100 company, I decided to explore a city I hadn’t visited in ten years and what a place it’s turned out to be. Skyscrapers soar, construction cranes hover and hum, old buildings have been given new life, art and culture abounds and that day, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, filled the streets of the Fourth Ward celebrating a warm winter’s day in t-shirts, shorts and jeans. Everyone was smiling and laughing, happily carrying on and sampling street food from the many food trucks. I smiled to myself and thought, “What a city this has become!”

My joyful thoughts were interrupted when a man’s voice called out, “Hey would you like to meet a Muslim?”

I turned around and saw three clean cut young men holding a sign inviting me to engage in conversation. I walked over and offered the only Arabic greeting I could remember, “As-salaam alaykum,” which means, “peace be with you.”

For the next twenty minutes we shared our life stories, talked about places we’d been, what we do for a living and what we hope to get out of life. And, as you suspect, they all wanted the same things I’ve always wanted; health, family, success, security, good friends and lots of love.

As our conversation wound down, I asked if I could take a picture and get a selfie with them and they delightfully obliged.

As I said goodbye and wished them well, I turned and was stopped in my tracks by a sullen looking guy in his mid-fifties, who rather menacingly said, “What the hell were you doing talking to them. You’re no GD Muslim!”

I replied in a friendly way that my motto is to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime about anything, explaining that I like engaging with people. 

He said, “You’re friggin stupid and that bunch should go back to where they came from.

I calmly explained to him that, ‘that bunch’ are accomplished professionals, were very nice and most importantly, they’re from here.

My answer wasn’t good enough and he hatefully spewed, “I don’t care if they were born here, I still want them out!”

I smiled and asked if I could get a selfie with him like he’d seen me get one with the guys and his response was, “I’m not having my picture taken with a GD Muslim lover,” adding, “now, get out of my GD way, I have to get on my bus,” and he angrily stomped away to board his bus.

I stood there stunned for a few minutes trying to digest what had just taken place and walked away with a few thoughts:

  • I guess Charlotte should be happy that if the guy was on a bus tour he wasn’t from there.
  • When he was in Sunday School, didn’t this guy learn John 15:12, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”
  • I sure love walking the streets of cities; it allows you to keep your pulse on what’s really going on and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad.
  • Later, when I spent some time on the company’s website I learned that it promises that customers will be traveling with likeminded people. Is that code? I hope that isn’t the case. 

For the record I’m a Christian, a lifelong Lutheran, member of St. Mark’s Lutheran in San Francisco, and worshipped the next morning at another St. Marks, this one in Charlotte, where I offered up a prayer for this unhappy man.   

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