What the Hell is Happening in America?

Surrounded by familiarity, it is easy to become complacent and complacency will put a target squarely in the middle of your back!

What the Hell is Happening in America?More and more often I find myself asking, “What the Hell is happening in America!?!”

I took my daughter to Jacksonville for some girl time and to catch some after Christmas sales while my husband and his friends were off to the Gator Bowl. There is a shopping center on Atlantic Avenue near Regency Square Mall we like to visit because there is a Books A Million and Plato’s Closet there, stores we don’t have here on Amelia Island. After visiting a variety of stores we put our packages in the trunk and hopped into the car to head to the mall.

As soon as I locked our doors, a middle aged woman tapped on my driver’s side window. I let the window down slightly and she began to tell of her misfortunate morning. She had left the house and forgot her wallet and had no money for gas to return home. I asked which car was her’s and she pointed to a van. This woman did not look like your typical scam artist or panhandler, but because I had my daughter in the car I quickly handed her three dollars and wished her a “Happy New Year.” Then I handed my daughter my camera and directed her to snap a picture of the lady as I drove us away from the scam artist. As we reviewed the incident, my daughter admitted she would have given the woman money if I had not. “You see,” I explained. “This is not the first time I have been approached by a stranger with a similar story, and in this same parking lot.”

“What the Hell is happening in America!?!”

Instead of a planned day of fun with my teenaged daughter, our special day turned into “Valuable Lesson Time With Mommy.” Not quite what I had on the agenda for this chilly, January day. My kids know I lock the doors the minute we are in the car and that I would never roll my window all the way down for a complete stranger. I have explained all of this to them before. I have warned them about the dangerous prose of a brother in need. If my window had been let all of the way down, it would have been very easy for her to have snatched my purse and fled. With my seatbelt securely fastened, she would have had just enough of an advantage to hop in her get-away car and flee with my purse.

As I exited the parking lot I got a little angrier and I again asked aloud, “What the Hell is happening in America?”

My daughter added, “She appeared so sincere with her plea for assistance.”

“Doing a good deed is supposed to make you feel good; you should never feel threatened. That girl was a bit too pushy! Trust your gut. If something feels wrong, well, it probably is. Do you remember our trip to Kentucky?” I asked.

Immediately, she was reminded of an event that happened a couple of years ago at a family reunion in Kentucky. My daughter was entertaining her young nephew by pushing him around a big box store in the shopping buggy. A woman, with three young kids in tow, was trying to fix a display they had apparently knocked over in the baby section of the store. My daughter helped the woman put the items back on the shelves and they parted ways. My daughter told me about the event as we headed to the check out counter. Standing in line, she realized her purse was missing. She ran back to where she had helped the woman thinking maybe she set her purse down, but it wasn’t there. My husband checked with customer service and no one had turned in a purse. I parked myself at the store’s exit while some family members retraced our steps and others proceeded through the check out lane. Sure enough, here comes a woman departing the store with three children and what do I see in her shopping cart? Under a large bag of purchases was my daughter’s little wicker purse with large, colorful flowers.

“What the Hell is happening in America!?!”

I dialed my husband’s cell phone and told him that I was heading into the parking lot to confront the woman. I know that may not have been the best idea, but at that moment, that is what I did. Besides, I knew my husband was on his way.

The woman was putting her purchases in the back of her van and her oldest child was strapping the youngest into a carseat as I raced up to her and demanded the purse be returned. She obliged without incident as I shouted in front of her children, “What is wrong with you to steal from a child?”

“What the Hell is happening in America!?!”

As I walked back towards the store I could only wonder, “Why would this woman create a diversion to steal from a teenager? What message was she sending to her own children?” Then I realized, she could not have pulled off the scam without her children being in on the act. I was so angry I was shaking in my boots. My husband dealt with bystanders offering to call the police and at that moment I just wanted to get out of Kentucky and go back home to Amelia Island.

Here, at home in Fernandina Beach, most of us know each other. After living here for well over 20 years, I usually feel safe. Surrounded by familiarity, it is easy to become complacent and complacency will put a target squarely in the middle of your back!

…but wait, there’s more:
The weekend following our trip to Jacksonville, we had some guests visiting us at home. Late in the evening, close to midnight, a woman comes to the door asking for gas money. Really? In my Fernandina Beach neighborhood? At midnight? She explained that she needed gas money to get home. OMG! My home is in a fairly secluded neighborhood, certainly not on your way to or from a gas station. She claimed to do landscaping work for one of my neighbor’s. I asked her for the name of the landscaping company, which I recognized, so I gave her $5.00. As we sat there with our company, we were simply astonished that this woman was bold enough to come to the door at midnight asking for money. Why was she in the neighborhood this late? She certainly was not cutting grass or pulling weeds!

“What the Hell is happening in America!?!”

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    None of this is a surprise in many countries I’ve been to or lived in. It’s called easy money comes to those who brazenly exploit without conscious. I remember a young man in Barcelona sitting tailor style on a square piece of plywood with for shopping cart wheels underneath. He moved the sidewalk of a busy shopping street by pushing himself forward, all the while collecting money from ignorant shoppers with a compassionate guilt. When there was a lull in traffic, he quickly got up on his feet, ran across the road, sat down on his board and continued his scam on the other side of the street’s sidewalk.! Next time someone comes with a story about gas money…ask them to show their wallet. See what happens!

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