Few cars pulled up to the gas station that night with the brightly lit sign. It was 2 a.m., after all. If a major highway near Columbus, Ohio, hadn’t been unexpectedly closed, my family probably would not have stopped by either. We were on our way to Boston, in part so the children could experience firsthand the sites of early American history. Concord. Lexington. Bunker Hill. Old North Church. But with three kids in the car, potty breaks became as frequent as the static on distant radio stations. So we took a nearby exit.
Husbands tend to always get fuel when they make a pit stop even if it’s not truly needed. Mine is no exception. As he swore to himself at the pump about the slow processing of his debit card, my oldest and I walked up to the 1970s-style store. The night was sticky warm and a short line had gathered in front of a window, the only opening into the shop. On the other side, a man ran around gathering chips or Cokes or cigarettes for the customers. Toward the back, we waited as well.
And that’s when I noticed we were the only white people around.
If a society is truly devoid of racism, most of us wouldn’t have picked up on this fact so quickly. Impartial observation is one thing. Yet the awareness of the situation is never the problem. It’s the feelings that come along with it.
Deep down inside there was a rumbling that I ought to be afraid.
Now I’m no racist. At least I don’t think I am. After a second, the thought dissipated into the humid sky and I was back to smiling and laughing and talking with the people in that line. But still, for a brief instance, something bad bubbled to my mind’s surface. And I’m ashamed of that.