Black in Portland: An Act of Social Justice, Wrestlemania Weekend Edition
Wrestlemania weekend is sacred to me. It happens in the Spring, hovering somewhere between Easter and my birthday. As a lifelong fan of the "sport," no one who comes into my life can escape the endless quotes of my favorite characters and weekly summaries of the current storylines.
Saturday, April 2, right after Caleb Love retired Coach K by helping University of North Carolina defeat Duke in the March Madness tournament semi-final, Stone Cold Steve Austin came on stage. Wrestlemania 38 lands as a farewell to the 90s characters. The Undertaker entered the Hall of Fame on Friday. Triple H retired earlier this week. It's the end of an era. This PPV gave us a chance to say goodbye.
Inspired by the some 30 beers Stone Cold either drank, spilled or poured over Kevin Owens, I felt like drinking a beer when the first night ended. Using Google maps I located a 7/11 on Northwest Weidler and Martin Luther King Jr. This is in Portland. I was staying at a hotel, which I thought was in downtown Portland.
Because I do not live in Portland, I have the same consciousness as a visitor tourist. As I walk from the hotel to the 7/11, the streets feel like downtown. The alley and business parking lots do not feel like a residential neighborhood. It is nighttime.
As I approach the corner where the 7/11 is at, I see a Starbucks corporate version of a cart and a bus shelter. Inside the bus shelter is a houseless Black woman smoking marijuana. I can smell it as I cross to pass through the Starbucks drive parking lot.
"Hey, Brother! Do you have a dollar?"
I look up from my Wrestlemania memories to see him. He is standing there with a smile on his face, taller than me. About 6'1, maybe 6'2. He is wearing a long winter coat, black or dark brown. His dreadlocks were covered by a knitted hat. He wore jeans and tan boots. He was darker-skinned.
"Money? As in dollars?," I answer.
"All I got is my card," I say.
"Well, can you buy me some pizza?"
"7/11 pepperoni?" I exclaim.
He laughs again. "I'll see what I can do," I say.
I enter the store at approximately 8:50 PM. A short line of three people are waiting to purchase their products. Two white males are the clerks. I know they are clerks because they have name tags with logos. I visit the ATM to verify available funds.
I start surveying the store. Since it is my first time there, I do not know where any of the products I like are. I see two Black customers come in and relax.
One of the clerks is not behind the counter. He is stocking an aisle. He asks me if I need any help. I decline. To reach the beer section, I pass the white male security guard on duty.
The security guard could cosplay for Batman Junior. I thought it was overkill to have on a bulletproof vest and a belt with everything on it. (Or, this is how my memory, two days later, portrays the security guard.) He is clean cut, with a red mustache. Late 20s or early 30s in age range.
Little did I know as I reached for a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys, I would enter a "ghetto moment."
A steady stream of customers moves the clerk stocking items to behind the counter. As I enter the line, the security guard is wearing a bored look on his face.
As both clerks are now behind the counter serving customers, I want to call them Clerk Left and Clerk Right. I am in the line for Clerk Right.
To my left is the front door to the 7/11. To my right is the security guard.
Clerk Right rings up my beer. He exudes hippie vibes of non-attachment. He is just chilling to get through his shift. My chip is unreadable by the chip reader machine, so I excuse myself to actually use the ATM this time to get cash money. The clerk puts my beer aside and serves the next customer.
As I am withdrawing money, the Houseless Brother steps into the 7/11. Clerk Left immediately speaks to him.
"You're not supposed to be in here," the clerk says through plexiglass.
"I can't be in here? I was in here the other day!" the Brother exclaims.
"We had an interaction," Clerk Left says. He cups his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice and speaks under the plexiglass. "Remember our incident? We never resolved that. You can't be in here."
Confusion played across the Houseless Brother's face. I turned to hand Clerk Right my cash. He opens his till.
The security says, "Do you want him out?"
I look at Clerk Left. He nods at the security guard.
Clerk Right hands me my change in cash. While I am receiving the cash, I hear the buzz of a taser - I think - and a thud as - what I now imagine - is the security guard running into the Houseless Brother.
I turn to my left, in time to see the Brother land against a display and bounce off the window/wall. His book and backpack fly to the floor. He stutter steps to regain his footing. I put my money in my pocket.
I see the Brother change stance to brace himself. This is when I start moving between the security guard and the Houseless Brother. When I made contact with the security guard, he had grabbed the Brother's coat. I break his hold and push them apart.
The Houseless Brother is in full fight mode. He is yelling at the top of his lungs at the security guard.
"What you trying to do? You trying to kill me?!"
I try to get the Brother's attention.
The security guard starts yelling back. "You wanna kill me?"
"I'll you before me. I'll kill you!", the Houseless Brother is being held back by me.
The security guard pulls something off his belt. It has an orange bottom. I cannot make it out. I think it is mace.
"You need to calm down," I tell the security guard. I push him back, towards the beer.
I turn to the Houseless Brother, "Calm down. Get your things."
The Brother steps back from me, he stops down to get his book and backpack. I move to the right to stop the security guard from swinging at the Brother. The Brother is not struck. He steps back in response and barrels out of the store through both doors. I stopped the security guard for going after the Houseless Brother.
"You need to calm down," I say to the security man.
He returns to his post breathing heavily.
I turn to Clerk Right and retrieve my beer. In three steps, I was in front of the Houseless Brother, the 7/11 sign's light shone down on both of us. I reached into my pocket as we walked away and gave him $5.
"Thank you for saving my life in there."
"Please don't ever go into that 7/11 again," I begged him. He thanked me for the money and I stopped long enough to cut a 60 second TikTok, as a timestamp. I estimate it is 9:10 PM. I cut another TikTok for 3 minutes before returning to the hotel around 9:23 pm.
I drank a beer to calm down. Then, left the hotel to leave an order at Denny's. Rather than wait on the food, I walked back to the 7/11.
This time, as I approach the bus shelter, the houseless Sister beckons me over.
"I got banned from that 7/11 for fighting. Can you get me 2 cups of ice. I can give you the money," she asks. I decline the money and tell her I'll get the ice.
I entered 7/11 for a second time, at 10:09 PM. I do not see the security guard anywhere in the store.
I turned to Clerk Right. "Where is the security guard?"
The Clerk Right shrugged.
The Clerk left was out again from behind the counter. He told me he would find the manager.
A small white woman materialized. She started off by giving me an explanation of her absence so far in the store.
"I was in the cooler the whole time," the shift manager, as I am going to call her, said.
"Okay, I want the security guard's card. What's his name and what is the company that he works for?" I asked.
The shift manager's face changed colors. Her demeanor became defenseless. I saw a fear current ripple through her and the two clerks.
"Let me go get the manager's number," the shift manager said. She disappeared.
The two clerks protested their innocence in the whole situation. I agreed with them. I reassured them that I saw their performance as stellar. They kept their composure the entire time and did not escalate the situation, only the security guard did that.
The shift manager returned with yellow post it pad squares.
"I hesitate to give out the manager's number," she said. "I travel around to different stores."
"What is the story's number? I want some kind of contact for communication. I have been an activist for 25 years. I am about to apply to the State Commission on Black Affairs, Southern Oregon representative. I want that security guard's card."
The shift manager wrote her number on a post it. I wrote mine. I learned the manager's name is David.
"We get that this is serious," the shift manager says.
I ask Clerk Right if they sell cups of ice. He says, "Yes. 50 cents a cup."
I go to the fountain area and fill up a large cup. Clerk Left tells me that the cup of ice is on the house. I smile and leave the store at approximately 10:13 pm.
Once outside, I see the Houseless Brother fundraising on the corner. I bring the cup of ice to the Houseless Sister. She thanks me through a cloud of exhaled marijuana smoke.
It's one thing to go on an emotional ride with intentionally made characters during a PayPerView, it is quite another to live out a moment of social justice. Unlike Stone Cold, Triple H and the Undertaker, we are not permitting what ails us to retire and not return again.
For the record, I do not wish this security guard fired, or canceled. I want an interview to determine his stress levels. I want them identified. I want to know what his self-care routine is. I want the company to determine a growth plan for this white man, not deliver him an act of punishment. I will follow up.
And, for the Houseless Brother, I know what to do. I do not need the help of 7/11 or a security company to intervene in his life and change his conditions.
Moral of the story: pro-wrestling is LIFE! And, so is social justice.