July 31, 2001


Soda Story

written by
Lynn Trenning























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE, July 31, 2001

The woman approaches me with silent steps amidst the high-pitched "dings" of the cash register. Her eyes don't meet mine. "Ma'am, are you headed down Central Avenue?" "No," I think to myself. My children are helping the cashier unload groceries onto the conveyor belt. The woman points to a shopping cart full of cases of soda. "I got a lot of soda," she says.

She lives about a mile from the store, in a public housing project. It's a hot, blue day, a Thursday. I've been conned before. I've been conned recently. I drove another stranger around town, listened to his story, gave him money, gave him my card so he could pay me back. I have reason to think twice about this.

I'm white. The man who took my money was black. This woman who wants a ride is black. She won't look me in the eye.

"Sure," I say. The sour stench of distrust is too much for me. What is the risk in driving a woman home with her bags of soda. She could shoot us. She could stab us. She looks tired. Her shopping cart holds nothing but soda.

She follows us out of the store. "We're driving this woman home. She has a lot of soda and it's too heavy for her to carry. She doesn't have a car." The children look slightly bewildered, but game. "What's your name?" I ask the woman. "Miss May. You can call me Miss May." She could be 25 or she could be 40.

I can't stop asking her questions though she doesn't want to talk. But this is my payment. Feel free to stake me out at the grocery store, read my heart, know I am the one who will drive you home. But you will talk to me. I will not drop you off without something, anything, in return.

She has a 16 year old. He's a B plus student. She has a baby. She works at a cracker factory. She works the second shift. She just woke up. She budgets her money to buy food on one day and beverages the next. Thursday is obviously beverage day. My children are silent.

She tells me where to turn and stop. Instead I drive toward a parking lot full of people who live in these apartments, where it looks like I can turn my car around. She stutters; she does not want to be seen with me. She will sit next to me in a car, but she doesn't want me near her neighbors. So I do a three point turn in the middle of the street. She opens the door before I stop the car. "Come on Jerome, help Ms. May carry this soda," she calls to a boy playing in the grass. By the time her words stop, and the boy comes forward, the bags are out of my car and on the sidewalk.

"God bless you, god bless you," she mumbles, her head down. She will not look in my eyes. I want to ask her if she does this a lot. I want to ask whether she was scared to get in my car, and why she is embarrassed for her neighbors to see me. I want to ask her a million questions to break that barrier between us, just crush it. I want her to look at me. "You're welcome," I answer, and I drive home to another world one mile away.

~ Lynn Trenning

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