A lanky, wizened man in faded overalls, his face crisscrossed with lines of years of stories, tapped me on the shoulder at Honeybee Market as I loaded avocados and Topo-Chico in my backpack. He gestured at my bike helmet. “You need to add reflective tape. You need reflective tape so… ”
“Yeah, I know,” I replied, half interrupting, fully assuming he was about to launch into lecture or mansplaining. His face stayed expressionless, but it suddenly became clear this was yet another “Why I love Detroit and shouldn’t assume” moment, in which neighborly social relations and Michigan chattiness are what’s going on.
“Come on,” he said, walking out the door, assuming I’d of course follow, which I did. He slowly, gingerly out down his grocery bag on the pavement, pulled out his wallet, and just as gingerly dug to find square pieces of adhesive-backed reflective material. He painstakingly began to explain, with detailed kindness, how to cut the squares down, where to stick them on my helmet (“your bike and backpack too,” pulling more squares from his wallet for me), why, and how he did the same for his daughter, turning over one piece to show me he’d written her name on the back. “See? This reflective tape is good. Have more! Please.”
I looked down at the five letters, done in old-fashioned no. 2 pencil, probably with patience and care for each one, for his child. “That’s my name,” I said at first, as if he’d already somehow known, and written it before stopping me to talk and share. “You’re keeping me safe,” I told him. He didn’t seem to take notice, too eagerly caught up on wanting me to be sure to accept and use his tape, and in an increasing number of recommended spots on my bike and helmet. Even as he was driving away, he couldn’t resist leaning out the window to remind me to stick some on my backpack.
Little gifts, little interactions, but the big reason this is home.
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, SW Detroit, October 19, 2016.)
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