I'm stuck in a hotel in some forgotten corner of Charlotte, NC for the weekend. For the whole holiday weekend. Four days with nothing to do. Normally with a stretch off like this I'd go home, but the flights in and out of Charlotte are over-full, and I can't risk not being here Tuesday nite to operate the flight out. So here I sit.
The hotel is not in a great part of town (I'm assuming there is a great part of Charlotte). The crew I'm flying with said that one of our crewmembers was held up at gunpoint in this area a while back, and my daily walk passes thru a gauntlet of panhandlers and what appears to be a small population of people who reside in the scrubby foliage next to the highway & railroad overpass. (I'm not sure of this, as it seems prudent not to look very closely.)
Last nite as the sun was setting I was talking to my wife on the phone while standing in the McDonald's parking lot a couple blocks from the hotel, before going in for a cheeseburger and Diet Coke. Behind the restaurant runs a railroad track, and what appeared to be a family of homeless (or at least very dirty) people were encamped beside the tracks, behind a dumpster, passing a bottle around. I was pacing around the edge of the parking lot while talking on the phone, and a woman began walking in my direction from a car parked on the other side of the lot. It seemed like a nice car (a Nissan Maxima, I think, with tarted-up wheels), and there were other people sitting in it. She was dressed in hot weather hip-hop fashion.
I assumed that she was short money for their drive-thru order, and was looking for assistance. But naturally I can't be sure. Not wanting to interrupt my phone conversation, I pointedly refused to recognize her, even when she tried to get my attention by talking to me anyway. (This happens to me all the time in airports, especially when I'm in uniform. People will assume I'm someone who knows something and will ask me about their delay, where their gate is, where the restrooms are, how to read their ticket, etc. If I'm on the phone, the interruption seems extremely rude, and I pay them no attention.) She walked away a minute later when she decided she didn't want to wait for me to finish my phone call, and she was on her own cell phone a minute after that. Five minutes later they drove away, without having gone inside.
A trivial matter, I suppose; but now I wonder what was up. I don't know a soul in Charlotte, and my information made it seem prudent to be on my guard (though I would not have interrupted my phone call in any case for a walk-up stranger). She had a nice car, was passably dressed, had a cell phone and there were other people in her car including a big dude in the front passenger seat. They had just gone thru the drive-thru, and then pulled over into a parking spot. She did not approach anyone else in the parking lot, though a few other people came and went during my phone call. I've always been inclined to think that a stranger approaching me is trying to scam me in some way, a vestige of my bus driving days where I learned first-hand that people are capable of anything. Occasionally I'm left feeling bad at having assumed the worst of someone; often the approach can be quite innocent. But my suspicions are reinforced just often enough to make me keep my distance.