Thursday, January 9, 2020

Still Waiting

I stopped  by the Oakland Mills Walgreens on the way home from an evening meeting last night. My shopping list: ice cream for the college kid at home on break, high protein breakfast bars for my husband, and, for me, some over the counter medication for reflux. This is what life brings you, I thought: Ben & Jerry’s, Think Bars, Pepcid. Somehow that progression feels like some kind of decline.

When I got to the checkout the familiar clerk held up the medicine and said, “This stuff really works for me.”

I smiled. “My doctor recommended it.”

“I don’t know how it works, but it’s just different from Tums,” he went on. “It’s better.”
“That’s good to know.”

Pause. We look at each other awkwardly. As I finished paying I said,

“We sound like we’re in a commercial, don’t we?”

And we laughed.

Back in 2009 the late community blogger Dennis Lane was writing about plans for the Walgreens which was to be built on the site of the former BB&T Bank. I would give you more references but it is  difficult to access the archive of his posts these days. As an Oakland Mills resident I remember how a vocal group of long time residents fought to prevent the Walgreens approval. Petitions with inflammatory language were circulated. Daytime hearing were packed with those ready to give testimony in the negative because they didn’t have to be at work or balance child care needs.

Someone spread the word that it would attract “a bad element.”

When I first heard that I perceived it as preposterous fear-mongering. Since then I’ve come to realize what a truly racist dog whistle it actually was. Most disappointing from people who took pride in their Columbia Pioneer heritage. The worst element I’ve experienced in Oakland Mills may very well  be the kinds of folks who pile into meetings in droves in order to shout other people down. Or start whisper campaigns behind the scenes.

It’s been quite a while now and I haven’t experienced that bad element they warned us about. I have been panhandled once, and I once witnessed an annoying man trying to hit on the checkout clerk. Both were white. And then there were the Girl Scouts selling cookies. Nope, not a bad element by any stretch, unless you’re desperately trying to avoid sweets.

If anything attracts a bad element perhaps it’s fear, combined with selfishness, racism, and a well-entrenched sense of privilege. But you won’t find that ”at the corner of happy and healthy.”

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