After a weekend of fun in San Jose and Big Sur, a friend drops me off at the Oakland airport. All the flights out of San Jose and San Francisco were sold out, so flying home from Oakland was my only option. I take my roller bag to the curbside check-in and wait, taking the opportunity to think about the upcoming workweek. A tall, twenty-something black male, working as a baggage handler, walks past me. I can feel him looking at me.
The line moves forward and he walks past again, closer this time and giving a longer look. I make sure to look past him, even though I’m wearing sunglasses. It doesn’t work.
“A pretty girl like yourself really should smile,” he says.
I ignore him and turn away, hoping he’ll get the hint. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice he’s working the furthest register, out of four. I count the number of people in front of me – about seven – hoping he won’t be the person to check my bag.
He helps a couple and then walks toward me again, beginning to say something once more about smiling. Inwardly I sigh, as an older man walks up behind the baggage handler, trying to get his attention. SALVATION! I dismissively wave the baggage handler away, pointing at the man behind him. Every minutia of my body language screams “I AM NOT INTERESTED. LEAVE ME ALONE.”
Eventually I make it to the front of the line, just as the hounding handler’s register opens. He walks over for my bag and loudly proclaims, “So, you’re just not going to smile then?”
Everyone is looking at us now since he has raised his voice. Seething, I take a deep breath, feeling cornered. “You know… I find it incredibly rude for someone to command a stranger to smile. You wouldn’t say that to, say, that guy over there.” I point to a random middle-aged white guy as the baggage handler’s mouth falls open in disbelief. I step aside and let an older white woman behind me, along with who I presume are her daughter and grandchild, take my spot at this maniac’s register.
As he slinks off with their luggage, he mumbles, “I’m just trying to spread a little cheer…”
A different register opens at the opposite end. I walk over, hand my ID and ask, “Hi, how are you doing today?” while… smiling.
Coming up – challenging more street harassment, this time at home.