It’s early Autumn, and still warm as the evening begins to draw over. You’re walking home from work, treading the last familiar steps westward on 22nd Street. Thinking about reaching for your keys, there in the bag slung over your shoulder.
Up ahead, a group of four men are approaching. Tanned white skin, neat haircuts, casual smiles, styled clothes, maybe in their forties. You guess they’ve been out somewhere.
As you clock this, from across the road a slim black guy steps into your view, also heading west, walking on intercept. Unseasonably heavy jacket, red baseball cap, a bulky backpack. Reaching the pavement ahead of you, he steps into the personal space of the group. He’s brandishing a spray of money; from their faces, he’s saying something. The group reflexes, convulsing away from him without eye contact, continues without slowing down. As they reach you they politely make a space and are gone to either side.
The lone guy has stopped, turned to watch; it’s only a few seconds before you are upon him. He looks you up and down and addresses you immediately, with evident frustration.
“These foreigners, they don’t even speak English. They think I’m gonna rob them, even though I got my own money,” he insists, conspicuously holding out the same bundle of notes. Folded length-ways; fifteen dollars, maybe.
“Where they from?” you ask, because you were curious yourself. You’re half-slowing, and listening to the neutral sound of the words coming out of your mouth.
“See I know you’re a New Yorker, cos you’re cool,” he asserts. He’s making a fairly safe bet: you’re looking preppy, smart shirt, white vest underneath, shoulder bag, walking confidently.
“Good night,” he offers as you pass.
“Cheers”, you conclude, demonstrating in one word how wrong he is.