Teddy H is perhaps my best Denver friend. He's the manager of our condo building three days a week. We have lunch once a week and have been doing so for about two years.
Teddy graduated from U of CO with a business degree but retired last year after carrying mail for 30 years. He's a few years younger than I am. He's black and wears his hair in dreadlocks. He's a vegetarian and a meditator and a damn good guy.
We were scheduled to have lunch today. When I went to his office downstairs at the appointed time, Teddy said he didn't think he could do it. He had to return a rented truck to Home Depot. I asked if I could go with him to return the truck; we'd have lunch on the way back. Super, he said.
We drove the rental flatbed to Home Depot and went together into the tool rental area. Teddy and I stood at the counter. Teddy dealt with the Hispanic guy behind it who was doing the paperwork. The building board was paying for the truck rental.
Teddy had forgotten to fill the tank so the guy went out to look at the gauge and add something to the bill to cover fuel. When he came back, we were standing there at his counter. I had said nothing at any point. The guy finished typing in the figures; the printer spat out the invoice...
And the guy put it on the counter in front of ME!
I immediately knew that without thinking he'd handed the invoice to the white guy. Teddy, he knee-jerk figured, was the worker, the hourly guy. I was the guy with the credit card.
I slit the invoice to Teddy, who took care of the charges. As we walked out to his car, I said, Did that guy just hand the invoice to the white guy, the guy "in charge?"
Teddy told me that's exactly what had happened. I shook my head. He told me he's gotten used to it. It's just how things are. His son would get upset about it, Teddy said.
I'd get upset about it, I said.
Used to be worse, Teddy told me. When he was a kid in Arkansas, if you were a black man walking down the sidewalk and a white woman was walking toward you, you crossed the street so you were sure not to meet her eyes. There were doors for blacks, drinking fountains for blacks, and no way at all that you'd ever be the boss of even one white guy.
Most of the time, Teddy and I are two guys going to lunch together. Sometimes we talk about the "black experience" and I'll hear stories of intentional or reflexive racism, almost always told with a sense of humor, and an appreciation of human folly.
I'd never been in a situation like the one today, when my skin color made me the boss, and Teddy's made him a guy who couldn't be trusted with a credit card.