The parking lot is typical of any chain of sit-down restaurants in America.
Fading yellow lines make three or four dozen parallel spaces on pebbly black aspahlt.
A few curbed gardens of mulch host well-pruned flowering trees. Maybe they’re pear trees.
The restaurant itself is a BBQ-joint, its façade evenly striped with tall glass windows and dark brick decorated with repro tin signs. You can see customers inside, enjoying their lunch. A few people stand outside smoking.
My wife parks our Toyota RAV parallel with a black Grand Am, only one empty space between us.
My Spidey-sense tingles and I take another look at the car.
Back window covered in plastic and duct tape.
Front wheel wearing a doughnut rim.
Driver with mousy brown hair curling out from under a gray ball cap.
Ballcap guy has all his windows down on this cool, misty damp afternoon. His back seat packed with newspapers, boxes, and fast-food wrappers and cups.
Before I can say “Park somewhere else,” my wife is out of the RAV, her nose leading the way to pit cooked pulled pork.
Who can blame her? She’s been driving for four hours straight. It’s time for lunch, and past time for a bathroom break.
Stepping out the passenger door and breathing in deep, I quickly catch up.
But I keep the Grand-Am in peripheral vision.
Inside, the hostess leads us to a table, and I ask for a booth beside one of the front windows instead.
Just being careful.
I glance out the window.
Son of a bitch.
Ballcap has left his vehicle. Baggy jeans and flip-flops, he’s bending over in front of the RAV.
Looking at what? The license plate?
He walks along the passenger door. Then comes back to the front.
“Order me a glass of tea,” I say, as my wife gets comfortable with a menu. “I’m heading to the boy’s room.”
But that’s not where I go.
Instead, I take out my phone, hold it to my ear and walk to the lobby of the restaurant where I stand behind a souvenir display but next to a window with a full on view of the parking lot.
Pretending to make a call, I watch Ballcap guy who is now ambling toward the door.
Once inside, he actes lost and looks around, craning his head this way and that.
Who’s he looking for? Me?
Only one way to find out.
I step away from the window and say a few words into the phone. Not looking at him, but letting him see me.
He steps forward, but then turns to the counter, swipes a couple peppermint candies from the dish there and leaves the restaurant just as the hostess comes to greet him.
Through the windows, I watch him get into his car and drive out of the parking lot.
After another minute, I go back to my wife, tell her the story, and make one more trip away from our table.
This time, I walk out to the RAV, jump in, and drive it around the restaurant.
Then, just to be sure, I drive around the block.
There is no sign of the Grand-Am.
Back at the restaurant, I park right up front, directly in front of our booth where I can watch the vehicle.
Nothing happens. We have a great lunch.
And the rest of our trip goes well.
What do you think? Do I seem overly cautious? Even a little paranoid?
Maybe there’ an innocent explanation for Ballcap guy’s odd behavior with the RAV and then inside the restaurant.
Or maybe not.
Bad things happen every day. Your path intersects with bad people.
Maybe it’s good to never know how close you once came.
Stay aware. Stay safe.