In some ways – being locked in at Macy’s department store in Chicago, Illinois. I couldn’t get out, no one could get in, and it was going to be a few hours before security unlocked the doors. What was a girl to do?
It seemed exciting at the time. Locked in at one of my favourite stores with lots of staff around to help, no crowds or line-ups and vacant dressing rooms to leisurely shop at my heart’s content.
My first reaction was “yes,” as I gleefully headed toward the women’s department. But somewhere around the seasonal wear, I had a second reaction. “Why are we locked in?”
Why were the doors locked? Why were the sidewalks swarming with cops by the dozens? Why were security guards in plain clothes and uniforms frantically running around talking into hidden microphones?
The thrill of a near-vacant store with time to shop and no competition for service was quickly overshadowed by the realization that I was in the United States where citizens are allowed to carry guns and, in some states, encouraged, to do so.
It didn’t take me long to find out Macy’s shoppers were locked in for their own protection because a huge rally of angry protestors were trying to storm the landmark store in defiance of Chicago’s mayor and police force.
The thrill of shopping quickly turned into the thrill of being smack-dab in the middle of a possible riot where the mob was being slowly corralled by a swelling number of cops descending on the sidewalks of the “magnificent mile” as this part of Michigan Ave. brands itself.
As I edged closer to the main entrance and exit doors to get a better look, security guards edged me back. They screamed at me to stay put. I wasn’t going to argue with men with guns.
This was not the first time I found myself in the middle of a police confrontation with protesters.
A few year’s back, I was in downtown Denver, Colorado, with some colleagues when police rushed by us. A few minutes later, we heard gunfire and people were shouting and screaming all around us. We were told to get out of the area. One of my colleagues ran toward the commotion to see what was going on. But she was turned back before she could get in harm’s way.
We found out later police were involved in a shootout with some young people on busy streets in a tourist area of the city. No bystanders were injured but the suspects were shot.
Another time in Scottsdale, Arizona, we were heading to a bar for a drink. The sign on the bar said, “No guns allowed.” I joked to the bartender that in Canada, “no shirt, no shoes,” meant no service. Guns were most certainly not allowed.
He didn’t appreciate my attempt at sarcastic humour as he dealt with more than one inebriated customer wearing a gun and causing trouble.
I love visiting the United States. I love some of the flagship stores, beautiful cities, tourist attractions and American friendliness. But as I headed back to my hotel that night in Chicago after finally being “released” from Macy’s, escorted by some very nice police officers, I was reminded of how much I like my hometown of Sudbury.
We may have our problems. I know we are not crime free. But I’m not kept awake all night in Sudbury by sirens and gunfire and wondering if a shootout will happen downtown on my way to the candy store.
Not that it couldn’t happen, I suppose.
But it’s not likely.