A couple of days ago, I grabbed a cache (shocking, right?), a matchstick tube hidden under some bricks. It was a YARN, an acronym meaning Yet Another Road to Nowhere, caches placed at dead ends, often at locations that will one day become entrances for parking lots or intersections for roads, usually blocked off by some kind of barricade. Based on a cursory search of cache names, I don’t think the term is very well known outside of Central Texas (but if I’m wrong, that’s immaterial because that’s not even the point of the story). I had attempted this one before but didn’t find it. It had been a sweltering day back then, and I was not in the kind of mood amenable to anything more than a perfunctory search. Last time, it was a true dead end. The street had been extended this time, becoming a road to somewhere. I could see where a walking path would soon be constructed to pass the cache, hidden under its brick pile and nestled up against a fence. I didn’t entirely know that yet because I hadn’t found the cache yet. I got to GZ and had just begun my search when I heard the four words that make my eyes roll faster than any other: “Can I help you?” I was on public property (as far as I could tell), so I reflexively gave my standard three-word reply, “I’m good, thanks.” After another few seconds, I heard the same voice ask, “What are you doing there?” That’s when it clicked. The voice was coming from away and above, not away and beside. I looked over and saw a guy (the owner of the home on the other side of the fence) looking down at me. He had to be standing on a ladder or something similar, and it looked like he was working on another part of the fence.
Any of you who have been reading all this drivel for a long time or have read choice sections of it might know that there’s little that I dislike more than having to justify myself unless it’s absolutely necessary. Early on in my caching career, law enforcement seemed to take great interest in anything I would do in public. It was one of the reasons I started writing all this in the first place. A lot of random citizens would often take it upon themselves to, for lack of a better term, get in my business, too. If a person is on public property, doing something that may seem strange but not obviously illegal, that’s their business. I often feel that some people, on the other hand, consider themselves entitled to an explanation. And though it is a character flaw in me, those are exactly the people I seek to deny at every turn. A part of me turns contrarian for no reason other than because I can. Confrontations rarely arise, but sometimes (maybe 25-30 percent of the time), I look back and think that maybe I’m not entirely blameless. I realize the other person may have had a point, and if I were in their situation, I might have asked the same questions. But most of the time, they are incredibly and unreasonably nosy.
I also can’t help but notice that the italicized they have almost always been White. Therefore, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a cultural and racial component to their inquiries. The face speaking to me over the fence, however, was Black. I don’t often engage with other Black people when I’m out caching. I can count the number of times I’ve ever been questioned by a Black person on one hand, and in those cases, it was to check my well-being, because when I would say, “I’m good, thanks,” they’d continue on their way. The only time I remember more than that with someone Black was somewhere between returning from Bryan and going to San Angelo. A group of dudes was curious why people would frequently walk down the path by their house and then walk right back a few minutes later as I had just done.
All the calculus went through my head in the blink of an eye. Yes, I was on public property. No, it wasn’t any of his business what I was doing. Yes, I might also be concerned about someone messing with the fence I was in the process of repairing. No, I didn’t need this specific cache at this specific moment. Yes, strangers can be concerning. No, I’ve never had a bad interaction with someone Black while I was out caching. Yes, life is hard enouh, so not every interaction has to end in conflict. No, not everything is a challenge to defend against.
I didn’t come up with a story about photography or cable inspection or path grading or whatever other convenient explanation I might have made up. Where I would normally employ stealth and misdirection, I offered the truth. “Have you ever heard of Geocaching?” I said. He had. “There’s a cache around here somewhere,” I said. He returned a simple, “Hmmmph,” and returned to his fence. He worked his works, I mine.