People treat me differently when I wear my reflective vest.
I bought it four years ago, for when I run after dark. But as long as I’ve got it, I’m inclined to wear it anytime I’m going to be crossing streets on foot after dark.
Last night I was greeted in a friendly fashion by an older black man who called me brother. The last time I can remember that happening was in the 1970s.
My theory, based on that and a few other encounters, is that some people see me and assume that I’m a working-class guy heading out for for some sort of outdoor nighttime physical labor job. If they’re also a working-class guy familiar with outdoor nighttime work, it prompts them to greet me in a comradely fashion.
There’s another common reaction: Many people seem to think I’m “official” in some way. Cars that would have zipped around me in the daytime exercise additional caution, just in case. People make way when I’m going down a hall, in case I’m on my way to some minor emergency. Related to that, surprisingly often people who know me don’t recognize me—they see the vest and don’t imagine that anyone they know might show up in one.
I expect the reaction I’d get would be very different, if I wore a reflective vest designed for runners. I’ve got one of those too, but it won’t fit over a coat.