Playing the Game as Mall Security Guard
by Carmel Hall
“Every day people ask me the same questions,” says Dale Solomon, yawning, as the security officer secures the entries in the Annapolis, Westfield Mall. “How tall are you? How’s the weather up there? And most of all, how did you get your head so shiny?”
Yes, the 47-year-old is bald. His baldness is not the result of age but design. About the shininess he says, “it just comes natural.”
“When I was in military school, they made me cut my hair real short, and so I decided to shave my head,” Solomon says. “And might I add, that was way before Michael Jordan!”
At six feet, eight inches, Solomon is tall, and he has used his height. Once upon a time, he was a basketball player. Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, opened the playing doors for Solomon when he was 19 years old.
He met basketball legends, from former Celtics power forward Larry Bird to Mark Aberonie of the Philadelphia 76ers, who played alongside Doctor J.
“I got a chance to see Michael Jordan when he hit that shot to win the NCAA Championship for North Carolina,” Solomon said excitedly slamming both hands onto the counter. “It was great!”
At 22, Solomon moved to Italy, where he played as a small forward for Benetton, an international basketball team, and later on Riunite.
Solomon breaks from stories of past glories to help a customer in need.
She’s taken too much of her prescription and feels like she is going to pass out. He sits her down, brings a cup of water from a nearby café and, feeling obligated to do more, calls the paramedics at Anne Arundel Medical Center to check on the 41-year-old.
“That’s my good deed for the day,” Solomon says happily.
His routine goes from checking doors to changing light bulbs to tending needy customers to seeking lost children.
A frantic woman runs through the mall, looking for her lost son. She had turned away, for only a second, to admire a pair of shoes in a storefront. When she turned back around, her child was gone. Solomon takes a full description of the child including age, race, height, hair length and color and clothing. He then repeats the description over his walkie-talkie to his fellow mall officers. In a time that’s only long by the mother’s standards, she is reunited with her child.
“When you are a security guard, you notice a lot of things about people,” said Solomon. “You read their body language and eye contact and can tell when they are lost or need assistance.”
Still, as he walks the noisy, crowded halls of the mall, he may travel back to other times in his life.
Named in Basketball Halls of Fame
During Solomon’s early years, his name was inscribed in two halls of fame for his basketball achievements. The first was in Anne Arundel County, where friends still remember his achievement.
“I’ve known Dale ever since he was born, all of his young and old life,” says Gladys Matthews of Annapolis, one of the supporters who helped him reach his hoop dreams. “He played basketball with my son Erwin and graduated from Annapolis High School. He’s always been a nice person, respectable since I’ve known him.”
He made his second hall of fame during his freshman year at Virginia Tech, in 1979, when Solomon led the team to win the Metro Conference Tournament Championship. He was later named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“I received four plaques for being the first player in my conference to be named to the All Metro Team four years in a row,” Solomon says proudly.
Then he blushes at his pride, adding, “I am one of many great basketball players to come out of Anne Arundel County.”
La Dolce Vita
Dale Solomon’s memories span continents as well as ages. Playing abroad opened many doors for him. He won the gold medal at the World Games in Bucharest, Romania.
“I’ve been to the Vatican where the Pope speaks, and to parts of Venice that tourists never get to see,” Solomon says. He’s seen most of Europe, West and East, and traveled as far as Africa.
Living in Italy for 12 years, he learned to speak fluent Italian. “Si molto bella,” Solomon says, smiling. “You are very beautiful!”
He also learned to cook. Lasagna, spaghetti, you name it, he can cook it. “And a true Italian spaghetti is not cooked with meatballs,” he insists. “It is cooked with three meats veal, beef and sausage and must be cooked over three hours.”
Solomon’s friends agree that he can cook. “Dale is an amazing chef,” says Christine Mueller, shopping concierge at Westfield, emphasizing the word amazing. “He’s an Italian whiz in the kitchen,” says Leroy Brooks, another security officer.
Best of all, he fell in love in Italy.
Solomon first noticed his wife, Antonella, while riding his bicycle through the center of Reggio nell’Emilia, a town between Florence and Milan. She was “the most beautiful woman in the world with the ugliest hat that I have ever seen in my life,” Solomon says. “Even a homeless person wouldn’t wear that hat!”
“I said ciao and rode off,” he recalls. Five years passed before he would again see the woman with the long black hair and beautiful green eyes. He found her working at a friend’s shop.
“She was very rude,” Solomon said laughing. “But I continued day after day to visit the shop, even when my friend wasn’t working.”
He courted her for four years before she agreed to marry him. Their marriage has given them a seven-year-old daughter, Viola.
Life in Italy was good. So good, he says, that he turned down an offer from the Philadelphia 76ers to play as a forward.
“I enjoyed my European experience and did not want to give it up,” he says.
To understand why, he adds with an enormous smile of remembrance on his face, “you would have to live there.”
On the Job
His badge, attached to the left pocket of his uniform, shines as he rounds a corner in the sprawling Westfield mall and the rays from the sun reflect off of the metal.
All the loves of Dale Solomon’s life are in Italy, but he’s in Annapolis, working to support his family.
“It was great,” Solomon said. “But there comes a time in every athlete’s life, when you must hang up your tennis shoes and seek other things and other opportunities.”
For Solomon, security was that opportunity. It is, he says, “a good way to pay the bills and meet people.
“In Italy, there’s no employment in the security field,” he adds. “I tried to find work there, but I decided to come back to the U.S.”
As well as Westfield Annapolis Mall, Solomon also works part-time as a security officer at the Springfield Hospital in Sykesville.
“Every day is an adventure,” Solomon says. “Not to mention the exercise.”
Home for Christmas
But supporting his family costs him their companionship.
“I’m tired of eating my own cooking,” Solomon says, as he scans the unfamiliar faces in the mall. “Some days I come home, and I’m tired of talking to my cats.”
The family reunites a couple of times a year, usually at Christmas and his daughter’s birthday. On December 23, Solomon leaves to spend the Christmas holiday with his wife and daughter in Caviana, an inland town above Venice.
But for now, he’s got his responsibilities and many miles of mall to cover. As he passes the customer service desk, concierge Mueller calls out.
“Dale is everyone’s favorite security guard,” she says. “When he walks around the corner, it puts a smile on everyone’s face.”
Carmel Patrice Hall is a 20-year-old sophomore at Howard University, where she majors in broadcast journalism.