Tandem, An American Love Story

Thanksgiving Day we had fajitas at a grocery store stand. Not turkey, but wonderful. We were the only Anglos in the place mid day; all the other Anglos were eating turkey and watching football. Hispanics follow a different schedule, and I don’t think most of them eat turkey.

Grocery store sociology: I have noticed that Hispanics don’t hit or yell at their children, and the children seldom whine. They seem to have large families. Perhaps good parenting skills are good survival skills.

Next day we rode the 59 miles to Rosita. Nothing much happened except that Claire tried to start a fight with four teen girls who objected to our being on the road. She was hot! Luckily I was in charge of steering Zippy and the carnage was averted.

(Claire’s version: I was a perfect lady, they were not.)

Our first bad experience on the roads in Texas. Got to watch out for those testosterone crazed women. (I thought it was only teen boys — maybe it’s estrogen crazed women…)

More grocery store sociology. We were checking out today behind a Hispanic woman with a huge shopping cart piled high. This was going to take awhile. The Anglo couple behind us began a conversation with us about the Hispanic woman’s huge purchase.

This led to comments about how “they” (Hispanics) lived. “Five fourths of them are on food stamps,” loudly shared the man. “If they weren’t so fat they wouldn’t need so much food,” said the woman. All of this was within five feet of the Hispanic woman, who could clearly hear their comments. We were very uncomfortable, but didn’t know what to say.

This went on for much too long until the Hispanic woman paid (with cash, no food stamps) and left. The couple told us they are Winter Texans from Illinois. If they have so much trouble with people different than themselves, I wish they would stay in Illinois, or at least learn to be silent in their uninformed criticism.

What we have seen here clearly disputes everything they said. Most Hispanics seem to be solidly middle-class, with homes and expensive pickup trucks. They dress well and are clean, speak English well and are very friendly to Anglos who are civil to them.

Certainly there are poor people here, Anglo and Hispanic, lots of them, but I don’t believe it is for lack of a willingness to work. I see them doing the field work under conditions that most Anglos would not do for many times the money.

I have no tolerance for intolerance.

Perception and Paranoia

The stout Texan pushed his cap back on his head, leaned forward, elbows on his knees, cocked his head and eyed me, “You’re packin’ heat, I hope.”

A former fighter pilot — no stranger to danger — he thought we were about the bravest people he knew, and maybe the dumbest. “This country around here is full of people just soon shoot you as look at you.”

His idea of safety was the 40 foot motor home we were sitting in, and the “heat” he had stashed inside. The idea of us riding around today’s America on a bicycle was more adventurous, and foolhardy, than he could imagine.

He is not alone. Many Americans seem paranoid. People fear each other to an extraordinary degree — sometimes to an absurd degree. Wherever we have traveled people have asked if we’d had any trouble, and if we carried protection, the assumption being that people bent on doing us harm are everywhere and we are vulnerable.

There is some truth to our vulnerability and we do take reasonable care — we are always aware of our surroundings and are careful about discussing our financial plans and possessions. When asked, by anyone, about weapons, I always answer, “I don’t talk about that.”

But, in 8,000 miles we have not had any trouble or felt threatened by the people we are told to fear; the poor and the dark skinned. I’m sure there is statistical evidence for whites’ fear of other races, but I think the fear is grossly exaggerated, and leads to greater alienation. A vicious circle that somehow needs to be broken.

As of the first of 1996, any Texan you might meet could have a concealed handgun on his/her person. No reason has to be given to obtain a permit. Visible weapons have always been allowed, and it is not that unusual to see a gun on a cowboy’s hip.

Many believe that crime can be slowed if criminals have reason to believe that any intended victim might have a gun. Could be. I’m not a criminal, and I don’t pretend to know how they think. It might work, and it might not work. I’m not sure that is the point; I know it can’t be a lasting solution for living together in America.

This is not a discussion of personal freedom versus gun control. It is a discussion of perception. Why are so many Americans, in small towns and rural areas so fearful? Certainly statistics show we are more vulnerable to crime than we were 30 years ago, but how much more? Not as much as our obsession with crime would indicate.

Is it worth putting ourselves into self-made prison neighborhoods of chain link fence topped with barbed wire, security gates and alarm systems? Real-estate advertising in the East and South, and cities everywhere, puts these at the top of lists of ‘amenities’. Just who is in jail here? Not the criminals.

In the last 40 years, the automobile and freeway have encouraged the physical separation of the races and classes. We are no longer the classless society we brag about being. People who fear other people don’t have to look at those they fear, face their desperation and try to come to terms with them; just drive another 20 minutes to work, build another sprawling, fence circled suburb in the country and another freeway through the feared neighborhood; put a fence around it too.

This is not living. To live in fear is to die.

I am not suggesting that unchecked compassion spawned of race-guilt is the answer, but knee-jerk fear and anger is just as wrong-headed. Building freeways and prisons and hiding behind fences hasn’t worked and won’t work.

It is time to face our fears, get out from behind our windshield glass and our fences; walk in the feared neighborhoods, look the feared ones in the eye, and listen. We might hear an answer.


Comments

Tandem, An American Love Story — 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

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