Archive for September 10th, 2008
I pulled out of my cul de sac and headed toward my folks place a little out in the country. I live in a very friendly town — we had a slogan for awhile where we labeled ourselves “The Friendly Frontier.” Our family’s experience seemed to validate our city’s self-chosen slogan. When Donna first arrived, she had two men practically fighting over opening the door for her at the Post Office. This is a frequent occurrence — we have log jams at public entrances because everybody is trying to be nice to everybody else. Ironic that our fights are often over whose job it is to be nice. It really is a sweet and quirky part of our city culture and we love it.
When I’m driving, I find that things are pretty much the same. Folks wave and are cordial — downright friendly on this frontier. Of course the truth is, women and kids wave, but men nod or nonchalantly hold up a couple of fingers on their steering wheel hand to say, “Hi!”
Now I could understand this treatment if I were mayor or the vice-presidential candidate from Alaska that has just come to town — this frontier definitely has an affinity for that frontier woman, and most folks here probably even like most of what her pastor says in his sermons and sure would never call her a hog. But I’m not that special here — I’m just Phil. I don’t drive a fancy car or a big honkin’ duely 4 wheel drive pick-em-up truck, either. My ride is a 1992 Tahoe with 112,000 miles, with a big dent in the left rear fender, and is about to turn 7 years old. You see, friendliness is simply a big part of our culture. It’s not based on your ride. Or at least that is what I thought.
Instead of being in my Tahoe this past Saturday, I drove my step-dad’s old pickup. I was dressed in work clothes and wore protection goggles over my regular sunglasses. I had on leather work gloves and the back of the pickup was full of limbs held down by a big chain. The truck was dirty and the headliner was falling down all around me. I didn’t look like a “normal person,” I looked like a yard worker. Amazingly, I received no waves, nods, or even obvious eye contact. I didn’t even get close to a couple of fingers raised to say, “Hi!”
It took me a bit of time to get what was happening. I was stunned. Where had my friendly frontier gone? Folks who normally would have waved to me didn’t even acknowledge my existence — they wouldn’t even give me a glance. It became clear as I tried to wave to the usual folks that wave at me, some of whom I knew: these folks were reluctant to open up a connection with visual contact, much less wave. Their sideways glances told them all they needed to know: just another yard worker out in his ol’ truck picking up yard debris. Not worthy of a connection.
To be quite honest, I was shocked — dumbfounded is probably more accurate. I suddenly felt like an alien from another planet in my own neighborhood — suddenly I was alone on this frontier. When I realized what was happening, I tried even harder to get a wave by initiating the connection. Nope, wasn’t going to happen that day in that truck looking like someone people had already categorized. Finally, when I got close to my folks place, a lady did kinda wave — she recognized the truck as my step-dad’s — and then when she saw me in it, she had a puzzled look on her face. If you can take back a wave, she certainly did.
Since last Saturday, I’ve been more aware that I categorize people based on what they are driving — a sort of on the road prejudice, a way of sorting through the folks with whom I will or will not try to make a connection. I remember now a time where I looked away when an old guy in an old truck full of limbs glanced at me. Funny how we are like that: putting people in categories based on their packaging whether it’s color, clothes, or pick up trucks. Funny how our prejudice shows up in places it shouldn’t and God convicts us of our own short-sightedness.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to pay more attention to those guys on the other side of those old beat up pick up truck windows. We never know who might be driving it that day — they might be a lot more like us than we know.