Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On the Way to El Paso: A Remarkable Thing

A highway in New Mexico. August 2013.

On the way to El Paso, the most remarkable thing happened to me. Two things. Two remarkable things. No, let's make it three. All in the space of a day.

After visiting an aunt and uncle in Dallas, then a detour to see an aunt in Austin, I was on my way for reals to El Paso.

I left my Austin aunt's apartment about mid-afternoon, then pulled over for the night in Junction, Texas, at the Motel 6 there.

The first remarkable thing

I passed a pleasant night at the motel. The next morning was warm and sunny; a shining day to begin a new chapter in a slow-travel life. A man sat on a chair outside his room, adjacent to mine, drinking his morning coffee. He and his wife were on a bit of a road trip.

We chatted as I went in and out of my room, putting stuff into my car before checking out.

The man had spent his career as an attorney who focused primarily on administrative issues. Now retired, he provided pro bono services to low-income people in need of legal help.

I told him some about me, that I'd sold my house and all my stuff a few years back, that I moved every year, wrote a blog, that I was en route to my new home in El Paso.

It was a nice conversation. And in trying political and social times - in the midst of a harrowing presidential election process in late August - I felt sustained by talking to someone throwing good stuff into the universe via his pro bono work.

When I was about ready to get in my car and go, the man reached his hand out to me, and it had a fold of money in it. I laughed, taken aback, and literally backed away, saying, "No, no, I don't need any money! Why are you doing this?!" I may have even nodded toward my 1995 vehicle, exclaiming, still laughing, "I drive this car by choice!"

The man was persistent, and I don't know why I accepted his gift, but I did, eventually, saying, "I'm going to accept this, but I'm going to pay this forward to someone! Thank you!" I got into my car, tossed the folded bills onto the passenger seat without looking at them, and drove away. Laughing in amazement about the generosity demonstrated by one soul toward another, for motivations unknown.

The second remarkable thing

I drove from Junction to Fort Stockton, a happy day of pretty weather, exceptional music (curated by moi), and the continuing glow from the first remarkable thing.

At Fort Stockton, I turned into a truck stop to get gas, go to the bathroom, and refresh my coffee. I pulled up alongside one of the pumps. I got out of my car, about to slide my card, select my fuel, and pump the gas.

I glanced over to my left and, parked over on the edge of the lot, I saw a man and woman standing outside a large sedan. The woman walked over to me.

"Are you coming from Louisiana?" she asked.

I thought to myself, "Wha? How could she possibly know that I've only recently moved from Louisiana? I don't have Louisiana license plates. I don't have any bumper stickers that link me to Louisiana."

I replied, "No, but I did move from there recently. Why do you ask?"

She said, "We lived in Baton Rouge. The flooding. We had to leave. We've lost everything. Now we're stranded here; we're out of money."

I looked at her silently for a moment. 

Days earlier, South Louisiana suffered massive flooding, turning many residents out of their homes.

I looked at the sedan - with Texas plates, not Louisiana plates. I asked her about the plates. The woman said, "That's my mother's car. We went to her house and she's letting us use her car." She called to her husband to bring her wallet, which he did. She opened it up to show me her driver's license. Louisiana.

I forget where she said that she and her husband were on their way to. The car was loaded with stuff, indicating a move. Just like my car.

I said, "I have something for you. You won't believe it, but only this morning, a man I don't know gave me money, for a reason I don't know."

I moved to my car door, opened it, reached over to the passenger seat where I had flung the folded bills. For the first time, I opened up the fold to see how much money was there. Three twenties. Sixty dollars. Damn, that was a lot of money.

I gave it all to the woman, who was dumbfounded (as I would have been) and so grateful for the unexpected gift.

When I was in South Louisiana, I knew a Creole woman. And she had lived some hard times along with some good times. A practicing Christian, she told me one day, "You've got to give to people in need and not worry what they're going to do with it. You've just got to trust. That person asking for help could be Christ."

It felt darn good to pass along the man's gift to another person, to just take the risk and trust. Besides, that money was never mine.

It was a remarkable encounter.

The third remarkable thing

I went inside the truck stop, used the restroom, refreshed my coffee, and returned to my car. The woman and her husband had left.

And that's when the third remarkable thing happened: the internal script began to unroll - thoughts about their choices in life, how they'd got into their predicament, why didn't they this, why hadn't they that?

Amazing how quickly I hopped onto the judge-y train.

So quickly, that it pulled me up short. I had forgotten how being poor is not just about having money or not having money. Being poor pervades every aspect of our thoughts and actions. There is fear, anxiety, fatalism, sometimes despair, sometimes who-gives-a-fuck what I spend my money on today, because I owe so much, any dollar I throw at my problems is like spitting into the ocean, and I better grab some gusto while I've got some to grab. Sometimes I make good decisions; sometimes I make stupid ones.

This money wasn't about that couple. It wasn't about what they did with that money. It was about me. It was about having the trust to just give it to another human and let it go.

These three remarkable things came from a man sitting outside his room at a Motel 6 in Junction, Texas, drinking a cup of coffee on a warm, bright Sunday morning in August.

Thank you.

Monday, December 5, 2016

On the Way to El Paso: Dallas Wildlife

Bobcat. Source: Texas Wild.

Holy moly.

On my way to El Paso, I stopped for a several-day visit at my aunt and uncle's house in Richardson, outside of Dallas.

Just thinking about it relaxes me. Imagine the perfect airbnb. A large, yet cozy bedroom with an adjoining bath - also large. Kitchen privileges. Wifi. A cool and dark living room with an immense fireplace. A breezy, screened porch to look out onto a petite, manicured, be-flowered yard with pops of blue from collected clay pretties for decoration. Wine.

Mature trees lining the side-walked streets. So close to a city throughway, but far enough away to avoid the noise and congestion that goes with that.

My aunt and uncle exposed me to two products that I immediately fell in swoon over:
  • Newman's Own Low Fat Sesame Ginger salad dressing; and
  • Alpine Valley Low Fat Multi-grain Omega-3 bread

Oh, and the bobcats. 

They are terrorizing the domestic dog and cats of Richardson. Maybe that's an exaggeration. Let's say the bobcats are terrorizing the dogs' owners, who fear their dogs will be hunted and killed. Which has happened

Below is a video of two Richardson bobcats fighting:

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rootless Relocation: El Paso, Texas

El Paso, Texas, from Rim Road. September 2016.

To follow my two years in South Louisiana (one year in Lafayette and one year in Opelousas), and several months of vagabonding to Guatemala, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and Toronto), I chose El Paso, Texas, as my next home.

What drew me to El Paso
  • Borderland issues
  • Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, just across the border
  • Climate
  • Ability to revisit New Mexico
  • Accessibility of the charming El Paso Airport for visits from family and friends
  • Inter-culturalism
  • History
  • New dance experiences
  • Brush up on my derelict Spanish

Residence wish list
  • Proximity to the University of Texas-El Paso or downtown El Paso
  • A place in the Chihuahuita or Segundo Barrio neighborhoods
  • Pay less rent than in Opelousas

I departed Missouri for El Paso in late August 2016.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jefferson City, Missouri: An Evening at The Mission

Oh, for the days when Mo & Waldo's was open on E. Dunklin Street, in the Old Munichburg neighborhood, back before gentrification began.

Mo & Waldo's, a dive-y pizza place next to the dive-y Welcome Inn, featured blues every weekend. In a town not noted for its class, age, or complexion integration, Mo & Waldo's musical audience included all ages, socio-economic representation, and complexions. Mo & Waldo's also had the most deliciously killer popcorn around; I think it was killer because I'm guessing they used lard to pop the corn instead of oil. Mo & Waldo's was known for its pizza, but I was all about the popcorn.

With that little detour to the past, my kudos to The Mission on E. High Street, a place that is as close to Mo & Waldo's that Jefferson City has to offer at the moment. No popcorn, alas. No pizza. Not quite the good mix of folks that Mo & Waldo's enjoyed. But the vibe is similar, as is the investment in good, live, local musicians. And the decor is intimate and cool, even the bathrooms. The owners and staff are congenial and welcoming.

So I always check to see what's up at The Mission when I visit Jefferson City, like I did here and here.

The Mission, Jefferson City, Missouri. August 2016.

In August, during my between-year intermission, I wandered in again.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Missouri: An Explosion on a Quiet Afternoon


I was working upstairs at my mother's house in a small Missouri town, when whoom! I heard it.

An explosion? A sonic boom? A collapsing sinkhole? Gunfire?

I paused to listen for any follow-up sounds or clues about the source. Nothing.

I descended the stairs and asked my mother if she'd heard it. She allowed as she had, and thought perhaps I'd slammed a door or something.

I went outside the front door and saw neighbors walking toward the south, toward Interstate 70.


Camper explosion in Missouri. August 2016.

A camper in someone's backyard had exploded, evidently from a propane source within. Fortunately, no one was physically injured. But the camper looks like hell.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Boonville, Missouri: Katy Bridge on a Hot-Hot Day

Train choo-ing under Katy Bridge, Boonville, Missouri. August 2016.

My descendant and I left South Louisiana at the beginning of August and came back to Missouri, where I re-deposited her with her parents. 

On our way back to Missouri, via Harrison, Arkansas, we saw this ugly welcome. Fortunately, my granddaughter is too young to take in its over-sized message. 

So began an intermission in Missouri before pushing off to my new home for a year. 

Boonville on a hot-hot day

Hoo-wee, it was hot when we walked over to the Katy Bridge in Boonville.

You wouldn't think I'd be so done in by the heat seeing as how I'd just spent two years in South Louisiana, but sweet Jesus, it was oppressive.

A train chug-chugging under the bridge here and here:

I like how the backdraft pushed the tree branches, and then me, following the train.

Train choo-ing under Katy Bridge, Boonville, Missouri. August 2016.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Peculiar Blindness, Part 4: Casual Contempt

Opelousas, Louisiana. May 2015.

"You never know when it's going to come up and slap you in the face,"  said one of my Louisiana acquaintances, an African-American man. "You've always got to be ready."

The "it" is an act, a gesture, a throw-away comment that shocks - not because of its size or its volume or because of physical harm, but because it is so casual in its delivery, and so careless about its effect. It feels very personal, like someone stepping into your intimate body space to slap you smartly across the face, without warning, stinging your skin, raising a flush of emotions to the surface.

Contempt: The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.

In this post, I share some experiences told to me by several Louisiana acquaintances of color. I've rolled the stories into a composite of a man I'll call "Lem."

What they have in common is a casual and knowing jab by one human being to another. They are not acts of misunderstanding or naiveté. They are intentional and cavalierly cruel.

The cafe

While working out of town one day, but still in Louisiana, Lem went to a cafe for lunch. And, listen, we're not talking about back in the day here; we're talking contemporary times. So anyway, Lem went into a cafe for lunch and ordered his meal. The server brought it. As Lem ate, his eyes wandered over the room, just looking around as one does when eating alone. And he stopped chewing suddenly because he saw. He saw that everyone in the restaurant ate off dinnerware and metal flatware, and drank from glasses. His meal had been served to him on a styrofoam plate, with plastic utensils and a paper cup. He was the only diner eating off of styrofoam and he was the only diner of color.

Too good

A few years back, Lem had an opportunity to buy some used work vehicles at a very good price. They needed mechanical and cosmetic work, and he fixed them up fine. They looked damn pretty when he finished, and Lem was pleased with his investment. He put them to work in his business.

And then he ran into an old, racist line of thinking that kicks in when a person of color possesses something that is "too good."

In Lem's case, while he performed a task in one office, he overhead a conversation of the organization's staff, all white, in an adjacent office. Which went something like this: "You see that vehicle of Lem's out there? If he's doing so good, he obviously doesn't need any work from us in the future."

The school bus driver

Now, this story does go back a bit to, say, 50 years and longer. At least in one parish, African-American children had to walk to school while their white neighbors took the school bus. Lem told me that his parents instructed him to take care that he didn't get his school clothes dirty while walking, by sticking as far over to the right shoulder of the road as possible. Especially on rainy days.

I heard this same experience from several acquaintances.

In fact, their parents' concern wasn't so much about protecting school clothes as it was to protect their children from white students who liked to throw stones at them from the school bus windows when it drove by.

And to protect their children from a school bus driver who, especially on rainy days, scooched over to the right edge of the road for the pleasure of splashing muddy water onto the walking children with his big school bus tires.

The mules

Lem shared a country saying with me: "Don't mind the mules, just load the wagon."

For a number of years, perhaps in the late 80s, Lem worked for a well-known, multi-national company. He often worked outdoors.

One day, a trench needed to be dug. The supervisor ordered the black employees, including Lem, to start digging same. It was a smothering hot day. The supervisor was a guy who liked to throw his weight around. Even so, this task wouldn't be particularly noteworthy in regard to my post today. Except that a white co-worker rolled up to the edge of the deepening trench in a backhoe.

He said to the supervisor: "It is too hot and too slow to have these men dig this hole by hand. It's also unnecessary. I can dig that trench right quick for you with the backhoe."

The supervisor replied, in effect:  "Don't you worry about the mules."

And while Lem and his co-workers continued to slug dirt in the heavy heat, the backhoe stood idle.

Note: This same company later got caught up in a scandalous racial discrimination lawsuit and subsequently settled out of court, agreeing to pay $172 million to the plaintiffs.

The wait

Lem is a business owner who submits competitive bids for work to companies and government agencies.

To write bids that are competitive, business owners must, of course, know what their supplies and equipment will cost them, so this information can be factored into the bids. In an area with a relatively small population such as South Louisiana, there are only a few suppliers who serve the needs of certain project types.

Lem informed a local supplier of the items he'd need for the project he hoped to win; the supplier would give him an estimate of the supply costs so Lem could complete his proposal and submit his bid by the deadline.

Time passed while Lem waited for the estimate and the bid deadline approached. Days, then weeks. Always there was some reason the supplier didn't have the estimate ready for Lem.

Finally, with the deadline almost nigh, Lem went to the supplier. The supplier's employee gave over the estimate. His honor, engaged at last, compelled the employee to tell Lem that his boss had instructed him to withhold the estimate from Lem until it was too late for Lem to submit a bid. But the employee couldn't bring himself to go quite that far.


In Purple Cane Road, Detective Dave Robicheaux relates a story of casual contempt from the 1960s:

The next morning I read the coroner's report ... It was signed by a retired pathologist named Ezra Cole, a wizened, part-time deacon in a fundamentalist congregation made up mostly of Texas oil people and North Louisiana transplants. He had worked for the parish only a short time eight or nine years ago. But I still remembered the pharmacy he had owned in the Lafayette Medical Center back in the 1960s. He would not allow people of color to even stand in line with whites, requiring them instead to wait in the concourse until no other customers were inside.

Related posts

The Peculiar blindness, Part 1: Introduction
The Peculiar Blindness, Part 2: The "Yes, But" Mask
The Peculiar Blindness, Part 3: You Don't See What I Don't See