Given all of the talk (talk based on a large measure of very painful reality) about how divided America is, between red states and blue, conservatives, liberals and the assumed great mass of moderates in-between, real Americans and traitors, I figured it would only be a matter of time before I saw an almost theatrically stereotypical example of American division in my backyard.
As it was, it happened yesterday evening.
I was out walking in my neighborhood (but just a bit, as the heat index had hit a record) and came up to my local gas station. I wanted to go in and get a soda, but sweltering though I was, the soda had to wait, as I was confronted by one of those gaudily painted tour buses that famous musicians and famous and infamous politicians use for road trips. The bus carried Texas plates. A man in a massive Stetson and blindingly gold aviator sunglasses was fueling the bus and a woman who looked as if she could play Sue Ellen Ewing’s double in the remake of “Dallas” stood near him, applying lipstick in a shade of red that would work well on mimes. Or strippers. You want to talk about stereotypes.
As I was walking to go into the store and get my cold drink, a shiny late model Audi A6 pulled up to the pumps on the other side of the bus. I saw that the Audi’s driver was someone who probably lived in my neighborhood, which can best be described as urban upscale hippie but also is known by some as the People’s Republic of South Minneapolis. I think Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty avoid this part of town at all costs, though Walter Mondale’s wife, Joan, has been known to frequent a nearby pottery studio. Audi was wearing Birkenstocks, an outfit that looked as if it could have come out of the latest Lululemon catalogue, and Grateful Dead hair. Even more stereotypes. I smelled trouble.
I was right.
I put the soda on hold as I watched the unfolding of what can only be described as highly undesirable human behavior.
The Audi driver stood holding a windshield cleaner, her face expressing some of the most visceral contempt imaginable (at least to me). As it was, the Texans were glaring directly at Audi. I wondered who might hurl the first insult, because, as I said, I smelled trouble.
It was Audi. She said, in a voice that can perhaps best be described as female Dick Cheney with less cackle and shrill and even more hiss, while also thrusting the windshield cleaner about for emphasis, that “I cannot f—king believe you are actually driving a hideous thing like that in today’s world, what with global warming and the world almost completely out of oil. Don’t you have any respect for the planet?”
I wanted to jump in and say, actually, the world is not out of oil, it’s just quickly running out of cheap, easily extracted and refined oil, but I thought ideas about triple digit priced peak oil should be saved for another time and venue.
The Texan man kept his hand on the pump but said, while maintaining his glare: “Lady, you ought to shut the f—k up yourself. This is a goddamn free country and don’t you forget it. Don’t you know how many jobs depend on oil?” The Texan woman added “yeah, and you’re not exactly driving a hybrid yourself, bitch.” Even their accents were straight out of the Cattlemen’s Club on “Dallas.”
Okay, so a few other people at the station also were watching this scene unfold but being Minnesotans, who usually try to be Minnesota Nice and avoid conflict or confrontation, none of us said anything. Although Minnesota Nice does not preclude watching the conflicts or confrontations of others.
Audi must not have needed much gas, although I know the tanks on those A6 models hold a fair amount of fuel, because she yanked the pump away from her car, damn near threw it at the Texans, and screamed “yeah, but at least I’m not driving a monstrosity that should have been outlawed 25 years ago. But I guess I should expect as much from people from Texas, home of that asshole warmonger George W. Bush.”
“You just shut your f—king mouth, bitch, I’m not taking any crap from some goddamned Minnesota liberal driving some f—king German Audi,” Texan man shouted while tightening his grip on the pump. Texan woman, holding her (probably Chanel) handbag extra close as she leaned into Texan man, said fairly quietly, honey, let’s get out of here now. What a good idea.
Audi never did clean her windshield. But she nearly ripped her door off as she entered her car and said (as I suppose she felt she needed to extend a farewell greeting) that the Texans ought to basically go back to Texas and have intercourse with various farm animals and then die in the fumes of burning oil wells. I am paraphrasing her words. She then took off at a speed that can best be described as unsafe for exiting a fairly small urban gas station.
The Texans laughed heartily as Audi took off and the man said, well, I hope that bitch gets a flat tire on her way to buy some organic Chilean wine. That made me think about the fuel needed to transport the wine from Chile as I also tried to guess just how many gallons of gas the bus tank would hold, but I again decided it would be best to stay quiet.
I watched the Texans get into their bus. They took off more slowly than did Audi. Actually, they took off so slowly that other cars had to wait for them to get out onto the street, as if they were waiting for the presidential motorcade to pass.
The bus gone, a man who had been watching things with me said “well, at least no one got physical.” That’s true. But it was sad all the same to see the sort of despicable actions exhibited by many extremists on the left as well as the right on show at my own corner gas station.
As I walked home, finally drinking my cold one, I thought about how we rightly criticize the divisive, idiotic, unproductive behavior of so many of our elected officials in Washington, Democratic and Republican. Yesterday, I found reason to criticize the divisive, idiotic, unproductive behavior of three ordinary Americans.
But as my fellow gawker said, at least no one got physical. Still, I cannot stop thinking about Abraham Lincoln’s words regarding a house divided. I hope I’m just fascinated with Lincoln’s use of language.