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The Alaskan and the Greyhound


Normally my Africentric, politically liberal self would not be found staring into the face of a real live redneck – forgive me, “average conservative.” However, this winter holiday season I traveled to the great state of Florida. On a Greyhound bus, from West Palm Beach to Tampa, I found myself in the most unfortunate of conversations.
The bus was dark in the interior, mirroring the night we were driving through. The bulb above my seat was the only light on, due to my reading Lerone Bennett’s “Confrontation: Black and White.” It is his sequel to “Before the Mayflower”, a general history of Black America. The “average conservative” – let’s name him Richard – was seated directly in front of me.
I was fine until he spoke to me. The moment words left his mouth and disturbed the remembrance of Frederick Douglass, panic set in. What do I say? I had heard him speaking to others before this stretch between Ft. Pierce and Lakeland. The twang and all were there. The vocabulary confirmed that he was the living stereotype.
“I haven’t watched Hannity since May,” he said off-handedly.
Did he mean Sean Hannity? The personality on Fox News? Please God no. What did I do to deserve this?
He continued. “I’ve been living off my unemployment, you know. Roommates. Hotels. I got into a hotel yesterday by the bus. They got me to a drop off late. This has been one of the worst two weeks of my life. 31 hours on a bus from New York. So, I finally get a chance to catch Hannity in the hotel room and I can see them messing with the feed.”
“Who messin’ with the feed?” I found myself answering. I was the only person imaginable that he could be speaking too.
“The hotel staff,” he answered with energy.
I blinked. Richard believes in massive governmental conspiracy theories? What? Do we have something in common? (Of course, the argument behind my conspiracy theory is stronger.)
“I think a lot more is going on. I was security for a hotel once. My experience with staff is that they are so busy that they don’t have time to mess with individual TV sets. Probably something wrong with the feed or the actual TV,” I said.
“I got to hear the program, though,” he said. Richard wore a black leather coat and appeared to be a middle-aged man displaced by the Recession. He is a tradesman; lays concrete. A daughter haunts him, one that he speaks fondly of, yet doesn’t have any recent details for.
He tells me that he lives in a hotel somewhere in Lakeland. $400 per month. His unemployment benefits must be enough to afford him a Greyhound Bus ticket. He wasn’t totally broke, but was totally scared.
“I can see it comin’, you know. It’s going to just crash out economy. I tell ya, that health care bill,” he said.
I listened. When he gave me a chance to speak, I used what is taught in anger management class: I whispered.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I come from Alaska,” I said.
“Wow. Do you know Sarah Palin?” he asked. I suffered through five or six popular ideas about Alaska. “Is it true you can see Russia from the Northern shoreline?”
“No Sir,” I said. “Something to do with the curvature of the Earth, I think at 16 degrees. Looks like the water is dropping straight down at the horizon. That’s where the concept of the world being flat comes from.”
“Wow, I didn’t know that,” he said. “Do you guys have concrete or the igloos?”
I am being asked this in real time on January 7, 2013.
I explained to him that Alaska entered the Union in 1959. That we were a Republican State. (He liked that.) I told him about the concept of the Owner State and how we made the oil companies pay for our government.
He blinked. “Ya’ll unemployed?”
“Not really,” I answered. ” We are in the midst of a 21 year growth streak.”
He blinked again.
I continued, “We have more work for skilled labor than we have skilled labor. The apprentices are always recruiting for more people. Look, the conservatives that I normally encounter are mad about how the national party has strayed away Republican principles.”
He gave me a Django look. He even shook his finger. “I knew you were different. You don’t sound like I thought you’d sound. I hate liberals!”
At this point, with his guard down, he was totally expressive. His face flushed red. He leaned forward in his seat.
“They just don’t get it. That’s why they blocking my cable feed to Fox News. They don’t want us to know the Truth. You know, they trying to come after gun laws. The first step to oppressing a People is to take their guns away,” he said. He spoke with the conviction of a struggling tv evangelist desperate for ratings.
“That’s not possible,” I said.
“Yes it is! You hear their slack talk. The media talking about gun control and Newtown.”
“Sir, when the Constitution was written the first response to it was the Bill of Rights,” I said.
I gave him my business card as the bus came to a stop in Lakeland. At that moment, as he gathered his things and left the bus, I felt sorry for him. He came across as a sincere man whose mind operates in an America that was not reflected around him.
Everything was too complex. He was smart, just not smart in the way that the economy rewarded people nowadays. He was hurting inside in a way that I could not perceive.
All he wanted was a job. In lieu of a job, he would accept an enemy. Problem is, those are hard to come by in America nowadays too. We have to make them up, because everyone is hurting.