Bad News Outside The Bar
On the Saturday where Space X became the first company to launch astronauts into orbit while my friends were out protesting the murder of Floyd George, I was out on an errand between Houston and Austin, delivering some lumber and a roll of roofing felt to a friend in Elgin, Texas. (In high school my friends and I traded clothing. Now we trade building materials.)
Dressed to get things done on a warm Texas Saturday afternoon, I was in a jean shorts, a black t-shirt adverting “Gem Spa” and highlighter yellow athletic shoes. While I was there I decided to stop downtown to check out the Texas bar where people weren’t allowed to wear face masks, as it had gotten national coverage. At that time the three deaths from Covid -19 in Bastrop County were all people from Elgin.
As soon as I turned onto Elgin’s main drag, I saw the Liberty Tree Tavern, which had doubled down on their poor choices with a sign proclaiming that they were having Karaoke that night from 9-1. Given that singing is known to spread the virus, that seemed an especially bad idea. Given the amount of news coverage it had received, I was also surprised to see that the sign advising people not to wear face masks was far smaller than I expected, just printed on what appeared to be a piece of 8×10 office paper, now fading a bit in the Texas sun.
Given that they had added to the story by hosting a singing event, I wanted a picture. I parked my SUV in the shade, grabbed my phone and popped across the street to get a photo. Since the Coronavirus has put a stop to my wanton travel, I figure it was like stopping to take a photo of a gas station in the shape of a dinosaur or a giant ball of string. Not worth a trip out of the way, but deserving of a stop if one happens to be there.
After taking a few phone photos, and peeking inside the bar enough to see that it actually contained patrons, I was on my way back to the car when I hear a man bellowing, “Ma’m, Ma’m, take my picture.” I didn’t stop. I wasn’t going to get close enough to take this man’s photo and I had the dog in the car.
“Hey social justice warrior,” the man coming out of the bar continued shouting from across the street. He then continued shouting that Antifa was blocking off I-35 in Austin, and that I still had time to go help them.
I was shocked. I hadn’t been wearing a face mask to go take a photo on an empty street. Except for the fact that my hair is still somewhat purple, I don’t look much different than many other women with a full Saturday schedule. My only notable accessory was some sticky burs in my hair from scooping up the recycling from between the weeds at my friend’s Elgin farm.
I was surprised, because being a short white lady with chubby cheeks and an authoritative air means people seldom try and tell me what to do. I recognize that I have an awful lot of white privilege.
Being targeted for this kind of abuse based on the speculation of a stranger seemed particularly poignant on that Saturday. Being the target of verbal abuse on a day that many people across America were protesting the tragic murder of George Floyd makes it clear both how very small the abuse I encountered was and how much it illustrates that we need to stop judging people on what they look like, and how we perceive what they look like means about their values.
The man who shouted at me managed to wrap the twin problems in this country around each other and congeal them into a fetid mess. He wasn’t yelling at me about a face mask, he was yelling at me telling me that I ought to be on the highway with the other protesters.
We currently have many divisions in this country. Between mask haters and mask makers. Between the Black Lives Matter protesters and seemingly kind people who will shock you with their casual racism. Protesters around the country are being attacked with tear gas and “less lethal” projectiles that can take out an eye or crack a skull. Blood is being spilled. We appear to be on a trajectory of things getting far worse in our divided country before they get better.
In this burning world where protesters are forcing changes daily, why should you care about some man yelling at me outside a small time bar in a faded small town?
My being verbally attacked in the street in Texas for an imagined non-crime is a sign that the culture wars are heating up far beyond the civil unrest we are seeing in the cities. That hate and division was on display in a sleepy small town on a Saturday afternoon.
We are in a country on the brink of a civil war. Peaceful protesters were cleared from in front of the White House so that the President of the United States could have a photo taken with a church behind him and an upside down bible.
We are in an era of “us” vs “them.”
The man who came out of the bar and tied the two issues together isn’t alone in his reasoning or in his anger.
I’m terrified of what is to come.