The Rockin' Sista

The Rockin' Sista
"Hmm...what can I get into now?"

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Night We Lost Dr. King

I was 17 when Dr. King was killed. I will always remember when it happened.
My brothers were paper boys and we had dropped off their money and they had their pay and my Mom loaded us all in the car and we were driving to Chicago to spend the weekend with our Aunt Bootsie and Mike and Keith. We were on the road when we heard that Dr. King had been shot. We were all stunned, shocked and for a moment, none of us spoke. We were listening to the radio and it just seemed like it sucked all the air out of us. Who would have done such a thing?

I remember that I had tears in my eyes and that I felt bereft and painful. We had lost someone who meant a lot to us all, but I didn't realize at that moment just how much we had lost. 
We were halfway there when the first reports of unrest in Chicago came up. Should we go home or should we keep going? Mom thought we would be all right, so we kept going. When we got there we knew we should have gone back home. We could hear gunfire and we saw smoke and things did not look good. Our Aunt lived on the west side where the rioting was happening and somehow we made it to her house. We parked the car and ran in the house and then we heard more gunfire. Should we have left the car there? Our Uncle Robert moved the car to the back of the house and we all huddled inside.
It seemed like gunfire was going off every minute. We didn't sleep in the beds near the windows. We slept on the floor just in case. It was terrifying.
While I don't condone rioting, I understand the rage that makes people do it. When you have been suppressed and oppressed and no one listens to you and you feel hopeless and powerless, and the rage just builds until you just explode. I get that. 
But this was my first time being in the midst of it and it was frightening but the little rebel inside me understood their rage and anger. Dr. King was a man of peace. Why would someone want to kill him? We knew it wasn't a black man who did it. But again, why?
We left Chicago after the National Guard came and settled things down. I wasn't so sure this was a good thing. People had a right to be angry. We had lost someone who meant a lot to us and as usual, Mayor Daley just decided to shut it all down and make everyone behave. We saw burned out buildings and lots of soldiers on the street and people did go inside but I knew the anger was still there. 
We were glad to get home where it was quiet and we could think about what had happened. I knew this was going to change the way we lived and that it wasn't going to be for the better. Dr. King spoke for the poor and the disadvantaged and nobody cared about us. Things were just beginning to get better. What would happen to black people and civil rights now?
But my biggest revelation was yet to come.
Back at school, we talked about it. We didn't understand why someone would want to kill him unless they just hated black people and hated what was happening. That had to be it.

The white people acted like it was no big deal. They didn't care about him. They had no idea how hurt and devastated we black people were. We were together in school physically, but we were still disconnected from each other in reality. This became apparent in the following days. 
The day before his funeral, the school administrators decided that if we wanted to stay home and watch the funeral and honor his memory, we black students could take the day off of school. I recall the anger that the white kids in my class exploded with. I recall I tried to explain to them then that they didn't know who he was or what he was trying to do and nobody wanted to hear it. These were people I had considered my friends and they showed who they really were with their reaction to that simple day off to honor Dr. King. I never looked at them the same way after that.
Fifty years later, I cannot recall names and faces but I clearly recall the rage and anger they expressed thinking we black students were going to get something they weren't going to get. But over the years, I have seen that same reaction every time white people thought we were being favored or chosen over them or given something they didn't get or just treated as equals to them.
Dr. King was a complex man as most people are. He tried to do good things but he wasn't perfect. He was just a man. Back then, not that many believed he was an agent for good. I heard more sneering nasty comments from white people than I want to think about. I got into many arguments about him.
Even my parents were afraid that somehow white people would get mad at us and would treat us even worse than we had been in the past. They grew up and endured horrible treatment because of Jim Crow laws. It was why they left the South during the Great Migration.
But now, everyone, even racists who do not believe in what he tried to teach us use his name. They quote him even if it's only part of what he said. He is recognized for what he tried to do.
I just remember how hollow and awful I felt looking at that casket on that mule drawn wagon, going down the street in Atlanta that day. I looked at the faces and I remember seeing Bobby Kennedy walking along in the procession. It was hot that day and he had taken his jacket off and he and Ethel were walking together. She was pregnant. He was going to run for President and I was sure he was going to make things better. I had faith in him.
Two months later, he was gone too. I gave up all hope for what our country was going to be. I didn't care anymore. I went to college but I didn't care. I just wanted to have fun. All the people who cared and tried to change things got killed. Nothing mattered.
Fifty years later, are we any better off? I feel that hollow and empty feeling every day when I get up and look at the news. Whatever progress we had made has been lost in the past year. So here we are.
What would Dr. King say about us now?

Saturday, September 23, 2017


A friend wrote a very impassioned post a few days ago about how her friends seemed to be so very resistant to dealing with the mere fact that racism exists.  I thought about what she said and I even posted a response but sometimes, things just stick in your mind, you know?

There have been a lot of articles written about how deeply in denial a lot of white people are about racism. It makes them uncomfortable to talk about it and they wish we wouldn’t bring it up so much. I mean, after all, none of them are racist, right?

With the exception of some diehard white supremacists, white people as a rule will deny that they are racist even after they have been seen doing or saying something extremely racist.

“That isn’t me,” they protest, “I’m not like that. That isn’t who I am,” they whine, the ink on the page where they called someone the n-word barely dry.
I don’t understand that one. 

I used to think it was because the image of a racist was some guy named Billy Joe Jim Bob who drove a truck with a confederate flag on the back with his dog named Rufus and his gun rack in the back of the cab.

I know now that a whole lot of white folks drive trucks with the flag and their dog and gun rack and they don’t think they are racist at all. (And his name is Will, thank you very much.)

It’s like they suddenly realized that racism exists and that it is more widespread than they believed and now they know it’s bad but don’t seem too willing to do much about it. They don’t want to discuss it because it’s too hard for them.
People just shrugged and said, “It’s just the way it is.”

For years, Black people have protested about their treatment. We were lynched for no real reason other than we were black. Sometimes folks told a lie and that got a man or a boy lynched. People brought their children to watch. They even fixed lunch baskets and posed for pictures with the victims. I still think of the pregnant woman who got lynched. They cut the baby out of her and stomped it to death.

But it’s black people who are violent, right?

We get harsh treatment from the ones who were supposed to protect us. We go to jail in higher numbers even though we are only 12% of the population. Cops were more likely to shoot us because they “fear for their lives,” even when it’s just a little boy with a toy gun.

We get pulled over and fined for minor offenses when white people just get a lecture and are let go. Sometimes we even got killed for them.
But I don’t need to bring up all the injustices because you know it, and you don’t want to hear it anyway, right?

But when we tried to tell other white people about something racist that happened to us personally, we were told it wasn’t true. Officer Bob is a good guy and he wouldn’t do anything wrong. It had to be us. We should have obeyed his every command even if it was wrong. Race had nothing to do with it, we were told.

“That kind of thing doesn’t happen now,” they told us, “it’s 2017. People aren’t like that anymore. I can’t believe it’s still happening. Maybe it’s something else. It’s not always race, you know.”

No one listened to us because it had to be our fault. Racism just wasn’t that big a deal.

Well, listen now because this part is on you.

Remember that friend of yours that said he didn’t like black people?

“Oh, he’s ok. He just has a thing about it, you know.”

Or your Uncle Joe who always told racist jokes and made it a point to say racist things at family get togethers.  He didn’t mean any harm, did he?

And that woman who clutches her purse into her body when black people get too close. It’s not her fault. She got robbed by a black man so she is afraid of all of us now.

How many times did you try to check them? Did you tell your friend that you have black friends and you don’t appreciate his being racist to them? Did you tell him that he’s a racist and that he needs to look into his own heart?

Did you stop Uncle Joe? Did you tell him his jokes aren’t funny and that you don’t want him to say things like that in front of the children because they will soon learn that it’s all right to say those things? Did you tell him that you want your children to treat everyone with dignity and grace and that his behavior is crass and ugly?

Did you remind your friend that black people have far more reasons to be afraid of white people? Did you tell her about the lynchings and the murders that happened for no reason other than the person was a racist and knew he could get away with it?

You didn’t did you? Not ever. You just kept quiet because you didn’t want to make a big deal of it and you didn’t want people to think you were soft or that you are a n-word lover. You still wanted them to think you were a fine upstanding member of the community and you weren’t going to call them on their ugly behavior.

You realize that by always being quiet, you allowed that kind of behavior to persist year after year, person after person. Racism flourishes in the dark, quiet places we don’t want to address. We don’t want to go there, we don’t want to say anything, so we find a way to justify it and hope that everyone moves on.
You try not to acknowledge the hurt you see in your black friends’ eyes. It’s not your fault. You didn’t say anything wrong. We are being too sensitive.

But you didn’t say anything at all. You didn’t defend us and you didn’t try to see why we were hurt.

For years, people like me didn’t say anything either. We swallowed hard – that big lump of racism is hard – and we told our friends and family who shook their heads and shared instances of the same behavior with you. They didn’t tell you that it was all in your head and that Bob is really a good guy. They knew that Bob was a racist and that you were complicit in his racism because you didn’t say anything.

We wanted to stay friends so we just didn’t say anything to you though we never forgot it. We wondered if it was just us or if you weren’t the friend we thought you were. But it stayed with us.

Now you want to say that you are “woke,” too. You are our “allies.” You finally understand where we are coming from. You don’t want to identify with the groups of people in the streets yelling racist chants and you see them calling us names and taunting us openly now. You are offended and appalled and you want it to stop. You act like this is all new.

Maybe for you. Not for us.

You want this to end? It’s on you.

You need to step outside of your comfortable space and try to look at the world through our eyes. Listen to what we tell you. Pay attention to our pain. Hear us when we speak. Don’t get defensive. Don’t say you are being attacked. Yes, it’s uncomfortable but stop and listen to us.

And when you see or hear racist behavior or language, stop it. Don’t assume it’s all right. It’s not.

And now, this pretend president that we are suffering with, he has emboldened the racists so that now we know who they are. When he said racist things, instead of disavowing him, white people rushed to vote for him. “He says the things that I am thinking,” they said.

And then they had the nerve to be shocked when black folks were appalled with them. After all, voting for him meant that you were okay with the offensive things he said, right?

So now the incidences of hate crimes have increased since November. People of color are being openly harassed and everyone is nervous.
People of color aren’t comfortable much of anywhere anymore. More of us are buying guns but you know what that means: Officer Bob/Betty sees you have a gun and suddenly, they “fear for their lives” and you end up dead.

And yes, this is something YOU can help fix.

What is it they said about the terrorists, “if you see something, say something.” Well, these days, the terrorists aren’t immigrants. They are Americans, right here among us, festering in their rage and hatred.

We have to find some way to get past all this. We have to get to know each other and we have to talk to each other and we have to understand what is being said. It’s the only way things can even begin to change. Otherwise we are going to go deeper down the rabbit hole of hatred and I don’t know how we will ever find out way out.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Grand Tour of the South

I hadn’t been anywhere in a long time. Actually, I hadn’t been traveling much over the past 10 years. I am used to taking off and going here or there to visit family and friends and I had not been doing that much. I missed a good road trip.

My brother and I had gone to Philadelphia once and Savannah, GA twice to visit his son and his family. We’d taken short trips from Chicago to Galesburg to visit friends and family but that was about all. And since I’d been in Florida, I really hadn’t gone anywhere so I was overdue for a trip.

Blountstown, Florida is a nice little town in the Panhandle of Florida. Nothing much happens here and if you don’t have a car, you are really stuck. We lost our car late last year and we had only been going to the doctor either in Tallahassee or Panama City and I was very bored.

Eddie is living in Tucson, Arizona and we hadn’t seen each other in nearly 2 years. He had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and amyloidosis in 2011 and we had gone though all of his treatment and chemotherapy together in Chicago.  In 2015, we both left Chicago; he went to Tucson and I went to Blountstown.

Eddie also has severe glaucoma and we had to deal with multiple eye surgeries as his doctor was determined to save what sight my brother had left so it had been a long and difficult process for him but he had been a true warrior and went through it all barely complaining.

I was honestly concerned about his health and I wanted to see for myself how he was. He is kind of stoic and will say he is all right even when he is in pain so I wanted to be sure he really was all right. He was pretty much alone out there so I figured a visit was in order. I had never been to Texas so I thought it would be fun to take the bus out there.

Now I don’t have a problem riding the bus. When I was a child, we often took the bus to go to visit family. We took trips from Chicago to Detroit, Washington, D.C., New York but mostly to Vero Beach, Florida, where our grandparents lived.  I loved those trips on Greyhound.

And after I was grown, I still didn’t mind taking bus trips so it wasn’t unusual for me to do it again. Most of my friends and family by then swore they could not do it but I didn’t mind. As long as I had something to read, music and something to drink between stops, I was good.

This was going to be a different route than what I had initially looked at when I was deciding when to go. It would have made sense for the bus to stick close to I-10 and go through Destin, Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans, Houston, and San Antonio.

Instead, it went to Houston then up to Dallas and then down to El Paso and then Lordsburg, New Mexico and then to Tucson. I was leaving from Panama City, Florida so the trip would take about 2 days. It was a longer trip than I had taken for a while. Usually, my trips were about 24 hours in length. But I was fine with it. I had packed most of what I needed in a handy carryon bag.

Now I am not a person who travels light. I try but I always seem to take too much. I was taking my laptop with me and my backpack to keep with me. My carryon was just a bit too big to go in the overhead bin so I checked my suitcase and kept the rest with me.

I am a senior and I do have some health issues that make some travel a bit tricky for me, so I always request to sit in the front seats and I ask for priority boarding so that I don’t have to wait in line. Usually, the ticket agents are good about it and I get my seat before most of the other people get on the bus. They also check my bag granting it “special handling” which means that when I have to change buses, I don’t have to go get my bag. The baggage people will put it on the bus for me which really helps a lot.

We don’t have a car, but Harmon, my husband, was going to the doctor in Tallahassee the day I planned to leave. I always go with him to the doctor and we get picked up by the local senior transportation service. I asked if I could be dropped off at the bus station in Tallahassee which meant I could get a bus to Panama City sparing me having to get someone to take me to PC. That went smoothly, even though a one way ticket to PC cost me more than I had expected.

I got to the station earlier than I had planned and had to sit there for a few hours waiting for the bus. I hadn’t gotten any cash so I couldn’t get something out of the vending machines and the charging station there didn’t work and I needed to charge my phone so I had to use the one connection they had there.
The bus station closed for an hour or so in the afternoon so we all had to leave the station. There was no place near where we could wait so I went across the street and sat at the bus stop because it was the one place where there was a bench with shade. And yes, it was hot. But it was better than sitting on the ground so I sat there. I was letting my friends and family know where I was and how my trip was going on Facebook.

The bus arrived late but finally, we boarded and took off. I was going to be on the same bus all the way to Houston so I was delighted. The driver was a black woman and she was a really good driver. She made up the lost time and got us to Mobile on time.

I hate it when we get to a station and the restaurant is closed. I figure if buses are going to arrive there all times of night, they should keep something open so that we weary and hungry travelers can get a sandwich or something. I got some cash from an ATM and hit the vending machines and that had to do till we got to Lake Charles.

The stop there was actually a gas station, which I discovered is what many stops are. They had fried chicken and meat pies which I love so I got some and a cup of coffee and that was my breakfast.

I had ridden along pretty much sitting alone all the way to Houston but when I had to get on my new bus, I found it was packed and I had to put my carry on under the bus and tuck my backpack under the seat. It was really uncomfortable. My legs were stiff and I could barely move my knees so each time we had a stop and could get off the bus and stretch, I did. Unfortunately, I had to ride that way all the way through Texas, which was no fun.

I had to change buses in Dallas and that was a trip. There were a few customer service agents whom I called the Seat Nazis. There were some seats reserved for Priority Boarding and they insisted that you pay the $5 for that privilege.

Now Greyhound policies state that if you are elderly or handicapped, you qualify for Priority Boarding and no one had asked me to pay for it.

Not the Seat Nazis. One of them walked through the station yelling at people telling them they couldn’t sit in the Priority section unless they had their ticket stamped Priority. She didn’t want you to sit on the floor and she was clearing folks away.

That bus station was crowded so there wasn’t enough space for anyone to sit down. I went to the ticket counter and paid the $5 and they stamped my ticket Priority all the way to Tucson and also from Tucson all the way home. I felt better about that and the Seat Nazi allowed me to sit peacefully till my bus left.

I got to Tucson as scheduled and got an Uber to take me to my brother’s apartment. His place is small but really nice and very clean. We were glad to see each other. We often sit and talk for hours about political issues, social and racial issues and then we laugh and share family memories. He and I have always been close and we had missed each other. I wanted to go with him for his chemotherapy and talk to his doctors myself.

I decided to spend a few more days with him and I changed my departure from Tuesday to Friday. It wasn’t until that night before that I realized that if I had left that Friday, I would have gotten caught right in the path of Hurricane Harvey who just happened to be visiting Houston about the same time I would have arrived.

I endured a visit from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and that was about all the time I wanted to spend with a hurricane so I postponed my trip again to the following Wednesday.

I called Greyhound that Monday and asked if leaving would be all right. The person I spoke to had a very heavy accent and was hard to understand and he apparently didn’t want to talk to me so he was trying to hurry me off the phone. He told me that I would be rerouted after I got to Dallas and I asked him again if it would be all right to leave Wednesday and he assured me it would.

Looking back, I wonder if there was some kind of communication gap between us, but I did ask him more than once and he kept saying it would be fine.


So Wednesday, I showed up at the bus station and the ticket agent told me there were no buses going that way and that I should not travel for a few days. I told him I had called and spoken to someone and he said, well, you will get to Dallas anyway. 

I should have listened to him. But he took my bag, checked it through to Panama City and off I was again, on my way home.

When we got to El Paso, a baggage clerk there told me I could not take my carryon on the bus.  The bus wasn't that crowded so he was just being a jackass. I had only paid for one seat he rudely reminded me and I had to go check my bag. That was going to cost me $15 and I had already paid to change my ticket and I didn’t want to spend any more.

Thankfully, when I went to the ticket agent, I told her what I had been going through and she didn’t charge me to check the second bag. I was not happy about it though.

I have asthma and cigarette smoke really bothers me. I hated having to walk through the cloud of smoke to get in and out of the bus station and having people get back on the bus with their clothes and hair reeking of smoke was making me really sick.

One man got on the bus and asked if he could sit next to me and without thinking I said no. He smelled like the bottom of an ashtray. No way I could have tolerated that! It was bad enough that he sat behind me. But I managed to have the seat all to myself most of the way home, thank God.

When I got to Dallas the next day, my suitcase was not there. Apparently the agent in Tucson had forgotten to put it on the bus. And the customer service agent there in Dallas told me that I could not leave until the next evening. I was going to have to spend the night in Dallas. 

Things were getting worse.

The station was full of people and I was concerned about my missing bag. She suggested I go to a shelter but we both knew that wasn’t a good idea. There were a lot of people stranded there at the station and some of them were either trying to get away from Houston or trying to get there. Many of them were headed for the shelter and it was already nearly full. 

I went outside and looked around and saw several hotels but most looked out of my league. This trip was going to cost me a lot of money.

I went to McDonalds and tried to get on to Priceline and get a bargain on a hotel there and for some reason that didn’t work so I realized the one hotel was the cheapest one so I trudged the 2 blocks and got a room there.

I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept much the night before and I fell into bed and slept a few hours after I let my family and friends know where I was. I had set up a group text with my brothers and nephew and friend and I contacted Harmon and assured them all I was all right.

I got up, went to get something to eat and drink and because I had nothing to sleep in, I bought a few tee shirts and came back and took a shower and passed out again. I looked up a few places intending to go get some Texas barbecue the next day. My hotel room was quiet and comfortable and I got some good rest before I got up, cleaned up and checked out.

Two doors down I saw a little fried chicken place. Nothing fancy - just fried chicken. It had to be good because there was a long line inside so I went in and ordered a couple of pieces and sat down and enjoyed it before I walked over to the bus station.

It was still packed but I got there around 1:30 and my bus wasn’t leaving till 7:30 but I had nowhere else to sit and wait so I did. Thankfully, the Seat Nazi didn’t hassle me and I didn’t have any problems while waiting.  

I asked one of the customer service agents a few times about my bag and one finally took me over to the baggage area and lo and behold, there was my suitcase, tagged and stacked and ready to go on the bus I was going to take. I felt a lot better.

I shouldn’t have. I should have taken my suitcase with me. But no, I was trusting them to get my bag home with me and I left it there. This was Friday afternoon.

I met this wonderful lady who was 75 years old and was still working as a nurse. We sat and talked for hours. She really made the time go by a lot faster. I wished that we had been going in the same direction, but we weren’t.

I had been rerouted through Shreveport, Birmingham and Atlanta. I would change buses there and take another bus that would go south through Georgia and then over to Tallahassee. There, I could wait 8 hours for the bus to Panama City. I said no, I could call my family and they would come get me in Tallahassee. 

I sent Harmon a text and told him that I would not be home until 10 p.m. on Sunday. He spoke to our friend and told her and she said she would be sure to be there to get me.

We got to Shreveport late. We were even later getting to Jackson, Mississippi. We had to wait there and the bus station was locked when we got there. Someone opened the door and the restaurant was closed and there were barely enough seats for us all to sit in. There was nothing for us to do but just stand around and wait. It was awful. The bathroom was disgusting.

We got to Birmingham late as well. We stopped at one place that did have food so we got a good breakfast and of course, we got to Atlanta late. I missed the bus I was supposed to take and guess what? My suitcase was not on the bus.

Now when I got to Dallas, they had issued me a different ticket. I had my luggage tag at that point. I was assured my bag would make the trip so I wasn’t too worried. It did have a luggage tag on it with my name and destination. Actually, I had gotten a different ticket in Tucson, Dallas, Atlanta and Mobile. Somewhere along the line, my luggage tag went MIA.

However, our bus was late arriving in Atlanta and I missed my connection by about half an hour. When I spoke to the ticket agent, she issued a different ticket for me and I was glad because it got me back to the original route and I would get home at 9 a.m. the next day instead of 10 p.m. as I had originally been told.

I checked in with Customer Service again, and I was seated in Priority Boarding. It was at this point that I think I wasn’t given my luggage tag. She again assured me that my bag would go on to Panama City and that I shouldn’t worry. I had checked a second bag but did not trust “special handling” so I kept it close to me.

Two years ago, I took a trip from Chicago to Savannah, GA with my brother and we were seated in Priority Boarding in Atlanta to wait for our transfer to the bus to Savannah.  The way it is supposed to work is that an agent is supposed to let the bus driver know that he has Priority riders and that he is supposed to walk us out to the bus and board us before the rest of the travelers are boarded. 

So we sat there, trusting the agent to get us on the bus.
However, the agent forgot that we were there and did not board us and we ended up having to wait 5 hours for the next bus. We were given a voucher for future travel but we didn’t use it.

So I was leery about being seated there and I spoke to several of the people working in Customer Service so that I would not be forgotten again. They all assured me I would not be forgotten and that they would see to it that I was seated. One even gave me a voucher for a meal which was nice.

The bus was supposed to leave at 11:35 that evening but it was late. We weren’t informed that our bus was late until after midnight and we were told it would be another hour before it arrived. 

I was afraid I would not get home when scheduled and I had already contacted my family to let them know when to expect me. Since my arrival time had been changed so many times, I was worried, but they assured me they would be there whenever I got there.

I went to ask the ticket agent about when another bus would leave in Mobile because I was going to miss the connecting bus. She gave me some kind of silly reply that did not really address my question. I noticed the customer service agent who assured me he would take me to my bus walking off with his meal and when I got back to the Priority Seating area, they were seating people for my bus! No announcement, no one had come to get me, if I hadn’t returned when I did, I would have missed my bus!

I rushed out and told the driver I was to get Priority Boarding and he said no one had told him I was there and he told me to go ahead and get on the bus.
We were very late arriving in Mobile, so once again, I had to sit 6 hours till the next bus. This was Sunday morning and I had been traveling since Wednesday afternoon. 

And no, my bag was not on the bus when I got to Mobile.

I got to Panama City Sunday afternoon about 4:30. Yes, we were late. And what amazed me was that the driver stopped at a convenience store not 5 minutes from the bus station. 

When we got there, I went to get my carryon bag. When we left Mobile, he was the one who insisted I put that bag under the bus and had asked to see the luggage tag on the bag. I showed it to him and he had the bag put on the bus.
But when I got to Panama City, I didn’t see my bag. I asked about my bag because it hadn’t been taken off the bus. 

The driver said it must not have been on the bus and I insisted that it was. It was on the other side of the bus and the driver demanded a luggage tag. I reminded him that he had seen my bag in Mobile and that it was tagged with my destination and name and he allowed me to claim it with my ID.

I asked the ticket agent in Panama City if he had a bag there that had not been claimed. As I said, the bus station there closes for a while in the afternoon and he was ready to leave and didn’t want to take the time to look for my bag.

By then I was tired and frustrated and I just wanted to get my bag and go home. You see, Blountstown is about 40 miles from Panama City and I don’t have a car so I didn’t want to have to ask someone to make a second trip for me to get my second bag.

He was not willing to even listen to me, but said if I didn’t have a luggage tag, he couldn’t look for it. I kept telling him he needed to stop and listen and he did but it was clear he was angry and didn’t want to entertain me. 

He made a half-hearted attempt to look for it but I told him that I had been re-ticketed so many times that I didn’t have a luggage tag anymore. He couldn’t find my name in the system and I realized he wasn’t really going to look for me. I left my name and number and what the bag looked like and asked him to call me.

I have called a few times in the 10 days since I got home. The agent said that things were slowly coming in from that direction and he hoped my bag would still arrive. But in order to fill out a lost suitcase claim, I have to go to Panama City so I will have to make a second trip anyway. So far, my suitcase, marked “Special Handling” is still missing.

To put it briefly, this was a nightmare of a trip. I really do understand about rerouting me because of the hurricane. I know the roads were flooded and that my route would have taken me right through areas that were hit hard with floods and wind. But I still think things could have been handled a lot better.

There were a few bus drivers who just didn’t seem to care that we were late and that we were going to miss connections because of it. That really made me angry. I have been with drivers who hate being late and really do their best to get us there as close to the original time as they can. Not these drivers. They just moseyed along and took longer times at the rest stops and caused a lot of us to miss our next bus.

I wrote a letter to Greyhound after I got home. I don’t expect to hear much from them.

I am not sure if I will take Greyhound again. I think this was the final straw for me.

All I want now is my suitcase.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Friend, My Protector

One night when I was about 19 or so, I was hanging out at this bar/restaurant in town. The drinking age was 21, but because my father was the chef there, I was allowed to hang out. Plus, I didn’t really try to sneak a drink and the owners were cool.
An older black man that I didn’t know said something to me that was off the wall and I just looked at him like he was crazy. He took my lack of comment as approval and kept talking to me. I was quite uncomfortable with his sexual innuendoes and not really sure how to get him to shut up without being totally disrespectful.
A big blonde biker looking man was sitting at the table nearby and correctly assessed the situation and leaned over and told the guy to back off. I had seen that guy before; he came to the place often and nodded at me with a grin as he passed by.
The man got totally offended that a white guy would tell him to leave me alone and went into this whole tirade about how he was going to kick his butt. I was wondering if he had really gotten a good look at this guy because he was no pushover.
He was big and broad and looked strong as all get out not to mention he was wearing black leather and a no-nonsense look on his face.
They went back and forth and finally the black man said let’s take this outside. The biker gladly got up and so did I and we went to see what was going to happen.
It was over before it started. It was one of those two-hit fights you hear so much about – the white guy hit him and he hit the ground. And he lay there a while.
We went back downstairs laughing and my Dad asked what had happened and we told him. He told the biker, Jerry, my Dad called him, thanks and bought him a beer.
And so I met Jerry Whitman – known to many as “Animal.”
So Jerry and I became friends. I think we knew instantly there was no sexual chemistry or any of that. Hell, he was married and I was still innocent and kind of childish. That didn’t last long!
One night I let him convince me to go to a party in Wataga with him. I didn’t go out there much – it was just a lot of white farmers and they weren’t always cool to black folks but he insisted I would be all right. So I got in the sidecar of his bike and went with him.
Apparently Jerry told his friends to spike my Pepsi and anything else I was drinking. I was staggering about and being silly and he and his friends were laughing like mad. I don’t remember hardly anything except when he was taking me home and I said I wanted some tacos from the Hideout.
Somehow we made it there and I got my tacos and when we got to my house, it took me a while to get out of the sidecar. I was drunk beyond belief.
My parents heard the bike and my Dad came to the door, turning on the front porch light. By then I had fallen out of the sidecar and was lying face down in the grass, still clutching my bag of tacos and my purse. Jerry figured my Dad wouldn’t like that much and he took off and left me like that.
Yeah, I had some choice words for him the next time I saw him! And my Dad was winding up to rip him one when another patron of the bar had decided he needed to take my virginity and was squeezing my butt and thighs, not realizing that my father was not far away.
Jerry being the good citizen he was, told the dude that I was indeed a virgin but that he should tread light if trying to hit on me. The man then detailed to Jerry exactly what his plans were which Jerry helpfully repeated to my father.
Dad came out of the kitchen with a large knife and snatched up the poor guy and threatened to cut him up in dozens of tiny pieces. The guy was scared out of his mind and took off.
I looked back and saw Jerry sitting in a booth with the beers my Dad had bought him just grinning like a Cheshire cat.
I knew then what my friend was really like. And I loved it.
Jerry took me to biker parties and I took him to the black bars, called “The Clubs.” People were always doing double takes when they saw us.
Who expected to see a big muscle bound blonde biker with a little black chick dressed in spandex and heels together?
I got to know some of Jerry’s family. His sister was married to a guy I had known since high school and her laughter was like magic to me.
To this day, I love to see Marilyn laugh. She radiates an inner beauty that most people only dream of. She and I became fast friends. I love her madly.
He had another brother that I knew from the bars but he and I were never close like Jerry and I were. And of all people, his father was one of my biggest fans.
My father liked Jerry but he had known him before I did. They had been drinking buddies and Jerry had been asking him for recipes and such. I don’t think Dad thought about us being friends but as long as that is all we were, he was ok with it.
Mama was a bit nervous about it but Jerry had dinner with us one night and declared her food to be sent from Heaven and he gave her one of his famous bear hugs and kissed her cheek and that was that. She would often ask me where my friend Jerry was and when he was coming over again.
Now we grew up in a town that liked to say it was tolerant about race but it was just a story for them. While we all lived close together and went to school together, there was still a generous dose of classism/racism going on.
Galesburg had been a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 1800’s and there were stories about how they had helped slaves escape to freedom but those days were long gone.
Our swimming areas were still segregated and there were some restaurants and bars where people of color were not welcome. (That never stopped Jerry. He took me to several of them daring anyone to say a word.)
It was obvious that many people there thought they were superior to black people and, I might add, a biker from Wataga too.
I was at a bar one night with a couple of friends when a truck driver came in and was giving us looks. He was a white guy, big and country and he didn’t like to see so much “race mixing” going on.
Jerry had come in too and he was standing not far from the guy who was at the bar.
Finally, the man leaned over to the bartender and said something like there are too many niggers in here. Why do you let them hang out in here?
The bartender was flustered and asked him what drink he wanted and he said he didn’t want a drink, he wanted all the niggers gone. Jerry turned to him and said, “Maybe you need to leave.”
“Why should I leave? I’m a white man. I can go where I want to.”
“People here get along. We don’t need trouble from assholes like you. I think you need to leave.”
The redneck bristled up and stood up, glaring at Jerry, “What are you fucking one of nigger girls? You can’t tell me what to do…..”
And then Jerry stood up and said, “I’m going to tell you one more time to get out of here and then I’m going to kick your ass. You can’t come in here insulting my friends.”
The two glared at each other a long moment when the trucker realized that Jerry had about 4 other bikers with him and they were all standing at attention ready to spring into action if Jerry said the word.
Not only that, but all the black men around were also glaring at him and he realized that he was about to get the ass whipping of his life. The bartender repeated that he had to go or he was going to call the cops.
He paid for his drink and left and the party went on.
Later one of the black guys said to Jerry, “Just one time will you let us kick the redneck’s butt? You always get at them first!”
Jerry laughed, “Next time we take them together, ok?” And they agreed and laughed.
We both had our friends and we went separate ways, but we always managed to hang out together. I will not ruin both our reputations by telling you all the things we did together. Suffice it to say we had lots of fun.
We were always laughing. We used to just give each other the side eye and we would both would fall out.
We would drink shots together and he would egg me on to drink more knowing I had no tolerance and that I would get drunk. And then he would laugh and tell me what I had done the next time he saw me.
One night we were at a bar and an older woman had decided that she wanted to take Jerry home. He was not into it but she wasn’t giving up..She kept brushing up close to him and grinning up at him and he was really embarrassed but kept trying to let her down nicely. She tried to drag him to the dance floor and she was simply relentless. I was laughing and he was threatening to throw me out the window but it was too funny.
Finally, he said he had to go to the bathroom and he managed to escape. I teased him about that one for years.
But out of all the people I knew, Jerry was one who would not tolerate any kind of slight be it racist, sexist or what. He insisted that we all be treated with respect and while I knew his friends all thought I was his side chick, they were always friendly and nice to me.
I found out later that the way he kept them all from trying to hit on me was by telling them that I was indeed his mistress and they dared not approach me. I had to laugh when I realized that.
There were other times that some drunk guys said something off color to me or referred to me as a coon or something like that. He didn’t try to reason with them or tell me to ignore them. He got right up in their faces and insisted that they shut up and/or apologize or get handled. Nobody wanted him to handle them and usually left right away. I especially liked it when he made them apologize to me.
I always felt safe around him even though I knew that Devil was not beyond pulling some prank on me. We agreed early in our friendship not to do that as I have never been good with practical jokes but he managed to get me a few times and we laughed as we always did.
But we were the Odd Couple who remained just good friends. I left for a while and went to college but when I came home, I usually ran into him and we took up where we left off.
He told me that it had been fun watching me grow up and that I had become one hell of a woman. He said he was proud of me for going to school later in life.
We talked about lots of things and he would warn me about some of the guys I was talking to.
I remember once I was talking to a guy and he seemed to be more nervous than anything. I didn’t think trying to take me home was that big a deal but  the guy was flushed and red faced and stammering and finally took off like the Hounds of Hell were after him.
It was only after I turned around that I realized they kind of were. I saw Jerry standing there, trying to look innocent that I realized what was going on. He didn’t like the guy and wasn’t going to allow him to hit on me.
I didn’t think about how special our relationship was until after he was gone. I remember the day someone told me in passing that they thought my friend the biker had died. I called his sister who confirmed the story. He was gone.
I was crushed. She and I cried together but then she called and said I should attend the funeral with the family and then his friends wanted us to come have join them. It was at a place out in the country with his friends.
I had never been any place like that without Jerry and I was nervous but Mr. Whitman said I shouldn’t worry. So I went.
We all walked in together and Mr. Whitman put his arm around me as if to say, “she’s a part of us,” and it seemed everyone stood down and it was cool.
Jerry’s wife and I had always gotten along and as we were talking, one guy muttered, “How lucky was Animal to have his wife and his woman get along like that?”
She and I just laughed.
But the funny part was one guy said “Well, now Animal is dead so one of us should get to have you.”
Mr. Whitman bristled up and said, “Jerry left her to me!”
I tried hard to keep a straight face but to no avail. We all burst out laughing, knowing it was just what Jerry would have wanted.
I miss my friend. I miss the man who never allowed anyone to denigrate or insult me. I miss the man whose sense of fairness was almost as big as his heart.
I miss his laughter and his devilish ways. I miss seeing that cap with the flaps hanging as he walked away, waving and smiling.
“Stay out of trouble,” he used to say.
“You too,” I would tell him.
He would laugh and say, “Why? That’s no fun.”
I was lucky to have the friendship and trust of that man. I just never thought about what a gift it was till later. But I will never forget him.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Not My President, Not My America

The first couple of days, I was stunned. I was hurt and I was disgusted. I totally underestimated the true amount of racism and misogyny present in the hearts of Americans and I had thought that somehow this candidate would not be elected.
I saw the amount of hate and vitriol aimed at the liberal candidate and I could not envision that that many people had been swayed and actually believed all the lies that had been perpetrated against her. I thought people were smarter than that but one by one, they showed me that they weren’t.
Now I’m just angry. If I read one more post saying they won’t unfriend someone on Facebook because of how they voted; one more saying we should now all accept the results quietly and get along; one more saying how disappointed they are that people are protesting I just might scream.
What kind of sanctimonious hypocritical mealy-mouthed unrealistic foolishness is this?? Do you really understand why people like me are so angry and hurt?
Let’s analyze this.
This candidate ran on a platform of racism, misogyny, xenophobia – oh, yes the big words. Let’s say it like he would – this campaign was based on hate and anger and fear.
He saw that most white people are racist at the root despite what they may say and think and he played on that. Did you ever look at any of those recordings of his rallies where his supporters were openly calling people nigger, were assaulting people of color and advocating for a race war? Were you disappointed then? Did you speak up?
I didn’t think so.
You want a wall, don’t you? You want Muslim people deported and banned. You want immigrants to leave our shores.  Let’s clarify – just the immigrants who aren’t white. The rest can stay, right? Uh huh.
You hate Mexicans and want them to leave – even if it means splitting up their families.
You don’t care that black people are being killed in record numbers by nervous cops who should never have been given a gun in the first place. It didn’t matter when the CIA said that there were lots of white supremacists joining police departments all over the country and warned that it would be a problem. It didn’t matter to you that they wanted the right to beat and shoot us on sight, for no good reason except that they could. You didn't understand that Officer Bob was your friend and not ours. He was afraid of us and killed us in his fear. But you sympathized with him, gave him a paid vacation and vilified us as habitual lawbreakers and criminals. Thugs, you called us. You ignored our fear and our protests. 
No, you wanted us to obey at all times and not run from them even though we were terrified.  
All the years we tried to tell you that we were suffering from racism, you responded with amazement.
“Now? In 2016? How is this still happening?”
You tried to tell us it was our imagination, that we were being too sensitive, that we overreacted….basically that it was all our fault. You tried to explain that he was basically a good guy and that racist joke he told was all in fun.
You didn’t believe us.
You were all up in your feelings about abortion and morality and couldn’t support her. While you are damning a woman’s right to choose, did you do anything to help a woman in distress about pregnancy? Did you help a poor family struggling? Did you adopt any of the thousands of unwanted children in foster care? Did you even donate a dime to help foster children?
No. You supported laws that denied families in distress funding from the government. You didn’t want them to get assistance or food stamps or WIC to support that baby your beliefs demanded she have even when she knew she couldn’t support that child.
You knew she couldn’t afford childcare but you didn’t care. You didn’t think she deserved a dime. You didn’t want to help her. You didn’t even want her to have a living wage after she got the job you insisted she get.
Did you care about the millions of families living in poverty? No.
You’re ok, right?
You believed all the lies about the one candidate who wanted to help women and poor families. She fought for 30 years to help all the while facing the most onerous hatred anyone has ever had to deal with. She didn’t quit. She stood tall and took it. You hated her while turning a blind eye to the truths about him.
You thought your whiteness should have given you the keys to the kingdom and when the economy tanked you blamed us. Did you stop and think that the guy who owned the company where you worked was the one to blame?
He decided that you weren’t worth the salary he was paying you and realized he could cut corners if he moved to another country where he could pay his employees a fraction of what he paid you.
Were you mad at him?
What about the one who saw a chance to make even more money if he created a company helping American companies move to other countries, cutting their costs and helping them to make more money for the CEO’s.
No, you weren’t mad at him. You elected him governor of Illinois.
You blamed brown people for your loss of jobs. You blamed affirmative action. You didn’t understand that we all deserve a piece of that pie. You didn’t care. You saw every advance by a person of color as taking something from you and your hate simmered. We all wanted the same thing – a decent living for us and our families but you demonized us to make you feel better for your bitter feelings towards us.
Now you want us to give him the respect you denied the past administration. Leaders of the Republican party stood together the night President Obama was elected and conspired to ensure he only had one term and that they were going to obstruct everything he tried to do. They shut the government down. Where was your outrage then?
If you had so much respect for the country and how it works, you should have been enraged. You should have wanted those folks gone.
No. You voted them in office again so they could keep obstructing.
Were you outraged at the disrespect he got in office? Did you cringe when he was called a liar during the State of the Union address or did you silently applaud the classless moron who did it? You know you wished you were that brave, didn’t you? Admit it.
And when all this birther nonsense came up, were you incensed that someone would do this to the President? You know you weren’t. You started to wonder yourself, didn’t you?
You know you passed some of those memes and insults against him and his family in your email and probably posted a few on Facebook. You laughed. You thought it was funny and when there was pushback, you cried out, it was just a joke!
We were being too sensitive. Again.
Now that you have elected a racist, misogynist, proven liar with no experience and with barely a 5th grade vocabulary to office, you want us to treat him with respect and dignity. The same respect and dignity you denied President Obama for 8 years.
You see, it isn’t that we hate him so much though most of us do. It’s that you elected him knowing how he was and you shared his feelings. He speaks his mind, you said. He said what you didn’t have the nerve to say is what you meant.
There were several incidents of white people emboldened by his hateful rhetoric who thought they could walk right up to us and insult and attack us. They said that if he was elected they could get rid of us. They threatened us if he didn’t win. They walked around with guns trying to intimidate us. Did you care? You probably didn’t even see the videos.
“I don’t like stuff like that! It’s probably staged!” you said as you hurriedly passed by it.
You wished the black people you knew were not so focused on race and that we could all just laugh together at the videos of what your cats were doing. This other stuff just bothered you and you didn’t want to deal with it.
You didn’t have to.
We do. It’s part of our reality.
You thought our protests against police brutality were wrong and that we should be grateful we were allowed to live and work here in this country that hated us so much that they passed laws to make sure we couldn’t live where we wanted, work where we wanted, love who we wanted and do what we wanted.
Oh, you fussed, that was a long time ago! It’s not like that anymore. Things have changed.
Yes, there has been some movement but not enough and this is true for women as well as people of color. We remain woefully backwards in those areas.
We are angry. We are hurt. We are disappointed. You elected a man who stands for everything we don’t.
What about the peaceful Muslims who live here? My brother is a Muslim and he lives in the South. I fear for him every day.
What about the gay people who only want to live in peace together as a family?
What about the poor families who struggle to survive on a minimum wage job?
What about the senior citizens who have to live on the pittance of Social Security each month?
What about the hungry families?
What about people who are homeless because there is practically no affordable housing? How is a family living on $7 a hour supposed to pay the skyrocketing rents these days?
The gentrification that is driving poor people from their homes so that rich white people can build luxury apartments with their Starbucks and Trader Joe’s next door?
What about the gutting of the Civil Rights Act that allowed gerrymandering and closing of driver license offices so that people of color would have a harder time getting the identification so that they could vote? Or the polling places closed so that it would be harder for them to even get to vote?
All these things are what we are concerned about and this new president doesn’t give a damn about. And what hurts is that all you that voted for him apparently don’t care either. Your vote for him was an affirmation of his policies and let us all know where you stand with us.
Some of you want to act shocked that we feel this way. You don’t want to hear this. You want us to be submissive and not speak of our pain and hurt.
Our grandparents had to do that. They feared lynching and loss of their livelihood and more if they spoke up. We don’t fear that. We are tired of being gracious and forgiving. We are going to give this man the same respect you gave President Obama. You just have to deal with it.
You don’t want to lose friends? You have. And unless you understood the things your black and brown and gay friends feared, you weren’t really their friends anyway.
You want us to give him a chance? When he already let us know what he thinks of us and what he wants to do?
They are already salivating at finally being able to dismantle a law that granted insurance to millions of people. Without it, people will die. I’ll say that again:
Do you care? No. You just didn’t want a penny of your money helping someone less fortunate.
And you wonder why we are angry.
We will not lie down and take it anymore. This is the America you voted for. You wanted a change – now you have it.
Enjoy it!