Rarely do we care when things go right. But when they go wrong, we often ask “why?” Maybe it’s because of the implications of things run amok. I guess it’s different when you don’t have control over the outcome. But when you do, it can leave you wondering for a long time. The third day of our trip would be the most memorable for me. It shook me to my core. I have a warning, some of the things I will recount may offend some of you.
It was around noon and we were somewhere between Casper and Cheyenne. One of our vans was having trouble. We were stuck on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Really, I looked it up on my phone and it couldn’t tell me where we were. The spinning click wheel mocked me. We had to look on a physical map, and, based on when we passed the last city, we determined we were about 15 miles north of Wheatland, a small town of about 3,000 people. We made a decision to drive slowly until we got there. The van sputtered and popped. A few miles down the road we came to a rest area. We stopped to assess the situation. We finally had phone signal so I started calling ahead to try to find a mechanic or service garage. Stephen called back home to let them know we were having trouble and that out timeline was in jeopardy. After several calls and referrals I ended finding a place. A pleasant sounding young lady answered the phone. I explained the situation and she said to bring the van in. She gave me the number of a tow truck driver just in case. We drove the next few miles very slowly and eventually reached our destination.
The garage was what you might expect to find in a small town. It was an old gasoline service station. There were about 15 cars parked outside. Some of them had their hoods raised. I walked in and saw the young lady I had spoken to on the phone. I told her that I was the one that called earlier and she directed me to 3 men sitting around a desk in a small office. The room was cluttered with used auto parts and inventory catalogs. I greeted the gentlemen and explained that we were having trouble with our van. A man with his back to me said “It’ll have to wait, we’re having lunch.” He was about 30 years old and was hunched over the remnants of his meal. Oookay, I thought. Just then, an older man with white hair and a ball cap pushed over his head got up from behind the desk and said “Don’t mind him. What seems to be the problem?” I explained the symptoms our van was having and he immediately said “Sounds like the fuel pump.” Cha-ching! “Well, can you at least take a look?” I asked. He started to tell me a story about how those vans have that same problem in this part of Wyoming. “You can’t give them vans away around here.” Just then the other guy came out of the shop. He was finishing the last bite of his food and jumped into our van. He started it up and said “Yup, it sounds like the fuel pump”. We asked if he could hook it up to a machine or something. All the while the older man was telling stories. He asked if we knew how to move an ostrich from one place to another. Said he had a friend who used to hunt exotic animals back in the day. On and on he went. Ken and the other guy took the van on the road to replicate the problem so the could get a firmer diagnosis. We stayed behind with good ole David. Another young man walked up and sat next to us as we were listening to some more stories. And then it happened.
At first he told us that he owned about a thousand acres just outside of town. Then he told us how Wheatland got it’s name. He then talked about the power plant east of town. He said, “Boy this town has changed. That plant has a union so so now we’ve got a lot of them card carrying liberals around here.” I don’t know why he was telling us that. Then he squinted with one eye and said “Things changed when we got that nigger president.” Wait, what? I thought. He went on. "Them coons go on and on about wanting things.” Oh gees. What was that all about? “Take that coon, MLK, he’s got a street named after him in every nigger city in the U.S.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I looked at Stephen and he didn’t know what to say either. David looked at us as if to get some sort of “Yup!” with a guzzle of beer and a crush of the can on our forehead. What he got was stunned looks.
Why was he saying this? I get that that’s how some people really feel. I know that’s under the surface in many places but in others, I guess, it’s right on top for all the world to see. I couldn’t tell if he was assuming he was around like-minded folk or if he was challenging us with his comments. Was he just an old man that felt what he said and said what he felt? I couldn't wrap my head around how I should feel when he fired off another one. “You know, illegals taste just like elk…if you cook ‘em right.” This one made him chuckle. He looked at the young guy sitting next to him and nudged him saying “Ain’t that right?” The young guy reluctantly nodded in agreement and then David said “That is unless them Mexicans been through the sage. Then they don’t taste so good.” He made himself laugh with that one. Stephen and I locked eyes. “You know,” David pondered, "I wish I had a hundred acres along the border. You now how many of them illegals would get through?” I had about enough. You see, this wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this type of stuff. Throughout my life I’ve been exposed to bigots and racists. I have been called out as a spic and a wetback. I’ve been bullied and mocked. I’ve been embarrassed and humiliated but I’ve always made it through. I am a proud 3rd generation Hispanic of Mexican heritage. Now this man was using a powerful and life-threatening human experience to show off and try to exert some sort of false power. His ignorant comments expose his failure to fully understand or acknowledge that this great country was founded on the backs of people from all walks of life both, legal and illegal, free and slaves. Some have risked life and limb just to make a better life for themselves and their family. The legacy of many proud men and women have ended tragically in the sage of the Sonoran dessert. The ones lucky enough to make it through have to start from the bottom. They build our houses, cut our grass, cook our food and take care of our children. Then they become a political football when all they want to do is take care of their families. So no, this wasn’t funny. Not in the least. I’ve been known to shoot off some confrontational sarcasm or stealthy passive aggressiveness in situations like this but there were a couple of problems: this was his town and he was supposed to fix our van. Basically, we were 1,500 miles away from home and I really didn’t know just how crazy he really was.
As David was being David it dawned on me what he was doing. I don’t know why but he was playing head games with me. You see, I noticed something he said a little earlier when he was about to get in our van for the first time. As he opened the drivers door he made a quick comment. “I need los yayves.” (Las llaves or the keys). It went unnoticed by everyone. But I heard it. He tried to say something in Spanish. So he probably assumed I was Hispanic. Bastard! Just then my anger turned to pity. Poor David. His blind anger will never allow himself to see how much richer his life is because of the very people he dislikes so much.
So now what? Well, they determined it was the fuel pump. “$509.00” he said slowly as if savoring it’s meaning “and we only take cash.” Of course you do. David so freely ridicules those he thinks are taking advantage of our system but, by only taking cash, one can only assume he bypasses his obligation as a citizen to pay his fair share of taxes. What a patriot. “Ok, let’s get it done” I said. “We can’t get the pump 'til the morning so it won’t be done today,” he said. Why is this happening? We needed to get the tigers to Mississippi so I made a decision I was hoping I wouldn’t regret. I told Stephen I would stay behind in Wheatland to wait for the van. They could rent a truck to fit the rest of the group and get back on the road. Stephen said no at first but there really wasn’t any other choice if they were going to meet the deadline. So I guess I would probably be spending the night in David’s hometown. Lucky me.
After Stephen reluctantly agreed I called around to try to find a hotel room. Apparently the power plant was undergoing a yearly maintenance and they had booked every room in town. I managed to find the only place that had room available due to a cancellation just a few minutes earlier. I wondered if when I got to the hotel, I would run into any of those “card carrying liberals” David hates so much. I was pretty sure though, that I would run into a bunch of Latinos. Who do you think they bring in to do the back breaking maintanance work? The guys dropped me off at the hotel and I figured I could finally get some rest. I would just lay low and wait for morning to come. I don’t mind saying that I was a bit unsettled especially when I went out around 6PM to find a place to eat dinner. I couldn’t help but feel that people driving by were taking an extra long look at me but I know that was all probably just in my head. The evening was pretty uneventful after that. That is until I got a call from Ken. “Robert, we have a problem with Mindy. There’s been a change of plans.” All I could think was “Why?”