I was driving through the streets of Los Angeles in silence on Tuesday, processing the US Men’s National Soccer team World Cup loss that had just transpired literally moments beforehand. Dejected, but not distracted* (hop to the footnotes if you’d like my brief take on the USMNT’s campaign at this year’s cup).
And then, while working through the rotation at a four-way stop — much more effectively than Jürgen Klinsmann worked through his rotation in Brazil I might add (zing! hashtag topical) — some A-hole goes out of turn** and has the gall to stare me down while his charming female companion yells “Go back to Ohio!” out of the passenger window. I yelled back my own incredibly clever retort (something along the lines of “Where did you learn to fxxxing drive?!” …Sorry, mom***), and proceeded to my next destination. But for some reason, that interaction stuck with me and left me in a negative sort of funk for much longer than it should have. And I spent the better part of the evening on and off trying to figure out why. I don’t know that I fully understand why it effected me in such an unpleasant way, but there are a couple of obvious reasons that I thought I might share with you, by way of exorcism for myself and maybe a way to cope with your own life’s small unpleasantriesº.
Before we get to it, credit where credit is due, the fact that they identified my license plate as Ohioan (it’s a pretty basic plate — white with one red and blue stripe at top and bottom, I don’t even think it says Ohio on it large enough to read unless you’re quite close) and were able to use that as the basis for their easy insult in a matter of a second or two is passably impressive, and while it doesn’t make up for the dimwittedness of the rest of their actions, it’s only fair to give them a modicum of credit for being so quick on the draw with their idiocy.
As anyone who moved to California from a flyover state can tell you, you become something of an apologist for your home turf sort of by default. I’ve spent something like half my life or more in Columbus, Ohio, and while I’m generally quick to point out that I’m a SoCal native, truth be told Columbus is a fine city (better than a lot of similarly sized towns I’ve been through in my touring days) that has plenty going for it, particularly in terms of art and commerce and other hip credentials that the millennial/hipster crowd loves. Frankly, if the weather didn’t suck a strong 80-90% of the time and if I were trying to pursue a different industry, I’d probably still be there (also a great place to raise kids if any of my actor friends are looking to ditch the dream for something more practical). However, none of this has quite made it in to the Ohio stereotype, wherein it is assumed that all Ohioans are cornfield-owning, animal husbandry-ing, slack-jawed country folk with nary a care in the world nor the sense to process it if they did have one. My biggest annoyance at being associated with the MidWest (aside from the MISERABLE Ohio State University Buckeyes, whom I dislike to a fairly extreme degree) is this perceived (albeit clearly unfounded) lack of mental capacity, and by extrapolation, lack of worth. In a heartbeat I had been judged, deemed of a lesser intelligence, and yelled at by these morons…all while they were the ones in the wrong. I’m not much of a guy for road rage (or any rage for that matter…who has the time/energy for that sort of nonsense?), but I found myself wanting to track the offending car down and either beat the crap out of them or explain to them in completely inarguable terms how incorrect and dense they were. Not a very Christian sentiment, I admit. Obviously none of that happened and by the time I was at my friend’s barcade (bar + arcade = barcade, maybe my favorite invention of the modern age) birthday party that night I had gotten over it and was mulling over far greater concerns (like how did pinball ever get so popular? I mean, even before video games were invented I can think of about a million things I’d do before I’d want to watch an oversized marble bounce around erratically in a game that, by definition, can only end when you lose. It’s like building a civilization: you never really win, you just do a little better each time until everything collapses and you start over…isn’t that right The Greeks?).
And that takes me to racism (what doesn’t these days, AM I RIGHT? [pauses for huge amounts of laughter, crying hilarity tears, slapping of all nearby knees, etc.] hashtag still topical). What those douchebags in their puce Ford Bronco did in a second is what we’ve been doing on and off to everyone else for hundreds (or even thousands) of years. Taking something arbitraryºº like a license plate (or where you’re from or clothes or gender or the color of one’s skin, etc.) and immediately making a negative snap judgement about the associated person isn’t just wrong, it isn’t just folly, it’s mean and dehumanizingººº. It’s something we all do every day, and it needs to stop if we’re ever going to overcome our own limitations as a species.
I’m not saying anything particularly new or revolutionary here, but the classics are classics for a reason, and just because a concept isn’t new or complex, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be reminded to work on it (did I mention I don’t not love double negatives?). What will it take for you to be spurred into the action of seeing people as individuals this week, rather than just an amalgamation of their surface level traits? Hopefully it’ll be something silly or meaningless like this blog post or a douchey driver yelling at you, and it won’t take something more serious or intense for you to awaken from your prejudicial slumber. And hopefully with enough practice we won’t need these reminders at all, because we’ll just be living life as people among people, not statistics to be summed and totaled prior to any actual interaction.
…But in the meantime, eff Belgium, hooray USA! Set your alarm for 2018, the Yanks are coming for ya, World Cup!
*Before the World Cup started, I had expected/hoped that the USMNT would get a win, a draw, and a loss in the group stage, and either win or lose respectably to a good team in the first knockout match. All this happened, and we managed to convert a lot of US soccer supporters in the process — it was the first World Cup I can recall where even my non-sports friends knew what was going on more or less, and people were generally interested and excited about American futbol. Honestly I did not expect that, and so I’m even more stoked for 2018. I also thought our side performed well against some of the tougher opponents in the world, and while our weaknesses remained our weaknesses (glaring lack of offensive ability, painful inconsistency in quality of play, overall fitness and roster depth, etc.), we should that we are ready to compete with the proverbial big dogs, if not dominate. That said, it was still heartbreaking to lose in the fashion we did, with the promise and potential to do so much more. I believe Jürgen deserves a lot of the credit for getting us to where we were and a lot of the blame for our earlier-than-we-had-potential-for exit. Tim Howard deserved a win in that match, and we owed it to ourselves to win one for The Gipper in Goal, such as it were. Oh well, there’s always next year (…errr, four years from now).
**The basic layout was this: it was a four-way stop with two cars at the west end (me and the car in front of me) and two cars at the east end (one car and the A-holes in question behind him). There were no cars at the other sides of the intersection. The car in front of me arrived at the intersection first, then went straight, then the car across from him went straight, then I started to turn left, then the car across from me went straight (the douches), when they should’ve waited for me to turn left (since the right-of-way had passed back to me). Pretty straightforward, literally no idea how they misinterpreted the situation so badly.
***Speaking of stereotypes, it’s worth noting that this is the only time I’ve had an “altercation” (for lack of a better word) like this since I’ve lived in LA, I know Los Angeles sort of has this stigma of not being able to drive to your corner grocer without some maniac in an SUV threatening your life, but it’s really not like that. Usually.
ºIf your life has no unpleasantries, than by all means stop reading my blog and write a book on how you’re doing it and make a trillion dollars and continue to live out your amazing existence, you son of a bitch.
ººObviously in this instance I mean “arbitrary” in terms of being a valid criteria upon which to judge someone or something, not arbitrary in the sense of not having intrinsic value.
ºººIt should go without saying (but sadly, this is the internet, where someone out there will find a way to misunderstand everything) that I’m not comparing an afternoon’s annoyance with being disparaged as “Ohioan” with the countless millennia of legitimate and hateful prejudice that races, genders and other groups have had to endure, I’m merely trying to demonstrate that no one likes to be confined to one reductive trait about themselves, and that it is within all of us to empathize with the pain we’ve caused other people groups in our lives, even if we haven’t shared their experiences firsthand. I don’t need to be black to know that treating black men and women differently just because they’re black is hurtful and wrong, and I don’t need to be black to effect positive change around race relations (or acceptance of all sorts) in my own life and sphere. Duh.
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