Friday, January 22, 2016

Travel Is Broadening

We live in the San Francisco bay area, a bubble of four or five very liberal counties where I tend to be seen as politically middle-of-the-road. I'm okay with that - I do feel more conservative than my farthest left-leaning friends, but definitely more liberal than my most conservative friends. So, as we started our trip, I had some uneasy thoughts about where we were heading - not physically, but philosophically. They say "Travel is broadening," so I expected to have my ideas shaken up a bit.

Right out of the box in Nevada, we found evidence of what I was worried about - people who feel far differently than I do about issues such as environmental degradation.  

In fact, some of them were downright hostile.

In what I would loosely define as The South, and particularly in the Southwest, we frequently found people whose ideas about national security and politics were very different from what we heard at home.

In South Carolina, our walking tour of Charleston was led by a very proud man, proud of his southern heritage (he was born in Richmond, VA and had lived in Charleston ever since college) and Charleston in particular. He gave his tour, upon request from one of our audience members, from the "Southern point of view," glossing (in my opinion) over the evils of slavery and concentrating on the economic reasons why South Carolina wanted to keep things as they were before the War Between the States. He insisted that the South felt they were within their legal rights to secede and were actually surprised when war was declared. 

He also pointed out that Charleston had had a Tea Party uprising prior to the American Revolutionary War much like the Boston Tea Party, but that theirs never made the history books because the North had control of the history after they won the Civil War (we learned that calling it the Civil War is offensive to many Southerners, too). While I disagreed with certain points in his two-hour talk, I had to admit that I had a much wider understanding of the Southern point of view after his talk.

I expected to encounter prejudice against African Americans in the south, but I was pleasantly surprised by its lack. I shed tears when I visited Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, but the others who were in tears on the sidewalk with me or leaving mementos were both black and white. In all the southern cities we visited (Virginia Beach, VA; Greensboro, NC; Asheville, NC; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Nashville, TN; Memphis, TN; Little Rock, AR; Bentonville, AR; Vicksburg, MS; New Orleans, LA) never did we hear disparaging comments. I'm not saying prejudice is dead in the South (or anywhere in the United States, for that matter); just that we were happily free of its evidence.

In Nashville, Tennessee, we attended a performance of the Grand Ole Opry in the Lyman Auditorium. Seated in church pews (the hall was once a very large church), we were surprised when the master of ceremonies asked all who had served in the military to stand. As My Beloved stood with many others, mostly Vietnam era veterans, they got a hearty round of applause from the audience, something that was unlikely to happen at home. Our visit happened just days after the series of attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris, but still we were surprised and taken aback by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers' first song, which they had written just for the occasion, the theme of which was getting out our guns to defend our homeland from Muslims. While we certainly deplored the attacks on our beloved Paris, we felt very much out of place in an audience that applauded wildly that sentiment. We were very quiet.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, we were out for dinner with My Beloved's very congenial and friendly business pal and his girlfriend whom I had never met before, eating at a very nice, large restaurant in that pretty town. After about an hour in their company, the subject of gun control came up. They very casually allowed that both of them were armed and, in fact, that they estimated that fully 50% of the people in that room were carrying guns. I was astonished and disbelieving until he showed me his holster. I couldn't resist asking them more about the subject. The pretty blonde girlfriend's father had taught her to shoot when she was about 10 years old (she is from Texas). She said that her house in a very upscale neighborhood in the Albuquerque area is in a compound surrounded by a high adobe wall with broken glass embedded on top. She has several loaded firearms in the house and, when I asked if she could actually use them against another person, she said, "You bet!  They come into my compound and - No Mercy!" I asked if her neighborhood was particularly dangerous; she hastily reassured me that it was a very low crime area. 

On the other hand, in the Southwest we heard openly negative remarks about Mexicans that surprised our liberal ears. In Texas, Border Patrol activity is very visible, and we even passed through "checkpoints" where we were questioned about whether we had illegal aliens in our car. California has as many immigrants from south of the border as any other state, but perhaps the difference is that we need their labor so we are more tolerant of their need for services while they are with us? In New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, perhaps things are a little different; not for me to say after only getting a "snapshot" of those places.

While I'm glad I live among, for the most part, like-minded liberals, I am happy that we encountered people, especially kind and good people, who feel differently than I do about such large issues. If they had all been nasty folks, my ideas about them might have solidified rather than softened. Now, although I still vigorously disagree with some of the sentiments we encountered, I'm glad I was reminded that it is possible for people to hold opposing views to mine but still to be sensible, well-meaning people.

As they say, travel is broadening.


Blogger Katie Zeller said...

Interesting.... My first thought on a few of the topics was that it would be difficult to see the other side. But that's what actually talking to people with different views can do, right?

Saturday, January 23, 2016  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Katie, it is, indeed, difficult to open one's mind to the other's point of view. I have to say these encounters did not change my views, just allowed me to understand theirs.

Sunday, January 24, 2016  
Anonymous Fitz said...

Regarding "broadening," simple things like going along with an Ethiopian chum to buy a computer at Best Buy was eye opening. After my friend spent close to $2,000.00 on his new system, we were aggressively checked three times on the way out of the store. Additionally, when I was taking care of my mom at the end of her life I was stunned by african American disparaging Haitians and the whole state calling Guatemalans Tree Huggers because so many could only find work trimming palms. The thing that surprised me about all of this was the incongruity of the ease of doing business vs the difficulty exiting the store and the fact that I had (and had to have, because I was there for two and a half years) friendly relations with people who had these views.

I have driven slowly from Arizona to Connecticut to Florida and back to Arizona, so I really enjoy your observations.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016  
Anonymous Fitz said...

Ha Ha. Should have previewed my remarks. Sorry for the errors!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Fitz, thanks for your comments - it's interesting, isn't it, how being one-to-one with people brings their point of view home? One may not agree, but one sees that the "other" is not so different after all.

Friday, January 29, 2016  
Blogger Toons said...

Once again, I loved your story.
Having spent a bit of time in the South, Tishomingo County in Mississippi, I concur that the folks south of the Mason/Dixon line are some of the nicest and most helpful people you will meet. Having said that they are also big on individual rights as THEY see them and will defend that belief by whatever means they have handy.

Friday, January 29, 2016  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Toons, thanks for the kind words. It was very interesting and enlightening to see how differently my fellow countrymen feel about certain "hot button" issues. I guess it helps explain the sharp division in Congress...

Sunday, January 31, 2016  

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