Thursday, July 03, 2003

Road Trip

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta... I mean home. After 1300 miles, I'm finally back home in good old MN. So much open space here compared to Manhattan. Since I have traveled such a long distance, it's rather unsurprising that I encountered a few interesting things along the way:

Encounter #1

I was in a bathroom stall at a rest area minding my own business when I heard someone bursting into the stall next to mine. I noticed that the man next door had dropped his shirt on the floor. Part of the dark brown shirt had actually slid into my stall. Since I was occupied at the moment, I just ignored it. Then I heard an old man's agitated voice radiating out of the next stall: "God damn it, Fritz, I shit my pants!!" Before I had fully grasped the gravity of the situation (not for me of course), I heard more swearing: "I got shit on my shirt too! I didn't even have the fucking time to take it off, Fritz!!" I guess he must have tucked his shirt in like most old people I see. I wasn't really shocked to hear an old man crapped his pants. What was most striking to me was the fact that an old man outside of my circle of relatives used such colorful language in public. I don't think I've ever heard an old person swear in public before, which seems odd to me now, given the myriad reasons they have for being angry, such as expensive medication, aching joints, spotty memory, incontinence, just to name a few.

As I walked toward my car pondering the cruelties of old age, I came across another unusual sight:

Encounter #2

In the parking lot I noticed a bright yellow Beetle pulling up to a parking spot. Out came an old lady--she must have been at least 70 years old--wearing a bright yellow, short-sleeved shirt. She seemed to define "young at heart." I looked into the car and saw her husband waiting contently inside. I wish I can be as lucky as that old man, I thought. I want to find a girl that will be as happy with her appearances and as confident in her stylishness as that old lady was when she arrives at that age.

Later, while I was driving through yet more anonymous midwestern terrain I passed

Encounter #3

On the left lane cruised a large, white American-made sedan (I can't recall the make and model now). The car had a vanity plate with the letters "AAAAA" on it. There was also an american flag etched on the upper left corner of the plate with a small caption underneath that said, "USA" or something else that seemed very patriotic. As I pulled up next to the car, I expected to see the stereotypical midwesterner of the Scandanavian stock. You know, a white person with blonde hair and blue eyes (although I didn't expect to be able to tell from my car going at 80 miles an hour). Imagine my surprise to see a Mid-eastern-looking man with a white kaffiyeh(?) on his head and a full beard. I don't know if this man has always displayed his patriotism so prominently, although the license plate itself looked brand spanking new, with the flag gleaming under the afternoon sun.

This chance encounter reminds me of all the Pakistani-owned deli's in my old neighborhood in NYC that had "God Bless America" signs posted in the front door. Because I moved to NYC more than a year after 9/11, I don't know if the signs were put up before or after 9/11. However, I can imagine myself feeling vulnerable enough to make an effort to "prove" my loyalty and patriotism if I were a Muslim living in this country in the aftermath of 9/11. Hell, I don't even need to be an actual Muslim to feel insecure. I just need to "look" Arab to begin feeling uncomfortable living in certain parts of the country.

As a member of a racial/ethnic group that makes up a mere 3% of the US population, and after reading accounts of the WW II internment of Japanese-Americans, I am very sympathetic toward all those law-abiding, hard-working immigrants that are caught in the whole 9/11 backlash just because of the way they look. I think it's tragic that a few fanatics are able to make life difficult and even dangerous for hundreds of thousands of people living in what has to be the most racially diverse country in the world. At the same time, I am ever wary of the possibility that we Asian-Americans can be in a similar plight. A few years ago, some illegal election campaign contributions made by a few unscrupulous Chinese-American businessmen led to widespread suspicions and, in some cases, rejections of donations from Asian Americans. Then came the Wen Ho Lee case that generated numerous headlines in the media screaming about the potential security risks of employing scientists of Chinese descent in national laboratories (in the end, Lee pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling classified data). Man, I can't imagine how fucked we would be if there's ever a military conflict between the US and China. You don't even have to be of Chinese descent to be worried about your safety. You just need to look like a Chinaman.