Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 05 2015

In Oklahoma

Leslie, her husband Keith and I had breakfast at the Diner before they took me over to the train station. I’d gotten tickets online, which was fortunate, as I don’t think the station technically even needs to be there any more. It’s something more like an art space, and only one woman showed up to tell people trains still stopped there. I didn’t see anywhere one could actually buy a ticket.

A few people were waiting there, including one white guy with a confederate flag on the back of his shirt. The handful of black passengers-to-be ignored him, but I can’t believe they didn’t notice it. Perhaps they’re used to such things, but it put a damper on my mood.

The train arrived right on time, and the conductor scanned people’s tickets before letting us on the train. They’d said we’d need picture ID, but nobody asked me for it. That was just as well, as I’m sure my Taiwanese passport would have resulted in more questions than answers for them. Instead, I got on, stowed my suitcase downstairs, and walked up a flight of steps to the upper level, where there were plenty of big, empty seats, complete with electrical outlets and wifi. I waved at Leslie and Keith as the train departed, blowing its horn in what I’m guessing is an attempt to avoid lawsuits should it hit anyone on the tracks. Few people realize that trains can sneak up on you, but they totally can.

It was a really nice trip, gliding southwards towards and through the Arbuckle Mountains, stopping only a couple of times and not seeing anyone else get on or off the train. Fields, cows, red rivers and stone cliffs, an occasional factory, all flashing by. I love travel by train. I’d like to do more of it. I wish the American people were more into trains, it would be better for many people if they’d just realize it.

My parents were just pulling up to the station when I got off, and they took me to their house. On the way we passed a man in a white pick-up truck who was installing a huge confederate flag on the back of his truck, place, apparently un-ironically, next to the U.S. flag.

Over the next week I got a lot of much-needed rest, as they take a lot of naps and watch whodunnits in the evening on Netflix before turning in at around 9 p.m. Ordinary television has become almost unwatchable in the U.S., full of “news” anchors shouting at viewers about whatever threats are the order of the day, occasionally interrupted by “medical” ads shouting at viewers in a threatening fashion about whatever symptoms will let them sue someone. Scaremongering and appeals to idiocy, mostly; I don’t know how anyone can stand it.

Occasionally, tired of the constant televised haranguing, I would take walks around the neighborhood. One day I decided to walk down to where my grandparents used to live, in the house my grandfather built. I had to walk by the side of the road most of the time, as nobody had bothered building sidewalks. I can see why; nobody there seems to walk anywhere, and anyone who does is viewed with suspicion. Just how much suspicion I quickly found out.

I was used to hearing cars approaching and passing by, many of them slowing down for a better gawk at me as they passed, but as I walking towards a convenience store I heard a car drive up and stop just behind me. I turned around and saw not one, but two police cruisers behind me. One officer was quickly out and calling loudly, “You want to tell me what you’re doing?” I could almost hear the mental …boy? at the end.

I was surprised, to say the least. I knew Americans are paranoid these days, but I never imagined how paranoid, or that it seems to be increasing for no reason. “I’m, uh…walking around?” The policeman approached me and told me they had gotten calls, reports of someone “taking pictures.” I wanted to ask if that was my crime or was it just walking around, but I held my tongue. Too many images of recent police violence were running through my head; it wouldn’t take too much imagination on their part for me to become some foreign-looking insurgent on a surveillance mission or whatever they chose to believe. The cops were both stocky young white men, and another cruiser pulled up almost immediately, this one producing a white woman officer. Three police cruisers and officers, all for little old me. I would have been impressed if it hadn’t been so depressing. I wondered how long they’d been looking for me. An hour?

“You have any ID we can see?” the cop asked. I didn’t; I hadn’t imagined I’d need any, but at the same time I was glad I didn’t think to bring my passport, which surely would have raised entirely too many questions. I did show him my Taiwanese driver’s license, but he just shook his head in incomprehension at the Chinese text and handed it back to me. I could see this wasn’t going well, and told him what I could of my family history in Ardmore, that I was visiting my elderly parents, I wanted to see my grandparents’ house, etc. “So you’re taking pictures?” the cop said, looking at the camera hanging on my side. His blonde hair was in a short crew cut.

“Yeah,” I said, and adding, because I couldn’t resist, “…I like to take pictures…but I’m not from Google Streetview or anything like that.”

Thankfully the cop didn’t take this the wrong way. I’m not entirely sure he even understood what Google Streetview is, or else he would have seen the irony of people reporting someone “taking pictures” in their neighborhood to the police. The police went over and called in the information I’d given them in. Perhaps they were looking up my grandmother. Whatever it was, eventually they came back and told me that, even though I didn’t have a real ID, they weren’t going to arrest me. I had the idea that had my skin been even a shade or two darker, things would have gone very differently; it was a close call as it was.

I walked away before they could change their minds, as the fellow in customs in San Francisco had done, heading towards the convenience store to get out of their line of sight. Once inside, I felt more like a person again, and bought a candy bar to calm my nerves. I kept the wrapper to remind me that, though America is full of open spaces, it is also full of walls, most of them invisible, and far more damaging for it.

I didn’t stray far on my subsequent walks. I guess that’s the idea.

posted by Poagao at 10:29 pm  

1 Comment »

  1. Yee-haw. That’s funny. (You deviant monster.) I got stopped once in my hometown for the same offense. The cop said folks were particularly on edge because of a recent escape from the local penitentiary, as if the first thing a con on the run would do is get in some photography. After calling in my details, he left me with the ominous warning that ‘people around here have guns.’ Curiously, a few years later I got stopped again, only for walking at night. I heard the dispatcher over the radio mention my previous run-in. How’s that for small-town hospitality?

    Comment by Boss Hogg — November 18, 2015 @ 12:42 am

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