HOSPITALITY

Posted in Rants on July 2nd, 2009 by Ed

A personal tale, followed by commentary.

I got in a car in Athens, GA at 8:45 AM on Wednesday morning and walked in my door exactly 11 minutes ago at 12:02 AM Thursday. We made good time for the first, oh, nine hours, reaching the Indiana-Kentucky border. Then I hit a pothole and managed to blow out both tires on the passenger side of my car. Like, blown the fuck out. Six-inch gashes in the sidewalls. This happened just after 6 PM, when every conceivable retailer of tires or purveyor of tire repairs would be unlikely to be open.

Fortunately an Army chaplain and Baptist clergyman named T.S. Elliott (no, seriously, his name is T.S. Elliott) pulled over, invited us into his car, and then drove us around attempting to find an open repair shop in the godforsaken middle of nowhere, which is actually a few miles north of New Albany, Indiana. Unsuccessful, Pastor Elliott did the Christian thing and gave us his spare tire. This would enable me to limp home on two spares (as of course I had one of my own) and repair the damage on my own time. As he drove away to the sound of my profuse promises to return his tire at the most immediate convenience, I discovered that the lug spacing on his spare was approximately 1 millimeter off of mine. He drove a Ford, I a Nissan. Hence his thoughtful gift to a stranger was useless.

So we called AAA and they sent a tow truck which arrived at 8 PM, also known as closing time of the one remaining option for automotive service: the New Albany Wal-Mart tire center. Liz called and used her Girl Voice to (somehow, amazingly) talk the Wal-Mart tire center into staying open another half-hour so we could get the enormous, slow-moving AAA tow truck driver to convey our car there in time to purchase the cheapest Chinese Goodyear knockoff in stock and hopefully enable further travel.

Among our tow truck driver and the three employees of the Wal-Mart tire center on the Indiana-Kentucky border there were about 11 teeth, and I needed subtitles to understand them. More accurately I just looked at them while they made sounds and followed with educated guesses of what they wanted me to do based on their body language. I bent the hell out of one of my rims, but the other was fine and, one Wal-Mart tire, $65, and a $60 towing fee later (thanks AAA!) we were ready to roll at 9:30.

Having not eaten all day, we adjourned to the finest open dining establishment in New Albany near 10 PM on a weeknight: the Applebee's in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Now, understand this about Liz and I: we do not eat at Applebee's. We are dietary snobs. Liz has been known to get murderously violent when served non-organic food. Yet I witnessed with mine own eyes the woman inhaling a platter or riblets (seriously, riblets) while I annihilated an A1-laden cheeseburger like the respective entrees were the finest and most delicious things we had ever eaten.

After that it was a mere struggle to stay awake as we blazed through rural Indiana in pitch darkness. I got a little Rorschach at one point, responding to "You need to watch out for deer" with "No, the deer need to watch out for me." But we made it home, neither of us able to speak in sentences or remember the last time we were not in a car by the end.

One thing struck both of us. Here on ginandtacos.com I am pretty hard on our country cousins, the denizens of rural America with their medieval worldview and passionate hatred of whatever Glenn Beck tells them to passionately hate. Yet everyone was horribly nice to us. So much politeness. From the Baptist minister who handed us a spare tire to the planet-sized tow truck operator to the furry gnomes who kept open the Wal-Mart tire center at our request to the staff of the sad little Applebee's, everyone was wonderfully nice to us in a time of exasperation and stress.

Moments like this often conflict me. I know that on the most basic level, if I heard what any of these people thought about politics (if anything) I would hate them. I probably do hate them, I just didn't realize it. And of course they were only nice to me because I'm a white, presumably heterosexual, probably Christian (or, if not, at least convertible) male. The pastor probably would have thrown us out of the car if he found out that we are not married, and wouldn't have stopped to offer help at all if I was with my boyfriend instead. So I remain conflicted. It warms my heart to know how capable my fellow Americans are of being kind and helping unfortunate strangers. But it makes me wonder why, if we can be kind to people we don't know, we are so apt to hate those same strangers as soon as we learn a few things about them. T.S. Elliott and I got along fine as blank slates in one another's eyes. Such would not have been the case had he realized that I think Baptists are lunatics or if I fully realized that he thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old.