Road to DC: Chapel Hill, North Carolina —
As I pulled our car into the parking lot of our roadside hotel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a voice called out across the way. “You’re not coming all the way from California, are you?”
It’s usually the large ‘Pop the Bubble— a conversation road trip’ magnet on the side of the car that draws questions, but as the miles of our journey stack up, our CA license plate will do the trick too.
The voice belonged to Ron, a maintenance contractor for the hotel, who was standing outside under an awning in the light rain, smoking a cigarette.
“We sure did,” I said. Ron was surprised, and a little impressed.
“That’s quite a journey,” he said. And so I told him a little about why my Dad and I are on the road.
“We’re just trying to make connections,” I said. “Seems these days the news we see and the people we vote for would have us believe the two sides can’t ever get along. I’ve met all sorts of people on this trip, and there’s not one I haven’t gotten along with one way or the other.”
“If your car breaks down and the person who stops to help you has a Hillary sticker, are you going to refuse the help?”
This seemed to speak to Ron on a deeper level, and he launched in without any further prompting from me. I stood and listened, a deeper sort of listening that this trip has illustrated the power of. I nodded along as he bounced around between philosophies and anecdotes.
“I’m pretty close to deleting Facebook,” he said, nodding along to my point. “I mean these days it’s just politics or come to Jesus posts. I like a silly cat video now and again. It’s awful to see how angry people get about all of this. Trump and Hillary don’t think about us as much as we think about them.
“I saw a post the other day, a friend of mine got unfriended because her friend was a Hillary supporter and my friend voted for Trump. I mean, what about your friendship? How many years have you known each other? It all goes out the door because she voted one way and you voted the other? If your car breaks down and the person who stops to help you has a Hillary sticker, are you going to refuse the help?
“I do believe in the wall. And I want the wall on airplanes and boats and rivers, any way that people get in.”
“My transmission crapped out last week. Politics doesn’t have anything to do with the problems you face day-to-day. You think Trump or Hillary would give me the $1,100 I need to fix that? They wouldn’t think twice. But my buddy who’s owed me fifty bucks for a while now hears about it and immediately tells me to come find him for the fifty. How should I care in that situation who he voted for?
“Personally, for me, when it came down to it, Trump was the only option. Maybe Bernie, if I had really gotten involved and out there. But Hillary, I mean it was over when Bill was in office. When you allow your spouse to cheat, that says something; if the person you marry can’t just be with you, that person should not be in the white house.
“But why do we let it affect us? I have a friend who if I bring up my issues with Hillary, says, ‘don’t you say that, don’t talk about that.’ How can we not even talk about it?
“And I mean that same friend doesn’t like Hooters, either. I mean, it’s a restaurant.” I must have made a face here because he quickly abandoned that digression. “I mean that doesn’t matter, whatever.”
He took a breath. I decided to wait a beat to see if more would come. I was not disappointed.
“And you know, I do believe in the wall. And I want the wall on airplanes and boats and rivers, any way that people get in. People seem to forget that the word ‘illegal’ is right in there in ‘illegal aliens’. This country and the help it gives its people is for us. It’s for me, for you and your Dad, doing what you’re doing. Not for the ones sitting back with their hands out saying, ‘no hablo.’ You gotta be a part of it. I served, I’m a veteran, and I’m home now, trying to get by. If I get called back, I go to war again. But I do what needs doing.”
His phone rang then, and our moment alone was over. Work was calling, and Ron had boilers to install. We shook hands, I wished him luck fixing his transmission, and we went our separate ways.