It’s a balmy May vacation day a few years ago … We’re finally breaking free from the traffic around Orlando International Airport and breezing east toward the Atlantic when my son-in-law suddenly pops off from the backseat of the super-sized minivan we rented:
“Bloody hell, there’s a gun shop right next to that church!”
Understand, Joe’s a Brit and had never seen a gun shop perched next to a church — or just a gun shop … But then he’d never seen America up close. This was the lad’s maiden voyage through the land of the free and the home of the brave. He had come for unlimited McDonald’s, shopping Malls, cheap beer, an amusement park or five and dipping his toes in water that wouldn’t immediately turn them purple like his unforgiving North Sea. If he was plenty familiar with Mickey Mouse, nobody had warned him about Florida Man.
Ah, well … Joe went onto see plenty of churches and plenty of gun shops during his visit. He never said another thing about either because, well, what the hell, you get to an age when some shit in this world just makes no sense at all. I think that trip to Florida was about the time in Joe’s young life when that started dawning him. If America was so great, it had a funny damn way of showing it to an outsider.
I told Joe at the time and I’m telling you now, I’ve lived on and off in this place for going on 60 years and figure I understand a little more than half of it. I’m much more familiar with the part where most of the people live. The places you bounce into folks of all colors, shapes and sizes. The places where we are a bit crammed together but content with a little elbow room. The places where most of the taxes get paid so everybody, everywhere has a right to bitch and moan about the services the liberal Snowflakes are providing them.
Lately I’m living in Wisconsin. Madison, to be exact. The place is known as “77-square-miles surrounded by reality.”
We’re liberal as hell in this city, and proud of it. And if it’s not the most diverse place I’ve ever lived, its people strive to see all sides. The university sits hard in the heart of town and pulsates an arty, learned, earnest vibe. Go off a hundred feet in any direction and you are bound to trip over a student, a professor or some guy’s sandal.
So here we were the day after finally scraping away Scott Walker’s maddening grip on the governorship. It had been a helluva eight years watching the Koch’s boy batter unions, the environment, affordable healthcare, and the diverse pockets in the state that paid the bills and housed all that awful, eclectic thought.
Even better, we elected — you guessed it — an old educator to the top spot. Hell, he even had an honest name: Tony Evers. The hashtag #BestGovernorEvers was a real hit up here. As you can imagine we liberals were feeling pretty good about things for a minute or two.
Unfortunately we couldn’t peel away all of the Koch Brothers’ influence on the place, and the state legislature stayed firmly in the hands of the Trump Republicans. You see, in 2011 they redistricted the hell out of the place while we Democrats were still basking in the three-year glow of electing a clear-eyed, thoughtful, black president, who sometimes made the Right furious by dressing up in brown suits. Good times.
Well, anyway, gracious as they generally are, the leader of the assembly, an angry white-guy Republican named, Robin Vos, decided on Wednesday morning that rather than congratulating the #BestGovernorEvers and his liberal lieutenants on their big win, he’d go out with this instead:
“We will continue to deliver on our conservative promises,” he snarled. “If he (Evers) chooses to poke Republicans in the eye, he will end up getting very little of what he wants.”
He was just warming up.
“If he wants to argue about Act 10 and all of the things that make people who eat granola and live in downtown Madison happy, that is his right but that is not where common ground is going to be found.”
He then grabbed a handful of thumbtacks, stuffed ’em in his mouth and washed ’em down with kerosene. Granola is for wussies, ya know.
The point here is, somehow the Left gets flak for being divisive and angry when the truth is we are fueled by diversity and curiosity. We look ahead, not backwards. We accept things for how they are, not what they used to be. We admit our deep flaws as a country, because you can’t fix what’s wrong until you admit what’s wrong. We eat granola not because it tastes better than bacon and eggs but because it is better for us.
Oh, and all those places that surround the cities and suburbs where the animals roam and the rivers flow? Well, that belongs to ALL of us.
So how will you know when you’ve crossed the great American Divide and entered the land time forgot? Look for the gun shop next to the church.