Anne and I have just come back from a month-long driving trip to my home state of Texas, and I have never been so terrified in my life. From what we experienced in Texas, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords today in Arizona doesn’t surprise me at all. The atmosphere was completely different from the way it was when we lived there between 1994 and 2005, and light years from what it was when I grew up there.
I enjoy driving, and Anne, who does not, finally agreed to take one last long road trip with me. For obvious reasons, I was uneasy about crossing Arizona in a Prius with California plates, but I never imagined what would happen when we entered Texas. As the sun set on the second day of our drive, we passed through El Paso on our way to Marathon and a beloved watering hold called the Gage Hotel. The Gage was restored in the seventies and has a wonderful restaurant, and I have stopped there many times over the years.
To reach the Gage, we left busy Interstate 10 and went onto Highway 90, which is a lightly trafficked road. By this time, it was full dark. Suddenly, a car began tailgating us at a distance of no more than 50 feet. I was terrified and began driving faster, hoping to get to the next town as soon as possible. Suddenly, the car disappeared. A few moments later, a big white pickup passed in the opposite direction, then did a U-turn and came after us. Closer and closer it came, until it, also, was right on our tail. The next thing I knew, it was flashing huge lights. It looked somewhat like a police vehicle, but I wasn’t sure. I’d never seen a police truck, just police cars.
Finally, although I thought we were about to be robbed and possibly killed, I pulled over. It turned out that the driver was a sheriff’s deputy, and he cited me for going 76 in a 65 mph zone.
I later realized that the car tailgating me in the first place may well have been a police car also, there to frighten me into speeding so that the oncoming officer could clock me and ticket me. Of course, I’ll never know for sure, but I was left with the impression that I was in a very lawless, dangerous place.
It got worse. When we reached Boerne, Texas, where we were going to stay for a few days, I was disturbed to find that one police car after another would pull in behind us and follow us. When we left Boerne and drove into San Antonio, the same thing happened again and again, both in San Antonio and in the bedroom community of Alamo Heights. Time and again, we were followed at close range by the police, all of them, it would seem to me, looking to find some reason to ticket a Prius with California plates, to them the car of an obvious liberal from a blue state. Little did they know that they were really following the car of a man who had an ancestor who died at the Alamo, and whose family participated in the founding of Texas, and who drives a Prius not because its politically correct, but because I don’t care to be dependent on foreign powers, especially not Arab oil states.
As we were leaving Texas, I was accosted in a small town store by a man who demanded to know what I thought about the federal debt. He didn’t recognize me. To him, I was a total stranger. But he’d been talking to the store clerk about "Oblackma" and wanted me to agree with him. My political opinions are not the business of a total stranger in a store, so I walked out and drove away. But I was left with an inpression of violence just beneath the surface, and was glad to get out of there without having my head blown off.
My great grandmother used to say "Tejas means friendly, and Texas is a friendly place." No more. And this atmosphere of ignorance, violence and hate is present in so many parts of our country. Too many. There is an atmosphere of hate intensified by the rhetoric of irresponsible politcial leaders and pundits.
This is a very scary time, a dangerous time. Ironically, though, this country is also what it has always been, a wonderful contry that is better than the low-grade, ill-educated rabble rousers who seem to be screaming us out of the television and off the internet day and night. Our country and each of us, individually, are better than this. We are a toleraant, peaceful and good-hearted people.
And so were the Germans. But the evil among them, the worst among them, gained the upper hand and used their genius and the power to carry out the evil of the Holocaust and World War II.
We must return to our political roots in the middle fo the road. It is the middle way that made Amerca great, and the middle way that will see us through to better days yet.