Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Homeless Republican Dude on a Bike

Last night I stopped off at a Mexican restaurant in Allen Park, a few miles south of campus. In the parking lot, as I was saying goodbye to the friend I had met there, a guy on a bike paused on the sidewalk nearby and did one of those "excuse me, sir (to my friend), can I ask you for 85 cents?"

Friend gave him a couple of bucks, but instead of leaving, the guy got all chatty. He told us about how his family had lost their house and now they were going to have to move back to Detroit with all the "niggers and crack heads." Then he switched gears and started analyzing us. "Are you married?" "That's a pretty lady you got there." "What is she... a teacher, a professor, a doctor?" (note how the guy did not approach or speak to me directly, rather he focused on my male companion and seemed to expect all answers to come through him)

We laughed and said yes ('cuz I kinda am all three). He asked again what "she" did and I answered him. Then he wanted to know where. Well, here I paused. Good girl common sense screamed "don't tell him where you work!" and so I paused and then less-than-artfully fudged with an "up the road" kind of answer.

He interpreted my hesitancy as fear connected to race, not gender. He teased me for being uncomfortable talking to a black face. Well, then my tongue really tied itself up in knots as I considered what I must look like to him. Huh. I look like a little privileged white chick (I was still in my teaching clothes). Oh wait. I am a privileged white chick. But, but, but... But what? "I'm uncomfortable because you're a man, not because you're black!" Gack.

Anyway, him declaring himself a Republican loosened my tongue again soon enough and I returned to my normal opinionated self, able to overcome my good girl training that taught me to never ever ever speak to a male stranger on the street. I have my suspicions that his political views were designed to show us for the bleeding heart white liberals we are, but it was a funny/sad moment to hear him declare his faith in McCain creating a job for him. And then he rolled away. And I told him to ride safely.


Writing about teaching is an odd thing to me. I did it once a while back -- a co-authored piece with a good friend and colleague -- and it was nice because I was leaving the campus where we had taught together and it was our last project together, a way to process the three classes we had shared on Wednesday evenings in winter terms. This time, I did it on my own as a way to process a course that was very much unlike any others I had taught. And thanks to the popularity of civic engagement in higher education these days, an on-line journal dedicated to such topics was happy to publish it.