It’s even worse than I thought

Yesterday I was on my way to a work function that started at 6 p.m. I had stopped to get a sandwich at the bagel shop in my neighborhood and found myself trying to turn left into late afternoon rush hour traffic, so I backtracked to the other side of parking lot and made a speedy right turn. It’s a good feeling, isn’t it, when you think you’ve beaten the system and come out ahead of the game? Sure it is–when it actually works.

But yesterday I found myself trapped in traffic on what I believed would be a shortcut route back to work. I could see traffic stopped in all four directions at the intersection ahead. I could see blue lights flashing. I assumed there was a horrible accident, but it was nearing 5:50 and work was still at least 20 minutes away, so I edged into the empty lane next to me and cut into the parking lot of a shopping center thinking I could avoid the pile-up by going in the opposite direction. When I got to the shopping center exit I found myself–you guessed it–trapped again. Police had the road blocked in all directions. People were out of their cars, milling around the edge of the street, snapping pictures with their camera phones. I was disgusted. Who takes pictures of an accident?

At about that time the woman sitting next to me rolled down her window and another woman, one of the people standing around, walked over to her window and said something to her. After she walked away I pulled up closer to the woman in the car next to me, rolled my window down, and gave her a “what the hell?” shrug. The woman in the car rolled her window down, looked dead at me and said, “That’s your President driving by.”

Yes, folks, the President was in my neighborhood yesterday. He ate at a local barbecue joint and visited a low-performing elementary school to talk about No Child Left Behind. He rode through low-income neighborhoods and waved at people. He caused 45 minute traffic jams.

But here’s the best part. Right before I left home and found myself in this ridiculous mess, I stopped to chat with my neighbor. She asked me, “Did you see your President today?” I replied, “He’s not MY President.” We had a laugh at W’s expense, and I was on my way. And then I was in the parking lot, clueless, thinking there had been a horrible wreck, and the lady next to me looked at me and said, “That’s your President driving by.” Two people in a 30 minute period used the possessive pronoun your to identify the President in conversation with me. Ha. I’d be concerned that I had some pro-Right Wing conservative look about me, but my neighbor and the stranger in the car have something in common that I do not share: they’re black. Apparently, at least in the South, Bush is considered the white folks’ President. I asked a black colleague about this today, and she confirmed it. What scares me is that generally speaking, it’s probably true. So this post is part of my continued effort to bridge the gap, which I started doing yesterday in this conversation with a stranger, the one that started, “That’s your President driving by.”

Me: “He’s not MY President!”
Stranger: (Laughing) “Honey, I know what you mean!”
Me: “Here I thought there was an accident. Now I find out it’s even worse than I thought.”
Stranger: “You’ve got that right–he’s ruined my whole afternoon. I’ve got places to be!”
Me: “Afternoon? He’s ruined the past six years for me. Why should today be any different?”

We both decided we’d vote for Barack Obama if he runs in 2008, and then the police finally let us out and we went our separate ways. People were still standing around with their camera phones at the ready, but I didn’t look back, not even for a second.

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