Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Reality checks
Friday, February 22, 2013
Just the facts

Deafening silence
Have you ever had something happen so quickly that you ask yourself, “Did that really happen?” You shake your head. You blink your eyes.  

You look at others to see if they saw what you saw. Heard what you heard.

It can be as benign as seeing a shooting star across the evening horizon or a fish jump in the distance. Did you see that?

We’ve been on the road now for almost a month. We’re doing our annual “road tour” with our booth and flyers and DVD’s promoting and marketing our fishing operation as well as the City of La Paz in Baja where we’ve been at it  now for some 20 years.   

It’s a fun three-month rollicking drive of 15,000 miles back and forth across the western U.S. hitting a new fishing/ hunting show with all the hundreds of other vendors. Modern day “carnival workers and gypsies!”

On this particular day, we had just driven about 600 long miles. Through the snows and cold, we were tired and road-weary with at least 200 more to go before dark.

We pulled off the highway into a little faceless convenience store in a small town at the foot of a mountain range. We walked to the counter with a few items. The young clerk, stringy-haired under a wool hat and  trying unsuccessfully to grow a whisp of a blonde beard, helped the folks in line ahead of us.

We moved up. We were looked at and ignored. The clerk went to someone else at the other end of the counter.

Then someone else. The clerk looked at us. Then helped someone else again.

We asked if we were going to get served. All we got was barely a look of annoyance by the clerk. And he went to help someone else.  

My wife and I looked at each other. Eyebrows raised. She said, “Let’s go.” We left our items on the counter and walked out.

 Jill was tight-lipped and had a slow simmer going on. Had that really happened?

I had that “funny feeling” again. It made me mad and saddened me at the same time. I wasn’t quite sure it had happened. My wife quietly confirmed that surely it had.  

We climbed into our cargo van and drove off.

Several seasons ago, not far from this same town, we had pulled off the road for the evening after another long drive. We found a little hole-in-the-wall motel and dumped our gear.

We found an old brick and stone building in the historic part of town with a neon sign advertising “Famous Fried Chicken since 1962.” We parked and walked in.

It was more like a saloon. Tables full of folks having a good time. Clanking dishes and laughs. Cowboy rodeo photos all over the wall. Western memorabilia everywhere in the low light.  

A good looking bar lined with beer taps and guys in John Deere hats and working-Stetsons. No Levis. This was a Wrangler jeans crowd. No posers here.  

Scuffed Roper boots and workman steel-toed leathers on feet. Guys and gals in loose Pendletons and faded denim jackets. Frankly, we weren’t dressed much differently.

We bee-lined and deposited our tired selves in a a cozy-looking booth. Having lived in many rural areas, I loved a good cowboy bar.

I’ve had some of my best meals in down-home places like that! Good buzz and vibe.

Only problem is...the place went rather quiet as we walked in.

Perceptibly. I would swear even the volume of the juke box dropped a few notches. Maybe it was because we let in the cold rainy air from outside.

It picked up again a bit but as we waited for service, nothing happened. We sat. And we sat. No water. No menus. The waitress saw us. But nothing.

Jill said, “I have funny feeling about this place. “  

My perceptive skills aren’t so articulated. I’m not paranoid. But, Jill’s got a better radar than me.  

“I don’t think we’re wanted here.”

 “Nah,” I responded. “You’re just imagining it.”

But I’ve been in a few dark bars in my time and now my own radar was humming. Senses ramped up a tetch like the hairs on my neck.

As we faced each other in the booth, I watched behind Jill’s back.  She watched over mine.  

People were watching us. Glances that were held a fraction too long before turning away. The waitress would cast an eye at us, but not make eye-contact. Other people were getting waited on. But not us.
Jill used to live in Mississippi. She went to Ole’ Miss University back-in-the-day and was the only Caucasian gal in an all-black sorority. Being from California, she didn’t think anything of it, but was warned by some debutantes that “ proper’ girls just don’t do things like that!”

So, she’s tuned a little better to this stuff than this Hawaiian-island boy who never ran into stuff like this before. But, I have spent some time in dark bars. I’ve seen trouble. This was different. It was eerie.
Too late to go anywhere else and (maybe stupidly trying to make a point), we finally got our waitress to come over and grudgingly take our order.  

She delivered it wordlessly. And she never came back except to put a bill on the table. No queries about how it was or whether we wanted to order anything else.

We ate our fried chicken huddled over our plates while the eyes watched. We ate. Quickly, quietly and got out. Backing out actually.
With an ugly feeling we walked rapidly  back to our van  in the darkened street half looking over our shoulders. Expectantly. Anxiously.

I still wasn’t quite sure it had even happened, but we mentioned it to one of our colleagues. He’s American of Japanese ancestry from S. California and is a famous  international outfitter and guide.  
He said it was only our imagination, but he  passed through the same town a few weeks later. Like us, he pulled over for the night after a long drive at a little motel.

He was told, “We’re full.” He pointed out that couldn’t be possible since the parking lot was almost empty. He was grudgingly given a key to the room. When he went to a coffee shop to eat, he encountered similar unspoken hostility.

Another colleague of ours is a famous Baja flyfishing guide.. He passed through several months later a few towns over. He encountered similar resistance and quickly left the area. He’s of Japanese-American ancestry. Born in Hawaii. A three-tour decorated Vietnam war veteran. “I will never ever go back into that area,” he told me.

As I write this, it’s been five days since our incident at the convenience store, I still roll back the mental video tape. Trying to find a loophole. An escape. A way to convince myself that it didn’t happen.  

Was I really refused service because of what I looked like? Was my wife refused service because she was with me? Or because we’re married?  Because I’m brown and dark?  I look Asian or Latino? She’s white with red hair? Really? Are you kidding me?

This isn’t the south. It’s not 1930...or 40...or even 1968.  

As I lay in bed that evening many miles down the another another town, I realized. It was Monday, January 21, 2013...Martin Luther King day. Ironic.

Silence can be deafening and I had trouble sleeping.
Reader Comments
Jonathan, which town? It's probably one I want to avoid. Thanks.
A lot of people run into things like this. There are endless cowboy and biker bars where if you walk in wearing a suit, or are not in biker or cowboy costume you get the silent treatment. Some Inner city bars or areas you just need to stay away from if you are white. It could be you were in an area where locals hung out and just being an outsider was the problem. Maybe the guessed you were a cop. Quite honestly you sound paranoid as in general Hawaiians or educated Mexicans are not a huge target. Everyone is out of their element at times, both in the US or in Baja. There are many places and times in Baja where I am made uncomfortable as an american, but I don't pull out the race card.
John Smythe
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