Monthly Archives: September 2009

Days of Funk and Violas

souledout3a“You should praise the mutilated
     world.
Remember the moments when we
     were together
in a white room and the curtain
     fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert
     where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park
     in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s
     scars.”

-Adam Zagajewski,
Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Who says Front Royal ain’t funky? Well, pretty much everyone. But tonight the sounds of Parliament Funkadelic, Rick James, and James Brown are thumpin’ and bumpin’ their bad selves all over Main Street just beside the tidy white gazebo while steam rises from sausage vendor’s trailer and beer rushes out of mobile taps into large green plastic cups.

I’m hanging out here at Dancin’ Downtown with Jose, Maggie, and some friends we’ve run into. While Maggie zooms around with the other kids like a wild animal and Jose sits on a retaining wall watching them, I sneak off to get closer to the action. I’m hovering 30 feet back from the stage in the middle of the crowd and I can’t quite believe what I hear and see.

I look for a street sign to make sure I am where I think I am.

In Front Royal, when there’s entertainment, it’s likely to be a bluegrass trio or Beatles cover band jamming up on stage or, if you’re at the gazebo on a weeknight, you might hear the quaint strains of old world waltzes as members of the local European folk dance club practice their steps. The furious staccato of conga drums rippling through the air around me does not seem at all likely or even possible. Is it being beamed from another planet, one without a restaurant named after Stonewall Jackson?

No, it’s just a local group called the Souled Out band rockin the house with their big sound system and blinding multi-colored back lights. Some brave administrator has hired them to help our quiet town mix it up a little.

I glance at the bunches of people around me. I’ve often noticed that being in a crowd here usually means floating in an ocean of pink and white, with maybe some brown splashed here and there. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself but I know there are other people who live here, people who don’t look like me. Right now, amazingly enough, I’m surrounded by grooving, sweating, bopping neighbors of every color, with a lot more brown in the crowd than usual. And at this moment we’re all focused on the same thing—feeling the groove.

This single-minded pursuit makes me ridiculously happy.

Walking here earlier from our house only a few blocks away, I’d noticed caravans of families making their way downtown—many of them African-American. It felt strangely like some kind of pilgrimage. I now realize they were all coming down to be baptized in the holy waters of a nasty bass beat—babies in strollers, grandmas with canes, adults in wheelchairs, kids, parents, and teenagers just wanting a bit of fun.

Maybe it’s the party-hard attitude of the music that unites us. The band plays mostly funk, but throws out country, rock-n-roll, and ballads—something for every taste. They know how to work a crowd, getting everyone to line dance, goading them to shout back at the stage. I wonder if the racial make up of the audience simply reflects the diversity of the band, which seems to include an equal number of white and black members.

One of the lead singers is a big beefy guy. Playing the conga drums and wearing a do-rag, he reminds me of Aaron Neville. Halfway through the show he lets everyone know, “This is the Front Royal I know. I’m glad I came back.”

Sounds good to me but maybe I feel so happy because I’ve had two beers on an empty stomach. It’s definitely helping.

Maggie and one of her friends shake their butts a few feet in front of me and I stay just close enough to see them.

“Don’t watch us!” she screams with daggers in her eyes—I’m already the embarrassing mom.

Sweaty and red-faced, she’s running on adrenaline, trying to glide like Michael Jackson, slither like Lady Gaga. The adults look like huge trees swaying around her and her friend. An albino boy boogies to my right with a man who could be his father or grandfather.

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At a quarter to ten the band finally wraps it up with Brick House. Maggie has to be peeled away from her playmate as the bass player reminds everyone to, “go to church tomorrow” then sings a little tune about Jesus. For once I don’t mind the religious reference, maybe because, in this case, it seems honest and celebratory rather than creepy.

I’m tired and dehydrated. Maggie’s hungry, as always. We stumble home in the dark, stuff snacks into our mouths, and plop into bed, guitars still ringing in our ears.

Shockingly, we comply with the bass player’s admonition and go to church the next morning, where we hear a very different kind of music. We must not stray from the venerable country tradition of sinning on Saturday night and repenting on Sunday morning.

The funny thing is that our church doesn’t require repentance. We’re Unitarian Universalists (UUs), or at least, I am—Jose refuses to align himself with any group, which may be wise. I have to drag him to every service we attend despite the fact that he always ends up enjoying them.

You’ve got to love Unitarians though—everyone can get to heaven and no one dogma is the truth. Even atheists can attend our church. I won’t go into the official seven principles of the UUs but, basically, they boil down to respect for each person’s “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Yes, I know that sounds horrifically new agey but it’s a tenet I can actually get behind.

Not surprisingly, the UU Church of the Shenandoah Valley is an oasis of liberal thought in this area. Sometimes its existence feels like a small miracle. It welcomes everyone regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, disability, religious background, etc. We’ve got your pagans, your Christians, your Buddhists, your Jews, and on and on.

However, as we rise to sing on Sunday morning after our “crazy” Saturday night, Jose and I are reminded of the one thing the Unitarians lack—hymns that don’t make us giggle hysterically. We don’t mean to laugh but the lyrics are just so damn goofy. They make us feel like we’re in a Saturday Night Live skit spoofing those whacky and oh-so-earnest UUs. One song in particular gets us every week. Named, rather generically, “Spirit of Life,” it’s a staple at most UU congregations:

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

Oh my, where are Bette Midler and Olivia Newton John? These lyrics are on par with “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “You Light Up My Light”—two of the all time cheesiest songs ever recorded.

What I wouldn’t give for a good old Baptist spiritual or some stained glass bluegrass high lonesome tunes or even a traditional Episcopalian hymn. Amazing Grace would be a huge relief.

Well, there are worse things than having to pretend to sing music that makes us laugh so hard we cry—we could be stuck in a church that actually pushes the ideas of original sin, heaven, and hell—god forbid.

What our church lacks in hymnal music, it makes up for with fantastic guest musicians. The director of music at our church is a world-class vocalist and former Romanian opera singer. Her husband is a widely respected clarinetist and professor at Shenandoah University. Both of them have both performed during church services. Her rendition of Ave Maria is an event not to be missed—it brought me to tears and I’m not even a lapsed Catholic. She brings in artists whose musical gifts always surprise me. They provide a much-needed balance to those Hallmark-style UU songs.

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This morning she’s invited two young women, Zhuo Diao and Shou Diao, to play viola for us. Shenandoah Conservatory students from China, they appear to be twins. Dressed all in back with their hair pulled back into ponytails, they make a beautiful and striking pair.

What they do with their instruments blows me away. I am grabbed immediately by the plaintiveness of the notes. They play a Chinese composition called “The Song of the Grassland” by Guan Ging Wu. It’s complex and dark in places, light in others. There’s nothing sappy or maudlin about it. The composition feels modern and relevant. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed music from a stringed instrument this much. Once again, I’ve got tears in my eyes but this time I’m not the least bit tempted to laugh.

They play under broad high windows that reveal a perfect blue sky and massive evergreens. Sunlight pours into the sanctuary from every direction. I love this building precisely because of the way it lets nature in. Somehow, the violas’ minor chords seem to make the sky a brighter blue and the trees an even deeper green.

Earlier, during his sermon, Reverend Ticknor had read a poem by the Polish writer Adam Zagajewski called “Try to Praise the Mutilated World.” It is an unsentimental poem about the importance of celebrating all the good around us even as we recognize how broken the world really is. In the Valley, where—let’s face it—attitudes about difference have a long way to go, Chinese compositions, Polish poetry, funk and conga drums and sweat are surprising praise.

As the service ends on Sunday, I keep thinking about how, in DC, it would be no big deal to take in Parliament Funkadelic (the band) one day and a viola concert the next plus any other kind of performance you could possibly want—theatre, dance, music, art—all of it unrepentant and uncensored.

Out here, I never expect it—maybe that’s why it feels like a gift.

-Heather Davis

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Apocalypse in Green and Blue

visitorscenter2It’s a Thursday and since I’m working at home and Maggie’s school hasn’t started, I suggest we have a picnic lunch on Skyline Drive. Jose looks a little skeptical but I insist. We drive the winding road to the park entrance, buy another pass for the year, and roll on up toward the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Jose and I are both terrified of heights, so I’m not sure why he announces, just as we near one of the more spectacular overlooks, that recently some woman drove right off the edge of the Blue Ridge.

I can see the car perfectly, a little hybrid economy model, plunging down down toward the great snaking river and neat squares of farmland.

Maggie looks to her right at the sheer drop thousands of feet into the Shenandoah Valley then at me, eyes wide, mouth turned down in horror.

I grab her hand and assure her that we are not going to fall off the mountain—at least I don’t think so.

“Thanks, honey,” I say to Jose, trying to believe in the superior handling of our Toyota Sienna. Actually, I’m riding my adrenaline rush like a cheap thrill, a trick I’ve been working on for a while. Being this high makes me feel like I’ve just done a whippit.

It’s the kind of lift that comes easy to wimpy, nature-phobic, city types like us.

After parking, we spread a table cloth on the grass in front of the visitor’s center and open our wicker picnic basket. The weather is ideal—sunny and breezy, not too hot. I could stay here all day, just sitting and gazing out over the valley, forgetting my life as a mommy, worker, and consumer of far too many artificial sweeteners.

Jose seems to be enjoying the view too but maybe isn’t as blissed out as I am. He has terrible allergies. Bugs love him like a Las Vegas buffet. The bites make strange Rorschach patterns all over his limbs.

Our little picnic is about as outdoorsy as we ever seem to get—exposed to the sun, eating on the ground beside a towering tree, complaining about the gnats.

I dare Maggie to go hug a tree and she races over to a big one, her arms flung wide. I think she’s really going to cuddle up to it but she gives the trunk an air hug instead—so Hollywood. I know it’s because she’s still eating and doesn’t want to get her hands dirty.

After lunch, we use the thoroughly modern and clean bathrooms that Maggie says smell like pool water, then mosey over to the field of wild flowers across the way. Maggie wants to look for those satiny green Monarch butterfly cocoons that hang under the wooden railing along the road.

I know we probably shouldn’t pull them off and plop them into her Dora the Explorer collection bag but her enthusiasm for specimen gathering is fanatical. I don’t dare try to stop her.

The cocoons look like something a jeweler would make—a perfect jade-colored surface, shiny and smooth, with a single band of gold beads around the top. I glance around every now and then half expecting a uniformed ranger to pop out from behind the trees and nab us. He will be accompanied by the entire stable of Disney teen stars, who will chastise us mercilessly while singing uplifting songs about the environment.

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As Jose, Maggie, and I walk along beside the wildflowers watching bees and butterflies flit among the petals, I secretly wish we were more hardy and nature-centered, less disconnected from the land.

Staring at an open milkweed pod, I finally get it. Being closer to nature really was one of my reasons for moving to the Valley and it is a legitimate one.

Jose believes it was all about saving money—yeah, let’s go live out there where shit is cheap and we don’t have to toil like slaves in some Beltway Gulag—sure, that was part of it. But all along there was something more, something surprisingly primal pushing me toward the mountains.

Since I was a kid, I’ve had this vision. Sometimes it feels a bit crazy—almost approaching the intensity level of a David Koresh or Jim Jones apocalypse scenario, except without the religious frenzy or the killing.

My vision involves the forest—not building a compound in its heart or leading masses of followers there—just walking into it with a few other people, actually going inside for days at a time, carrying tents and canteens, building fires, identifying plants and animals, walking through streams, getting dirty, sleeping under the stars—actions Jose would deem inherently insane and unhealthy.

I think it’s called camping.

Yes, I know, for most folks the dream of camping is a small one, easily satisfied; for me it is a quest, a goal attainable only through great effort, perseverance, and some serious bribery.

Recently, while eating on the outside deck of the Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill, I shouted to Jose and Maggie, “Do you smell that? Do you smell that? What is that smell?”

“Mmmm, steak, French fries, grease,” said Jose.

“No,” I said, “not that. It’s coming from the field.”

He and Maggie just sneezed and swatted at the mosquitoes that had been swarming them for last 15 minutes.

I inhaled deeply, trying to vacuum in every particle of that oddly intimate scent as it drifted over from a nearby field. Strangely delicate, it seemed to emanate from the soft air and moist earth surrounding a stand of wheat-colored stalks. They were my madeleine. I was taken back to a country lane at dusk, a real place I’d been, though I couldn’t tell you how to get there.

This smell was so evocative it felt like part of my own body. It was sweet and grassy with a hint of roasted hazelnut. Had I run free as a kid like the Wild Boy of Aveyron, rolling on the ground, sleeping on a bed of leaves? Apparently, yes.

Would Maggie ever know a smell like this, I wondered, a smell so profoundly natural it seemed to stop time itself, holding everything in perfect balance?

More to the point, would I ever be able to get Jose into a tent? Or even a cabin? Though I’ve only slept in a tent once or twice, I spent many weekends with my grandparents in their pull camper at various campgrounds in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

I adored those trips. They felt like a doorway to something eternal. But that was another lifetime ago before responsibility and jobs and life in the city. Could I ever go back?

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t picture Jose at one of these places. Though my memories of public recreation areas are pretty rosy—lots of hayrides, bingo nights, and campfires enjoyed with family, friends, and even strangers—Jose hasn’t been so lucky.

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Once, in the early sixties, his family was turned away from a beach along the Chesapeake Bay because they are not white. To this day, he has a serious aversion to public pools. Growing up in D.C. with a father who worked two jobs, I don’t think his family got the chance to go out to the country much in any case.

I’d like to think that if we went back to one of the old campgrounds I knew as a kid, the regulars would not look at Jose funny but would be the kind of down-home country people who never see skin color or fret about immigration status, the kind that extend hospitality to every neighbor without question. That could happen.

I can’t kid myself though, even if folks were welcoming, Jose would still worry night and day about bears or Maggie falling into the river or deer ticks. He knows how to burst the shiny bubble of my nature fantasy pretty darn quick. Maybe camping wouldn’t be as great as I imagine anyway.

Done with our illegal gathering of cocoons, we move inside the visitor’s center to look at the exhibits. While Maggie presses all the light buttons on the huge topographical relief map of Skyline Drive, I think about the question people always ask when we tell them we’ve moved to Front Royal. “Oh,” they say, “so you’re outdoors types?”

That’s when it gets awkward, “Um, no” we reply, “not really.”

“Oh,” they say, suddenly quiet, brows scrunched.

As we gaze at the map, it strikes me that to turn away from all this beauty—even with the snakes, bears, and ticks—would be a crime. And I have a feeling we’re gonna be residents here for a very long time so we might as well give in. Right then and there I vow not to let my vision falter.

We’ll start slow, so slow Jose won’t notice. Coming here is a first step. Next I’ll trick him into completing an easy trail. Then maybe we’ll try the guided nature walk led by a poet friend of ours in Frederick County. Then I’ll book a room at Big Meadow Lodge further down Skyline Drive. I’ll make sure to bring a canteen and a bag of trail mix just for effect, just so I feel more authentic.

It’s true that the lodge isn’t a tent or camper—it’s more like a hotel—but we will be smack dab in the middle of the forest and Jose won’t be able to drive back into town on a dime.

Oh, he’s gonna curse me for that. And after the lodge, who knows? A rustic cabin maybe.

Jose and Maggie stare at me from across the map as I grin madly—the wheels of my apocalyptic plan are in motion.

-Heather Davis

Crashing the Tea Party with My Wife and My Half-Breed Girl

bluemountains2Having grown up in the flatland swamp of Washington, D.C., living in a totally lush green valley surrounded by even greener mountains is something entirely new to me.

Did I say that the mountains were green, including that great range by which many people identify this region, the Blue Ridge Mountains? Well, I’m slightly color blind, so if there’s some blue in that range, I don’t see it. All I know is that I don’t understand which mountain is which, can’t follow these roads that snake madly through the hills, and never know if the body of water I’m trying not to drive into is the North Fork or the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

Most of my life was spent heading the other way—to the beach, to where, after crossing the Chesapeake, the land was as flat as that high note in the Star Spangled Banner when sung by a guy who’s drunk before the game has started: “Oe’r the land of the free.” (A lot of people don’t get the free part right, or else they think that most important part of being free is the right to be an idiot.)

The first time I intentionally headed out over the mountains to a valley was around ten years ago, when Heather and I went for a vacation in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley. We didn’t quite know how to get there, so what we did was instead of going east on Route 50, which was the way to the beach, we went west. Following 50 through Arlington, Fairfax, Chantilly.

Chantilly—back then we thought that was so far from the city that the only words we could use to give us a sense of where we were was to say that it was “fucking nowhere.” Route 50 also brought us, for the first time, through Winchester. Little did we know that ten years later we’d be visiting Winchester at least once a week, and that we’d adopt one of those alien territories south of that little town as our own.

But then we kept going and going for what seemed like an entire day but was actually only about four hours. And as we continued driving west on 50, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, curving up and down on winding roads that had us cursing as we held onto the seats of our rented car, we headed through the Allegheny Mountains and down into Canaan Valley. It was here, in the town of Davis, West Virginia, which is the closest town to the Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center, where I had one of the most memorable meals of my life.

We’d already checked into to our room at the resort but then went back to Davis to have dinner and explore the town. It was a quiet place—which was what we expected—and exploring the tiny business district took only around five minutes. That was something new for us, a business district you could traverse in about the amount of time it took to smoke a cigarette (I was still smoking then). So, since our evening of sightseeing took a lot less than an evening, we decided we may as well eat.

There weren’t many choices for restaurants, but what we found looked promising—a restaurant and brew pub right on William Street, Davis’s main drag. It was one of those clean, well-lit pubs, not one of those dark smoky caverns where everything looks like it’s covered in ten year old grease. I ordered the chicken cordon bleu with salad and a side of rice pilaf while Heather ordered chicken parmesan.

We each drank a beer as we waited, looking around the still mostly empty restaurant (it was only around five o’clock). When the waiter returned with our food, I immediately picked up a forkful of the rice pilaf. Soon my mouth was overcome with the sour rancid taste of spoiled food, something that had either been left out for a couple of days or else fished back out of the garbage. I grimaced and spit it right back out into my napkin as Heather probably wondered if I were having some kind of seizure.

I leaned over to smell the rice, and it reeked. I called the waiter over and exclaimed, “This is spoiled!”

The waiter looked at me coldly, and simply asked, without a hint of emotion in his voice, “Well, would you like something else?” as if there were nothing wrong with having just served rotten food to me. I had traveled four hours for this. Of course, some people have traveled a lot farther for worse, and some people don’t need to go anywhere at all for this kind of treatment.

It was at this point where I should have jumped up from the table and pounced on him. But, although I was angry, what I was overcome by was disbelief. Disbelief that they would serve this to me and then pretend that there was nothing wrong. Heather and I were both so stunned that we just sat there.

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Again, it was one of those times, like ten years later when the policeman stopped me, when I couldn’t do what I wanted, perhaps even needed to do. Or that time in DC (and, no, this sort of thing doesn’t just happen in small towns) a few years before our trip to Canaan Valley when I sat at a hotel bar downtown. It was happy hour, and the news was on TV. When an Asian meteorologist came on with the weather report, the bartender immediately started make fun of her name and began to speak with a mock Chinese accent. A few minutes later, when I asked him where the restroom was (I’d never been to this bar before), he pointed to the other end of the room. “You see that door there?” he went on. “Well, you go out that door, walk down to the corner, and there you’ll see a tree.”

And that was it. Not even a “Sorry, I was just kidding.” He simply turned away to serve another customer.

Sometimes the game is played against you in such a way that you can’t defend yourself and you can’t speak up without making things worse for yourself. Yeah, I could have smacked that waiter in West Virginia, then gone into the kitchen and smacked the cook, too. And I could have thrown my empty beer bottle into the mirror behind the bar at the hotel and told the bartender to go fuck himself, and I would have felt a lot better inside. A hell of a lot better. I also would have been arrested, with me looking like the guy who took the first shot. Still, how can one deny the power of what the waiter did and that it was, in effect, an assault? And, the power of the bartender’s words, were also a kind of assault. The kind of assault guys like them can easily get away with.

More often than not, that’s the way it’s done nowadays. They can’t deny you entry into their establishments, but they can damn well make it uncomfortable for you so that you won’t want to come back. Usually they’re a little more subtle about it, but sometimes they’re not.

Nowadays, with things like the insane Tea Party protests (the participants of which are so clearly driven by something other than their professed outrage at “wasteful government spending”) and the popularity of goons like Glenn Beck spouting hate disguised as junk food for the intellectually bulimic, I’m getting scared. And, I’m a little bit warier again when I travel, except when I go back to my old Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in DC, where I went this past weekend.

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There, me, Heather, Maggie and my brother Tony walked down to the park at the end of Mt. Pleasant Street where a small Latino festival was being held. There was good music and, unfortunately for us, an incredibly long line of people waiting in line for the steaks, Chorizos, and other incredibly delicious smelling foods that were being prepared on the spot. Heather, Maggie, and I had to go back to Front Royal soon, so we couldn’t wait. On the way out, I saw an elderly lady looking at me, saying something in Spanish, which I don’t understand. After a moment I realized she was telling me to join in on the line, have some food, have some fun. I expressed my regrets, as best as I could, in English and through my awkward hand gestures.

I was, certainly, a long way from Canaan Valley. And from that downtown bar.

In a way, I was still a child back then, before Maggie was born, before I felt so compelled to take action. Indeed, there’s something about being a parent that actually keeps me angry about things. And keeps me dreaming. I want an America where she learns compassion, generosity, and complexity, not hate, greed, and stereotypes. I want an America where she can walk anywhere—anywhere—and not have some ignorant dickwad look at her and treat her like she’s some alien being. And although she’s a mix—I don’t want her to pass as white. I want the color in her to be recognized and respected.

But soon, we were on our way back. To the Shenandoah Valley. To our Valley. To my Valley. Because, yes, it’s my Valley, too. And as we drove back, going west on I-66 past Manassas, past Gainesville through those rolling hills and into those lush green mountains (or whatever color they are), I started thinking that, hell, I don’t know. Maybe I will go back to that ice cream shop here in Front Royal where they seemed to think I was some kind of “illegal alien” or terrorist or socialist. Maybe I’ll go back there every goddamn day.

-Jose Padua

Confessions of a Public Transportation Whore

publictrans5I feel so un-American as my husband José in the driver’s seat in front of me gets questioned by a local small-town cop. My deep and burning sense of shame has nothing to do with the fact that I can’t stop staring at the patch on the cop’s sleeve—it depicts a Confederate flag leaning to the right and an American flag leaning to the left.

I wonder for a moment if I am hallucinating but no, the familiar blue X filled with white stars on a red background is really there riding this guy’s beefy upper arm. Sitting next to my six year-old daughter, who likes to be entertained on drives long or short, I am trying to stay calm and as upbeat as possible.

This is difficult when I know José is dying to tell the cop where to shove his ticket pad and pen. The air is thick with tension. This is the first time we have been pulled over—ever. A minute ago we were enjoying the rolling hills, farm animals, and old buildings surrounding Middletown, VA, feeling very la la la on an early Saturday evening.

Now we are in some oppressive military state trying to remember if we did commit a serious crime—espionage, drug trafficking?

I don’t have much experience with law enforcement. My few encounters have involved asking for help rather than being looked at with suspicion. The cop is like that liquid metal guy from the Terminator movies—not much personality just a blank, steely stare. Seriously, he could lighten up a bit.

José is being incredibly compliant—I have never seen him so uncombative. When the cop asks if he knows he was going 40 in a 30, he agrees, even though we couldn’t have been going that fast. José was actually going 32 in a 25, he later tells me. Technically, he was speeding, but not by much.

The cop runs a check on José’s license and comes up with nothing because his record is completely clean. He seems disappointed as he explains the procedure for contesting the ticket and asks for José’s signature. Despite José’s polite tone, the cop’s flat voice contains more than a tinge of contempt as he asks, “Can I have my pen back.”

I want to laugh when I think about how cautiously this guy approached our car, sliding up along the side like a marine trying to avoid sniper fire in Iraq. I know there are dangerous people out there but we’re in a mini-van for crying out loud, barely going over the speed limit.

It’s the hair—I know it. I should have cut more off when I gave José a trim recently. His curly black locks are incredibly shaggy. This is his real crime, in addition to DWF—Driving While Filipino.

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And that is where my shame comes in. I think there is something essentially wrong with me because, unlike most red-blooded American women, I don’t drive, or at least not much. If I had been driving, would we have been stopped? If the cop had seen me, with my unthreatening whiteness, my reddish hair and nerdy glasses, just another middle-aged mom driving her Toyota Sienna, would we have had a problem?

Out here, it is serious, shun-inducing blasphemy to be a non-driver. To live in rural America is to drive, even if it’s only a tractor you’re gunning.

I make it a point to roll down my window and smile at the cop as he walks away. I hate that my urge is to show him my face and that of our cute daughter as if to prove that we are regular people and to legitimize José. How twisted is that?

He ignores me and stalks back to his car stiff as an android.

Must be a slow day in the big metropolis I think—no Middletown chief of police to arrest for drunk driving, as happened three or four years ago. The first time that day, they let him off with a warning. The second time, they cuffed him.

Despite my fear of the open road, my fear of trucks and speed and switching lanes, I resolve right then and there to practice my driving. I have a license but have always been a public transportation whore, loving the metro, at home on buses. In DC, I never needed a car, never wanted or needed to leave the city.

But that was ages ago. It’s time now to grow up and relinquish childish notions like the belief that everyone sees the world the same way I do or that the world is an equitable place.

For the next few months, as I practice my driving, I suggest you stay off all roads that run through the northern Shenandoah Valley. My intentions are good but I’ve never been a natural.

Entire trees have learned the hard way.

If you do come up behind a light blue mini-van going way under the speed limit on some winding country road near Front Royal, please be patient.

I’m just trying to save you from Robocop.

-Heather Davis