ANDY'S TRAVELS: Casual Racism & Mac-n-Cheese
I've heard of Vidor, Texas for a while now, and by a while now, I mean I looked it up on Wikipedia a few weeks ago. Essentially, Vidor is a town on the outskirts of east Texas right before Lousiana, a little area shadowed by neighboring Beaumont and Orange, though towering in reputation to both. What for, exactly? Well, blatant Racism. Capital racism. Racism so blatant and infestuous that I had to use the word 'infestuous' not knowing whether it's a real word or not (Urban Dictionary defines it as: "A debilitating redneck hillbilly disease that causes families to incessantly breed with each other in a rampant sort of way," so yes that works).
To be clear, Vidor wasn't always known as the premiere racist capital of the U.S.A. It took years of work to develop that prominence -- tough, bitter, crusty work that included, but was not limited to:
- Maintaining a welcome sign in the city limits that read, "WHITE'S ONLY AFTER DARK."
- Murdering the second black man to ever relocate into the town.
- Organizing daily KKK rallies and marches whenever a small influx of black families were federally mandated to move in.
- Do all of these activities post-1990.
Simply put, when most other towns in the country decided to put their racism under a thinly-veiled wrap following the Civil Rights Movement, Vidor looked in the face of all decency and proclaimed, "Nah, we keepin' this nazi shit pushin'." And push on they did.
So, now, in immediate post-Charlottesville America, specifically on the road from Texas to Louisiana, I found myself faced with the opportunity to see this town for myself. From the beginning, the goal was to see the underbelly of the country, all of the seedy and gooey-slime covered trails that came with it. So, I went. Passing Houston, passing Beaumont, passing all perception of racial progressiveness and exiting the Old Highway near Tram Road, right into the heart of Vidor.
First minute in, I stop at a corner Valero station right near the freeway underpass and park my car under the roof structure. It's beginning to rain heavy now, having driven two hours from Houston through concrete cloudy skies, light showers and rightwing radio ideologues preaching the word of God's personally-anointed U.S. President for much of it. It's a cold and wintry space to find yourself.
Now, I wanted to chalk up the stories I had read through internet post after internet post as mere folklore. Fourth-hand stories told through generations that witnessed the traumas firsthand, now just low-inked copied tales to keep the town's boogieman alive. That was, at least, until I saw my first swastika, ironically stamped on the face of some lanky, zit-ridden teen who, through maybe dirt or summer east Texas suns, looked even darker than me. I stared for a bit until I realized he was in front of me now, asking to spare some cash or help with a square. I checked my pocket, felt some loose bills and change.
"Sorry, nothing on me," I replied.
I lied, primarily because I refuse to fund terrorism. His eyes caught my wandering own and his mouth curved insidiously before walking away. The exchange was clear. To be fair, I'm not much at evaluating social cues myself, but really, I don't know how he actually thought that one was going to go.
Of course, after putting in the last drops of God's baby oil, I took my whip and smashed out the structure, now slightly reaffirmed that maybe I was being an idiot being out there by my young, supple brown lonesome. At this point, it was either go on the ramp and safely continue my trip or further excavate the pale bodied, stretched and stained legging trails of America's most racist city. Without much hesitation, I yelped the closest Walmart (America's premiere museum for people watching) and moseyed my way across the moss-colored tree cradled road.
It only took a couple blocks to reach the destination -- a nice, modest shopping center across the street from a dilapidated Jack in the Box and abandoned Walgreens, all familiar chains yet equal in eeriness. After parking and spending some time in the car, mostly questioning whether I should just be smart for once, I looked back on Yelp and decided to look at the reviews.
Two star average. Two reviews. The first from Ron L. of Concord, California. It read:
Ron had 385 friends, 694 reviews and an Elite '17 status under his belt. He was from California. Why the fuck would I not be able to trust Ron? He seemed like a swell guy. Ron even put a cute smiley face with a little nose-y after describing how the patrons of Vidor's Walmart looked like blog-worthy characters.
On entering and making my way down the aisles, one thing became clear: fuck Ron. I don't know Ron, but he's a liar, and by consequence, I'ma go ahead and assume he's probably unfaithful. Yes, the people of Vidor's Walmart did in fact look like the "infamous People of Walmart" blog, but no, there's no fucking cute smiley face attached with it. It took all but thirteen seconds before I got fourteen gawking stares -- and to be fair, it being a small town and all, maybe they just gazed oddly because I was a new face, but no. That stopped being the case the minute I found an employee organizing some shirts on a rack, back halfway turned and eyes locked down.
"Excuse me, by any chance, do you happen to know where the hair products are?" I asked in a higher octave, so as to convey my confused and innocent submissiveness.
Her eyes turned, took a gaze and returned to the shirts.
"Uhm.. Hello? Excuse me," I followed.
"..." replied her back.
"I see you," silently answered the small tinge of eyeball that gazed from her right shoulder. I understood it's gaze well.
Maybe it was a weird encounter. Maybe she was deaf, or mute, or for the sake of my fear of rejection, both. I walked away and tracked down another employee. Of course, I could've just looked for the aisle myself, but I just wanted to talk to someone, anyone. The higher voice register came back in full passive form.
"Hey, by any chance, do you know where the hair product is at?"
"Yeahhu-," the other employee began to motor out before locking eyes and sputtering and stalling into a dry, "-eghmmhugh..."
"Uh... sorry, excuse me?"
Her silence nodded for her. And so, I walked away again, found the pomade, threw it in the basket and headed to the register. And again, eyes locked, voices quivered and expressions disintegrated into the smoldering wrinkles of creased, frowning leather faces. The exchange was clear -- I got it.
Exiting the Walmart was a lot like exiting a circus, except instead of witnessing bodies and extremities dangle and contort, it was the feeling of humanity that twisted and tangled in my head. It was striking, and as I presume, the same for them as well. I came to see terror, creating the mutant in my head, and got a freak show built around the main attraction of a mirror. Who knew.
After that half hour, I left, got on the road and made my way to Lake Charles, Louisiana and stopped at Mama Reta's Kitchen just in time to catch the closing lunch special: smothered pork chops with mashed potatoes, gravy and sides of mac and cheese, cornbread and chocolate cake. All for $9. It was midday but the crisp blonde sun peaked through the slab of clouds onto the red-brick walls across the home-style restaurant.
It warmed my heart to know God still kisses the earth in her own ways.