Derrick Hill

View From The Hill

Derrick Hill is a former staff writer for, and a freelance contributor to, the Times-Gazette.

Bad combos

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The other night, I was ready to fight. I'm not sure what or who or if anything.

It started when I stopped to put air in my tires before heading to a Nashville concert. I have never liked these little air stations. Took me a while to figure out how not to spend three dollars trying to air up your tires. You have to be prepared.

First, pull up facing the air pump so you are certain the hose can reach all your tires. If you have to re-position your car, guess what, you've run out of air. Always check your tire pressure first and remove all air caps before you start. Then maybe, just maybe, you will be able to fill up all your tires before the pump runs out and you have to pay another dollar for air.

I did all this last night. It was all going according to plan until a group of dudes drove by in their souped up four-wheel drive, hanging out the window, and dishing out random verbal insults at me.

"Whatever, stupid kids," I thought to myself, "I used to do stuff like that."

I'm not mad, yet.

Tires are aired and I'm headed to Nashville to see one of my current faves, Bonnie Prince Billy. I get about 10 minutes from the house. Head alarm goes off.

"Alert. Alert. You left your tickets at home, dum dum. Turn around."

I turn off onto a side road and head back to the house. Seemingly out of nowhere yet another souped-up four wheel drive is suddenly inches from my bumper. It's a two-lane road with double lines. Regardless, they swerve around and cut me off at the stop sign. They punch it leaving two pillars of black smoke and drippings of blood that were seeping from beneath their tailgate.

"You know what, they are probably ramped up from shooting a deer or something. That's where the blood was coming from--blood pooling from the back of your truck and reckless driving couldn't mean anything else. I'll let it go. I've driven like that before."

I erased the license plate number from my phone. Get home, retrieve tickets.

I'm agitated, but let it go, I'm looking forward to the concert. Turn on the radio and, I forgot, tonight they announce the verdict in the Ferguson case. I won't name which radio station I was listening to, but by the time I reached Murfreesboro I was ready to punch something.

I pull into McDonald's to grab a bite to eat before the show. Maybe that will calm me down. Diet soda helps me think more clearly.

I didn't fully realize it until I walked in, but this particular radio station had attempted to convince me that all black people everywhere were ready to start rioting if the officer involved in the Michael Brown case wasn't convicted. It clicked at that exact moment I walked into McDonald's where I just happened to be the only white dude.

On every television they were amping up for the big announcement--even the newspapers that were strategically placed by the counter were about Ferguson.

Suddenly, I didn't really know how to act.

I was overrun with thoughts about what was going on in our world. In this day where information is so readily accessible and we stay plugged in to the violence. Tangled up in bad decisions. Wars. Crimes. Scandals. Controversy. The list is endless.

All this mixed in with the fact that I was still pissed about everything leading up to that moment.

Not a good combo at McDonalds.

Thoughts followed.

"I couldn't picture what it must feel like to be black and be in the middle what some are calling a race war.

"Am I in this war, or partly responsible for it? Am I a bystander? Have I contributed to that cause? Against it? There are probably young black men in this kitchen right now that have mixed emotions about what is going on in Ferguson. There are groups that would tell them that all white people are the devil. They've probably had to deal with racist jerks from time to time growing up. I grew up in the South, it still happens.

"What do they think about me right now, at this very moment? Is it wrong for me to wonder in the first place?"

(Then, have the audacity to write about how the incident made "ME" feel?)

More thoughts.

"Are they wondering what I think about them?"

Then, the lady behind the counter handed me my food and gave me what felt like the most sincere, "Have a good night" I've ever felt. I snapped out of the fog for a moment.

Could she tell I was being weird? Not because I was the only white dude in the place, but because of the insanity of the whole Ferguson situation and the thoughts it carried.

I sit in my car for a moment and smoke my pipe tobacco. Trying to work through my feelings.

I call my friends who, guess what, are black. Not that I should have to clarify that.

I tell them that the whole Ferguson situation has got me worked up because there are so many unnecessary problems in the world and so many views on how to fix them.

I ask them how they are feeling.

They are sick of the unrest. Sick of the fighting. The pointing fingers about dominant or sub-dominant races. They can't understand why so many shots were fired.

We both realize it's almost impossible for us to form an opinion because we weren't there and there are several versions of the story floating around.

I've seen the reports that paint Michael Brown as a thugged out trouble maker. The reports that paint him out to be a good kid, full of fear because he grew up in a town where police brutality seems to be an issue. I've heard opinions from people who think they have the answer or at least say they can point you in the right direction.

I feel better after talking to my friends. We've been involved with community events together. We both want to see education and imagination go up and mindless violence and stereotypes to simply die. We want to see inspiration and creativity take precedence over fear and irrationality. Yet, we're still stuck in what feels like another world at the moment.

I'm driving to the show and I think back to the two trucks that I had an encounter with earlier. They were both four-wheel-drive pickup trucks with loud exhausts and stickers about hunting plastered about.

I could easily write them off as stupid rednecks. Dumb country hicks. Whatever other country stereotype. I've heard the country songs that talk about the four-wheel drives and hunting.

Is it fair to lump them into some all-inclusive category and call them ignorant because of the type of vehicle they drive and the fact that they like to hunt? I wouldn't think so. Even if their actions at that moment seemed to suggest otherwise.

It's easy to pick out certain characteristics that are predominant within different cultures or races and write them off as being this or that. White, black, yellow, brown. It's too easy.

It's the quickest way to defend yourself against the "unknown" or the "different."

Can we blame some of it on our "survivalist" mentality? Our will to stay in our tribes? To create a sense of unity by appearing and acting the same?

Should we chalk the rest of it up to: Laziness? Ignorance? Indifference to life? No imaginations?

I, at that moment, blamed some of it on loud pick-up trucks.

The point is, whatever or wherever it stems from, at the end of the day we acknowledge that it's there and cut it off at the stop sign.

-- Derrick Hill is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette and welcomes reader feedback at gorillabeard@hotmail.com.

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