“Do you have wireless inter-net?” I asked the twenty-something check-in girl at the front desk of the Johnson City, Tennessee Best Western motel.
“Jes here in the lobby…or in the bar there,” she said pointing with a pencil to the door behind me over which flashed in red, white and blue neon, the words, NASCAR Grille.
I was driving my way from New York to Hendersonville, NC. to tend to my ailing mother-in-law. After 12 hours behind the wheel, I had said, “Uncle,” and pulled in to the first available motel.
Priorities being priorities, immediately after unloading the trunk and checking out the room, I grabbed my laptop and headed for the NASCAR for a beer and some blogging. It was, after all, near the end of the Plame/CIA leak investigation and I had been without the “real” news all day.
I ordered a Bud Light (the least offensive of the on tap offerings), and headed to a table with a nearby outlet. Within minutes, I was engrossed in my usual rounds through the on-line political arena; looking for news, rumors and analysis. I am an addict. But to me, politics matters.
About halfway through the Bud, I looked up from the screen and noticed where I really was for the first time.
As I often do in unfamiliar locales, I began to imagine the lives behind the strange faces. In this case, the faces of the people who sat at the bar and in the restaurant. There was the group of seven just-turned-twenty-ones at a table to my right. It was one of those “high” bar tables that required stools to be useful…and they seemed to be making good use of it as the top was littered with empty pitchers and full ashtrays (smoking is still permitted in Tennessee bars). The three girls and four boys were flirting, kissing and grabbing their way to a merry drunken late night. Carefree. Young. Reckless.
To my left were the professional travelers. Ties loosened at the neck and paying with company credit cards…sharing dirty jokes. Black loafers. Tassels. Cuffed slacks.
There were the assorted mix of couples, drinkers, long hairs, frat boys, bar fly girls, waitresses and bartenders sharing this smoky, loud, ’80’s country music filled, totally American, Tennessee roadside watering hole. I guessed I was one of about 60 in the NASCAR that night. I felt totally out of place, and yet, at the same time, wonderfully at home.
I wondered what was important to all these people. What did they do with their time? How did they spend their obviously hard-earned money? How did they make decisions? I began to speculate some mental answers.
Let me see. Gas on the way down here was averaging about $3.00 a gallon. Lots of pickups outside getting 14 MPG. That must matter to everyone here. And lots of these folks have kids…so education and child care are big. Rent for some, mortgages for others. Interest rates. And credit cards. Yup. Lots of credit cards with high interest rates. Health care. I wonder if they have health care. Statistics say that one in six of them have no insurance. I bet more than half of this group has a family member or friend or knows someone now in Iraq…so that’s a big issue. Group at the bar looks like they work local construction. Work boots. Carpenter’s pencil behind the ear of the guy in the “Redneck Wreckin’ Crew” tee-shirt. Small business workers then. Payroll and housing market trends. Traveling professionals? Sales? Profit margins and economic growth must be important.
The waitress came on by to pick up my empty and looked over my shoulder at the laptop screen. “Not many come in here and look at a computer,” she said. What are ya looking at?” she asked.
“Oh, just reading up on some politics. I follow politics.” I said.
“Oh, I don’t give that any mind. Want another one?”
“Sure. Do you vote?” I asked.
“Nope. Never voted in my life. Never will. It don’t matter. I’ll be right back, Hon.” She skirted her way through the tables to the bar.
When she came back, I thanked her, but before she left, I said, “You know, politics is important.”
“No it ain’t,” she said smiling. “Nothin’ they do in Washington affects me at all. Why should I care?” she said as she made change and disappeared around the corner. I wondered how many people in the NASCAR Grille that night felt the same way.