NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Fourth of July holiday has been problematic for me for many years. On the one hand, the child in me fondly remembers parades with prancing horses, ice cream and BBQs, bottle rockets shot off on a green lawn into the dark night sky. On the other hand, the adult in me has never been able to witness how painful days like this are for our indigenous neighbors, or for those who fought and were fodder in our wars; and has never been able to abide those who turned the day we threw tea into Boston Harbor into a modern state of war between left and right.
My attitude has been for a long time, a day off is a day off, and let’s do something to take advantage of the nice summer weather, anyway. But in this time when everything we do and say is politicized, sometimes I question having fun at all on a day that holds some things to celebrate, and so much to mourn. None of this was in my head, though, when my husband and I planned an outing to LeMay Collections at Marymount in Tacoma (this commentary is not about that—that was the best part). We set out in high spirits, on a rare bright day for western Washington. I even drove, and my husband enjoyed being able to view the progress of the light rail construction.
The LeMay Collections were great. The history of the American car. A history that also has me on two sides, as became more and more apparent as we walked through the garages full of hundreds of shined-to-perfection classic cars. Street racer me’s heart was pounding and going “gimme gimme!” Which one? Muscle car please. Movie buff me was in a continuous reel of every time a gorgeous car was driven by gorgeous people somewhere in California. Gimme a convertible please. Maybe a Packard. Not the one with the Native American head hood ornament. Environmentally-conscious me was outraged that an electric car sold to thousands in the early 1900s—and then? I can only speculate that the gas and oil companies got their word in.
If I had paid attention, the adult me and child me were already divided. Still we took a bunch of selfies, paused for one more on the green lawn, and then asked, “what’s for lunch?” Thinking that continuing down the road of American nostalgia would be fun (haha!), I browsed Yelp for “diners.” Tip: read ALL the reviews before you go somewhere. Save yourself.
“You don’t find diners like this anymore,” said the highlighted review. So we sprinted over. It was a surprisingly small joint just off one of the main drags in Spanaway, with picnic tables out front, and some fringe around the roof that yelled “café’. It was not the “Happy Days” Coca Cola red leather and chrome look I was going for but like most of us, we’d already parked, so.
We walked in and there’s a giant Trump flag in the corner. Like full-sized. Right in your line of sight as you enter the door, hanging over a man seated over his meal and giving us “that look.”
So, have YOU had the conversation with YOUR friends and family, “what to do if we walk into a racist restaurant”? Cuz we haven’t. Most of the time, it’s the opposite in King County, right? We hear about those who protested restaurants that stayed closed to dine-in seating during COVID-19, that required masking and vaccinations. We hear about the vandalism and the harassment of businesses in the ID. We’re used to getting upset on the behalf of beleaguered restaurant owners, soldiers in the battle between right and wrong.
But walk into a spot just 30 minutes from here and it’s another world. It’s the Trump world. And they are not afraid to let you know it. On the positive side, perhaps if the pandemic was still in full swing and everyone was up in arms, we would have been accosted here. As it was, nothing happened. Except for the war going on inside of us. And them too, probably.
Did I mention we are a mixed race couple?
We sat down. I’m still trying to understand why we stayed. My husband said nothing. I said nothing. Were we that shocked at the blatant hatred in that room? Shocked into immediate and shameful submissiveness? Fear of getting the shit beat out of us. It was that fast—like flipping a light switch. We were transported into some movie where the person of color represented by a white lawyer in the deep south walks into…well, a place like this. The waitress, a child practically, was sweet (we guess?). I mean, we’re in a KKK secret meeting place at this point, so who knows? As we sat there, I had the view of the counter, so was able to read the amassed regalia, including a large poster calling for Governor Inslee’s removal. We ordered. The food came. The clam chowder was a little lumpy and I was already concerned about being poisoned or at the least having my food spit in. I didn’t learn till later that reviewers revealed they use – proudly – canned food. What’s for dessert? Well, it’s the Fourth of July weekend. The child in me remembered – what else would it be but strawberry shortcake served in a blue bowl?
As I sat staring at the red, white, and blue dessert in front of me, a haze of dismay surrounded me. Everything had tasted good—but what had we just eaten? The “snowflake” liberal had said to herself when we walked in, “you can’t be surrounded by people with the same ideas as you all the time,” so suck it up. That’s the too nice person.
Because there is no need to stand for this nonsense. Being a racist is not a right. Being an asshole is not a right. Someday, we have to prioritize the greater good, for good. It’s not a right to flaunt our freedom by hurting others. I would say it’s not what those soldiers in foreign wars fight for – but it is. They fight for us to be able to maintain our “way of life”—and this is it.
The child in me just wanted a fun star-spangled day full of fancy cars and fun food. But she wasn’t allowed to do that in today’s United States, which looks a lot like the 1960s Civil Rights-era United States. Did it never leave or is it back again? I don’t know. Am I glad that at least places and people like this show their true colors so I can beware? Not really. It sucks.