I’m used to other people’s misperceptions about me. After all, I was blonde for most of my life. I’m used to being mistaken as stupid or helpless or klutzy -- okay so I am klutzy, but never have I ever been mistaken for a republican service woman.
See, I don’t own a car. And my family drives down to Nags Head, N.C., every year for a week’s vacation. So I borrowed my father’s jeep and made the trip by myself.
My father’s jeep -- it’s green, with a tire cover that reads “Once a Marine Always a Marine” a sticker in the window proudly declaring the driver is a member of the National Rifle Association and a McCain/Palin sticker on the bumper. I call it the Republican Mobile. I told my mom I felt dirty driving it. She rolled her eyes and said I could always walk.
I sighed. I was hoping she would offer me her car -- instead she offered me her gas card. My dad brags that the jeep gets 17 to 18 miles per gallon.
So, there I was on I-76 cruising around the turns, singing along to an artist I am too embarrassed to say I like, when a young man in a dark sedan pulled along side me, turned and saluted me.
No. I’m not kidding.
And, no, it wasn’t the one finger sort of salute. Believe me, I am used to those. It was an actual salute.
This is when I realized that so long as I was in this car, all my feminist rants and liberal beliefs no longer mattered to those around me. Those driving past me assumed I was a marine (or married to one) and would treat me accordingly. I also worried that I didn’t respond properly to the young man that saluted me but I checked with my brother and he said it definitely would have been wrong to salute back. Particularly since I am not even sure I know how to properly salute.
Of course it seems this misunderstanding between me and my fellow road-mates had its perks. I am a decent driver. That’s not to say that people don’t occasionally beep at me when I pass or shake their fists at me when they pass. However, in the Republican mobile it didn’t happen once. Did they see the NRA sticker and think twice about messing with me?
I also have a bit of a lead foot. I don’t like driving and so the sooner I can get out of a car the better. When I drove Rosie, I was pulled over ever other week for speeding (though I only ever received one ticket, thank you very much). While I passed several cops with their radar guns out -- I wasn’t pulled over in the Republican mobile. Could it be they saw that tire cover and decided I earned the right to drive just as fast as I want to?
While I certainly appreciated the fringe benefits of pretending to be someone I wasn’t, there was one moment when I truly felt like a fraud. I pulled into a service station looking for fuel that didn’t contain 10% ethanol (according to Daddy, the ethanol negatively affects his jeep’s delicate engine). A man and his girlfriend/wife pulled into the pump next to mine. He got off his Harley, took his helmet off, looked at me and said, “Thank you.”
I just stood there, blank for a moment. The woman he was with had her helmet off at this point and thanked me as well, you know, for my service.
I smiled and debated whether or not I wanted to engage these two in a conversation about misperceptions and my father and just how far this piece of fruit fell from his tree. Instead I just nodded and started washing the windows of the jeep. I also made a silent promise to myself to relay this couple’s appreciation to all the actual servicemen and women I knew.
Of course, the dirty, long-haired biker and his girlfriend/wife in her too tight tank top and too short shorts could have been really nice, really smart, really interesting individuals. Had I engaged them in that conversation maybe I would have learned that his father was a crazy radical conservative that worked on Wall Street and is disgusted by his Harley-Davidson-riding son that lobbies for PETA.
A thought that didn’t occur to me until after I pulled away from the fill-up station. I made another silent promise to stop pre-judging people and then realized just how impossible that sort of promise would be to keep. Aren’t my rules about who I will and won’t date just a form of prejudice? When I claim I have a good instinct about people, where does that instinct come from? Its not as if I know these people all that well when I declare “there is just something about him/her I don’t like.” It’s based on how they look or act or talk or in some cases smell.
So, instead I promised to be more open to the idea that I could be wrong about people and not get so defensive when someone incorrectly assumes something about me.
I then turned up the radio, the performer that I will never openly admit to singing along with for fear of how people will judge me was on again.