So I walked into this country store in rural Virginia

The guy who walked in just ahead of me was white, about 40, and got out of a new-fangled car with advertising on the side of it. I put it on either a Mercedes or a Nissan rag-top.  I walked in and grabbed a beer, I did not see what he was purchasing.  We are the only two in the joint except a white woman cashier, about 50-55.

He says to her, “So, are you having the taping of ‘Tarzan’ here tomorrow?” [I’m paraphrasing from here on out, but it is essentially accurate.  He obviously was a regular and she knew him.]

The gist of the conversation was that a bunch of black people who worked at Tyson’s Chicken processing plant nearby would be stopping by and cashing their checks all day tomorrow.  But they did not say explicitly whom they were referring to.  Unfortunately for them, they did not know that I used to live nearby and used to stop at this place to buy a beer on my way home. 

The gist of what he said was that she should get paid double for having to put up with them all stopping there to cash their paychecks, because the owner was charging exorbitant fees to cash their checks.  It wasn’t hard to figure out who he was talking about, as I have been there many times when the store is filled with black people dressed up in work uniforms (mostly hair nets and rubber boots) standing in line at the check out counter.  He thought the employees made a lot more than they actually make, and that the owner charged them a lot more than he actually did to cash their checks. She disabused him of those notions.

The funny part was that they did not know that I knew what they were talking about.  They were talking in code in case the unknown white guy knew what they were talking about, in which case they could have plausible deniability.  

When it was my turn, I said “I know a guy who worked there who had his arm ripped off.” 

She looked at me aghast.  “Worked where?” 

“At Tyson’s Chicken.”

Ooops. The gig was  up. I knew what they were talking about.  Her face showed that she knew it.

Her: “I’m not racist, but….”

[Of course, I did not believe it for a second, she was covering her ass.  I had already seen her playing along with his racism.]

I said something along the lines of “I’m sorry to hear that…” to see what I could dig up. 

He was still in the store, looking at something, and his ears perked up at our conversation. He chimed in when I said “I’m sorry to hear that” after she said “I’m not racist” and said “I am! I hate niggers!”

She ignored him and insisted, “I’m not  racist!  But I don’t feel sorry for them…” and she proceeded to tell how she had seen on numerous occasions where they came in early on Thursday, cashed their checks, and proceeded to buy beer and put it in coolers and drink before going to work each Thursday. “If they get their fingers or their hands cut off it is their own fault for going to work drunk…”

A little background.  Tyson’s chicken processing plant is a local magnet for poor blacks.  It generally does not pay well, but gives good benefits.  People literally drive from 1 – 2 hours away to work at that hell hole. Wages are low because if you don’t want the damn job they will hire 1 of the next 200 who do want the job. The guy I knew came to our firm because he lost an arm and much of his intestines when he was injured on the job trying to clean one of the chicken conveyors.  Note to self: Do not slip while on a conveyor that is strong enough to carry several hundred pounds of chickens throughout a chicken processing plant.

I walked out, letting them wonder. Him to wonder if I was a kindred spirit, just another racist white guy who hates negroes.  Her to wonder if I was somebody who would give away that yes, she is a racist who just doesn’t want to admit it.”

Sorry, thanks for letting me vent.  But it felt surreal. Like a black person who ventures into a room full of whitey unseen, and who overhears how they really feel about black people. Or a whitey who wonders unseen into an NAACP meeting where they talk about how they can avoid allowing white people and “Uncle Toms” keep them down.

Okay, mebbe some of their bad attitude was due to “classicism.”  I would never want to work at the plant. But I’ve seen from previous clients that it is one of the only games in town if you are a poor, uneducated, un-skilled black (or white) person who wants a job. I relate to those people. I’ve been there, done that. I don’t consider myself above them–I just say that “there but for the grace of God go I.”   I’ve worked in [all white] sweat shops up in Michigan in my formative years.

So if some of the workers stop at the nearest country store, pay a little to cash their checks instead of driving several miles to the nearest bank, and buy a few beers, and even drink a few beers before going to work every Thursday, I’m on their side, I can relate.  And if some honky characterises that as “Tarzan being filmed” I’ll get offended, but not really say anything about it. I’ll just blog about it later, and hope that it made sense. Mebbe you just had to be there…

J. D.

2 responses to “So I walked into this country store in rural Virginia

  1. One of those posts that make you think.

  2. Makes me feel honored and privileged when I realize that sometimes Smitty, er, smitty, deigns to slum it and occasionally read portions of our humble contribution to the blogosphere. Thanks, it means more than you can know.

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