Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid |

Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I had an interesting Fourth of July this year and learned a valuable lesson in what it means to be American. Not that I was looking to be taught a lesson, mind you. Things just sort of turned out that way, as you will see.

I spent the weekend with my wife and son in the tiny hamlet of Lake City, Colo., a place so small and remote that most Coloradans are unaware of its existence. Somehow, though, thousands of Texans know about the place and flock there each summer, driving Lake City’s population, which is normally 375 or so, up to what seemed like about 5,000.

My family and I were in the area to climb Handies Peak, a nearby 14,000-foot summit, with some friends from Boulder. We camped out in the woods Friday night, climbed the mountain on Saturday, spent another night camping and then wandered into town to take in the Independence Day festivities, which included a parade and, for some unknown reason, a reading of the Declaration of Independence in both English and German.

We arrived a little late and missed the reading, but we were in time to catch the parade, so we parked our car and headed for Main Street to find a good viewing spot. When we got to the parade route, however, we found it lined for its entire length with Texans, most of them old and many of them wearing hats with slogans like, “I’ll keep my guns, freedom and money. You can keep the ‘change.'”

To say I felt out of place would be a gross understatement. I don’t know what I would call myself or my wife politically, but I can assure you it’s not right-wing, conservative, Texas Republican.

As if to reinforce just how out of our element we were, we somehow found ourselves in the middle of a game of football being played in the street between guys in “Pro Life” T-shirts and guys in “American Tea Party” T-shirts. I can’t tell you how much I wish I was making that up, but unfortunately it’s the god’s-honest truth.

Just the sight of the T-shirts put me in a cranky mood, and I started thinking about how annoying and stupid it is that everyone is so damn political these days. Everything you read in the papers or watch on TV seems purposely designed to split us apart as a nation. It’s all conservatives vs. liberals, red states vs. blue states, tea-partiers vs. socialists. It’s as if nobody’s just a plain old American anymore, and I hate it.

I was just about ready to hop back in the car and get the hell away from all those people who were so unlike me, but then the parade started, so we settled in to watch. It was tremendous, with all the small-town charm you might expect and, refreshingly, nothing political about it. There were fire trucks and floats and motorcycles, and every person involved threw fistfuls of candy to my son as he waved a little American flag given to him by one of the tea party guys.

After the parade, as we were walking through town, we struck up a conversation with an elderly couple from Texas who I’m quite sure we had nothing in common with politically. They were old and clearly conservative, and we were not quite so old and decidedly liberal, but our dog looked like their dog, and that was all the common ground we needed. And you know what? They were darn nice folks, and we had a very pleasant time talking to them.

It made me realize that as Americans we’re still so much more alike than we are different, regardless of what the talking heads on Fox News and CNN would have us believe, and I walked away from the brief encounter hopeful that this era of bitter partisanship and the bad feelings it engenders will one day just go away.

Driving home later that evening, we came upon a line of cars stopped in the middle of the highway. A massive tree had fallen across the road, blocking both lanes. Without a word of complaint people in pickups and Priuses, hippy chicks, redneck guys, Latinos and yuppies all climbed out of their cars and worked together to roll the massive tree trunk out of the way. In a matter of minutes we had both lanes clear.

As I got back into my car, one of the Latino guys who’d been helping out walked past. I said to him, “Nice work, amigo.” He smiled and gave me a high-five, and I drove away proud to call myself an American.

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