To put myself through college, I waited tables at Longhorn Steaks in Marietta, Georgia. It had a jukebox full of Hank Williams Jr. and Willie Nelson records; a vintage, white Frigidaire full of long-necked Budweisers and Lone Stars; and red vinyl booths full of 10-percent-tipping rednecks.
When I moved to San Francisco, I noticed it, too, was full of icons: politically correct boomers, bargain taquerias, overpriced real estate, high-test coffee, dot.com intellectuals, aging hippies, and a conspicuous absence of rednecks.
And while it's been 20 years since I've lived in the South, I still can ID a redneck in 20 seconds flat. So I was certain--absolutely--that the guys in the pick-up next to me at the Bank of America last summer were beer-guzzlin', chick-hatin', finger-lickin'...rednecks.
I had just had chemo #2 and was working at home instead of the office. I took a break to go get a sandwich at the deli and to deposit a check at the bank. It was 120 degrees in my un-airconditioned house, so I left my wig with the permanently side-swept bangs on the kitchen table.
I drove to Lorenzo's and got my egg-salad sandwich. Inside were two teenagers, who didn't even notice me, and the owner, who nonchalantly put my sandwich and chips and soda in a bag and wished me a lovely afternoon. "Cool," I thought. "I may as well be invisible." I drove over to the Bank of America to deposit my expense check. As I pulled into my parking space, I glanced over to my left.
Next to me were two guys in a blue pick-up truck. The guy on the passenger side, the one I could see, had long, dirty hair and was wearing what my friend Sam calls a "wifebeater"--the same sleeveless white t-shirt that Edward Norton Jr. wore in American History X. "Ok, here we go," I thought, as I got out of the car and made eye-contact with the dude on the left. "Go ahead; make your derogatory comment about my shiny, bald head, you dim, hairy redneck."
The guy leaned out his window and smiled at me. "You look really pretty," he said.
"Thank you," I said, smiling back. I was close to tears, but I was just too happy to cry.
You never know about people. Even when you're absolutely certain you think you do.