By Chris Quimby
Special to The Weekly
One of the lines in my comedy routine states that, in Maine, we would love to celebrate diversity, the only problem is that we don’t have any.
The complications of such demographics are then illustrated by my narrative of the difficulty experienced a decade ago during my jury duty in Waldo County. Adequate jurors are intentionally representative of a cultural variety in one’s community. We did the best we could to achieve this with what we had available: a tall white person, a short white person, white people with beards, and white people without beards.
There were also some white men.
Such is not the case in other parts of the country. During my bike trip to Texas, I’m relying upon Garmin software to generate bike routes for my GPS. There is always an element of trust, though, because I’m never sure through which communities it will take me.
A couple of Mondays ago, I enjoyed the experience of cycling through Springfield, Mass. It was interesting once leaving the more rural area of the state to suddenly enter an urban environment. Such an experience is always different on a bicycle. In a car, I perceive I’m more disengaged and shielded from my environment.
On a bike, I feel I’m a part of it.
And for a man who’s spent most of his life in Maine, riding through a larger metropolitan area can be a jarring experience. In fact, after riding through the city for almost 30 minutes among many pedestrians, I ascertained that I was one of only three other Caucasian people within miles.
This could not have really been the case, but it’s how I felt. The environment was also much different than my hometown, Brooks. For example, there were more than three businesses, much more garbage lining the streets, and cars pumped out hip hop music instead of country.
Again, I did not fear, but allowed my senses to take it all in. Part of my motivation for this trip is to disobey any fears I have of people or situations that are outside of my general experience. This was a good test.
As was an interaction a few minutes later, when I was waiting for a walk signal to cross the street, just about to leave the city. I looked to my right and observed a middle-aged, stocky Hispanic man approaching me. My first thought was a recollection of instructions I’d received from those in the past who’ve chaperoned me through Boston on our way to attend professional sporting events. I assumed I should not look this man in the eye, ignore his presence, and keep on with what I’m doing.
Strangely, it sounded all too similar to how I’ve been told to deal with aggressive dogs I encounter in my travels.
This man sought my attention, asking if I knew the location of Bear Street. I was amused that someone might seek this uncultured Mainer for directions in the big city, then apologized and told him I’m not from around here.
Part of me considered that it might have been an unwise thing to say, basically advertising to the man that I might be fresh meat for whatever sinister purposes he had in mind.
Instead, I looked through my electronic GPS to help him find his intended destination. We were unsuccessful, but I allowed him to use my cell phone to call the person he was supposed to meet.
Perhaps this man was unmotivated, for he never got around to stabbing me or selling me drugs. Instead, he wasted no opportunity to thank me for taking the time to help him out, telling me, “God bless.” Upon introducing myself, I found out his name was Juan. We shook hands and parted ways.
The walk signal lit, and I continued down the road, pondering what had just taken place. If I had followed my feelings, I would’ve missed to opportunity to meet Juan and an opportunity to bless him with my help.
Surely, if this scenario was played out a significant number of times, some of them might include the participant being taken advantage of.
That’s life. Everyone’s.
We are all placed in situations each day during which we can decide to put ourselves out there in vulnerability and love at the risk of being hurt, or instead to retreat into self-protective shells, shielding our hearts from hurt, but removing us from the experiences we were meant to be engaged in throughout our communities.
It is my hope that I am kept safe through such episodes. In the process of trying to build bridges outside of my normal experience, I pray for the opportunity to show the love that my Lord Jesus showed me when offering himself in vulnerability to those whose reciprocation was not a sure thing.
Chris Quimby is a standup comedian, author and graphic designer who is undertaking an eight-week adventure, Spokes and Jokes, with his family, cycling to Texas with their logistic support and performing in venues en route while staying in the homes of hosts across the nation. The family’s blogs of the mission can be viewed at spokesandjokes.com.