A Country Divided: Reflections on a Long Drive                                                                                                                                                                           
I just returned from driving about 2,000 miles in 5 days on a college-search trip with my husband and younger daughter. The trip took us across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and into Missouri and since we were stopping to see colleges and meet up with family along the way, we ended up spending about 17 hours in the car on each end of the trip. Thirty four hours is a long time to sit in a car, and I am not one to be able to read a book or do any activity that takes my focus off the road without feeling ill. When the kids were little, we used to do this drive every year and we had all sorts of games for them to play. One that made the list every time was the license plate game, where we would make note of the license plate of every car we saw, hoping to capture all 50 states. My 17-year old is too old for the license plate game; she spent her hours with her ear buds in, reading and writing and texting her friends.
 
I found myself playing my own license plate game. Except this time, I wasn’t keeping track of which states I’d seen, but instead I would see the plate and then wonder what the people inside the car were like. I was kind of joking about this with my family because my thoughts were not always wholesome. If I saw the plate of a state with which I had a particularly biased association, I would guess the politics of the people inside rather harshly. We passed a car from Kansas and my husband quipped that he was scared the car might fall apart because he knows they don’t spend any of their state budget on their roads.  I thought the car from Massachusetts might contain people who are educated and enlightened.  I felt a little bad that I was judging people without having any knowledge beyond their plates. One of my best friends is from Kansas, after all. But I did not realize this game would become symbolic of the divisiveness we would encounter during the rest of our trip. 

We stopped at one of those easy-off, easy-on exits in Illinois to have dinner at a Baker’s Square. The restaurant wasn’t very busy, but we were seated in the booth next to a family who probably arrived about 15 minutes before we did. From the moment we sat down these people complained about every aspect of their food and service. The server attempted to appease them at every turn, offering meal substitutions, apologizing and even bringing the manager over to handle the situation.  We had the same server and our food arrived promptly, we received what we ordered, the food was what we expected and the server was lovely. It occurred to me as I listened to their conversation that the reason these people were complaining was because the server was African American. As they paid their bill, one of the members of this family rationalized that no tip was necessary and I found myself wondering what state they were from.

We witnessed similar bad behavior as we checked out of one of our hotels when a white man was being extremely rude and sarcastic to the hotel desk clerk and the valet parking agent, both of whom were African American. This man was treating them as if they were some sort of lower form of human and he kept trying to catch our eyes and smile as if we might bond in our views. 

On the last morning of our trip, as we ate breakfast in Pennsylvania, we heard the news about the tragic death of Walter Scott, an African American male who was shot while running away from a white police officer in South Carolina.  How many of these shootings have we heard about just in the last year? When is it going to stop?  In 2015 we are a country divided. We are nearing the 240th anniversary as a nation but it seems to me that the country is moving further away from being united. We are divided by race, politics, and religion and I am wondering how we can strive to be better. I personally believe that the only way to combat this problem is one interaction at a time. We need to be nice. To everyone. Even if they are from Kansas. 
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