October 3, 2016: It’s my first day at the job as the developer evangelist for an RFID company with an office in Asheville, North Carolina, so I’m flying there for my first face-to-face with my new boss.
I’m deep in thought, going over what I’m going to talk about with my boss during dinner, when my train of thought gets interrupted.
Someone’s yelling at me.
I look over to see if the yelling is actually directed at me, and not just someone else nearby. I look.
The yelling came from the end of the line at Carolina Pit BBQ. It’s coming from a guy with sandy brown hair, plaid shirt, mom jeans, and one of those then-new “Make America Great Again” caps. He looks more basic and dead inside than a Bob Evans menu, and more “economically anxious” than a first-timer at a Vegas poker game who’s realizing that every other player at the table is a shark or shill.
It’s clear to him that I didn’t quite hear him the first time, so he repeats himself.
“I said: You with the big backpack! Go back to China!”
He’s mistaken my accordion for a backpack, and me for Chinese.
“I bet you heard this time, chink!”
From both my media training and my hobby as a street musician on the streets of downtown Toronto, I learned a couple of tricks for dealing with insults from passers-by and hecklers. One of them is to approach them and ask them to repeat what they just said and explain what they meant by it. This is effective if there’s a crowd around and you think they might be more sympathetic to you.
“Would you mind repeating that?” I ask loudly and clearly using my radio announcer voice, as I approach, taking strides as if I were a club bouncer in “business mode”.
As I get closer, it becomes more apparent that I’m almost a head taller than he is. Also, with the accordion slung on my back, my shoulders appear even wider. He’s getting an object lesson that the stereotype of Asian men being short and meek doesn’t always apply.
“Did you not hear me?” I ask. My “scratch a bully, find a coward” gamble is paying off.
I’m now five or six strides away and closing in fast. I repeat my question: “Would you mind —”
And that’s when the little shit high-tailed out of the line, straight for the departure gates.
I look at the spot he just vacated and take it.
Today feels like that moment.