I had three separate unsettling experiences today, all relating to the American obsession with firearms. One happened this morning at a military installation, one at lunchtime when I met a group of teenagers in McDonalds and the final one later in the evening when I was searching for a suitable place to pitch my tent. These incidents have prompted me to echo the chant of the Parkland Florida High School student survivor, Emma Gonzalez to the American Legislature- “Shame on you!”
It seems that I’d chosen well for my rest day under cover in San Antonio. When I woke up early this morning, I heard an unfamiliar sound, -raindrops! It had obviously been raining heavily during the night and I was in no hurry to head out into the downpour, so spent the morning chilling at the hostel, drinking lots of coffee, catching up on my blog and Skyping my past pupils in Ireland.
The rain showed no sign of stopping but at least the intensity was reduced so I headed out into a drizzle and the suburbs of San Antonio at about 11:00am.
Progress was relatively slow. There was the usual delay with traffic congestion and traffic lights and a strong crosswind was blowing from the south. Within an hour Map me had led me into another problem. It was suggesting a zig zag route eastwards and led me directly into what I soon discovered was a military installation.
A stern faced military policeman was standing guard at a checkpoint. He neither waved me on nor indicated that I should stop, so I slowed down and pedaled slowly through.
“Stop!” he yelled.
I pulled my brakes immediately and cycled back to him.
“Where the heyl do you think you’re goin? “ he demanded aggressively.
I explained my position.
“Don’t ye know that in Texas when ye see a cop standin’ at checkpoint, you gotta Stop?”
I apologized and explained that I wasn’t aware of that regulation.
“Well you just turn yerself right around and go back the way ye came from, cos ye ain’t a comin’ in here!”
I apologized once again and did exactly what he said. I wasn’t going to argue with this scary guy. -he was carrying a very big gun!
The remainder of my cycle in the early afternoon was punctuated by several bolts into fast food restaurants when the heavy rain made it dangerous to continue cycling. I knew that this wasn’t going to be big mileage day!
After about 60k of stop -start cycling, in the continuing rain, I reached the suburb of Seigun and spotted the familiar golden arches through the drizzle from quite a distance away.
I was happily drying out and munching my way through some cheeseburgers when I began chatting to a group of teenagers who were sitting behind me. I asked why they weren’t in school and the answer shocked me.
Mike, the most articulate of the group, explained that they were scared to go to school today. He said that there was a mentally unstable student in his grade, who boasted about owning firearms and whom the students believed was capable of carrying out a ‘copycat assault’ on his classmates.
So far, on Gogodemo, I’ve cycled through 17 countries and have spoken to pupils, children and parents about schooling in every one of them. In many countries there were complaints about infrastructure and materials, badly paid teachers, inappropriate curricula and poor discipline. But in every country, the pupils regarded their school as ‘sanctuary’,- a safe place to learn and have fun with their classmates.-Except that is, in the USA!
Here I am, in the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world and I’m meeting pupils who are frightened of being butchered by their own classmates in the hallways of their schools.
“Shame on you!” I’m not afraid to shout at anyone who believes that the right of Americans to bear arms is more important than the right of innocent children to feel safe at school.
I say ‘John Wayne is dead’ There’s no longer a threat from Reds under the bed! Nobody in a civilized country needs to own an assault rifle. If the IRA and the loyalist paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland could be persuaded to decommission their weapons within a relatively short time frame, then so can the gun owners of America. Now is the time to act! Background checks are not enough. These weapons need to be taken out of circulation.
I have to admit that I was somewhat rattled by my encounter with the military police man this morning and again by my conversation with the students in McDonald’s.
However, the rain at least had stopped and I continued eastwards finding myself back on my old friend,-Highway 10.
The crosswind, if anything had become stronger and gustier and several times I felt that I was going to be blown into the path of traffic coming from behind me, So I rerouted onto some side roads running more or less eastwards a few kilometers from the highway.
The landscape had changed dramatically. Lush pastures replaced the desert with lots of small deciduous trees.
Most of the farmsteads were small and looked fairly run down.
Soon it became dark and I had to find a place to camp. But finding a suitable campsite proved to be much more difficult than I thought. Despite the fact that I was in open countryside, all of the fields where fenced in and where where many signs saying, ‘private property’, ‘keep out’, ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ and the one which was the nail in the coffin for me today, -‘Due to the increased cost of ammo, we no longer fire warning shots. Be warned!’
An English man’s home is his castle, -whatever ‘castle’ may imply, but it seems that the American man’s home is his well armed fortress. -I kept cycling into the gloom.
Fortunately, a half hour or so later, I reached the welcome sounding town of Luling and found a vacant lot next to the garden of a nicely maintained home where a sign had been erected in the garden saying, ‘All welcome here!’ -Sanctuary for Gogodermo!
Source: Facebook, GoGoDermo.