Paul Theroux wrote a series of essays in a book titled “Fresh Air Fiend.” One of the stories is called “The Moving Target,”
It starts out by talking about a traveler named Nathaniel Bishop, who in 1877 rowed a small boat from upper New York State to New Orleans. A distance of 2,600 miles.
On arrival in New Orleans, as the exhausted Nathaniel Bishop tied up his boat, a group of young drunks approached, mocked him, swore at him, and threatened him with violence. Theroux commented:
“This, I have come to think, is a very American reaction, rewarding eccentric effort with scorn and violence.”
Theroux then goes on to write about a man named A F Tschiffely who in the 1920s rode a horse 10,000 miles from Buenos Aires to New York City.
His two and a half year journey took him over the Andes, through Central America, across deserts, swamps, and jungles. However, his worst part of the journey was traveling through the United States.
Cars would deliberately swerve close to scare him and his horse. He had bottles thrown at him, and shouts of “Ride ‘em Cowboy.” In the Blue Ridge Mountains a driver sideswiped him injuring his horse’s leg. Then honked and waved in triumph as he drove away.
After two more serious incidents, Tschiffely had to abandon his ride in Washington, DC and finish the final leg to New York by train. Theroux goes on to write about intolerance towards cyclists and runners, or anyone engaged in any form of exercise in public.
After reading these accounts of how things used to be, I am reminded of a line from the 1969 movie “Easy Rider.”
“Americans talk a lot about the value of freedom, but are actually afraid of anyone who truly exhibits it.”
Isn’t that the truth? Haters are “Equal Opportunity” bigots. It is not just about race, and it probably never was. It is simply prejudice toward anyone appearing different, or doing something different, or behaving differently than the perceived norm.