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Everybody gathered just before the crash car derby for a group photo.

My neighbor Richard Gaboury has an annual track day at his place, co-hosted by his buddy Tim Oyler. Track Day is the most redneck fun I have all year.

It might help to explain that I’m from redneck stock. The people who raised me (family+community) are good, country folk. I spent my childhood in tiny communities with people who worked hard all day long and came home filthy. I spent my weekends fishing in the crick, catching crawdads, or racing snowmobiles, and usually drinking beer. In the mornings before school in the Fall I went hunting. We built potato guns and used hairspray as an explosive. We said “Howdy!” and “Pert neer” and “Dang!” and we wrastled each other and lit bonfires for fun. Ever since I grew up and left home, I’ve tried to learn how to fit in with the city folk, the educated parts of society, the more genteel people with the power and money to make things happen in the world. My people back home would probably call me “high falutin'” now, but I can’t deny my redneck roots.

An example of one kind of perspective held by country folk. We are “Oregonians” so the sticker makes a play on words suggesting that people who live in Oregon use AR-15s? The other one suggests that if you are American, you do not support kneeling before the flag as a form of racial tolerance activism. I, for one, do not agree with either.

Richard is retired and has turned his great country property into a playground with a paved Go-kart track, a dirt race track, and a zip line. He and Tim spend the year acquiring cars that can race on his track, or hold together in the derby, and on race day they get a spray-painted number on the side and they’re up for grabs. Anyone who shows up can drive a car. Richard begs me to try it every year, but I have no interest in racing cars. I’m content to watch others goof around. The go-karts are a hit with the kids, but adults love them too.

I parked and headed up the hill to the party. Richard’s place is big enough that people just park on the grass.

I passed my other neighbors helping their kids gear up to drive go-karts.

Past the parked vehicles and through the trees, I could see a bunch of people gathered around the dirt track that Richard built in the forest.

As I get closer to the track, I see people waiting for their turn and watching the racing cars.

Kids have almost as much fun as the grown ups.

This is the car I helped paint for Richard when he participated in a derby in a nearby town. It didn’t win, but did well, despite the appearance here.

As I approached the dirt track, I could see where I wanted to go. Those bleachers are the best place from which to see all the action.

A couple of cars race around the corner.

Tim is on top of the safety measures, and guides this car off the track.

Another example of a redneck property: you can find a handy deer stand if you need a good vantage point for the race track.

Richard loves to make his friends happy. The more people that show up and have a good time, the more fun Richard has. I often tease him that he’s a 13-year-old boy in a man’s body, and he agrees. Below, Richard in the blue shirt with sleeves cut off is driving a giant green beast that has no purpose other than to drive over things for fun. The crowd loves it and gives a big cheer!

Richard delights the crowd by driving the big green machine over some parked cars.

Everyone brings food, so there is feasting all day long. Then people take turns racing the go-karts and junk cars and riding the zip line. Then at the end of the day, all activity ceases and people put their name into the bucket for the lottery to win a seat in a car in the crash car derby. This year there was also some raffling of gifts.

People with names in the bucket hold their helmets and wait to see if they win the lottery for a chance to be in the derby.

Tim in the yellow reflector vest and his girlfriend manage the raffle and lottery.

While Tim gathers all the drivers and officials together to go over safety rules….

…Richard has a chat with all the people who have filled the bleachers and stand on the sideline ready for the show.

And if you’re really into all this and want to see the MAIN EVENT, watch the 12 minute video below. The crash car derby is loads of fun and what everyone sticks around all day to see, even if they don’t get a chance to participate.

 

DSC_1284Two lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by the house Sunday afternoon. The one who did all the talking suggested that regardless of who I claim to be today, my immersion in Christianity as a child is the reason why I have tendencies toward kindness.

It was apparently their fourth visit. My Tara-girl has fielded all the others. She told me they have interesting things to say, and that she likes talking to them, except that it’s a little awkward to talk to strangers through an opened front door. She insisted they are “SO sweet and SO nice I almost wanted to convert to their religion just so they wouldn’t feel bad.”

As sweet as they are, when Tara spotted them through the windows of the front room, she said, “It’s the Jesus people! Your turn, I’m outta here.”

They already knew I was an atheist, since Tara had told them. But she had not told them my background that included some pretty hardcore religion at times. There were times when I went to church three days a week (twice on Sundays). I assisted in teaching Bible School one summer. I was in the church choir. I was baptized. In high school I was in a Bible Study group.

Thus, the Jehovah’s Witness was at a disadvantage when she began by saying, “Do you ever get frustrated about how neighborhoods have changed? People aren’t friendly like they used to be. Neighbors don’t help each other out. Many people don’t know what the Bible is all about, and don’t realize that the Bible offers guidance and understanding. If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you may be happy to know that answers to many of your questions can be found here. {she pulled out an attractive, leather-bound Bible} Well, I’d like to show you this passage in the Bible that explains…”

I interrupted her and gave her a 2-minute snapshot of my history. It was only fair that I didn’t let her continue talking to me as though I had never touched a Bible. I didn’t want her to say something that might be embarrassing.

She started talking about how I came away from religion. “Is it because you were angry with God? {my father has asked me this also} Is it because you saw pain around you and wondered how a God could let such things happen? Were you fearful of what happens when you die?”

No, I am not angry with God. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Heaven. Or Hell. When I die I hope my remains will be put somewhere so they rot or disintegrate, and hopefully I’ll feed or fertilize another living thing. And I said that’s a future I am proud to be a part of. I told her that after many many years of soul-searching, at the age of 30 I simply realized that believing in a deity doesn’t make any sense to me.

The woman was not derisive. She nodded and smiled and planned her next angle. But in a very sweet and tolerant way.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Over and over she mentioned that the things I said to her reminded her so much of what is in the Bible. I tried my best to put in a plug for Atheists around the world and said, “Isn’t it good to know that even Atheists can be good people? They can be people that are so like you that they remind you of what’s in the Bible?”

She responded with, “Has it ever occurred to you that it is because of all the Christianity of your early years that you are the way you are today? Maybe you have let go of the religion, but the messages of the Bible still shape your thoughts and opinions.”

The point she had been trying to make earlier was that without the Bible, none of us would know what proper behavior is. We wouldn’t know how to help each other, or how to be kind, or how to be neighborly. In my backstory, she found the perfect support for her argument: Atheist I may call myself….but I am Christian inside. A child of God at the core.

I think it’s a valid argument. It’s a blow to my ego, of course, but it does make perfect sense. I thought I had rejected those teachings, but maybe what I really did was to disguise them as something else that I felt better about. Maybe I disguised the religion of others by overlaying my own religion. Like the way the Romans assisted in Celts’ conversion by incorporating their arts and traditional holidays into Christian-themed arts and holidays.

They finally left without converting me, after we had enthusiastically thanked each other for the enlightening discussion. I continued to think about what it means to my self-identity, if the woman I am is based on Christianity. We all know that a child’s environment informs who she becomes as an adult. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

You see, my message to her was that Atheists are not bad or wrong, just different. We are not inherently wicked, simply because we don’t read the Bible and thus have no way of learning how to behave. We should not be pitied. What I really, really want the whole world to believe is that religion, or lack thereof, is NOT the thing that makes people good or bad, it’s the people who decide how to behave. I want to be respected when I earn it. I am so tired of being on the receiving end of the worried and narrow-minded faithful who frown at me with concern and tell me that Jesus loves me anyway. They tell me they will pray for me, and translated, that means: “I have judged you and found you wanting. I will pray that you soon learn to think the way I do.” Stop! Just stop! When you think that I am incomplete without organized religion, you are disrespecting me. And for no good reason.

So anyway… If I learned all my good habits from Christianity, then I cannot use myself as an example of how Atheists can be good people, simply because they have decided to be good.

After they left, my daughter came out of the laundry room where she had been hiding. Not wanting to come out, she had been trapped there, and consequently folded all the clothes that were in the dryer! Woo hoo! The Jehovah’s need to come by more often.

She said she had heard the entire discussion.

“You know,” she said, “They tried the same thing on me. That part about how neighbors aren’t like they used to be. I said to them, ‘That doesn’t make sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m only 16, and I don’t remember what neighborhoods used to be like. I was only a baby. Second of all, this neighborhood is awesome. There are kids playing all the time. I know the people in that house, and that house, and that house; all of them! And we do help each other out.’ But they’re so sweet,” she said again. “I couldn’t ask them to leave. And they also said some really interesting things. Didn’t you think they are such nice ladies?”

It occurred to me that my daughter was not raised via Christian immersion. And she is kinder and more tenderhearted than me.

If the Witness woman’s theory turns out to be true, then I don’t really mind having a new identity: the Atheist woman whose goodness came from Christianity. However, I still firmly believe that it is possible for Atheists to have good character without religion. I have cogent reasons, based in economics and safety, why this should be true. I will continue to seek examples to support my theories from the world in which I live. And you know I will find them, right? Because we always find support for our own beliefs if we look around. Our neighbors are either friendly or they are not, depending on what point we would like to make.

lamp icicles at Laurelhurst Park

The photos are from our day yesterday… the story is from today.

girlie sucks the snow off her gloves

The parable of the Good Samaritan is told after one person asks the Teacher “Who is my neighbor?” meaning, who should we look out for? Who should we care for? The answer of course, is everyone.

Yesterday I was the neighbor in need. To my exquisite delight, today I found out that my neighbors were going out of their way to take great care of me.

Near the end of the day yesterday, after taking photos of some awesome sights, I realized my little wallet was missing from my pocket. It holds such important items! My federal ID – eep! My veterans ID so I can make my appointments at the VA hospital. The key card to get into work before business hours so I can change for my morning workout. My December bus pass. AND a 2009 bus pass to get to work next year. Those had been handed out Friday, and the Support Services Guy said, “This cost just under a thousand dollars. Do NOT lose it – it will not be replaced.”

What do you use YOUR swimming pool for?

Four days later I lose it. And the federal ID? I don’t even want to know to what derision I might be subjected for losing that.

But someone found it! In my email this morning, a stranger says, “Hey, I’m A, I found your stuff, give me a call and I’ll get it back to you.”

What relief. You guys have no idea.

Thank you, thank you, and big gigantic THANK YOUs go to A and J and H and all their friends and multiple laptops. Thanks for going sledding at Laurelhurst! Thanks for spotting my ID and bus pass in the snow. And thank you for Googling my name, and for finding my email. Thanks for all the CSI spy tactics and the cleverness!

sledding in a skirt

Thanks A for passing off the ID to your friends before boarding a plane out of town on your way to Guinea (good luck over there). Thanks J and H for strapping on the skis tonight and meeting my #15 bus at Zupan’s to hand it over. (Sorry for eating all your “thank-you” cookies) (they were good)

I am so deeply grateful.

What a thrill to cross paths with these good people. I met them at the intersection of 32nd and Belmont, and they told me the whole hilarious saga of trying to track me down with my name alone. (Luckily, no one else has my name.)

H is a photographer and passed me her card. J invited whole fam for a holiday get-together since their family and friends won’t be here like in other years. H even suggested that after the hours of Internet investigation, we could come over and interview them for a few hours…to even things out a bit. Ha ha!

Laurelhurst Park as winter wonderland

Known affectionately as "the Elk Statue" downtown

Gold Door and my fave store Buffalo Exchange!

 

Bagdad theatre playing Burn After Reading

Hey, this is one cool city.

When I walk to my bus stop each afternoon, the smell of lilies from the flower stand blows down 2nd avenue.

I wait for the bus in front of Starbucks under a covered seating area which blows warm air and is the perfect place to wait for a bus when it’s 30 degrees and raining.

While I wait, I have watched people pick up trash. There is no trash can right there at the Starbucks. There should be. People walk along, swerve into the street, pick up an empty juice bottle, or a wad of paper, or a straw still stuck through a plastic lid, and then swerve back onto the sidewalk and continue along. They don’t look at me to make sure I saw.

One time I saw the trash first, as I walked past. I thought, “Ugh. Dirty straw sticking through a plastic lid with sticky soda all over it. In the street. Eeew.” …and I walked on past, thinking about that warm air blowing from out of the covered coffee place. When I watched that lady pick it up, I felt ashamed.

So I made a commitment to myself (and to Portland) to pick up trash now. Why didn’t I think of it without being a public dork first?

Every single damn day on the bus, when people get off, they call “Thank you!” to the driver. Even when they get off in the back. Even when there are three people getting off through the back door. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Of course, I always say thank you. Always. And I mean it too. So nyahh, I can at least do something on my own. (wink) Except … a little toooo friendly. My morning bus driver asked me out last Friday. Icky.

Walking home once when my daughter and I were late getting home, I met G. She’s one of my new neighbors. We got off the bus at the same time, and when she realized I was walking toward the house that had been for sale for over a year, she turned around and walked right back to me! She had a huge smile and introduced herself and gave me a hug. Then she pointed out all the neighbors she knows, her house across the street, and asked if I was a single mom, because she was, and then went on her way.

Our lovely lovely Earth is tilting on its axis, bending just far enough so that a single, reluctant beam of light stretches across the porch to light up the lock as I turn the key each evening.

Today it is not raining. My kitty loves me. My daughter loves me. There are teensy tinsy miniature daffodils blooming by the steps out front. I have never seen daffodils so small. They must only be 3 1/2 inches tall. It is brilliant.

I can’t help but to be happy, despite it all.

One of my many guises

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