“Are You Sure You’re Mexican?”: When It Helps

You can’t spell Houston without “hot”, until recently. Autumn is in the air, so the Bayou City feels less like a Bayou and as more like a city. People hang outside of their A/C’d rooms in their patios of their homes or local bars and eateries. I have been doing the same.

The only way to non-Houstonians is to point to the first spawn of springtime sunlight into the previously overcast countenances of most wintery northern metros. It is joyous and a time to celebrate all the minutiae normally subsumed by the oppressiveness of Houston humid & humid, sunny summers.

I recently purchased a coffee grinder & french press and began brewing my own coffee at home. So, the morning coffee ritual is a new one. Given the less warm mornings, I’ve taken my delights to the streets, incorporating the love of reading and writing into this new weekend ritual. This weekend would be my 4th. I skipped last weekend, so there was a sweet pleasure in returning to the fold.

The first time I tried this, I sat outside my car gate placing my folding camping chair on the sidewalk. I listened to my podcasts while reading articles on my phone. The view, in a word, was limited. I’d search for a better view at the neighborhood park, West End Park.

West End Park is along two busy streets, Patterson and Maxie, with one corner having an empty lot. Maxie connects to Yale St./Heights Blvd, which means a lot of traffic. I get a better view of the sky, the passing of cars, and park people of various motivations.

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So I lugged out my red camping chair and my Yeti thermos to the perfect spot. I picked a good spot: westward facing the Patterson/Koehler intersection, between the playground and Koehler St., chair turned away from the playground (because the world’s weird), placed right next to the sidewalk so my coffee has a firm spot to sit, while seated I’m pointed toward the empty corner lot, so there’s a Texas sky in front.

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See? What a great spot.

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And no one’s here.

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I’m there for 1.5 hours until around 9:45am when an HPD Yukon rolls up on the park. I looked up at him (given the movement) as he stops perpendicular to me; I smiled & nodded; and then I returned to my journal. I see cars coming from the opposite direction down the narrow Koehler St., so I’m hoping he’s just pausing to let drivers pass.

[that glance was intended for me]

Then my ears hear the transmission gears shift to the calmer rumbling of the parked position. My eyes peripherally see the trickle of opposing traffic cease.

[what kinda bullshit is this literally just sitting here]

I waited 2 minutes while the officer futzes with his dashboard console. Intently focused on my journal, I play it cool, calm like Luke. The officer exits his vehicle and walks around the backside of the car to introduce himself.

He’s Asian, 5'8", 160, probably a 38 Short, crew cut with the short hair on top spiked up. His badge says “Tran”.

He starts his salutation at the top of the ditch, pauses as he nears and passes the trough, and finishes with as he gets to my side of the ditch.

“Good morning.”

“Hello,” I say flatly with a glance over my shoulder down one of the busy streets. There’s no one else in the park except me and a dog & its owner, pooping & scooping, respectively. He doesn’t look up until after he’s navigated the ditch.

“I wanted to introduce myself. We got a call about someone coming to this park every weekend sitting here in the mornings. So I’m here to check it out.” Officer Tran walks up to me but gives himself 6 feet of distance and angles himself 45 ° between me and the street.

[of course you did]

“I wasn’t here last weekend,” I respond stupidly.

I smile.

[that was defensive try to justify it but not too much]

I continue, “Yeah, I’ve been doing this since the heat broke. I started out sitting along my street [point casually] over there. [act surprised and provide more exposition] Oh, yeah, I live over there at group of townhouses. The view sucked, so I was, like, ‘Why not use the public park for what it was intended for?’ You know, coffee, music, journal for a few hours then leave around 11 or noon.”

[too much?]

“No, you’re allowed to be here.”

“Yeah, I know. So, since the weather’s been nice in the mornings, I figured I’d go outside to enjoy these wonderful mornings. As a Houstonian, it’s weird to exist in public space without paying to be there, like a bar or a restaurant. So decided to do something different.”

[too much?]

I pause, as usual, to let the other person get a word in edgewise.

“What’s your name?”

[lie — wait — no don’t]

“My name’s Nicholas.”

[give him moar]

“Nicholas Martinez.”

“Great. Nice to meet you. We just got a call that someone’s been sitting in the park every weekend morning in their own chair, so we don’t know if it’s a homeless person living there or causing a disturbance. So, we have to check it out.”

[but wouldn’t someone have said homeless person or causing a disturbance]

“No, I’m just trying to explain where I’m coming from. So you understand.”

Officer Tran nods.

“Well, I’m just enjoying the coolness, so I figured I’d find a view in a public space. Watch the cars go by. Did you know that in the Great Plains during the 19th century westward expansion, in the most isolated regions, families would take trips to the railroad line and wait for passing trains so they could try and look at passengers’ faces passing by?”

[definitely too much]

Too long of a pause for my taste. The corner of my mouth purses hoping he zoned out after “19th century”.

“No, you’re definitely allowed to be here. I just got a call about it so we had to check it out,” he says putting his right thumb into his gun belt.”


“Your neighbors were probably concerned about the people in the park.”

[and didn’t check the situation — or themselves — to see that it was harmless]

I look around with an awkwardly pursed lips and widened eyes. Like we’re friends of friends who’ve discussed all the important TV shows, roadway construction, and new bars we can muster.

[does my face look göober-y enough]

My head turns back to him and I exhale, “No, I get that. It’s still weird. I’m just here, doing a thing by myself. I don’t even think my music’s that loud. Is it?”

“Yeah, you’re allowed to be here since it’s a public park and you’re not doing anything.”

[you keep saying that]

He keeps saying that. It’s like I’m in a meeting with some mafioso types and one of ’em keeps saying, “We would hate it if something happened to your family.”

[does he want me to leave but wants me to read between lines?]

Another one of those ugly pauses again.

“Alright, well, I’ll let dispatch know that I checked out the call and everything is copacetic.”

After Officer Tran left, I was left thinking about it all. I knew how people might respond whatever just happened here: “But you weren’t doing anything wrong.”

I know I wasn’t. That’s not the point though. When something goes wrong, one side is arguing that the victim wasn’t doing anything. Others point to the end-result and reverse engineer the cause, usually clinging to one or two micro-moments. You could mitigate with a statement of “disproportionality”. Then you get responses of either systemic injustice or statistical abnormality.

Let’s list all the way my micro-moments went the right way:

  • Anglicized in private schools
  • College graduate in liberals arts
  • Socialized in my parents’ restaurants, i.e. talking to customers
  • Clean clothes: Texas windbreaker, slim-cut jeans, pink Toms
  • Nerdy-looking clothes
  • Coiffed hair
  • Grit-free fingernails
  • Yeti coffee thermos
  • Camping chair
  • Bluetooth speakers
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Let’s list all the ways in which Officer Tran could’ve done better.

  • Ask me more direct questions (e.g. Why would someone call 911 on you about this? Have you been making a ruckus? Is this all you’ve been doing? Do you live near by here? Have you been using any illegal substances someone might be have issue with?)
  • Been more divulgent about how this call seems off-the-mark
  • Not repeated the same obtuse statement back at me
  • Listen more. (I know cops listen, but I was saying the things he wanted to hear: I live nearby, I do this to enjoy the outside, I know it’s weird to sit in a park & not a coffee shop.)
  • Tell me that you’re just doing your job. (Because “I got a call” doesn’t quite communicate the same sentiment of protocol.)

But I’ve watched enough episodes of Cops (~400 episodes) to know how this works:

Ask open questions to get a suspect talking. Get them extemporaneously blabbering which will lead them to misspeak. Suspects will trip over themselves and get rhetorically tenuous upon further questioning. Lawyers ask yes-no questions since they know everything about the context. Peace officers are trying to go from zero to context.

It’s frustrating. As I type this story, my natural inclination is to be encouraged by the swift resolution of the complaint. But I catch myself getting angry.

By the audacity of the caller. By the ineptitude of Officer Tran. By how weird I know this feels to use my city how it was designed. It’s all little things, but those little things matter sometimes.

Being the youngest of 3, I worry that maybe I wasn’t accommodating enough to Officer Tran. What could I have done differently to not have the police called on me? I consider how white-preppy-hipster the entire scene was upon first glance. I could’ve conformed myself better to the perceptions of my unseen neighbors, taking issue with my new autumnal routine. I could’ve done better, but then I think about how okay I really am.

And all I can think is, “I’m supposed to be here.”

☼ ☼ ☼

P.S. I also concluded that there must be a performance aspect to all 911 calls. Like being on camera. You might dial that phone not knowing truly if it’s the right move, but once the number starts ringing, you dig deep and get self-righteous to the operator on the other end.

And P — FUCKING — S I had a fellow neighbor approach me today (Sunday). My spot is across from his 2nd-story balcony. He approached me about moving to a different spot to keep his yippy white rat terrier from waking his girlfriend and kids.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be a dick, but…” he slowly trails off hoping I scoop up what he’s hoping I accommodate.

“No, that’s fine,” I say really conflicted about how perfectly selected my current spot is.

I now know that the newly constructed townhouse one the corner with the sterile beige stucco with large living room windows were the ones who narc’d on me. Her presumable husband parks his jacked up F-350 in their driveway since it doesn’t fit in the garage. It blocks the sidewalk. Their black wrought iron fence cuts a sharp corner into the sidewalk. Their yard looks like astroturf it’s so pristine. The hedging along their house is imperialistic by design and spartan in composition.

The run-down 1-story house on the lot prior to them had 3 cars crash onto the property, given the busy-ness of the 2-way stop and excessive speeding. One of the those property encroachments actually crashed into the abandoned house. Since their townhouse closely abuts the sidewalk, my fingers are crossed.

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I do things. Huge nerd otherwise. Interested in all types of media & creative-ish forms of expressions. Rawr!!

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