Roach: The morning after

We face a divisive election that will determine the course of our nation for the next four years.
football field with quote "humble in victory, proud in defeat" -george chryst

Are these not the strangest days ever? Disease. Social isolation. Political and racial rancor. Economic strife. Masks over our faces as we walk past empty playgrounds and restaurants. As a person who has lived more years than most, I can not remember a weirder time in America.

Now we face a divisive election that will determine the course of our nation for the next four years. There is a chance that by the time you’re reading this we will have a new president.

For much of the pandemic I have sought safe haven in the woods of northern Wisconsin. I do this because I have troubled lungs and a belief in science. Not everyone shares my view on virology and public health, especially north of Wausau.

One morning, as numbers were spiking, I stopped at the fancy new Kwik Trip in town. Behind the counters were three older women wearing masks, pleasantly checking out customers buying Dunkers and coffee. During the rush they see at least a hundred people an hour. All the customers in line wore masks except one guy, who was affecting a defiant biker look with a sleeveless T-shirt, jeans and a wallet on a chain.

I had had enough.

After bristling for a few moments, I turned to him and said, “Come on, man. Wear a mask.” He told me to mind my own business. I told him it was my business. Then I said, “Dude, look at these women behind the counter. It’s about protecting them. Isn’t that the right thing to do?”

He didn’t punch me. Or shoot me. He just harrumphed and exited. I stepped to the counter and the older woman took my 10 bucks and said, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with some people. It’s such a small thing to do.”

I have a big mouth. But when I am up north these days, I’ve tried to be as quiet as I can be about politics with my neighbors on the lake and at the hardware store, because it feels like everyone is on a hair trigger, ready in an instant to scowl at a stranger for almost any offense. And I’m unsure if folks I consider to be honest and good support someone who I consider to be neither.

The vibe has gotten so bad I even stopped going to our favorite supper club because I heard there that Barack Obama was Muslim once too often. Finally one evening, I just stood up and said, “I can’t take this anymore.” I walked out never to return. This is not all bad because the bar had such a beautiful lake view that I drank too much when seated at their rail. We are better off without each other.

All of this serves as preamble to one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen in the north woods in 40-some years, and that includes albino deer and a bear on the lawn. It occurred in late September of this election year when northern folks in flannel woke to see the Minocqua Brewing Co., located smack dab in the middle of town, festooned with gigantic Biden/Harris signs. The owners of the brewpub further
proclaimed on Facebook that, as brewers, they believed in science and couldn’t back a president who didn’t. Given the locale, it was one of the most courageous political acts I’ve ever witnessed. It was also one of the most controversial.

I applauded the act on Facebook, only to be told by many folks that they would never go to the brewpub again. I told one guy that he had every right to not patronize the place, but if he did come around, I would be happy to buy him a beer. To my surprise, he thanked me and said he’d consider it. It amazed me how good that bit of civility felt in such an uncivil time.

Long ago, in a much different America, I had a high school football coach named George Chryst. He said lots of things meant to inspire us, because that’s what football coaches do. In hindsight it seems that his best comments came after we lost, as losing is more difficult than winning. The line I remember best came in our subdued locker room after a particularly difficult defeat. It was a short statement, as all great quotes are. George looked at us and said simply, “Humble in victory, proud in defeat.”

That line has stayed with me.

It occurs to me that George Chryst’s words might be worth pondering on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 4, when our election is over.

And our hardest work lies before us.

John Roach, a Madison-based television producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"