This column dropped into my lap: A strange encounter at a local business the other night that made me uncomfortable and somewhat ashamed of where I live. There are some terrible people among us, and what is sad is that they don't know how terrible they are.
On our way home from work the other night, my wife and I stopped at a gas station on Highway 42. As I walked in, I noticed a somewhat attractive, middle-aged woman at the counter, paying for some merchandise. There was no hint of any tension or trouble. I grabbed a drink and paid for it, and went out to pump some gas.
Before I could get to the pump, the woman crossed my path in her truck, stopped, opened her passenger window, and directed the following words of wisdom to me, a perfect stranger. She said, "We have got to do something to stop these hadjis from taking us over. They are controlling everything and we've gotta put a stop to it."
Well, heck. I had no clever retort for her. She had stopped so suddenly, I assumed there had been a problem in the store with her transaction. In her mind it was righteous indignation; she needed to vent on someone and I was the closest moving object. I am ashamed to say that I didn't immediately tell her where to go. What I really am ashamed of is that I didn't tell her this: Those "hadjis" are friends of mine.
I’m not sure what a "hadji" actually is. It used to be the name of the brown-skinned sidekick of my cartoon hero, Johnny Quest, when I was a kid, but somehow I don't think that is what she meant. The two gentlemen who now run that gas station are J.J. and Vijay. They are there for up to sixteen hours a day, working hard, seven days a week. They did come from India many years ago but are now American citizens and they have spent a lot of money that they worked hard for to get that gas station.
On the other hand, if "hadji" means "hard-working, polite, nice Americans who have a gas station on Highway 42" then I want to be the first to extend a hand of friendship to J.J. and Vijay and say this: "Welcome, friends."