We Are All Caricatures of Ourselves

When we were in Texas, I mentioned this quote (by my sister’s friend), referring to Texans. The sentence in full—that I love so much—goes, “Texans are caricatures of themselves and they don’t even know it.”

It turns out you can find people and places that exemplify caricatures all over the country. Texas is just an easy target.

A recent example popped up in conversation with my childhood friend, Karen, who lives there now. I was telling her about our plans to spend three months in Texas this upcoming winter, and she was assuring me how friendly people are there. Then she keenly told a story about her son’s hockey game against out-of-towners: the home team executed an especially rough hit, and Hocky Mom Karen stood up in the stands and shouted, “Welcome to Texas!” Friendly, aggressive, Texan.

In the deserts of Arizona, I was shocked to see that my images of desert life—that I’d soaked in from Saturday morning cartoons—are all actually true. Roadrunners run on the road. Coyotes lurk around in shadows and then tuck tail and skedaddle (when faced with Banjo, at least). Seguaro cacti look just like the emoji. 🌵 Tumbleweeds actually roll across the dirt. Damn.

In central Florida, I met a woman who’s lived all her life in the woods, and she has gotten in her johnboat and gone fishing five days a week since she could remember. Her current fishing goal is 30 catfish and brim every week: 10 for herself and her husband and 20 for their two dogs. One dog won’t eat brim, so she tries to keep more catfish to be sure he gets enough. His hips are going bad, bless his heart. She told me exactly were the biggest alligator on the river bank was that day.

And now, on the beaches of Southern California, I’m running into one caricature after another. On (and near) Pacific Beach it was hippies (imagine!) and every beach stereotype, from beach bodies to beach bums. In La Jolla, I saw a glass-fronted, cliff-hanging house with a lone Peleton placed for the best ocean view.

Here near Santa Monica, the surfers park their VW Vanagons on the side of the road and run down to the ocean with surfboards tucked under their arms, vying to be the first in the water before sunrise. The surfers in our campground just ride their skateboards to the beach, easy peasy.

Yesterday, I was crouching over this tide pool that had been uncovered during low tide, watching the drama inside: crab against crab, crab against amemone, tidepool sculpin lurking, then darting.  

Suddenly there’s a child right beside me, crouched like my mirror image, telling me the scientific names of the critters we were watching.  She carefully poked a mussel to see if there was an octopus underneath; she’d seen two in tide pools like this a few days ago.  

She reminded me so much of Finn at that age. Curiosity and esoteric knowledge falling over themselves coming through that constant chatter. Of course, I had to ask her about herself between comments on sea stars.

She wants to be a scientist, like her dad; he’s an environmentalist, here as a visiting scholar at UC Santa Monica.  Turns out they’re from the East Coast, as well.  Where, exactly? Why, Vermont, of course!  If you had to pick a spot on the East Coast to place a precocious, environment-driven child without fear of strangers, Vermont would have the bullseye on it. 

And what happens when I look in the mirror?

In Ajo, Arizona, I was sitting on a bench outside the library using its wifi when two couples walked by. Two women walked together, followed by two men, and they all four looked exactly the same. Long grey hair, braided or ponytailed underneath wide-brimmed hats. They each had on one thing funky: a colorful vest, weird socks, turquoise jewelry. One tell-tale item per person. Their shoes completed the package: all expensive, well-worn hiking shoes, I’m guessing all from REI.

I wanted to laugh at them, and I turned to the young, native-looking guy beside me to do so, when I realized that’s exactly how I was dressed.  That’s exactly how I look.  I bet, after their walk around town, they go back to their RVs and play Neil Young songs on their ukuleles and then get on Facebook and talk about their travels with their other old friends.

I once wrote that to see America you have to see Americans. The more I see of both, the more aghast I feel. But also in love.  And now I can say that I feel it all, from sea to shining sea.  

I realize this post seems to be me agreeing with and reinforcing harmful stereotypes, when in truth we’re all so much more than we seem.  But, for laughs, take a look at Tracy and me with our full-time Airstreaming friends, Sherri and Mooch (whom we miss very much!).

I know we’re all so different, but this post is about how we’re also all so much alike.

9 thoughts to “We Are All Caricatures of Ourselves”

    1. No, of course not … there’s just so much emphasis on differences these days, I thought this might be harmless. Nice to hear from you, Li!

  1. Stereotypes have to come from somewhere but they aren’t the whole story. It’s weird when you see yourself how others do, I’m glad it doesn’t happen very often! Though I saw a woman with similar hair and dressed a bit like me at the mall the other day and she looked so cool I felt kind of good about myself by reflection! 😎

  2. Nice post. I remember the shock at early university when I discovered all the things I proudly clung to as making me unique were what a ton of my peers also thought made each of them unique.