Fishing in Public

by “Tackle Box” Billy Kelley
by “Tackle Box” Billy Kelley


Hey folks. How’s tricks? I been away, which I’ll explain in a little bit, so please bear with me.

I am astonished by a few things I’ve been hearing, and would like to set the record somewhat straight. This is much more important than catching fish and such, like I’m used to writing about. Ocean’s pretty much depleted anyways. And I think I’m on a much more relevant subject.

What amazes me is this: “spear-chucker,” “nigger,” “jigaboo” and, mostly, “fuckin’ Somalis.” Am I still hearing this on the streets of Portland? I sure am. And I get real upset. You wouldn’t think this talk still exists, but boy, oh boy, does it. I can’t believe, in today’s day and age, that I should really have the need to discuss this. Have I been asleep? Maybe. Well, now I’m awake. And to paraphrase the guy that planned Pearl Harbor, “Don’t awaken the sleeping bear.”

Let me warn any one of you bigots now. If you desire to hang on to your ignorant words and deeds, don’t read on. Stay in your godforsaken cave, please. This is a column aimed toward more open-minded people, people who have the ability to think. I’d like to describe some of the Africans that some of you take so much pleasure in denigrating.

I’ll start at the top: Lebin, without whose benevolent permission I could not have started this little project. But first I must backtrack just a bit and explain where the whole thing started.

Last summer I had an accident, which at the time I considered minor. Whoops! It turned major, a real quagmire. A coma and intensive care and then after-treatment work. It was a real life-changer. And now I need rides to the methadone clinic every day. That’s how I found out about an outfit called LogistiCare. These are the people that assist people with troubles such as mine getting from here to there. God bless ’em. Without LogistiCare I’d be in some hot water, I tell ya!

What they do is hook you up with a “transportation provider,” what they call T.P.’s. That’s how I became acquainted with Cumberland Transportation. And so came my personal epiphany, because I came to be friends with the nicest, most understanding people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. And believe me, I’ve met a few: Hindus in Frisco, Jews in the Big Apple, Chinese all over. I tell you, none even come close to my new African friends.

So now I’m back to Lebin. In my book, he earns a raise. With all this activity — arranging rides, times, schedules — a multitude of problems are bound to occur. And Lebin handles it all. I sure as hell couldn’t. But he somehow manages to keep it all under control. He is the most American of my providers, having been raised in Ohio. And by his demeanor, you know he’s a guy you definitely want on your side. Which is to say, he don’t take no shit from nobody.

Oh yeah, he is one of those so-called “fuckin’ Somalis.”

Now we move on to Embra, one of my T.P.’s. My friend and frequent co-rider Rene says Embra looks like an angel, and it fits well. But not just in her looks. It shines in her personality. Like all of my T.P.’s, she is an extremely kind and gentle person, and easy to communicate with, to boot, having gone to university in France for five years. And that was after being the president of a bank in Djibouti, and being the daughter of a senator. She cheers me up to no end. The best thing is, she wants to learn more. And such a delight it is to, not so much teach her, but to kind of assist her in finding her way to understand American ways.

Is this starting to sound like a love song? Well, it is. I’ve truly come to love these folks. Meeting these people is the best thing that ever happened to me. That I can write and tell folks about this is icing on the cake. And even if it took a bad accident to happen, well, so be it.

Another T.P. of mine is a guy I call Mustif. Besides being polite, he’s a very educated person. I’ve always enjoyed science, and Mustif knows science. I queried him on what his occupation was in Burundi. Come to find out he was a teacher of anatomy. But Mustif still needs a little assistance with English vocabulary. I find that many of my T.P.’s need some help with communication, and I often wonder if that’s the problem bigots have with them — lack of communication.

Another fellow’s named Victor. He’s also an interesting guy. Very difficult to talk with, though. Of course, he’s extremely cordial and polite, but he gets frustrated (as I do) by the communication gap. I do know that he was a successful entrepreneur in the driving biz in, of all places, Angola. That’s the seventh African country a T.P. of mine has been from. I’ve also met ambassadors of Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Burundi, Congo and Rwanda. And you know what I say? The more the merrier! I’ve always loved meeting new folks, and now there’s a whole world of new persuasions of people to greet me every morning!

Next up: Felicity. Dumb fuckin’ Africans, huh? I’ll tell you folks about dummies right now. She was a minister of finance back in her ol’ Third World country. She did audits of many different companies in the economic realm of Burundi. I’m sure she could do your taxes too! An amazing Gal Friday, I must say. And a big plus is her ability to converse. Besides her native French, she is fluent in English, Swahili, and another language I can’t understand.

“Go back to Africa,” eh? Boy, oh boy, we could sure use more like Felicity, especially in today’s economy. She was actually the reason I started writing about this. When I got Felicity speaking about her past, it flabbergasted me, and she still amazes me to this day. To meet her, I’d bang my head again — maybe a couple of times. She truly makes me glad I’m still alive.

I ain’t seen Oliver lately, but of all the drivers I’d sure say he’s the most qualified. I found out he was a professional driver prior to Cumberland Trans. Confident. That’s the best word to describe Oliver. Let’s imagine you got an old lady in labor and you’re trying to get to the hospital as fast as possible. Oliver is the go-to guy. I’ve not seen him much since all the drivers underwent CPR training — which, by the way, is mandatory. Gives me much comfort indeed, what with my age and all.

I want folks to appreciate my new Equatorial friends as much as I do. I’m still amazed how some folks classify somebody by the color of their skin. My pal Lebin once said, “White, black, green, polka-dot — it’s not the outside that counts.” An African by birth, and he could surely teach many Americans a thing or two.

I’d like to introduce another new pal: Daniel. Most eager student I’ve ever met. He just loves to learn new words. I always look forward to seeing him, as his curiosity about vocabulary has led to many interesting chit-chats.

Daniel is from Burundi, and my interest in him has led me to seek assistance in my understanding of the place. Do you know, as my friend Cliff has informed me, that Burundi is the saddest country in the whole world? But my ol’ pal Daniel sure don’t show it. And he surely teaches me to have respect for my fellow man. He is a deep Christian, a real “man of his convictions,” a man of some prestige and wealth who threw it away for the opportunity to become an American. He once even invited me to attend church with him. Now that speaks very loud to me. I’d be very proud to be known as his friend.

Another grand fellow is Juliani. He’s aces in my book. He’s from Sudan, which I know very little about, but I can attest to his character, which is enormous. And due to a stint driving taxi in Boston and NYC, he’s able to converse well. He’s another gentleman from Africa that gave up a good business to bring his family to our shores. He’s seen much of America and, unfortunately, some of the bad parts, which is a fucking disgrace in my book. I mean, we’re all “boat people,” aren’t we? Besides, of course, Native Americans.

I think the best way to describe this is a little story I like to tell folks. One morning waiting for my T.P., it was just one of them days. You know, my TV is on the blink, my phone is fucked up, burnt the toast — you get the drift. So anyways, this lady is driving me to my clinic and I’m just out and out bitching about all life’s ills.

My T.P. is laughing, and at first I’m somewhat angry, like what the fuck is she finding so funny about this, right? Then, while I’m in the waiting room, I think, this lady (Shama, by the way, from Iraq) has been through more bad stuff than I can dream up: wars, famine, gas attacks. And here I am bitching about some things we simply take for granted.

Upon return to the vehicle, I hop in and she’s still laughing. And you know what? I’m laughing right along with her. And by the end of the ride, we’re both in hysterics. Laughing at me, how I really sounded. I mean, I’m using this lady as a sounding-board for the most trivial of things, a lady who’s seen more than I can ever conceive in my worst nightmares.

I tell ya, it really gives one a totally different perspective on things, don’t it? I certainly never saw this experience coming my way. One fractured skull was all it took.

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