The Time I Wore a Pink ‘Feel The Bern’ Fedora to Sunday Lunch at The Original Cracker Barrel in Lebanon, Tennessee

BY: Andrew Stiles

I would not do well in a soccer culture. As much as I love my kids, I’m not really bothered by the fact that I’ve been banned from attending their games. (I allegedly brandished a firearm in a threatening manner, big whoop.) Their most recent contest, for example, ended in a 0-0 tie. There’s just not a lot of actual winning in soccer, no matter the final score, and that’s true all the way up to the professional level. It is, without a doubt, a thoroughly socialist affair.

The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that American political culture has more in common with the so-called “sport” of soccer than most of us would care to admit. Our politicians are less concerned with winning than they are with wasting time, clutching their ankles and flopping around on the grass, whimpering like tween girls who just lost 10 followers on Instagram, presumably soiling themselves as they try to run out the clock until the next rigged election. No wonder the fans are always rioting and getting into fights. Like most American voters, they actually care about scoring goals and winning games, and are often compelled to channel their profound frustrations and repressed anxieties toward more destructive ends, such as brawling behind stadiums or “owning” people on Twitter.

It’s no wonder our politics have become so angry, so tribal. Trump actually cares about winning, and his feckless lib opponents can’t stand it. The anger is so ubiquitous that even I’ve been infected. The other day, I saw some kid in a wheelchair roll past me near the entrance to Charlotte Motor Speedway. After spotting what I initially thought was an Elizabeth Warren sticker, I was tempted to jam on his parking brake from behind. Turns out, it was just a Florida State logo.

A pre-owned jet ski salesman by trade, I’ve spent a fair amount of time traveling the country of ours, decked out in MAGA gear, in search of a good deal. I recently did a week-long tour of Brooklyn, N.Y., where I was routinely denied service, spat on, and arrested for subduing belligerent hipsters and trying to cut off their beards with a buck knife. Nearly every restaurant I went to refused my requests for grain-fed beef and caged chicken eggs. The cost was nothing short of exorbitant, and no one ever offered to pick up my tab.

I worry that my side isn’t as rude to our enemies. I’ve seen my fellow Trump supporters yuck it up with Fake News Jim Acosta after rallies, pray for (get this) Hillary Clinton after the 2016 election, and politely ask me to stop pelting the soccer refs with orange slices and 9-volt batteries. To find out once and for all, I decided to wear a pink “Feel The Bern” fedora to the conservative epicenter of the Southeastern United States: Sunday lunch at the original Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, in Lebanon, Tenn.

The Time I Wore a MAGA Hat to Lunch at Café Gratitude

This is a place so conservative it once sold a “Make Socialism Ugly Again” t-shirt that featured a dancing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marked with a red “X,” next to an image of Bernie Sanders marked with a green check. The restaurant eventually stopped selling the shirts after some customers (me) complained that they were taking the evils of socialism too lightly. The original Cracker Barrel is far more conservative than The Beef Bucket, in Waynesville, N.C., where the owner refuses to serve customers who aren’t hanging Truck Nutz on the back of their Ford F-150s, and keeps a paintball gun under the checkout counter for any unlucky Priuses that happen to drive by.

I didn’t want to give $25 to the Bernie Sanders campaign, fearing that an ace reporter such as Dylan Byers would spot my name on the donor list and get me fired. So I bought a custom-made pink fedora, hand-woven by Brooklyn artisans for $365. The hate is so strong in me that I thought it was more ethical to support the bearded embodiments of American decline than Bernie himself.

After parking several blocks from the restaurant, I put on my fedora for the first time and looked in the rearview mirror. I looked smug. I looked pathetic. I looked privileged, in a bad way. I looked like someone I wanted to pelt with batteries.

My heart thumped and my vision narrowed as I walked up Richard M. Nixon highway. I jaywalked in a daze and then passed three uniformed sheriff’s deputies who, to my surprise, threatened to arrest me on site. When I explained that the hat was a gag, and I was merely committing an act of journalism, they did arrest me. Nothing came of it, but I had to wait another week to try again. So I did.

This was the Sunday lunch hour, the after-church crowd, so I feared I’d have to wait for a seat, milling about alone as other patrons politely asked me about my day. I scurried to the hostess stand and demanded a table for one in my best approximation of a New York accent, avoiding eye contact. The restaurant was full of families enjoying the hearty American cuisine. I stood out like a non-white female in the Democratic primary.

The hostess, who had disappeared, presumably to call security, eventually returned to tell me that a nice family had offered me the open seat at their table for six. It was worse than I thought. I looked over at them, grinning like fools, even the children, who were wearing (of all things) soccer uniforms. My worst fears confirmed, I accepted the invite, and ordered the country fried steak with extra gravy.

The husband, Royce, and I immediately launched into a discussion about politics. He thought Bernie’s positions on trade and immigration made a lot of sense, and weren’t all that different from Trump’s. He’d put up a good fight against the “Ice Witch” (Hillary) during the primary, and, like Trump, was a renegade who wanted to blow up the whole rigged system from within. He might even vote for him in 2020.

I didn’t want to blow my cover, but everything inside me burned with patriotic rage. I wanted to win this argument. Under normal circumstances, I would have reached across the table and pummeled Royce’s fat face right there in front of his kids. But I didn’t. Maybe there’s a lesson in that.

We finished our meals and said goodbye. I took off my hat and returned to the car feeling even more confused about the state of our country. Political correctness has become so normalized that I couldn’t even bring myself to punch out a young father at a family restaurant during the Sunday lunch hour. I Am Not Sure How Great That Is.

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