Fuel for thought


The numbers shot by at break-neck speed.

“11.56 … 11.57 … 11.58.”

What’s the point, I quietly asked myself, pausing for a few moments and more than 2,000 spins of the dial.

“36.38 . . . 36.39 . . . 36.40.”

When the pump finally jolted to a stop, the numbers read 42.03. Like a good American, I gently depressed the lever and pushed for $42.10. But as we all know, it’s a little harder to stop a gas pump on a dime these days. My credit card receipt eventually read $42.12. I folded up the thin piece of paper and shot it into my pocket. Nothing seemed to soften the blow. The fact that I commute nearly 12 miles, nearly every day of the week, by bicycle seemed insignificant. The fact that my wife and I had just gone deeper into debt to purchase a fuel-efficient car meant nothing. The fact that we are a one-car family in the first place was of little consequence.

More than 40 bucks had just vanished into the machine, hours of hard work at the salt mine effectively up in smoke and all for a little purr of the engine, an extra visit to the grocery store here, a trip to the trailhead there. So much for the era of the scenic drive.

Island 6, a lovely four-pump affair with optional diesel fuel just across the tarmac, was also ripe with frustration. The hose sticking in the side of 3 tons of flashy, club-cab, turbo-diesel bliss had also just jerked to a halt. Those illuminated dials put my $42.11 to hopeless shame, and the truck’s owner was livid. Rather than looking inward, he erupted outward, bruising the air of the gas station with a loud cry of “Stinkin’ A-Rabs” and slammed the nozzle back into the island.

In response, my Japanese four-cylinder zipped to life, and I navigated it away from Island 4 and back into traffic, happily leaving the two words at the station. The universe works in strange ways, I told myself, and sure enough, I got my answer a few minutes later. Back at the office, my eyes fell on an e-mail from one of the “Stinkin’ A-Rabs” I once knew as a close friend.

He had chanced upon my name during a little ego-surfing session. You know how it works. You go in, pull up Yahoo or Google and shamelessly type your own name into the “search” line. Press return and you are officially ego-surfing, loosely probing cyberspace for little hints of fame and fortune.

Enter “Will Sands” and you get a list more than 1,000 deep that has little to do with the actual person. Instead, the entries describe tired Gulf Shores hotels, south Arizona retreats and sleepy retirement communities with low dues. “Rest easy! With a stay at Magic Sands, guests will enjoy amenities ranging from an in-room wet-bar and impeccable room service to … .”

Plug in the name Kamal al-Far, you turn up much fewer and more direct responses. One of the listing will be an essay on the plight of the “Stinkin’ A-Rab” written many months ago in the Durango Telegraph by the aforementioned Mr. Sands. Having found himself in our pages, Kamal dropped me a line to catch up and share his story.

Over the space of four years, Kamal and I shared numerous classes at the University of Virginia. My major in Middle Eastern Studies had sucked me into some unusual places, one of which was a classroom devoted to the study of Arabic.

Kamal was a devout Muslim and a distant companion during those blurry four years. Some of us were on an endless carousel of drugs, alcohol, rock climbing and occasional homework. Kamal was different.

Everything about his day-to-day routine was impeccable, from his posture to the humble, bowed salutation with which he greeted everyone. He alone shunned J. Crew for long, handmade shirts of pure white cotton. He alone traded the sounds of Widespread for the Sufi poetry of Rumi and Hafiz.

In his message, Kamal explained that after graduation, he had worked with Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, helping to run the outlet’s North America Earth Station. However, an existential crisis hit, and he returned to school to study medicine. Ironically, Uncle Sam footed the tab. Kamal, the Arab, the Muslim intellectual, enlisted in the U.S. Army to cover the tab, and when he dropped out of med school, he was called to active duty as a corpsman, a sort of medic.

Two years later, two Boeing 737s plowed into the World Trade Center and the universe flipped on its head. In the aftermath, Kamal the Muslim was placed under “investigation” and accused of having terrorist ties by his own country. My friend was eventually cleared and put back into uniform. Since then, Kamal the soldier has been shipped to all corners of the globe, serving a long and painful stint on the lines in Iraq.

“I do have a lot of privileged insight, yes,” he wrote me. “As Arabs, we’ve dealt with a lot of injustice since 9/11, especially early on. I can tell you these things first-hand. I’ve heard the slurs and the name-calling, and I was under investigation myself. But, after the initial anger and stuff, you get used to it. By it, I mean living in an unfair and prejudiced world.”

Kamal then thanked me for trying to shine a light and bid me salaam. I bid him peace in return, promising I’d keep making small stands regardless of the state of the Middle East, regardless of the rhetoric flying out of the White House and regardless of ever-increasing prices at the pump.

– Will Sands

sual places, one of which was a classroom devoted to the study of Arabic.

Kamal was a devout Muslim and a distant companion during those blurry four years. Some of us were on an endless carousel of drugs, alcohol, rock climbing and occasional homework. Kamal was different.

Everything about his day-to-day routine was impeccable, from his posture to the humble, bowed salutation with which he greeted everyone. He alone shunned J. Crew for long, handmade shirts of pure white cotton. He alone traded the sounds of Widespread for the Sufi poetry of Rumi and Hafiz.

In his message, Kamal explained that after graduation, he had worked with Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, helping to run the outlet’s North America Earth Station. However, an existential crisis hit, and he returned to school to study medicine. Ironically, Uncle Sam footed the tab. Kamal, the Arab, the Muslim intellectual, enlisted in the U.S. Army to cover the tab, and when he dropped out of med school, he was called to active duty as a corpsman, a sort of medic.

Two years later, two Boeing 737s plowed into the World Trade Center and the universe flipped on its head. In the aftermath, Kamal the Muslim was placed under “investigation” and accused of having terrorist ties by his own country. My friend was eventually cleared and put back into uniform. Since then, Kamal the soldier has been shipped to all corners of the globe, serving a long and painful stint on the lines in Iraq.

“I do have a lot of privileged insight, yes,” he wrote me. “As Arabs, we’ve dealt with a lot of injustice since 9/11, especially early on. I can tell you these things first-hand. I’ve heard the slurs and the name-calling, and I was under investigation myself. But, after the initial anger and stuff, you get used to it. By it, I mean living in an unfair and prejudiced world.”

Kamal then thanked me for trying to shine a light and bid me salaam. I bid him peace in return, promising I’d keep making small stands regardless of the state of the Middle East, regardless of the rhetoric flying out of the White House and regardless of ever-increasing prices at the pump.

– Will Sands

 

 

In this week's issue...

July 21, 2022
Wildlife success or deal with the devil?

Land swap approved in Southwest Colorado, but not without detractors

July 21, 2022
Tapping out

The latest strategy to save the San Luis Valley's shrinking aquifer: paying farmers not to farm

July 14, 2022
Hey, good environmental news

Despite SCOTUS ruling, San Juan Generating Station plans to shut down