Red Hat, But Does It Mean Sympathy With THAT Red Hat?

I see him nearly every day, wearing the same bright red hard hat, the only one on the crew to do so. My Upper West Side NYC avenue has been taken over for the past number of weeks by the sounds of jackhammering, construction vehicles, welding equipment. Our local utility company is replacing ancient gas and electric lines, underground transformers and switches. Dozens of workmen (and yes, they are all men) bustle about in their Carhartts, safety vests, work boots and neon yellow or orange hard hats. All except for him, easily visible in his distinctive headgear.

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He wouldn’t know me from Eve, even though he made a strong impression on me several weeks back. It was mid-afternoon, windy, grey, maybe about to drizzle. Most of the crew had already packed up and left, but red hard hat guy was taking care of the last bit of cleanup. I was waiting to cross the avenue, holding at my chest my ginormous Land’s End insulated grocery bag. I had carried it home the six blocks from my market, the strap slung over my shoulder, my forearms cradling its bottom. Masked, wearing skinny jeans, red cowboy boots, a black pea coat and a pom pom hat, I was of an indeterminable vintage. 

Perhaps it was the red boots, or maybe as bundled up as I was, I could have been mistaken for someone younger. Or, most likely, red hard hat guy is just a nice human being. Tall and lanky, he moved like a dancer, stopping traffic with the authority conferred by his safety vest. He waved me across the street and as I passed him, he slipped his mask down and gave me the most beautiful smile.

“I couldn’t let you wait any longer with that big bag,” he said. 

And then he sprinted down the street.

I was smitten. Had I been decades younger, I might have followed up with some witty riposte in the hopes of striking up a conversation … or more. That smile. His gallantry. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And why did he have that red hard hat on when no one else did? Mr. Google told me: a red hard hat is worn on a construction site by a fireman or an emergency worker.

Just a few days later, all hell broke loose as insurrectionists broke into the Capitol Building. Those who weren’t wearing cosplay military gear had on those red MAGA hats. I don’t see many of those in my liberal enclave, but it is no secret that a great many of New York’s cops, firemen and utility workers are Trump supporters. 

Walking down the avenue with my pooch Dev each mid-day, I look for red hard hat guy, and I usually find him working diligently while some of his colleagues stand around “supervising.” I can’t help but wonder about his politics. Does he even have any? When he isn’t wearing a red hard hat, is he wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat? Could he be the equivalent of the “insurrectionist next door?” 

He seems too happy to be looking to exact revenge on the liberal establishment. I’d rather think of him as a better-looking and less troubled Pete Davidson type, Staten Island bred, raised in a firefighting family, quirky, irreverent. I’d hate to think of that smile wasted on a Trumpie. Then again, if more red hat wearers had his grin rather than the sneer of victimhood, the smirk of conspiratorial insider knowledge or the leer of vengefulness, we and our democracy would be so much better off! 

17 thoughts on “Red Hat, But Does It Mean Sympathy With THAT Red Hat?”

  1. Funny how just a red hat makes us suspicious of our fellow humans. Here in arizona I’m sometimes surrounded by trumpers. They are terrible and dangerous political animals, but can be personally generous and even gracious. It’s a conundrum, I can never resolve.

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  2. A lot of “red hat” guys are never going to charge the capital. The one two doors down was out shoveling his snow a few days ago. His dog — Roscoe — saw me, and wagged his tail, and took some steps in my direction. I have nothing personally against this guy, but he hung those Trump flags in front of his house for MONTHS. Finally, I decided to do the Monte Vista thing and I took my shovel down the street to help him and pet Roscoe. I’m not going to do anything different, I decided. The guy’s my neighbor and no one with such a nice dog who likes me so much can be a total asshole, or asshole at all. It was a relief to bury the hatchet.

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    1. Good for you. I don’t know how we as a country will be able to do the same without some accountability for the harm caused. In your case, if the worst part of it was the flags, best to move on.

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  3. It is hard not to put people in boxes whatever their headgear. I am sure I am easily boxed by others as well though to those who know me in general terms are surprised that: I am 69 which is young for this retirement community but I know I look younger than that (genes, I assure you.) When I arrived three years ago someone asked me if I was showing my mother around the place. Then there is the fact that I live in the assisted living wing of our care center because I am only able to walk with a rollator. My physical challenges are not visible because they are silently neurological in nature. Then the fact that I am a devoted introvert yet I have regularly been performing in one venue or another my whole life and have continued to do so in my new home. I am up there on stages dancing (well I used to dance!) or singing or reciting my poetry. Actually, many performers are introverts who do not find it easy to chat and mingle yet they can deliver intimate expressions when addressing an anonymous crowd. Boxes of political beliefs, nice people with radically different viewpoints, show up when we compare ourselves to one another, looking for ‘confirmation bias’ indicating we are of like minds or we are Other. How to shovel snow with or accept help from the Other? A challenge for us all and one which I look forward to handling with more wisdom and grace.

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    1. Such a thoughtful reply. I suppose we are all folks with challenges that are not visible, and half of us are introverts by nature if not by acts of will. (I count myself in that number). I don’t mind radically different viewpoints as long as mine are respected as I try to do with others. What has been so disheartening has been the “othering” and the self-absorbed victimhood of Trumpism. Everyone has a story, and many of those stories involve silent pain or the overcoming of challenges unseen. Best to assume good intentions until shown otherwise!

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    1. Thanks, Geoff. It’s always best to be evolving as a person rather than stuck in one place so no wonder you haven’t figured out everything bout yourself yet!

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  4. I had a similar experience many years ago when I was in my early twenties, an unexpected compliment from a stranger meant only to brighten my day, said in a quick moment with no chance on my part to respond. I was giddy with joy for days. And I learned an unexpected lesson that day: a sincere compliment or kind word, offered with no expectations, can be priceless to the person receiving it while costing nothing to the person offering it.

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    1. Absolutely! This was my mantra during the decades when I taught teenagers. I wanted them to remember me for a kind word not a critical one. We forget how important small acts are in holding not just individuals together, but societies.

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  5. I work in a not-so-political, but very liberal environment. I only know of one Trumper on the whole staff. She’s the nicest person. Every morning as she walks by my office, she shouts out ‘Hi Jeff’. When I interact with her, she’s always super pleasant. I wear my politics on my sleeve, or at least my front door and certainly on my blog. It’s no secret who I am. If she can be civil to me, I can be civil to the next person. In the spirit of the Biden presidency, I’m trying to give the Trump supporters a break. In an earlier comment, I saw someone say that they don’t all storm the capital. And I hope that even though I have a Black live matter sign in my front yard, my conservative neighbors know I’m not going to burn down the court house (probably). And sometime a red hat is just a red hat.

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    1. I used to have a mantra as both a mom and a high school teacher: “Catch them doing something right.” Maybe that’s what we need to do going forward with regard to those who supported Trump rather than watching for each micro-aggression. I draw the line at insurrection, though!

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