First Impressions

May 5th, 2023

“I’m shocked – shocked! – to find that gambling is going on in here.” – Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca

Hans called a few days ago. Hans is my oldest son. He lives down in Texas, and pumps concrete for a living. He was in the Army a decade ago. He was stationed at Fort Hood, and then his unit got deployed to Iraq. His time in Iraq was more interesting than it needed to be. He came back from there a very different person.

Hans bought himself a Harley. It’s an old school sort of bike. He got a 2007 Electra Glide that weighs damn near 800 pounds. He’s careful to keep that thing upright. He likes to ride the Harley whenever he can. It relaxes him, and that helps with his PTSD.

Hans insists on wearing a replica German WWII helmet when he rides. He painted it silver, but it is still obviously a Wehrmacht style of headgear. Hans told me that he stopped to get fuel at a gas station, and some other customer called him a white supremacist. Hans indicated to me that he was shocked -shocked! – by that comment.


I find it hard to believe that his helmet would not attract attention and perhaps some negative remarks. I find it even harder to believe that this would be a surprise to my son. He takes enormous pleasure in messing with other people’s minds, and he’s good at it. I’m pretty sure that he would be deeply disappointed if nobody noticed the helmet.

Is Hans a white supremacist? I don’t think so. He has very conservative opinions, but I don’t think he’s racist. I admit that, since he fought in Iraq, his ability to relate to people who look Middle Eastern is not the best. Because of his wartime experience, he often judges some people by their appearance. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but I understand why he does that.

The guy at the gas station judged Hans by his appearance. Hans did not make a good first impression with this other customer. The man who accused Hans of being a white supremacist knew nothing about Hans except that he wore an offensive type of helmet. The man did not know that Hans is a combat vet. He didn’t know that Hans works hard at his job. He didn’t know that Hans has a wife and three small children.

Every individual is complex. I have found that it often takes years to understand another person. I have known Hans all his life, and he still surprises me. I try not to judge someone by their appearance, but sometimes I make a snap decision based on that first impression.

That almost never ends well.

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