If you're a dark-skinned African wanting a beer in Tombstone, bring your passport

Embarrassment's a bad feeling. If someone points out that your zipper's down or your blouse is buttoned the wrong way, you want to hide somewhere for a few minutes.

It's a bitch. Survivable, though.

Shame is something else. Shame makes your heart pound. Shame leaves the capillaries in your face and neck rushing with blood, and once you can think again, waxes angry.

Enter the Longhorn Restaurant in Tombstone.

Several years ago, we met a guy. Skinny kid, black. And the thing that stands out most in my mind is that when everyone showed up for a 6-mile run around a local lake in their Nikes and all the rest, all he had was a shitty pair of sneakers with holes in them. It didn't bother him in the least. He grew up under apartheid in South Africa. In his country, he wasn't even considered a person until the start of its dismantling in 1990, and I'm sure he viewed having any kind of shoes a boon.

Somewhere along the line, somebody noticed his smarts, which eventually earned him his doctorate. He's a working scientist now, and has been for several years.

However, he is still black.

Which is something that stands out in Tombstone. It's a very white place. And I know, the whole Wild West thing seems hackneyed to us locals. But if I went to South Africa, I'd probably want to see something that seems hackneyed to the locals there. Like baboons. I'd really like to see some baboons. I'm sure they're a lot more welcoming to out-of-town visitors than the staff at the Longhorn. I'm positive they have better manners.

It was a recent Sunday, but there wasn't another person of color on the street anywhere. I tried to assure him that everything was OK, that, in fact, lynching had been illegal in this fine state for, oh, at least 15 or 20 years. This calmed him somewhat.

Until sitting down at the Longhorn. We ordered a round of beers, or tried to. I don't know if it was a premonition, or the fact french fries were called freedom fries on the menu, but sometimes you can almost smell it when something's about to turn to shit. The waitress, one of those squinty-eyed broads with a too-tight ponytail, asked neither me nor my spouse for ID. Only our guest.

He produced his South African driver's license. She glanced at it perfunctorily, tossed it back onto the table like it was a membership card for Chuck E. Cheese's and refused to serve him. He produced the ID from his university in Cape Town. She didn't look at it.

I asked to see the manager. He wore a blue-checked shirt with snaps instead of buttons, and I think he had pomade in his hair. It looked like John Goodman's in Raising Arizona. He stalked over, plainly annoyed at being bothered at all, as the waitress set down two Coronas, one for me, one for my spouse. At this point, I had our friend's license in my hand and pointed out quite clearly the spot in which "date of birth" could be found. To me, the letters "DOB" were a dead giveaway, but I like to give people the benefit of a doubt. I mean, maybe the guy lost his glasses.

"Not acceptable," he said turning to leave.

"This license was issued by the government of South Africa," I said. "There are 50 million people there."

"Not acceptable," he said.

"Look at the birth date," I said. "He's in his mid-30s."

He told me once again it was not acceptable, that he could incur fines for serving him, and that our friend should have brought his passport. I've been to Dublin, London, Rome. You don't carry your passport around when you're sightseeing. If you lose it or it gets stolen, you're screwed.

I asked to see the statute. The whole time, he had been rolling a little blue booklet in his hand. It could have been the takeout menu for a Chinese restaurant, maybe the operating manual for the swamp cooler. I never saw the cover. He thumbed through it for a second, couldn't find what he was looking for, and rerolling it, showed me a Xeroxed piece of computer paper with 10 or so acceptable IDs, including local military IDs and Arizona and Mexican driver's licenses.

Sure enough, South African driver's licenses weren't on the list. Nor were Danish, Swedish, German or Latvian. In fact, the number of acceptable forms of IDs not on that list was infinite. I wonder if there is an infinite number of foreign visitors the Longhorn won't serve.

It's a good question. I think I already know the answer.

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