This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A couple of weeks ago in Butte, Mont., I watched an elderly couple have a full-on public meltdown in the hallway of a motel.
We had driven 500 miles, and my wife was still asleep. I crept out of our room and went in search of the free breakfast. That's when I encountered the couple.
The angry woman was accusing one of the housekeeping staff of stealing a jewelry case they had left in the room. The young, tearful worker was trying to explain in really poor English that they should check with the front desk.
The language barrier only made the old woman madder and the young worker more upset. The woman kept yelling at her to hand over the missing item and then go back to Mexico where she belonged. Her husband adamantly agreed. He had a Trump button on his jacket.
Being the kind of guy I am, I sensed an opportunity to make things worse. It's one of several serious personal shortcomings. I am an unrepentant provocateur. Have been since birth. I can't help it.
When someone is throwing a public fit like this, it's impossible for me to not step in and help them completely lose their minds. God help me, I love it.
The maid wasn't from Mexico. She was from El Salvador. I know because she told me. But it was my next question that really set things off.
"¿Cuál es el problema de este bruja?" I asked. [So what's the problem with this witch?]
The nervous smile I got from the worker detonated the old woman's temper. She hadn't understood a word I said, but she now knew that I was on the maid's side.
Spittle flying, head bobbing, dentures clacking, she looked like a RainBird as she screamed and accused all immigrants of being thieves and me of being a smartass.
I still wanted some waffles. But no way was I going to pass up a chance to wind someone up until their head exploded. It's why I would never make a good hostage negotiator.
To get the couple off the maid's back, I offered to help them find their missing jewelry case. We went to the front desk and inquired.
The case was there. Another guest had turned it in when he found it in the breakfast room on the serving line next to the scrambled eggs.
Checking the contents of a jewelry bag, the old woman satisfied herself that nothing had been stolen. She looked at me and sneered.
Her: "I still wish they would go back to Mexico."
Me: "And they wish they could punch you in the face."
Her Husband: "Hey! That's my wife.
Me: "OK, you punch her."
The manager and some security-looking guy showed up then and told us to calm down for the sake of the other guests. I admitted that the misunderstanding had been my fault. We were all a little on edge because of the political climate in America.
"But things will get better when Hillary is president and we all have to learn Spanish."
I thought they were going to need an ambulance. They grabbed the jewelry bag and stormed out. Climbing into their Trumper-stickered truck with Iowa plates, they peeled away cursing immigrants and interfering smartasses alike.
My wife was awake when I got back to the room.
"What's breakfast like?"
"Not bad. There was a floor show, but you missed it."
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.