Just back from a fast-pitch softball tournament in, of all places, the wildly endless sprawl known as Sao Paulo, Brazil.
"You have much hate in your part of the world, right?"--Brazilian woman
They say that about 20 million people live in Sao Paulo, which makes it one of the world's largest metropolitan areas.
During "down time" from the games, which was about 90 percent of the trip, we bounced around the city in search of samba, steak (suspension of our skimpy red-meat eating habits was mandatory) and other adventures.
For the record, nothing we did (or can recall at this point) has to "stay in Sao Paulo," a la Las Vegas.
Brazilians for the most part are a friendly and lively bunch, and love to converse in English with their American guests whenever possible.
A time-tested icebreaker: Where do you live?
Arizona, we would answer. You heard of it?
Just about everyone we spoke with--we're talking many, many folks--had.
Back in the day, people from other nations and even those from "back East" would word-associate Arizona with "desert," "cowboys and Indians," "very hot," and maybe "cactus."
Still had a share of that on the recent trip.
But a new theme arose, one that made us shake our head time and again, as if to say, man, how'd it get to this?
One of more than a dozen examples:
We are in a very dark and very cool bar in the basement of a four-story mall having a beverage. The usual conversation begins, this one with two fine gents, businessmen in suits having a drink at the end of their workday.
We are from the state of Arizona, we say.
"Oh, the place where you hate the Mexican people, right?" one of the men says, smiling, but not kidding. "The racist place?"
We try to explain that the 2010 census reported that about one-in-three Arizonans (the legal ones) are of Latino origin, and that the percentage is growing.
We also note that Brazil itself, a nation of indigenous peoples and home to descendants of black slaves, immigrants and white European colonists, has its own set of issues related to race and racism.
But, yes, we concede, just like anyplace else, Arizona has some people in charge who are not necessarily partial to those of color--they are just a little louder at the moment than many of the others.
That triggers a thought by the younger of the two men.
"Is Arizona where the chief of police arrests all of the brown people?" he asks, pointing to own skin.
We are fairly sure he was talking about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, not Phoenix acting police chief Joe Yahner. In fact, we are positive.
Not all of the brown people, we demurred, feeling oddly defensive for the moment.
We try to explain that the jefe to whom they are referring is the all-time hatemonger and media slut, and that he loves to pander to the lowest-common denominator--knee-jerk haters, many with underlying (or overt) racist tendencies of their own.
For some reason, we all start to laugh.
We get treated to a beer for our efforts--sweet!