New Orleans Mark Oberholtzer has been a plumber and plumbing contractor based out of Galveston, Texas for over thirty years. His son Jeff works with him and is his business partner. They put about 130,000 miles in a three year period on their work trucks. The greater Houston area is a big drink of water, and they keep their trucks busy. They have sold or traded 20 or 30 trucks over the years. This time, Jeff, sold the company truck to Autonation Ford Gulf Freeway in Houston. Texas law says the name of their plumbing outfit has to be on the side of the truck. When they trade them the Oberholtzers say that sometimes they take the name stickers off and sometimes the buyer does. When they sold this one, Jeff was taking their decals off, and the Autonation folks said, no, we’ll do it, we have something special that keeps the paint from stripping. Ok, so away the truck then went, deal done, and life and business go on.
But, not this time. The Houston Chronicle reports that in late 2014, the senior Oberholtzer was on his way for a week of deer hunting and his secretary called him and said stuff was hitting the fan. Seemed a blogger had posted a picture of some Al Qaeda fighters riding hard with weapons drawn on a truck with the name of his plumbing company on the side, big as all outdoors. Al Jazeera was calling. Later the Colbert show had a picture of the truck on a comedy bit about terrorism. People from Homeland Security and the FBI showed up at the plumbing shop to interrogate him. He was living a frame job worthy of the “Blacklist” television show. At one point they got more than 1000 calls at the store, including death threats. His secretary got so alarmed she fled the job for her life at different times.
It seems that after Autonation bought the used truck it went to auction in late 2013. From there Carfax records indicate that it ended up in Turkey, and it wasn’t long before it showed up in Syria in the middle of mayhem, Mark-1 Plumbing caught in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story.
Mark and Jeff thought it would blow over. When the calls, harassment, and threats were at their worst they closed the shop down for a time. Nothing worked. And, like a bad penny, every time it would cool down, a picture of the truck would turn up and there would be another 200 calls with more of the same. Meanwhile Mark says they have bid on 30 jobs in the last year and for the first time in 30 years, didn’t win a one. Coincidence? Hard to believe.
As Mark says, “I’m just a simple plumber who has been in business for 30-some years. You can check over here and see what services I have to offer. I have no connection with any terrorism or anything overseas. All I did was sell a truck. What would be the odds of something showing up like it did? It’s still unbelievable to me.”
The moral of this story is a footnote on the worst impulses of our times. The real and irrational fears about terrorism have now jumped over the fence to target all Muslims and in some cases all foreigners and refugees. The damage to innocent bystanders from plumbers to regular people is incalculable. Politicians either stir the pot or hunker down and hide rather than standing tall against the irrationality of it all.
Hate takes no holiday, but as Mark and Jeff would surely agree, we need a break!