“Interview and Jenny's Story 'Getting TIPSEE'”

Today, I talked with Jenny Buchman Phelps by phone. Jenny Buchman Phelps was born and raised in East Helena, Montana. As a young woman she headed west, like the gold prospectors before her, and settled in Helena. Jenny has been doing hair and listening to stories for 11 years. She lives with her husband Colin, daughters Graycen and Grier, and her dog Lane.

We chatted about life during a pandemic, about storytelling and about how the meaning of a story can change over time, revealing itself with a new perspective. And we talked a lot about white privilege, and how we often don’t even realize that we have privilege. Come sit down with us and listen to our conversation.

She told a story in front of a live audience on May 9, 2019 at The Myrna Loy in Helena, MT. The theme that night was “Getting Away With It”.

Jenny’s story, which I play after the interview, is called “Getting TIPSEE”.

Transcript : Interview and Jenny's Story 'Getting TIPSEE'

i’ve had yeah all those things happen as
a white guy
and haven’t been pulled off no yeah i
i’ve had a burnt out headlight before
i’ve uh run a red light cop was right
probably probably exactly probably they
exactly probably i didn’t
they’re like now thinking about what
they did to me that day that
made me do this and checking on my eyes
yeah probably they were
racist and i didn’t realize i didn’t
notice last time on the tell something
ibrahim mina and i were talking about
getting pulled over by the police
that really stuck with me and i’ve been
thinking about it a lot
this week i talked with jenny buchmann
phelps about that very thing
welcome to the tell something podcast
i’m mark moss
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shop so i talked with jenny buckman
phelps by phone
we chatted about life during a pandemic
in storytelling
and about how the meaning of a story can
change over time
revealing itself with a new perspective
we talked a lot about white privilege
and how we often don’t even
realize that we have privilege come
sit down with us and listen to our
hello good morning how are you
i’m all right how are you doing good
good we we’re calling it the corona
coaster here
oh yeah that’s that’s it i’m glad you’re
back to work
yeah yeah me too how
how long were you closed six weeks
oh my god well um
i hope that people are being safe when
they’re coming in and stuff
i would say most of them
think that they are um
for some reason i think that people
assume that they don’t need to wear a
mask when they’re coming in because
maybe they’re so familiar with
us and somehow the virus has become
become something that like bad people
get um
i jokingly call it the new life because
it feels like it’s a moral
failing if you get sick um and so
they’re like oh
you’re nice and and shower so
i’m sure you’re not sick and i’m not
second michael that’s not really how it
works like let’s both wear a mask
just call it a day at the time of the
governor bullock had not yet mandated
mask requirements statewide
i just re-listened to your story
i remember you being super nervous so
how did you how did you get past that
oh i feel like i’ve been faking it till
you make it for
my whole life um and so
i tend to do that in situations i
i somehow managed to pull it together
like on game day
i can get it done and figure it out but
i was a mess on the inside for sure the
whole time
but you pulled it off and you were
really funny
oh thank you like
do you remember that part do you
remember the successful
pieces of yours oh yeah you know when
when you start getting feedback from the
audience that’s definitely
a fuel to keep going and
i knew my story was funny like i
intentionally chose that story
because it is a light-hearted story
i didn’t feel like i was going up there
and exposing anything
and so that felt safe to me that’s my
comfort zone
so i knew if i could at least get some
good one-liners in there that
people would laugh at least a little bit
and so that was really
really nice well you held your own
i mean you you crushed it on the stage
thank you yeah i actually wanted to talk
to you a little bit
just with the relevancy of our our
current our nation’s current situation
yeah one of the feedbacks that you gave
after telling my story is that you
thought it was a good opportunity to
bring to light that this story
is essentially only able to be
because i’m white and
we we talked about that and i’m
to say it but i think it’s important to
say it that
i was really i really didn’t want to do
that i really didn’t want to say
because i’m white it was
i didn’t think about trying to get out
of a car as an officer is approaching me
i say that now and it sounds so
ridiculous that i would think that
that’s an okay thing to do
but i totally did and it is 100 because
i am
i am a white woman i feel like i’m
i’m pretty safe in a lot of situations i
don’t feel safe
in others obviously because i am a woman
but in that situation it felt
very comfortable to just open the door i
just didn’t think that he would think i
was threatening at all
and i got some interesting feedback
from that after i did say that in the
story and it’s such a
tiny little thing all i say is you know
because i’m
a white woman in montana i just go to
open my door
and i did have a number of people
tell me that you know other than that
part where you got a little political
um they didn’t think that that was
funny because the story is funny and it
wasn’t it wasn’t meant to be funny you
know you and i had
had talked about that and
it kind of makes the whole story like
the whole story would be different if i
was black
or if i was brown absolutely and so
that is something i thought about a lot
tell me about that
you know putting a license plate on my
car that even draws attention
in the first place i knew it i knew that
license plate would get attention
why would i do it if i didn’t you know i
was an 18 year old girl with an awesome
i wanted people to notice
and i just i’m not sure that minority
people would do that
yeah i just don’t know
i can’t imagine that they would in that
you know not in one where
like you know it said tipsy i thought it
was funny because
tip over easy and alcohol you know
yeah i didn’t think i would get pulled
over all the time for it but i didn’t
what i was insinuating when i put it on
there sure
and so it’s yeah it’s just something
that i’ve thought about
and i i have had
you know people of color that i have
relationships with that i’ve grown up
and there have been situations where
i’ve seen them
treated differently and throughout
you know different stages of my life you
hear kind of
think like oh that’s an isolated
incident or
you know that person’s ignorance or
whatever and then other times it’s just
so much more
subtle and i wouldn’t even be aware of
until that person that was with me kind
of drew my attention to it and it’s like
oh that’s why they talk to you like that
or that’s
you know i just didn’t i didn’t know
i don’t know about you but i i took
spanish for seven
years which is crazy but i never lived
where i could speak it with anyone and
i i can i cannot carry on a conversation
i can barely understand people
i can muddle through you know asking
where the bathroom is
and i kind of feel like being a white
person in montana is similar to that i
don’t have a lot of interactions with
other cultures and
i feel like i can talk a big game about
being an ally being you know not racist
and i always want to try and portray
but you never really know what to do so
i’m trying really hard to read
up a lot more about it because i don’t
think i should be like asking these
questions as people i don’t think it’s
their job to
educate me so i’m trying to take
advantage of the material that’s out
and i’m trying to make donations right
where i can because i feel like that’s
the most valuable
gesture that i have but
i’ll tell you what my experience is
right now around that and
because i’m on a similar journey and i
agree with you it’s not
the job of people of color to educate us
it’s our job to check our privilege and
not just be not racist but to be
yes yeah and and also
to give them the mic whenever possible
and so grandstanding on social media
about how anti-racist you are is not the
same as
educating white friends and
helping them be anti-racist if they’re
racist or calling them out when they’re
being or you know like
and i have uh
some people of color across the country
who are like you’re right it’s not our
but we will help you when you need it
and here are the resources do your
homework first
and then if you’re confused call us so
if you want me to send you those
resources i can
sure we’ve got an awesome uh
bookstore here in helena montana book
and they’ve been posting a ton of
material on their instagram account
um different books and websites and i
think that’s been
really great my my 12 year old and i
actually read
the hate that you give earlier this year
and it’s it’s very good and it’s all
from the perspective of a teenage girl
and my daughter’s 12 and
i’m so glad that we read that because
she was able to look at
the content coming from some media
and have a much more discerning eye and
realize that those
those sources were trying to make you
feel a certain way
and depict these people that are
protesting in a certain way
that isn’t accurate right and is very
and i really i was really impressed that
she actually thought about that and her
and i have had a number of conversations
about it
and yeah it’s a really good book i
highly recommend it it’s
a lifelong journey yeah it is
when you told your story i know that was
an uncomfortable piece of it
what was the focus if we were to pull
that remove that piece
from your story what would have been the
purpose of you telling it
just to entertain people
yeah so the purpose of me telling that
story was to entertain people
the purpose of me getting up and telling
a story
was to try and give myself a goal
and accomplish it do something scary
i think that we kind of have to flex
that muscle
on a regular basis to keep our life
and exciting and i think that’s a really
great way to do it is to do something
that scares you and that is that’s
something that has just
it’s really fulfilling and i love it
when people get up and share stories and
honestly having people share stories is
one of the ways that i feel like i learn
more about myself and the lens that i
my world through is you know
understanding other people’s
experiences and hearing them say it and
i love that they can get up and share a
and nobody’s asking you questions the
story doesn’t get deluded by other
people’s feedback you’re just getting
this story from someone and you can sit
and process it
and to hear somebody tell a really
emotional story
in real life is really powerful and i
at a place where i wanted to do that
i just wanted to get up and tell a story
that was pretty funny
and the scary part for me was just doing
the people that get up and tell these
really raw emotional stories are
amazing and i really really really value
their courage
jenny buckman phelps was born and raised
in east helena montana
as a young woman she headed west like
the gold prospectors before her
and settled in helena jenny has been
doing hair and listening to stories
for 11 years she lives with her husband
daughters grayson and grier and her dog
she told a story in front of a live
audience on may 9th 2019
at the myrna loy in helena montana the
theme that night was
getting away with it jenny calls her
story getting tipsy
have you ever been in a relationship
where your friends love them your
parents love them
they treat you well but when people ask
you about it you’re just kind of like
oh yeah they’re great they’re so nice
it’s 2004 i have just graduated from
high school
and i’ve been in a relationship like
that for three and a half years
with a dodge neon
and that three and a half years of
reliability affordability
is gone the second that i see the jeep
i’ve been working at this point for two
years at the
golden corral or as my dad like to refer
to it
the gilded trough
and i’ve been stashing sweaty greasy
ones and fives in piles of hundreds
under my bed
and this is the day that those are gonna
come out
my parents had probably hoped that i
would spend that money on something a
little bit more responsible like
my education but as soon as i saw that
car i just had to have it
and it’s days that i’m now sitting in
front of the
salesman and he finds out that i’ve just
graduated from high school
and i’m sure some of you can relate to
this as soon as people find out that you
are moving on to a next stage of your
life they have this need to give you
advice and all i want
are the keys but instead he tells me
about a way to get out of traffic
and i was like that’s it sounds really
improbable that you could get away with
but it’s interesting nonetheless so
i get the keys i’m in the car
and i’m sure some of you have felt this
when you fall in love with a car it’s
not the car
it’s who you think you’re going to be in
the car
and i am awesome my hair
just casually blows in the wind i look
on people that can’t go on places
potholes mean nothing to me
and it feels amazing and all these
people are waving to me
and it really i realized that it’s other
jeep wranglers
and i was just like oh me
well yes and i casually wave back
and i’m part of this club and i’m
starting to notice all these other
drivers and cars the wranglers nothing
and they’re a group of very clever funny
and there’s a lot of stickers that have
a general theme of
you know you’ve always wanted a topless
model or
sometimes i go topless and then
i really like the ones that were put on
the vehicle upside down and it says
if you can read this please flip me back
and i’m starting to plan out my license
plates because this is the first time in
my life i’ve ever wanted vanity plates
and so i’m like you know these guys are
really clever and funny
i need to come up with something that
like plays on the jeep
and i come up in all of my 18 year old
with tipsy t-i-p-s-e-e
because it tips over easy which seems
obvious to me
and i go in and i’m getting my license
and the lady is like
are you sure this is what you want to do
and i’m like yeah i drive a jeep
and she’s like okay
so i leave the office with a bullseye
and i put it proudly on my car
it is maybe a week and i’m pulled over
on the side of the road
the lights are flashing behind me and
i’m just kind of
sweating and because i’m in love with
this car i haven’t noticed
its faults to the full extent and one of
is that the driver’s side that i should
be able to zip
the window unzip the window it doesn’t
work it’s zip tied shut
and as i’m collecting my driver’s
license and my insurance and my
i’m kind of realizing like oh no like i
need to be able to talk to the guy
and so in a move that felt comfortable
to me
as a young white woman i just start to
get out of the car and immediately it’s
ma’am get back in the car get back in
the car get back in the car and so i
shut the door and i’m just like oh my
god okay so i’m waiting
and he comes over and he starts pounding
on the plastic
and he’s like oh you know get the window
down and i’m like i
i can’t i’m can’t do it
and so he opens the door and
he’s like do you know why i pulled you
over like no sir no
he’s like well you were going 35 miles
an hour
and i’m waiting for the rest of it he’s
like in a 45.
and i’m waiting for the rest of it we
have reason to believe that you
are under the influence now
it is 10 a.m on a tuesday morning
i am driving to work and all these
people are passing by and did i mention
that my jeep is teal
it’s noticeable so i’m just embarrassed
like all these people are driving by
this is my parents are gonna find out
and i’m having to stand on the side of
the road
in the hot sun and do this
and try and walk in a straight line as
i’m like terrified
and eventually i get to go back into the
car because i am not drunk
and i get a ticket for obstructing the
flow of traffic
and i am upset but i start to think
about the advice that the salesman gave
and the salesman told me that if i get a
traffic ticket
i go into the courthouse and instead of
paying it i say i can test
and then the police officer has to show
up at a later date with me
and he has to testify to the events and
sometimes police officers will have
better things to do in their day
and they won’t show up to those and if
they don’t show up you get to leave
so i try this and it
works and i
can’t believe my luck and i leave
and it’s not long after that that i
am again on the side of the road and
again i’m being questioned about whether
or not i have been drinking
it is dark this time i had not used my
to go around a vehicle and so
i’m sitting there waiting and i can see
the officer kind of like shaking his
head a little bit
and i get a ticket for failure to use my
i do the same method
and it works and i don’t have a ticket
and i’m complaining to my dad at this
point like god i have to drive so
safe and he’s just like
yes i’ve brought this on myself
and it couldn’t have worked out better
for my parents
ticket number three has me asking
are you pulling me over because of my
license plates
and the officer is like well it doesn’t
but i take my well-worn path to the
and again no points no fine i get a
at this point in time the jeep and i
decide to take our traffic violation
on the road and tickets
for ticket four and five are in butte
silver bow county
and then six is in beaverhead county
and at this point it’s like kind of fun
a little bit because i’m like
it doesn’t matter pull me over and i’m
like so
you like that license plate it’s pretty
funny isn’t it and they’re just like
and so ticket seven
is rounded out back in lewis and clark
and eventually i do have to
part ways with the jeep because if an 18
year old girl
in a teal jeep wrangler with tipsy on
the license plates
isn’t a target enough what would happen
if i could
put a car seat in the back of it
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tell something podcast was produced and
edited by me
mark moss i thought that it would be a
good and relevant conversation to have
and i know that
um you know i’m like a white person
bumbling through
and i’m totally okay with being that
because i think that
we kind of need to be more honest about
where we are and that
we’re trying and we’re not perfect like
you said to learn more about tell us
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