Regardless of Race, Creed, Or Color
November 13, 2001
What is America?
To some it is a very pale place.
I rolled out of Tucson and down through Sonoita. Had lunch in the
quiet, one block town of Patagonia. Looking for a back way that
I thought I saw on my
map to Sierra Vista I bounced through the Coronado National Forest
on dirt roads. Its a patchwork of property lines down there
and I was weaving in
and out of private and public lands. First in a wide canyon along
a dry creek bed, then into open desert plains with tall grass and
horses, cattle, and the occasional gate leading to a ranch somewhere
out of sight. Back up into the dusty mountains, fishtailing over
the loose rock, navigating eastward with my compass whenever I hit
a fork in the road. My instincts proved right and I wound up at
the western gate of Fort Huachuca. The Fort is a large military
installation that butts up next to Sierra Vista. But you have to
be able to cross. You have to have permission.
The next morning I sat reading a small town paper at Rebs
Café in Benson, Arizona. Benson looks like one of those towns
that sprang into existence as a railroad stop, but its hard
no one I ask in town seems to know. Theres an
easy answer in the Museum but, in the tradition of small town museums
and historical societys, most often staffed by volunteers,
it has irregular hours and I dont have the capacity to see
through the mists.
Rebs Café is a joint in the best tradition of joints.
Small, wood paneled, big hellos from the staff when you walk
into the door and friendly nods of acknowledgement from the patrons.
Pictures of James Dean adorn the walls along with a sign proclaiming
This is not a fast food restaurant. This is a GOOD FOOD restaurant.
Be Patient! Good Food takes time. And flags. Lots of US flags.
I browse the paper, listen to Glad to Be An Okie from Muskogee,
and gnosh on the finest set of hash browns Ive ever had the
pleasure to meet.
I am a connoisseur of the hash brown. I have chased far and wide
across North America for the finest spin on the spud. If, like me,
you are willing to stare down the terror of the ever expanding waistline
on a quest for the perfect hash brown, get your flabby behind down
to Rebs Café. It is worth the drive.
When I got to the gate at Fort Huachuca the day before, stopped
as much by the explosively loud red warning and stop signs as I
was by the lowered gate arm, I was greeted by a soldier in full
combat fatigues, backpack, weapon present coming out of the small
guard structure to the left of the gate. He strolled out, relaxed
but ready. Gave me a friendly hello as he glanced in my window.
He took a few steps along the side of truck and looked through the
windows of the camper shell. He came back along side the window
as I was telling him I was pleasantly lost and hoping to find a
back way into Sierra Vista. He leaned forward to break the bad news
that the only way I was going to get there was to drive all the
way back up to Sonoita and around the base. He raised his left hand
towards the guard shack and held up one finger. I didnt know
This young man was polite, professional, helpful, friendly, and
Oh Dear God, so very, very young. I guess anyone who is willing
to face the horrors of combat in service of his country has earned
the right to be called a man but
he was just a boy. Fresh and
smooth and earnest and innocent.
It took me some time to realize that there was another soldier
inside the guard station and the young man with whom I was speaking
had let him know, with his hand signal, that there was only one
person in the vehicle. The young man I was speaking with was from
Fresno. His partner was from San Luis Obispo. This other young man
came out of the gate, looking even younger than the first. He was
a stunning mixture of races. He appeared to have a strong Asian
influence, probably Filipino, but his skin, his eyes, his hair had
traces of African and Caucasian traits. He was the melting pot.
The two boys had been in Arizona for two weeks as replacements
for other soldiers who had shipped out. They would not, of course,
tell me where but Ive read in the local papers that a number
of soldiers from Fort Huachuca are in the middle east. As I spoke
with them I eventually figured out that I was only ever speaking
to one at a time and they effortlessly glided through a complex
choreography that would leave only one exposed at any given moment.
They were always arranged so that, if I was looking to do harm,
I would have to turn at severe angles to get a shot at both. It
took me a few minutes to notice it but it made me think that they
must be well trained.
I asked if I could take their picture and this made the San Luis
Obispo native nervous. He was not sure that was allowed. Obviously,
if I am standing off the base and snap a picture they happen to
be in, Im well within my rights. The image of the two of them,
the white kid from Fresno and the mixed race young man from a beach
town in California would have made a good shot. But I had no interest
in causing them discomfort or doing anything that would get them
in trouble with a higher up. I told them what I was doing, about
the trip I was taking and why. The boy from Fresno, politely but
firmly, informed me that they would need to cut off the conversation.
In a time of war there are very strict rules regarding interviews
and speaking with the press. I tried to explain I was not a member
of the press, I was just a guy chasing a goofy rainbow.
He explained to me, in detail, how I should go about reaching Sierra
Vista and sent me on my way. As I drove off I could see them, those
two terribly young faces in my rear view mirror. It seemed wrong.
It felt like I should be dragging my out of shape chain smoking
ass up and down the mountains of Afghanistan, not these boys. I
felt an odd mixture of pride in them and
a touch of shame that
I am not the one protecting them.
As I sat daydreaming and half reading the paper, a contingent of
five men took up residence in a booth behind me, securing for themselves
a stunning view of the parking lot at Rebs Café. They
were loud and boastful and spraying testosterone on the walls with
each breath. They talked of the crash in Queens of the American
Airlines flight the day before. They talked about Bin Laden and
the Taliban and the war. They talked about Homeland Security.
The talk moved through the various threats to America, anthrax
and planes flying into buildings and threats on bridges in California
and the like. And then I heard it.
We should just get rid of em all. All the Arabs. Then
we dont have a problem, do we?
Timothy McVeigh. Ted Kaczynski.
Why stop with the Arabs, asked one of the others.
I dont want to go into the details of the conversation. Its
too depressing. There were wildly creative slang terms for various
every race save for white. There were off-color and hateful
jokes. There were paranoid, impotent statements of rage. There was
general agreement about the white man being discriminated against
and that he should take his country back.
We the People
I went back and checked the Constitution to make sure. It is, in
fact, generally inclusive and does not specify that said people
are of a particular race. It still has several amendments that say
that a particular right applies to everyone, regardless of
creed, or color.
I had to leave.
On the way out I heard another loud and painfully racist joke and
an eruption of boisterous laughter from the group. I thought about
the two boys, the two soldiers on the gate at Fort Huachuca. Two
young men who have signed on to give their lives, if necessary,
to protect us. Two boys who will likely face the grim reality of
war to defend, protect, and uphold the freedoms that we all enjoy.
One white, one emphatically not. Side by side. Brothers in arms.
Regardless of race, creed, or color.