The back of the old Dodge van had a thick yellow foam mattress pad covering the cargo deck. That was the extent of the custom furnishings and creature comforts. Derek and Kalil sat up front in the separate "captain's chairs," arguing about road directions, arguing about the exact form of the perfect socialist utopia, and arguing about their best speed to avoid shaking the van to pieces. Because of their limited top speed, there was no benefit to taking State Road 60 all the way west to I-25, which ran north along the Rio Grande, on the other side of the mountains. Instead, they decided to take the narrow two lane State Road 355 north from Mountainview, along the eastern slopes of the Manzano and Sandia mountains. This was shorter in total mileage, and their wobbly front end meant holding their speed below 60 miles per hour anyway.
The green van was a clapped-out windowless commercial model, with exposed steel frames on the insides. Destiny and Lisa wedged themselves into sitting positions in the back, leaning against luggage bags and heaps of mixed-up clothing. Ranya was not surprised to see that the male "comrades" took the two comfortable front seats. She guessed that Derek, the driver, owned the van. He looked to be the oldest, probably a graduate student, and he was clearly the "alpha male" of the motley pack.
The interior of the van stank of unwashed clothes and stale food, but it was a ride, and it was heading to Albuquerque. The twenty gallons of gas Derek had put into the tank at the service station in Mountainview had cost Ranya eight of her crisp blue $100 bills. This was a flat nonnegotiable $40 a gallon, well above the posted cost, and even then it required extensive pleading to get the fuel at all. This was a serious chunk of her working capital, but she knew that if she couldn't make it to Albuquerque, the money meant nothing anyway.
The girls were quiet, zoning out with tiny music buds planted in their ears. The guys were talking almost nonstop, providing a running political debate and travelogue from the front seats, almost shouting over the music blasting from their stereo. Ranya didn't recognize the rock group or the songs. It appeared that Derek leaned toward classical Soviet or Cuban-style Marxism, leavened with a dash of Trotsky. Kalil seemed to be a garden-variety America-hating anarchist; primarily out to take part in what he believed was his best opportunity to "strike back at the white corporate power structure."
Ranya sat on an overturned plastic milk crate just behind them, between their two seats. From that makeshift seat, she could see out of the front windows, and enjoy the odor-dampening fresh air. She had peeled off her sweatshirt as the morning warmed up, and was wearing a plain black t-shirt above her long blue jeans. They occasionally plied her with questions as they drove up the cracked asphalt.
"That's right, I came from Virginia."
"You hitched all the way from Virginia to New Mexico?" asked Derek. "That's like, so totally awesome! I'll bet you had some sick adventures along the way, eh?"
"Yeah, you'd win that bet."
"So, did you see any of that Cameroon Fever back east? The Monkey Pox? Man, that was some bad shit down there in Florida and Georgia last year, eh?"
Ranya put this question together with what Olivia and her husband had mentioned in their RV, and groped for enough of a response to satisfy them. "Not in Virginia. I didn't see it in Virginia."
"Those Monkey Pox scars really freak me out," said Derek, shuddering. "I think I'd rather die from the fever than live with those scars."
Ranya was tempted to ask him why, then, he had punched giant rivet holes in his earlobes, and had tattoos on his neck...but she resisted the momentary impulse.
Kalil said, "I know how bad the crackers are back there in Virginia...you'd never catch me in those redneck states. They'd probably lynch my black ass just to keep in practice. You see any of those KKK dudes back there?"
"No, I guess I got lucky. Didn't see any Klan this time," Ranya answered.
"How about the Klan down in North Carolina, burning out the immigrants?" asked Kalil. Ranya thought that he resembled Jimi Hendrix, from the posters she remembered seeing in college. Bushy Afro hairstyles must have made a fashion comeback while she was imprisoned.
"I don't think that's just the Klan," said Derek. "I saw it on TV. There were lots of African-Americans right in there with the rednecks in those riots."
Kalil responded angrily, "Man, that is bullshit! Well, some Uncle Toms maybe, but that's all. Real brothers wouldn't be hangin' out with no crackers, attacking no people of color."
"Hey man, I saw what I saw...it was on television! Blacks and whites were together, going into those immigrant shanty-towns with clubs and Molotov cocktails." Derek turned around to their new passenger, one hand on the wheel. "What do you think? You're from back there. How bad are those anti-immigrant riots in the Carolinas? It's ethnic cleansing, right?"
Ranya had to stall and evade, hiding her lack of current knowledge. "It's not so bad in Virginia...but I've been on the road for a few weeks. I haven't been following the news much. What's the latest?"
Derek answered his own question without a pause. "Some kind of new Minuteman militia is trying to terrorize the Hispanics into leaving the South. They call themselves the 'American Patriot Party' and other bullshit fascist names like that. American Nazi Party is more like it! They've been firebombing housing developments built by immigrants, you know, the ones who used to be undocumented workers. Before the federal amnesty, I mean. The fascists still call them 'illegal aliens' and say they're not real citizens. Hispanic day workers can't wait outside of home supply stores anymore, or rednecks in pickup trucks will jump them with baseball bats. Or sometimes they get in a truck, they think it's for a job, and that's it--they're never seen again. Gone! The rednecks say all the jobs are going to immigrants--that's what they say."
"Same old racist KKK, if you ask me," said Kalil, disgustedly. "Now it's the Minuteman Klan! I mean, how can a worker be illegal? Man, the whole idea of borders and nations: that is so 20th Century! It don't matter where a worker is from, does it?"
"It might matter if he took your job, don't you think?" ventured Ranya. "I mean, that's what all those rednecks and Uncle Toms probably think."
Kalil appeared confused, forming thoughts and mouthing words that he could not articulate. Clearly, his internationalist orientation was at some level in fundamental conflict with the idea of American blacks losing jobs to newly arriving "undocumented" Hispanic immigrants, whether or not they were granted some kind of guest-worker amnesty along the way. In a nation seemingly in an economic depression, Ranya guessed that losing a job could mean losing a home, or not putting food on the table.
While Kalil shook his head and muttered curses, Derek continued with his lecture. "And this ethnic cleansing, it's not just in the South. The fascists have been terrorizing Hispanic immigrants in New England, Michigan...hell, almost everywhere. I mean, in Idaho, the police have been rounding up immigrants and bussing them right out of the state, 'for their own protection,' they say! The immigrants all got the federal amnesty, but some states say the amnesty is bogus and the immigrants are still illegal. It's bullshit any way you slice it, the way Hispanic immigrants are being treated!"
Kalil added, "And lots of them are heading right here to New Mexico: this is where the oppressed peoples of color are finally making a stand. This is where the revolution is happening, I mean really happening!"
Derek switched the subject to Ranya, and her intentions. "So, umm, you're going to UNM to join the revolution too, right?" He kept pushing his loose hair behind his ears, and it kept sliding forward across his oily and unshaven face. "That's where we're going. Time to put up, or shut up, right?"
"Right, put up or shut up." Ranya fervently hoped they would shut up. She didn't want to sit this close to them, but she felt compelled to look out the front windows, and she needed the fresh air from the open side windows to subdue the pervasive stench of body odor in the back. It stank worse than a D-Camp field latrine.
Derek continued, "Michigan sucks so bad anyway. Other than school, there's nothing left for us back there. Nothing but reactionary fascists up there anymore! Real Nazis. Well, except for Detroit and Lansing of course. But what's the point of just preparing ourselves to join the intellectual class? I mean, how's that going to help the people? Sitting around Starbucks, bitching and moaning about the fascist plutocracy, while we swill their corporate coffee? What good does that do? Right here is where the front line in the revolution is today! Viva la revolucion, right?"
"Oh yeah, viva la revolucion," she replied. "Say, Derek, speaking of la revolucion, how's your Spanish? You know, with the Espanol Solamente laws?"
"Oh, that...that's no problem. That was just so they could fire all the reactionary white racist pigs. That won't matter for us, because we're coming to help--we're joining the cause. We're on their side."
"So...you don't actually speak Spanish?" Ranya asked.
"Uhh...yo quiero Taco Bell?" Derek twisted around and winked at her, and laughed at his own joke. The holes punched in his ears disgusted her more each time he turned in profile. "I'm a quick study. I'll learn it fast, I mean, how hard can it be?"
Ranya asked, "Do any of you guys actually speak Spanish?" She repeated her question twice, and the blond girl pulled out an earpiece to hear her question.
"I've got Spanish One loaded on my music pod," offered Destiny. "I've been listening to it when I can, sometimes. Yo habla Espanol mucho bueno. See, I'm picking it up."
Derek said, "It won't matter. They have volunteers coming from all over, like an international brigade. Kind of like the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. You know, last semester we took the most incredible course on the history of the international proletarian struggle. That's where we all met. That's how we found out the real truth about New...I mean...Nuevo Mexico's new revolution."
"Yeah," added Destiny. "Professor Ruskin, he was just so awesome. He really opened up my eyes, I want to tell you. He was just...the best ever. Hey, show her his letter, Derek! Show her Rusky's letter to Professor Johnson."
"Oh yeah," he replied, opening the lid on top of the center console between the front seats. He pulled out a folded sheet of personalized stationery. "Check this out--with this letter, we're like, totally golden! We'll be so totally in, man." He held it up for Ranya to see, and then put it back into the console. "Professor Ruskin at Michigan is in tight with Professor Johnson at the University of New Mexico...there I go again! Nuevo Mexico. Hah! I gotta watch that! Anyway, he's vouching for us, in this letter. When we find Professor Johnson, and give him this letter, we'll be all set. Land reform, that's Professor Johnson's gig. We'll probably be able to help him, you know, like researching the old Spanish land grants and deeds and titles, stuff like that. I mean, the Mexicans were so totally ripped off after 1748. Or maybe it was 1848? Well, anyway, it's like, all their land around here, you know?"
Destiny was nodding enthusiastically, gazing up at Derek. "Professor Ruskin was really the one who gave us the idea for all this. Joining the revolution, I mean. At least for the summer. Who knows, maybe for even longer. Maybe we'll be able to transfer into UNM, you know? But it's definitely going to be good for a master's thesis, at least."
Kalil opened the glove box, found a brass cigarette case and extracted a pre-rolled joint. He fired it up with a butane lighter, took a prolonged drag and passed it over to Derek. After holding his breath for an inordinate time, Kalil exhaled most of the smoke through the open passenger side window, and choked out, "Yeah man, the revolution, that's the real thing! No more talk--talk is bullshit!"
State Road 355 headed in long straight lines toward the mountains, and then began to curve and twist as it followed the contours where the high plains met the foothills. The junipers and grasslands gradually turned to pines, as the van rolled down into valleys, and struggled back up again. Small and not-so-small ranches were visible on both sides of the two-lane asphalt road. Some houses were close to the road, some were set far down paved driveways. Some of the ranches had Western-style arched gates created from iron or timber, often decorated with their particular cattle brands. There were some rather shabby trailers and private junkyards, but also many comfortably affluent homesteads and a few of what might almost have been called mansions.
"Look at that, another burned-down house!" announced Derek, slowing the van to gaze to the left at a heap of ashes punctuated by a pair of standing chimneys. "That's the third one in just a couple of miles, what's up with that?"
Destiny was now kneeling behind Derek's seat, to look out the front windows and take a hit off the joint. Her clingy green Sierra Club t-shirt was riding up and Ranya couldn't help but notice the hideous platter-sized sunburst tattoo across the small of her back. Destiny said, "Oh, I heard all about that on NPR. The rich white ranchers who have to leave, you know, to give back the stolen land...well, sometimes they're burning down their own places. Just so that nobody else will be able to live in them! Can you believe that shit? It's so typical of the greedy white man. You know, 'if I can't have it, then nobody can'."
"Yeah," said Kalil, "That's whitey for you all right." Then he turned to her, beaming a glassy-eyed smile. "But hey, you all, you're not like that, at least most times! I mean, for white folks, you is all right. Now pass that joint back up here, Destiny girl."
"You remember what Susan Sontag said about the white race?" asked Derek.
Destiny answered him, nodding. "Sure. That's Diversity Studies 101, everybody knows that quote. 'The white race is the cancer of human history'..."
"...And treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity," he finished for her.
"Right on!" exclaimed Destiny. "I just wish Professor Ruskin could see us now."
"Oh, hey, look at that sign!" said Kalil, exhaling another cloud of dope smoke out the right side window. "Check it out: ¡TIERRA O MUERTE!" What's that mean?" He was pointing to a crude homemade red and white billboard, painted on a dilapidated barn along the right side of road. The former ranch house, which was a few hundred yards away across a pasture, was a pile of ashes, with only some charred timbers and a stone chimney still standing.
"Land or death," replied Ranya. "It means land or death."
"Oh, wow!" said Derek, "We must be getting close to the liberated zone. No more rednecks! No more racists! Viva la raza!"
"Looks like the party is over for whitey in Nu-e-vo Mex-i-co!" added Kalil. "Oh yeah, this is gonna be so sweet! Payback time!"
"Derek, stop the van!" said Destiny. "Let's get out and take some pictures. I can send some back to Michigan on my cell phone. We can show everybody that we've actually made it to the revolution! We've made it! I can't believe it, we've actually made it! This is going to be the best summer ever."
There was no other traffic in sight on the long straight run of ranch land. Derek slowly reversed back down the road and pulled off on the dirt shoulder. The four giddy comrades piled out of the van, with Ranya following the girls out of the sliding side door. Destiny handed Ranya her cell phone and her Nikon digital camera, both already opened up and ready for use. The four "Voluntarios" stood in front of the barn, the white and red ¡TIERRA O MUERTE! sign behind them against the backdrop of the Manzano Mountains. They were smiling ecstatically, standing side by side with their right fists raised high in the air, as Ranya filmed them for posterity.