Operation Gratitude Care Package Weekend!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Arizona Immigration Adventure!

Boycott Arizona?  Now there's a new idea.  Because it worked so well the last time...

1976, I was a brand new Democrat (having cast my very first Presidential vote for James Earl Carter) on top of being a terminal nerd.  Arizona had just refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).  Pulp writer turned self-promoting "speculative fiction" author Harlan Ellison had decided America had to punish the evil rednecks via Iguanacon, a regional SF convention in Phoenix.  He called on fans from all over the country to come to the convention but not to spend one penny on anything in Arizona.

Being 20 years old, a New Yorker, and a brand new Democrat, and thus being blithely certain I knew exactly how the world worked, I set off to Phoenix to teach them cowboys a lesson by my principled example, armed only with my sleeping bag, two boxes of Granola Bars and a Greyhound Bus ticket.

Now, because I was going out there to stand up to the Man, man, and because I had seen not only Billy Jack but also The Trial of Billy Jack, I knew what those evil western lawmen could get up to.  And also because I was a New Yorker, and didn 't drive, I didn't have a driver's license.  So I brought my passport, so I could legally identify myself in case the heat came down, man.

Once upon a time, Greyhound actually was a cheaper alternative to airline travel.  You had to make two minor tradeoffs, one in travel time and the other in the fact that you were traveling with all the other people looking for a cheaper way across the country.  In my case that translated into two and a half days and a kindly little old grandmother traveling to join the Perfect Master Maharaj Ji, who thought it would do her good to bring along a convert.

So after two and a half days of having Maude Frickert try to enlighten me, I stumbled off the bus in Phoenix to discover a) that I was hungry and thirsty, b) Phoenix was frigging hot and had a negative humidity index, and c) Harlan Ellison's idea of boycotting a state involved a fully-stocked camper in the parking lot and meals paid for by the convention.  Thus after the first day my principled example evolved into "Screw it, I'm buying a cheeseburger and a coke and that Wally Wood Sally Forth collection I saw in the dealer's room."

After a couple of nights crashing in the all-night film show and under draped tables in the halls, I climbed on the bus back to NYC.  Phoenix seemed largely unchastened by my gesture.   The only seat left on the bus was in back with a bunch of people speaking Spanish.  Being 20 years old, a New Yorker, and a brand new Democrat, and thus being blithely certain I knew exactly how the world worked, I said to myself, "Hey, Puerto Ricans" and thanked God they weren't eyeballing my chakras.

We motored out of Phoenix, having a high old time, sharing food and drinks (granola bars receiving a mixed reception), changed buses in Albuquerque, motored on happily... until the whole freaking world turned flashing red and blue.  State cops, country cops... and INS, who boarded the bus and started removing my seriously bummed Hispanic buddies.  It slowly began to dawn on me that these folks just might not be Puerto Ricans after all... especially after a couple of them produced expired Guatemalan passports.

However, that train of thought immediately derailed upon the appearance of a gut, a badge, and a holstered Chief's Special about six inches in front of my nose and the demand: "Let's see your ID, sir."

Now.  Did you ever try to explain to the INS why you need a US passport to travel between Phoenix and New York with a bunch of illegal Guatemalans?  The Harlan Ellison story carried surprisingly little weight.  The word "coyote"was bandied about rather freely and in varying tones of loud until we were finally able to agree that most coyotes probably didn't get on the bus with their customers and that my round trip ticket from NYC probably supported my story, since it was unlikely I would have to travel all the way to Arizona to score my illegals for whatever purpose.  The muttered question, "Yeah, but does he know that?" might have done some damage to my self-esteem, if I was minded to complain, which, um... I wasn't.

They did like the Sally Forth collection, though.

Since then, I've been somewhat skeptical of the value of organized boycotts.


RebeccaH said...

Good story, Richard! And didn't we all have our little liberal moments in the sun when we were 20?

richard mcenroe said...

I like to think of them as my 'wronwright moments'...but don't ever tell him that...

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