Today’s march in Riverside County began and ended the same: with my feeling crummy.
I was disoriented when I woke up in my car at 6:30 am. I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing there. Then, I saw the boxes of medicine, supplements, and water bottles, and my heart sank. Another march. I have only done five, but I had twenty more to do. Already, I felt like I had been walking forever.
I got out of the car, gathered my towel and clothes, then went to take a shower in the gym. I shaved part of my face, leaving the mustache and goatee that have started to grow. I looked at the multitude of white whiskers, as well as the gray in my hair, and thought that I am far too old to be trudging around in different cities, wearing hand-written messages on my chest while carrying a super-long flag pole and over-sized flag.
I felt angry. Angry that I felt the need to undertake this endeavor. Angry that our politicians think us so weak and stupid that they can feel free to act against our best interests with impunity. I was angry that my muscles ached and my feet felt flat, and my toes burned, and that my elbow was even more inflamed. Each time I march, I have to continually wrestle with the flag pole for hours on end. It tries to escape from my grasp as high winds make the flag flutter wildly.
I tried to contain my anger but that only made me feel sad. I looked at myself for a minute, lost in thought. Then I took a deep breath and headed back to my car.
I drove to Rancho Cucamonga Central Park, and parked in a Ralph’s grocery store parking lot nearby. I loaded up my backpack and put it on, then pulled out the nine and a half foot long flag pole. Though I really was unmotivated to walk again, I said a prayer and went to stand on the corner where I thought my ride would come.
He never showed. I waited fifteen minutes and realized, when he didn’t call, that he wasn’t going to. I was trying to figure out what to do. Cars drove by and honked, and my arm absently waved back at them. My resolve to walk again was rapidly draining away.
I decided to drive to a Starbucks further down the road in order to be able to use my tablet to plan out another route.
When I got there, there were people studying, reading newspapers, and ordering drinks. I started up the tablet, checked my gmail, looked at Facebook, and then at Google Maps. I felt a deep sense of futility and uncertainty. So much so that I turned off the tablet, went back to my car and crawled back into the back. I went back to sleep for an hour.
When I awoke, I felt a little better. I got out, put on the backpack, unfurled the flag, and set out.
I decided to walk in a loop from Rancho Cucamonga to Fontana and back again. I headed south two miles, then east, toward Fontana.
Rancho Cucamonga is a very nice place. At least, the portion I drove through and walked. It is like a series of upscale, master-planned communities that have uniform signage and architectural motifs. The overall feel is that of a vineyard community. It would be what Temecula would look like if Temecula had sprung up much faster, and was master-planned.
After having marched through some desolate and economically-depressed areas in Palm Springs, walking along Foothill toward Fontana from Rochester on down was pretty enjoyable. Even as I entered the outskirts of Fontana, the buildings and residences were very nice. I started to feel a little better about marching, though I was convinced it would be a pointless exercise.
I decided to make myself cheer up, so I plastered on a smile and did the waving-at-cars bit. No response. I gave up right away, as my heart wasn’t really into it.
Suddenly, a tall, muscular young black man with eyeglasses and a crucifix ran up and extended his hand. He respectfully say that he wanted to thank me. Despite his size, he was very soft-spoken, and had a look in his eye that made me a little teary. I thanked him, and told him he had just made me feel a lot better. Then we parted ways.
An hour later, after I had entered Fontana, another good-looking young black man with mini-dreadlocks (the clean, well-kept kind) and a Marvel Comics tee-shirt passed by me, looked at my shirt and said, “Right on!” I asked him where the nearest Star Bucks was so I could get my bearings. He pointed down Foothill and said I needed to go down to Citrus and then head North. “Only four or five lights.”
So, I walked and held the flag high. Then, the landscape started to get dreary. There were numerous empty, weed-filled lots of multiple acreage everywhere I passed. And Spanish soon was on every sign. There were dilapidated residences with unkempt yards, cars on blocks, etc.
My spidey senses started tingling. Perhaps this is not the direction I should be taking…
After an hour or two, and many lights later, I still hadn’t reached this Citrus Promise Land I was told about. I was hungry and needed to rest my feet. So I went into a NY Pizza place on the north-side of the road. I was greeted warmly by the manager, Jose, who asked me about my shirt. I told him the story, and he was impressed. He offered to by me a giant slice of pizza and a drink. I asked for water and sat down. I was so tired, I nodded off even after the pizza was served. And it was giant. Flat crust with Parmesan cheese drizzled across the top.
Ten minutes later, I got up, said thank you and continued on. The next intersection I came to was called, Hemlock. Even knowing what hemlock is, I decided to take it, and headed south from Foothill. My excursion into the unknown was now about to become more interesting…
Years ago, I wrote, sometimes, taking the road less traveled only gets you lost. I was right. Though I knew what direction I needed to go, I went off the beaten path and ended up lost in an area I evidently didn’t belong.
Plus, there wasn’t a Starbucks anywhere along my route. I needed to find wi-fi so I could use my tablet to see how far I was from wherever downtown Fontana was. I used my Android cellphone to post a brief message on Facebook; a message that would later result in criticism from two women who read it. I had intended to upload the pictures I took that would add context to the message, but I couldn’t get the photos to upload to FB. So, I continued on, thinking nothing more of it.
Empty lots with foot-high amber weeds were everywhere. Then, I hit Arrow and proceeded further south to Whittram. I then traveled east again. That area was zoned for car repair shops, junkyards, salvage yards, and car lots. Graffiti was everywhere. On signs, on walls, on utility units, on trucks. Men in hauling vehicles were busy doing their thing. Those who noticed me had undecipherable expressions.
I hit Beech and turned north to return to Arrow. From there, I continued east, into residential areas.
As I was crossing a major intersection, I heard a woman screaming something at me:
“What about Mexicans? What about Mexico?”
I turned to see a heavy-set young lady sitting at a bus stop bench across the street from me. Next to her were two other women. All three looked very poor.
Cars were driving by, so it was hard to heard what else he was trying to say. She motioned for me to turn to her so she could read my shirt.
She then yelled,” What about the Mexican Constitution?”
I yelled back, “Mexico has its own constitution, and I am not marching for that.” She waved me toward her, saying she wanted to know more about why I was marching.
I made my way across the lanes to meet her. I wasn’t sure what to expect, from her or from the two other women; as now of them really appeared to be interested in anything I had to say.
“Tell me why you’re marching,” said Gloria, “and I might march with you. Are you marching for Immigration?”
No, I replied. I pointed to the message on my shirt, Defend the Bill of Rights.
“I’m marching to demand that our politicians uphold their oaths of office and protect the Constitution and our Bill of Rights.”
Gloria said she was married to a man whose parents brought him to America when he was seven. “He graduated from high school. That’s got to count for something,” she said. “When are they going to pass Amnesty?”
“The Immigration Reform bill is being talked about again,” I said. “But, I’ve been marching for a week and I haven’t been keeping up on the latest news.”
“Why can’t people just come into America when they like,” chimed in Lidia. She was a black woman with a southern accent, who was sitting on Gloria’s right. She did not look too happy. “Human rights. Why we have to respect that flag if we get no respect?”
“Ma’am, it’s a matter of law and order, and protecting the sovereignty of our nation.”
“It’s not right to keep people out. We should be able to come and go like we want.”
I told her that all countries have immigration laws that they actively uphold; even Mexico. I asked her if she knew what happens to Guatemalans and South Americans who try to sneak into Mexico and get caught. She didn’t care. She was agitated and focused only on “human rights.”
I again returned to rule of law. “If people sneak into a country, with no respect for that country’s laws, then why should they be deserving of special consideration and respect themselves?”
The third lady said something I didn’t quite hear. She was a curly-hair blonde with a wide, gap-toothed smile. She was off to the side, enjoying the exchange.
Gloria loudly asked me how long the papers would take to be processed for her husband. I, of course, had no idea, and I told her. Her eyes traveled around as she continued to ask questions and to tell me things about the unfairness of America. She asked me what I thought of Obama as President. I knew that the conversation was about to take a possibly unpleasant direction.
Lidia chimed in and shook her head. “He’s terrible. He promised things to black people and never kept his promises.”
Sandra said, “I stand by Obama. He’s my man. But, you’re right he shouldn’t promise things.”
I told them that Obama doesn’t have the authority to do any of the things he promised. “It isn’t his job to give people things for free. There is no such thing as free. In order for him to give you something, he would have to first take it away from someone else. He isn’t a king.”
“He’s my king,” said Gloria, still wild-eyed and excited. Two other people who had been standing at the corner had meandered over to listen in. One was a homeless man, and the other was a black man on a bicycle. Both looked as if I might be accosting the women.
“How long do you think America would remain the same if Obama and the Democrats gave everything away?” I asked. “Not long at all. It wouldn’t be America.”
“Clinton! That son of a bitch,” yelled Lidia. “He was president, and he was supposed to set an example, and there was, in the White House, at a motel, having relations with some woman. That’s just wrong. They need to set examples, these folks. Obama, too. And Bush! That man was bad…”
I smiled and thanked the ladies for their comments. I told Gloria that I hope things end well for her and her husband. Then, I walked onward.
I was walking through a barrio-type area, when several home boys in a parked car heckled me. “What about Mexico? What about Mexico? And Columbia??” They laughed, and I just walked on. I didn’t want to tempt fate by engaging them. Earlier in the day, other kids had laughingly sung the Star-Spangled Banner as I walked by.
As I was finally nearing downtown Fontana, a car drove by and circled me. The two men in it wanted to read what my shirt said. Once they did, they drove off. By this time, I realized that my excursion was getting rather dicey. To reinforce this, a man walking by looked furiously at me and asked me if I wanted to die. He walked on.
Territoriality in such areas is a serious thing. And here I was, essentially challenging their seething senses of grievance and entitlement. But, I had come this far, and I wasn’t going to let distance or menace deter me. Thankfully, I saw Sierra up ahead. I had reached my destination.
I took a picture of the Fontana Civic Center, and looked southward. It was the Old Fontana part of town, with nice-looking shops. By this time, it was 5 pm. I now had to walk ten miles to get back to where I was parked. And I was already tired out.
I thought it would be wise to make it to a more affluent area before nightfall. I didn’t want to risk walking in an area where someone, under cover of night, would decide to attack me while anonymous.
Just a bit up the road, I crossed a supermarket parking lot. I saw a short man and his wife come out of their car. They wore matching turquoise shirts that had impossible to decipher designs. I veered a little to see if I could make out what they were and the man looked at me. He walked up, pointed at my shirt, and said, “What’s this about?”
I gave him the spiel. “Things are bad,” he said. He offered his hand and warmly shook mine. He wished me luck, and walked off. Parked next to the front of the supermarket was a black teenager. He asked me the same thing about my shirt, so I explained what the Bill of Rights are, and that he was born with unalienable rights that could not be taken away. He looked intrigued, as if I had told him something he had never heard before. Even as I waved and walked away, he was pondering.
For the next hour, I headed north. It was slow going. My soles were tender and my right knee was acting up. As I was crossing a side road intersection, an older Mexican man in a truck stopped at the Stop sign and called out. I approached and he seemed astonished.
“Aren’t you the same man I saw walking in Rancho Cucamonga this morning?”
I told him I was and that I was heading back there at the moment. Another car drove up behind him, so I gave the man my card and asked him to visit my web site. Then I walked on.
I was really hungry and there were no longer places to eat. Just vast tracts of empty land, covered by foot-high amber weeds. Every once in a while, I passed old houses from various time periods. I tried to imagine what this place has once been. The streets had names of fruits and trees, and the city itself was named, Fontana (Fountain). The vast tracts of land led me to think that it had once had groves and farm land. But all I saw as I walked was desolation and arid land. It was as if the flotsam and jetsam of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties had given way to much more recent development. There were fairly new commercial strip malls here and there, but largely empty.
Once I reached Baseline, and walked another two hours toward Rancho Cucamonga, that I found a Panda Express. I rolled up my flag, went in and stood it up in a corner, used the bathroom and ordered. As I ate, the sun was going down. The shopping center I was at was modern, but still didn’t have a Starbucks.
After I ate, I walked by a Carl’s Jr. Out walked the short man I had spoken with earlier. He smiled and said, “You made good time!”
I then looked more closely at what he was wearing. Around his neck was a Native American choker, and I realized that his shirt was similar to shirts worn by people who work at casinos. I gave him my card and told him it would tell him more about me and what I am doing.”
I was anxious to get to my car. My son had been crying when he last spoke to me, and seemed inconsolable. I told him I would drive him after this march, and he immediately brightened up. I wanted to see him, and my daughters, as well. But, I was afraid it would be after Midnight before I could get back down to San Diego. So I picked up my pace.
After a while, I saw the I-15 in the distance. After another hour, I was almost to the overpass. To my right, I saw a Starbucks! And, a 24 hour gamer business called, NetFragz.
I first went into the gamer business and was fascinated by the number of computer stations in it. Each had top-of-the-line monitors, mice, and computers. The young man sitting behind the displaycase took my flag and offered me a seat to rest. I watch someone play a Zombie Survival game for a while, as I rested my feet. It was getting very cold outside, and I wanted to warm up. Out of curiosity, I asked the young man who had greeted me how long the establishment had been in business.
“Since ’02.” he replied. Wow. “and has it always been 24 hours per day?”
I seriously considered trying to open up one of these businesses in San Diego. I then asked for my flag, thanked the polite young man, and went to Starbucks.
I logged onto to Facebook to let people know where I was. I was still about two hours away from my care. After I posted, I was very surprised to read a comment on my CA Liberty March FB Like page from a woman who was offended by my earlier post about Fontana.
That left me feeling bad again. I didn’t mean to offend anyone; much less someone who was giving me moral support. I had written, “Fontana: The most economically- depressed and depressing place l’ve been to on this journey. Not a single Starbucks or place with Wifi in the entire route l took! l still have 5 miles until l reach my car. About to walk under 1-15 freeway and will continue on Baseline into Rancho Cucamonga.”
Why did I say this? Because on every street corner where there was a covered bus stop, there was a giant photo of an elderly white woman looking depressed, or a middle-aged black man looking worried. The photos were part of a Home Foreclosure campaign.
Looking at those miserable faces everywhere WAS depressing. And, seeing that there was a home foreclosure problem throughout the city led me to logically conclude that Fontana wasn’t doing too well. Sadly, I just took a break from writing this and saw that both ladies who took umbrage to my post have blocked me. Ah well…
Back to my story: I got back to walking, and was soon back in Rancho Cucamonga. The difference between the two cities, based on the areas I walked, was stark. So, I stand by my posts on FB.
After two hours, I reached the parking lot where I had thought I had parked my car. I looked around and saw it wasn’t there. I really needed to use a restroom, so my panic was contained. I figured I needed to relieve myself and look around again. I asked the Ralph’s manager if it was their practice to tow cars that were parked in the lot for extended periods. He said, no. That’s when I felt a bit queasy.
I left my backpack with him and went to the bathroom. I wondered what my wife would say, how my son would feel about my not coming home that night, and where I was going to sleep. I also realized that my march was over if, in fact, the car was stolen.
I went back outside, looked around, and thought back to the events of that morning. I suddenly realized I had parked in the other Ralph’s parking lot, instead; the one with the Starbucks. It was another three miles away, but I didn’t mind. As tired as I was, I was relieved.
I retrieved my things, told the manager it was a false alarm, and I walked on. When I got to my car, I loaded the backpack and flag, went into Starbucks to update my FB page, and I drove toward the I-15 to go home.
Now, I am getting ready to have dinner with the family before I drive up to Orange County for tomorrow’s march.