For a long time I had heard stories about the reactionary people living in Pennsylvania. The old bromide claimed that Pennsylvania was Pittsburgh on one side, Philadelphia on the other, with Alabama in between. My experiences over the next several hours invalidated that stereotype.
The first person I met in the state was Georgina Johnson. Rico drove me to her bungalow and deposited me there. She lived in a small town about thirty miles over the Ohio border. Rico introduced me as Spud. My unofficial name was starting to stick.
Technically speaking, this wasn’t a safe house on the underground railway; but, as Rico explained to me, Georgina was an old friend and former colleague; in his words, she was “good people.” Indeed, he was a personable African-American woman, about 55 years with gray hair and muscular hands. “Come on in and grab a bite to eat,” was her friendly greeting to me even before I was introduced. “Find anything you like, just take it,” she said as she pointed me toward the kitchen. It was welcomed hospitality because I was weary and hungry.
She and Rico spoke quietly in a corner while I raided her refrigerator. Leftover potato salad and a ham sandwich washed down with a cold beer: this was gourmet fare for a hungry man. While I ate, they finished their conversation and Rico then told me their new strategy. “Georgie is an experienced ex-Teamster, one of the best,” he said. “She’s haulin’ a load of furniture to eastern Jersey in a couple of hours. Her rig’s at the truck depot nearby. She says there’s room for you to ride with her as far as you want to go.”
“Sure, I’ll always make room for people like you,” she said to me. “You can sit upfront in the cab. But always be ready to take evasive action if necessary. I really don’t expect any problems. This state has been totally purified by the righties, not like Michigan and Illinois.
“I hear the Repubs are sendin’ most of their troops to Detroit and Chicago. Those folks are still holding out,” she remarked. “I knew Chicagoans were tough, but those Detroiters surprised me. But when you name your professional sports team Lions and Tigers, I guess you can expect defiance,” she added with a twinkle in her eyes.
I laughed at her sports references. It was admirable of her to be this relaxed as she prepared to drive me through enemy territory at personal great risk.
We soon said good-bye to Rico who headed back to Ohio. We left Georgina’s house and drove to the depot where she put the final touches on her delivery run. I watched as she checked the manifest, inspected the cargo, and verified the weather conditions we would face on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, her intended route. “You get up front now,” she commanded. “No problems driving through central Pennsylvania tonight. Lots of fine people there, but somewhere along the way you may have to get into the trailer and hide among the furniture. If that happens, it would be purely a safety precaution—for your safety and mine, too.”
I understood her cautiousness. It made me feel confident that we’d have an uneventful trip.
I’d never been in the cab of a big rig. The view—high above the traffic, with a commanding perspective on everything in front—gave me a feeling of power and majesty. And that was just while I was just sitting in the idling truck waiting for Georgina. I could only imagine how powerful it must feel to be driving one of these behemoths.
True to her decisive character, she entered the cab, punched a few controls, put the vehicle gear, and slowly pulled out of the depot. “Just relax,” she reassured me, “Mama Johnson will get you to where you want to go.”
Georgina was correct. It was a peaceful trip along a wide expanse of smooth pavement and frequent tunnels that bore right through the stone mountains. Except for neon signs indicating exits and service areas, it was black outside so there was no scenery to appreciate. We listened to country music on her CD player, shared a Thermos of strong coffee, and generally exchanged idle chit-chat.
Twice we stopped in rest areas, once for fuel and again for a snack and a restroom break. We encountered nothing but friendly people. Waitresses, other truckers, station attendants, all seemed like friendly, cordial people. Maybe that was because when we stopped, there were no police or military people around. Hard to say.
Somewhere in the middle of the state, however, Georgina raised the topic of politics and the Republicanization of the country. “What do you think is behind this political upheaval we’re experiencing?” she asked.
“I’m not quite sure. What do you think is behind it?” I said deferring the question. I really didn’t want to talk about politics, but I seemed to have no choice right now.
“Well, I tell you, Spud, as bad and brutal as the Repubs are actin’, I think some of the blame has to go to the liberals,” she remarked in a low, disappointed manner.
“If they had only stood up to the lies and the tricky-dicky politics of the Repubs, we wouldn’t be in this pickle right now.”
“What do you mean?” I responded, curious now to hear her argument.
“Well, look, this problem goes back more than a few years,” she said. “There was Repub hatred for Franklin D. Roosevelt. My granddaddy used to tell me about how they detested FDR and his New Deal programs. Called that great man every name in the book. But Roosevelt knew how to stand up and fight those Hooverites, knew how to push through his laws for the people. And the people loved him for it. Didn’t they elect him four times?
“Then there was Truman. “Give ‘em Hell, Harry” Truman knew what to do with them: he just spoke the Truth and they thought they were in Hell, as he liked to say.”
“But that all happened sixty, seventy years ago,” I interrupted. “This is a new world—different time, different circumstance, not the same people.”
“I know, Spud, you don’t have to tell me” she responded. “But it’s all one big, long historical chain. You see, the hateful right-wing of the Repub Party was always been there? But we liberals held ‘em back. We checked their rage and moved the country forward. Many sensible Repubs even helped us keep ‘em in check; back then, not all Repubs were haters.
“But those fanatics that came out of the Tea Party extremist wing a few years ago, they’re a different story. They came on the scene after George Bush II destroyed the country’s economy and his Party’s believability. The TP people were like a pack of wolves. They ripped apart the older Repubs, then snarled and flashed their big white teeth at the Demos. Now, they <i>are</i> the Repub Party, and too many Demos are afraid of ‘em.
“They’re the ones behind this Federal Orthodoxy Law and the concentration camps that I’ve seen here in Pennsylvania,” Georgina continued. “We have a few of their camps. There’s one named after that right-wing newspaper writer, Michelle Malkin, I believe, is the young lady’s name. It’s up and running on the Gettysburg Battlefield. And in Valley Forge they just opened Camp Koch. I hear they call it Camp Chuck & Dave because it’s named for those oily billionaire brothers who poured lots of money into the Tea Party. George Washington must be rollin’ over in his grave.
“But, it was we liberals who solved America’s problems and moved the country forward. You name it, civil rights, civil liberties, workers’ rights and workplace safety, social security, consumer protection, Medicare and Obamacare, protection of the environment, government-assisted education at all levels: everything progressive in the last century came from Demos,” she protested.
It was highly-simplified history, but she was expounding on a core truth: in their slavish support for established money and power, the GOP had been hostile to reform since the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s administration. Since most reform involved making life easier and more profitable for the average person, Republicans opposed it as an attack on the privileges of their wealthy supporters, their base. To the righties, this was class warfare.
“You know, Spud, of all the Presidents, I think the greatest might have been Lyndon Johnson if it hadn’t been for that Vietnam War. LBJ, now there’s a guy who knew how to kick some political butt and get progressive things done: Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, positive social programs. Why couldn’t we have a Great Society? Why couldn’t we win a War on Poverty? But that damn war broke the Demo Party in two. We’ve not been the same since,” she concluded.
“I’ll agree with you about LBJ,” I added. “He had wonderful accomplishments and even greater potential. But don’t forget, those who opposed the war were mostly Democrats. Those who pushed LBJ for more military engagement—remember “Soft on Communism’ and ‘Bomb Hanoi’—were hawkish Republicans. They wanted expansion of the war while they were anxious to unseat Johnson who was expanding it.
“After Lyndon Johnson, that was the beginning of our collapse,” Georgina responded, “that’s when the liberals came down with a chronic case of weak-knees. And when their next moment of triumph came decades later, they were lucky to get as much as they did.
“Obama—I like to call him O—was about change. The country gave him a mandate. The Repubs were dead. Don’t you remember the 2008 elections?” she asked.
“Time for another New Deal, right? Nah, no such luck. Weak-kneed Dems wouldn’t vote with the President. He couldn’t get ‘em to budge off the Repub positions. And the Repubs voted against O on every issue. I suppose if he wanted to give away air they would have said it cost too much. In fact, O did call for rules guaranteeing cleaner air, and Repubs killed it.
“And where were we liberals? At home watching reality TV shows, tendin’ to family matters, worried more about baseball scores than the collapse of the country. While Repubs were waging war on O, we rolled over and let ‘em get away with it.
“Now, take those Tea Party types. They call themselves patriots,” she continued. “Seems to me that lots of ‘em were just opportunists lookin’ to start a political career; others were uninformed victims of Repub propaganda delivered mostly through distorted television newscasts and lying talk shows. But, we liberals let ‘em get momentum, let ‘em on TV actin’ as if they were experts. Then they insulted us with their talk about creationism, birth certificates, white racial decline, ‘I want my country back,’ and stuff like that.
“But what made the haters positively foam at the mouth? President Barack Hussein Obama, that’s what. Now, wasn’t O just the perfect model for what this country was supposed to be about? Up from poverty, sympathy for the downtrodden, integrated parents, education to burn, loving husband and responsible father, cool under pressure. And what did the haters do? They demeaned O, called him a non-American, anti-American, crypto-Muslim, terrorist-sympathizing, Socialist-Fascist-Communist traitor. It was all lies, totally bogus; but we dismissed it as politics as usual and let most of it pass unchallenged.
“Now, I don’t like lies and deceit, even if some say it is part of politics. But it really angers me that liberals didn’t fight back. We let that pack of no-think reactionaries besmirch the very word, liberal. They turned liberal into a cuss word. And we just took it. Started callin’ ourselves Progressives, and Blue Dogs, and other silly names except what we were: liberals. Damn it, we’re part of the great humane force that made this country a decent place for hundreds of millions of average people to live and prosper. And we let ‘em spit on us.”
Georgina continued in the same vein for more than an hour. Her talkativeness and her views begged the obvious question which I asked her somewhere in the middle of the night. “With political opinions like those, Georgina, how come you’re not locked up inside Camp Malkin or Chuck & Dave? You talk like that around the authorities and you won’t be driving a truck much longer,” I warned.
“They almost got me once,” she replied. “I had to go before some sort of review panel about a week ago. It was run by a bunch of white boys wearing tiny bow ties. But I was smart; I juked ‘em. Before the interview I pinned a Birch-for-President button on my coat and my white boy thought I was Tea Party-approved.
“He said he was proud that I, a black woman, supported Repub causes. It proved that his Party was not prejudiced. Then he said something about a big tent. I don’t know what he meant, but I giggled all the way home,” Georgina added, still with a chuckle in her voice.
I laughed with her. She was an amazing woman. And I couldn’t argue with her because she was convinced and convincing. Neither did I try to explain how her views were based solely on a clash of ideals and personalities. She never really explored the unseen economic forces that were driving much of the national debate. In that regard, I was tempted to describe the economic aspects of Toward Confederacy II, but that would have been too complex for the circumstances and definitely too revealing.
Still, she made me think about how different things would have been had liberals not capitulated. “If they had only stood up to the Repub bullies like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann,” Georgina said. “These politicians weren’t worthy leaders, they were exploiters of ignorance and inciters of prejudice. But they just kept feeding political raw-meat to GOP extremists who gobbled it up and snarled for more.
“Still, they scared lots of us liberals. Demos soon became afraid of their own principles. They wavered and checked with focus groups and pollsters before taking a stand. They were intimidated by the right-wingers. And they always had their hands out, begging for political donations, sometimes from the same fat cats who really only wanted to crush the Demo Party.
“This was backsliding cowardice. And now the United States is paying for it in a big way,” she noted. “Yup, we’re on the way to the Repub States of America—if we haven’t gotten there already.”
As she ranted, Georgina also kept the pedal to the metal as we roared through the Pennsylvania darkness. By morning we were almost across the state. But it was also daylight now, and as she explained that we were getting close to Philadelphia and the daylight increased the risk of being spotted. She advised me that it was time to slip into the trailer and hide among the furniture just in case we were stopped.
Georgina stopped on the highway shoulder and let me in with the furniture. Soon I was crawling between mattresses, couches, platform rockers, and dresser drawers. The platform rockers were best for the hundred miles or so before we reached Eastern New Jersey. Unfortunately, it was very dark inside the trailer, so reading was out of the question. But the rocker was comfortable and I was tired.
An hour or so later the sound of the airbrakes being applied awakened me. In my haze, I figured that this was just another bathroom stop or refueling opportunity at a Turnpike rest area. But the conversation I soon heard through the trailer walls changed my mind. It was Georgina in conversation with a man. She was explaining what was in the trailer and why it didn’t need inspecting. I heard the phrase “Pennsylvania State Police,” so I knew it was the authorities.
I had to move quickly. I rearranged the wrapping on the platform rocker that I had been using, then looked eagerly for a place to hide. A pile of queen-size mattresses stacked in the rear of the trailer seemed to be the best place. Carefully, I wedged myself under the top two, squeezing between a Tempur-Pedic and a Simmons, but making sure I could still breathe under all that weight.
I could faintly hear the trailer door open and Georgina, I guess, describing the contents to the policeman. I know I heard her laughing a lot. I figured that she was using casual laughter in an attempt to charm the officer away from a rigorous search of her load.
For a minute or so I was scared, but eventually I heard the doors shutting and the talk faded away. Still, I didn’t leave my bone-crushing hiding spot until the truck started rolling again.
If I had ever thought that liberal New England might have been immune to the Republican onslaught, that police visit changed my mind. It was clear that Republicanization was by now a coast-to-coast reality.
It wasn’t as obvious when I was asleep or buried under heavy mattresses, but I was very hungry, indeed famished. It had been many hours since we pulled off the road for food. And it was another hour or so before the truck slowed to a stop again. At this point I might have surrendered myself to any policeman or soldier who came at me with a cheeseburger and fries in hand.
When we finally stopped, Georgina opened the trailer door and announced, “We’re in Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s time to scoot.” I could see her head bobbing left and right as she tried to locate me among the furniture. “This is as close as I can get you, Spud. I gotta unload the contents a few miles from here.
I climbed and wiggled my way from the back of the trailer. The glare of the daylight irritated my eyes. “Great ride,” I said to her. “I’m glad you were able to keep that cop from finding me back here.”
“Let’s see, it’s four in the afternoon,” Georgina replied, “still plenty of time for you to get to Manhattan. Just walk toward the water and you’ll find the 14th Street Pier where you can catch the ferryboat that crosses the Hudson and docks in New York City.”
It had been a harrowing trip even though I had been buried in the rear of the trailer for some of it. However, I had to press on. There was no time to lose. I expressed to Georgina my deep thanks for her kindness and help, and following her directions, I walked toward the wharf where the Hoboken Ferry departed for Midtown Manhattan.
I did take a slight detour, however, pausing at a burger stand long enough to purchase and devour a late lunch—with triple patties, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayo, a side of shoestring fries, and a giant Pepsi. The restaurant called it their Birch III Pounder, guaranteed to add substantially to the waistline.
Walking down Frank Sinatra Drive toward the Pier, I felt a degree of satisfaction that I had done it my way. With the help of sympathizers, I had crossed the country and reached my goal—or, at least the outskirts of my goal. I was still cautious, however, because now I had to navigate my way through the Big Apple to the United Nations building which was located on the other side of Manhattan. And that could be a disastrous task.
Copyright © 2012 J. Fred MacDonald - All Rights Reserved.