As I went walkin' I saw a sign and
Woody Guthrie, in a frequently censored verse from "This Land Is Your Land," the answer song to Irving Berlin's hit, "God Bless America," 1940
As Capitola Road heads east from 41st, it becomes obvious that not only is Homo not particularly sapient, the species isn't even locally dominant. From the gas station (a feedlot for cars), the demonstrators passed a little shopping center (anchored on an auto parts store), then the Department of Motor Vehicles (where they bring their 'owners' for periodic ritual certification), another gaggle of stores (with supplies for offices and their folk) and finally the California State Automobile Association (the map, towing and insurance company, known as Triple-A for reasons of euphony and history). The whole scene should have been enough to make any individual person feel puny and powerless.
Paradoxically, Annie felt liberated.
This may partly have been a case of sheer bloody-mindedness you can always trust a psychopathic deviate to come up with the superficially inappropriate response but mostly it arose from an understanding that the dragons were real. Whatever exactly it was that she was becoming part of trying to prevent or reverse or avoid or stop, the danger sure seemed to be tangible right about there. There's nothing like a real menace to bring out the fight in a yuman bean.
Annie, of course, was also participating at a remove, practically bringing up the rear with her half of a banner. Stylish, useful, even crucial, but in some sense not central. She was there and glad of it, but yet again in the midst of what felt like some else's game. There she goes again: distanced from her own liberation. Takes a real talent for dissociation, that, especially given some awareness of the entire spiraling process of contradiction. People-ness, probably.
The front of the line was nearing the building at the corner, and chanting louder. This must be the big confrontation. Send in the cops there should be cops. So far the marchers were legal, just walking diddly-diddly-just-a-walking, if you don't know how to do it, I'll show you how to walk the dog and it would take active piggery to bust them while practically single-filing along the sidewalk, but surely they had a right to expect passive piggery at least. It was quite disappointing. Gallons of adrenaline, well, milliliters, microliters, anyway plenty, coursing through a cubic yard or so of collective blood, and all for naught but the oomph to keep on trucking. Aha! The TV camera, thank god for that. The banners waved and the voices burst in the air.
The snake curled round the corner to strangle the building in its embrace and might have managed it if the military offices had been all that therein was, but two other enterprises filled the wings of the structure. Facing south, with its own entrance that the crowd undulated past, was an S&L (apparently solvent) that the Proudhonistas had their eye on for when the revolution got a little closer but let alone for the nonce. Facing west, in fitting culmination of the neighborhood ambiance, was an insurance agency that specialized in (you got it) auto policies (real estate too, as long as you weren't renting, life as an investment, and possibly health if you insisted and could afford it). DeFreitas, Gwynn & Pollard, or DGP as the agency liked to be called, for the high-tech ring of it, did share the main entrance with the military folk, though their office also had an unmarked side entrance in the west wall, facing Triple-A across the driveway in from Capitola Road.
Being of a thoroughly modern and practical design, the building had no door that faced the street, since no one ever walked there with ordinary intent. The parking lot at the back, accessible from either of the streets that formed the corner, disgorged the customers to enter at the central internal angle. The small hallway there presented, at left, DGP's glass door and beyond a counter and a plantation of laminated desks and metal cabinets, polished and tended by their carefully coifed acolytes. Hard right was the back door to the S&L, which was generally kept locked certainly on this fateful day and used only for access to the bathrooms (soft left and round a corner). Half-right was the way to the four Service offices, Army and Navy dug in on the ground floor, while the Air Force and Marines were encamped upstairs with a commanding view of the terrain.
All in all, a thoroughly defensible position but one vulnerable to siege tactics. The recruiters, unassisted, could surely defend their offices from the barbarian hordes like Horatio at the bridge, but by exactly the same token a small but determined group of obstreperous opponents could prevent access from the outside. Not that people were generally lining up around the block to get in, since most of the work went on by phone and mail and appointment and especially during scheduled visits to the high schools (Be all that we want you to be! Earn your college tuition! Get job training! Get a job! Jus' git! And get paid for it!) where the uniformed flacks provided a form of career counseling. The demo having been announced weeks ahead, there had been plenty of time to formulate the military response. The obvious strategy was that first made famous by Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator in the third century b.c.e., when he wore down Hannibal's troops by simply refusing to engage them. The tactic of choice, therefore, was withdrawal. Three of the four recruiters calmly set up appointments elsewhere and kept them; Marine Sgt. B.T. "Booker" Jones was made of sterner stuff but on general principles he wasn't going to let a little thing like a scheduled demonstration affect his lunchtime habits and it happened that as the marchers arrived he was half a mile away, eating a thoroughly mediocre dish of Szechwan chicken and pretending that there was nothing unusual about the day. The effect was no different: When the Vizigoths rambled in, the Legions were absent.
The cops knew this and were greatly relieved. There was nothing they wanted less than to have to wade into a big-time confrontation and rent out space at the County jail to hold their arrestees, the local hoosegow having a more intimate atmosphere that was certain to be overwhelmed by any significant influx of clients. Capitola's finest duly showed up, but diplomatically parked across the street, where eagle-eyed pacifists could detect a couple of car-loads of the boys in blue serving and protecting the populace by leaning against their black-and-whites and shooting the breeze. A lieutenant with PR skills and a radio-equipped sidekick waited at the front door like a major-domo for the multitude to assemble.
As, eventually, they did, pouring into the parking lot and spilling indiscriminately over the white lines and between the slumbering vehicles. By the time Bobby led Annie and their banner triumphantly past the financial institution and onto, gasp, private property there was a most satisfactory crowd milling cheerfully through the designated driving area in front of the main entrance, overflowing through the handicapped parking and surging up the steps to the door, where it coagulated around the cops. The wage peace and no blood for oil banners were already framing the shot, one on each side of the negotiating committee, in an effective image that made the lead on two local TV news broadcasts and the front page on three newspapers the next day, much to Eric's satisfaction. Annie smiled broadly at Bobby and he laughed back. She tipped her head to suggest they move back to frame the further edge of the crowd and he agreed, so they became the semi-official Last Line of Offense and stood there patiently with the best overview in the house, except for the mysteriously anonymous strangers videotaping the proceedings from upstairs at Triple-A.
A lot of smiles were being passed around, which seemed to bother a few of the more intense participants, who were after all trying to Save Lives by Stopping a War, but clearly reflected the mood of the majority. Even the head policeman seemed pretty relaxed, now it was clear he wasn't about to be crushed by a hydra-headed banshee. Some day-glo traditionalist had a bubble-blowing toy and sent little soapy spheres flying over the crowd. This thing was turning into a party.
Now, that's a politics I can get behind, thought Annie. I knew I was in the right place.