He picked me just outside of Shonto, a little town on the Navajo Nation’s western edge. The first thing he said was, “this is some revolutionary stuff, man!” He was waving his hands excitedly to the music blasting out of his stereo. “Stever Earl, The Revolution is Now.”
His name was Ron. First appearances – besides the initial talk of revolution – had me fooled. I thought he was a dyed in the wool, god bless America, good old boy type. But his words immediately gave a different impression, with talk of revolution, peace, and stories that show a more profound respect for all things and people.
As we ride toward Page he flips CDs in and out of his trucks stereo. He’s in two bands, one of them, Lake Powell City sounds like a twangy country-esque get up. The songs are about everything from bad break ups to river rafting down the Grand Canyon. His other band, called Justice and Faith, or something like that sounds much heavier, more metal. His girlfriend is the singer. He plays bass and does the arrangements. He says he’s lucky to be in a couple of bands because Page is pretty boring.
Page is boring. Ron drops me off at the library, bids me farewell and hands me a copy of his Lake Powell City. I’m in the town for no more than 1-hour. Getting out seems damn near impossible. The tourist on their way to Lake Powell or the Grand Canyon just roll by and stare at me. About one third of them look at me scared, another third laugh, and the last third work hard trying not to make any eye contact. Ron pulls up after a while and saves my day. He’s got to drive out beyond the lake, drop some parts off at the Ranger’s station, so he can give me a lift out of town he says. On the way to the lake we get a great view of it from above.
“See the water level?” he asks me.
“See how low it is? Global warming man. Maybe those cats in Washington think this stuff’s made up fairy tale, but it’s real. The water’s dropping and has been for some time now. Here, well stop at the damn so you can see that.” We pull up right before the Glen Canyon Damn, the massive wall of concrete that plugs the canyon and creates the sprawling Lake Powell. It’s terribly hot. Down below water rushes out of the turbines at the base of the enormous structure. Power lines dangle about all around carrying electricity far and wide.
After Ron drops me off on the edge of town I only manage to catch two rides which take me a very short distance. Finally a guy named Dan pulls over and offers me a lift all the way to the highway 9, where the road splits off through Southern Utah toward Zion National Park. Dan is wearing full army fatigues. The first words out of his mouth are, “you carrying any weapons or drugs, knives, or anything like that?”
“No,” I assure him.
“Iraq is fucked up,” he says. But he seems to believe that the USA can win it. Dan launches in and out of long monologues about military strategy replete with numerous anecdotes from the field. Never once does he discuss the legitimacy of the war. He says several times that he believes like the President says, “if we don’t fight the terrorist over there, we’ll have to fight them here. People don’t understand what we’re dealing with over there. These people are raised to want to die for their crazy religion. Well, like Gen. Tommy Franks said, ‘we’re [the American military] here to give them that opportunity!’”
Dan says the Iraqi people are subservient and sheepish and that it’ll take two or more generations to change this. As an example he describes a scene he was aware of. Two hundred Iraqi soliders and police freshly trained were on buses outside of Baghdad. Six men with AK-47s pulled their buses over. The men on the buses had no weapons, but they far outnumbered the six hooded men. “Nevertheless,” Dan explains “All two hundred men let themselves be lined up and shot. These people aren’t fighters, they have no sense of individual responsibility. Their religion and culture have trained them to want and need authority.”
“Iraq is a clusterfuck.” Dan says foreign nationals have largely been hired out to drive the trucks around the country to supply the war effort. Turkish men, Bulgarians, all sorts of wierdos from all over. He says these men are insane. To make his point he tells me, “I seen this one time, this guy was amazing, he had Afro-rigged, no, no, Hadji-riggeed a line with shoestring and a belt to his engine’s throttle switch which had broken. He’s leaning out the window opening up his throttle by pulling on this string. He’s doing this at night in a heavy downpour, wind whipping against his face, you can just see him gritting his teeth in pain.”
He asks me what I think of hurricane Katrina after I tell him I’m a sociologist who’s studied it. I tell him a few things, mostly critical of the federal and local government responses. He says, “okay, not to be racist,” but those black people have hurricane parties and they just wait till everyone else leaves town, then after the storm comes through they just go out and loot everything.”
Dan drops me off at the highway junction. I’m glad to be finished with his company. But I know this nation is full of young men like Dan. It’s a frightening thought. I climb a small hill above a wash overlooking a gas station and several motels. On top I spread out my sleeping bag and lie down beneath the stars of southern Utah.