I had skirted this stretch of ruins on Interstate 40 many times but never had a sane reason for actually driving ON it. Why would anyone risk total vehicular annihilation by purposely traversing what used to be blacktop and concrete? To me, it appeared more like a large footpath composed of loose fitting flagstones that stretched for miles across the Mojave. I could not even fathom the fact that desperate families actually ventured west through this desolation looking for a better life in beat up Models T’s. I chuckled a little to myself as I pictured Granny and Ellie May sitting in the back with all their worldly possessions, Jethro and Uncle Jed in the front.
This guy was off the grid alright; way off.
I glanced at the gps on my phone to see just how much farther Cadiz was. What kind of a name was that? From what I read online, it was just an agro green spot slash former railroad stop out in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t actually on Rt 66, but on a side road just south of the highway. How good could that road be? Fortunately, I didn’t have to venture down that one as I was told to meet him at the Road Runner’s Retreat , a deserted restaurant on 66. How quaint. I squinted at my Motorola….. about fifteen more miles…
I glanced at my empty Evian bottle and decided to pull in at the next truckstop to grab a couple more. You never know out here in the middle of….well…. nothing..that’s what it was, absolutely nothing!
This had better be worth it! This crackpot vigilante being hyped as the “Infidel Warrior” on so many other blogs had really begun to get under my skin…. and in this heat, it was giving me a rash.
Making a jog to the left to cross the ever present railroad tracks, I spotted some buildings. Ah, a little bit of civilization. Amboy, the sign said. Emblazoned in that thick, white crosswalk paint, on the middle of the road, was the Rt 66 shield. I’ll bet it took a good three hours or so to paint it, but I was certain they didn’t have to reroute any traffic to do it.
My hopes for civilization and a truck stop were dashed as I pulled into the dirt driveway of “Roy’s Diner”. I pulled up to the gas pumps that stood alone under a canopy that was so high, the only shade it gave off was nowhere near the pumps it was supposed to cover. I glanced at the gas prices on the ancient, mechanical pump; $6.35 a gallon. Damn! Well, it’s not like you could run down the street to the competition.
Stepping out of the car, I noticed there was no card reader on any of the pumps. Really? At these prices, surely they could afford newer pumps. At least from the ’80’s or something! That’s when the attendant emerged from the ‘diner’. “Gonna fill it?” he said as he pulled a key from one of those old silver retractable gadgets on his belt and, giving it a twist in a hole on the side of the pump, reset all the numbers to zero. Well, almost all of them, one was hung up somewhere between the zero and the one.
“Uh, no. Put twenty in for me.” Geez, would have cost a fortune to fill it. Twenty would be enough to get me back to the real world. Without commenting on my frugality, he twisted off the gas cap and obliged me. “Pay inside.” He motioned to the diner door with his free hand without even looking up.
I stretched a bit and headed into the building. “Diner” was a misnomer. It had a small counter with the prerequisite worn out naugahyde barstools in front of it, but the prep table and grill hadn’t seen use in decades. But they did have a cooler with cold drinks. I opened the cooler door and leaned into its coolness. Ahh, brisk, baby! It was well stocked with bottled water in two sizes. And with it, Route Beer. Not a typo, it was Route 66 Route Beer. Next to that was the real gem; Mexican Coke. Not that! Coca-Cola from Mexico made with cane sugar in a glass bottle. Mmmmm. I grabbed two waters and a Coke.
That’s when I heard the Harleys.
The sound was unmistakable. About 14 heavy metal hogs rumbled to a stop either behind my car or on the other side of the pumps. I should probably move my car, no telling what kind of mood these guys were in. I set my drinks on the counter and waited for the pump jockey to come back in.
Instead, he placed the nozzle back in its home on the side of the pump and as I watched and waited he began talking to the guy that parked immediately behind my car. Removing his helmet, he reached out and grabbed gasboy’s hand with a hearty handshake. Must be the leader…., maybe they’re friendly. I could not make out the conversation, but the biker had a distinct accent. German? Maybe Norwegian. Something like that.
“How much on the pump?” Startled, I turned back to the counter to find it manned by a guy I hadn’t noticed at first and somewhat reminded me of a thinner Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Very similar, actually, right down to the revolver he was packing. It fit him very well. Like an old leather belt that’s worn everyday and conforms to the waist and belt loops, the brown leather holster and polished metal of the weapon seemed to be a permanent part of the tanned and weathered individual that was wearing them.
“How much gas did you get?” He rang up the drinks and waited for me to compose myself and answer. “Uh…twenty, twenty bucks.” He added it to the bill. The drinks were almost as much as the gas! I gave him the cash and gave me a bit of change in return. I picked up my purchase and looked at the cap on the Coke. He read the look on my face and pointed to the opener screwed to the front of the counter. Perfect! I popped the top and guzzled till my eyes watered. Ahhh, more briskness! “Drive safe.” I saluted with the frosty bottle of cold sweet goodness. “Always.” Then I remembered an important issue “Got a restroom?” He motioned with one hand as he closed the register drawer with the other. “Building around back.”
I nodded and pushed the door open and was greeted a blast of dry, hot air that must have simmered all day on the middle of that dilapidated blacktop and, disturbed by all those Harleys, chose me as its target of retribution. I gasped and struggled to keep the door from flying out of my grip.
I decided the smart thing to do would be to move my car out of the gas lane to an area closer to the restroom. As I got to the car, the riders had already dismounted and were excitedly trading observations or experiences. I recognized a German word or two, but others were speaking what had to be Norwegian. European tourists! On Harleys!
The cameras were already out and a group had assembled in the middle of the highway. Group photos in front of Roy’s and next to the big white Route 66 on the road. I smiled. They were certainly excited and having a great time. Cameras were handed off as the owners posed for the folks back home. One guy looked like he was striking a “Fonzi”pose as his wife chattered behind the camera.
I pulled away from the pumps and over to an area near the restrooms. There were a couple of picnic tables under the shade of an ancient and gnarled tree. I set the nearly empty Coke on a table where the local flock hadn’t crapped yet and fired up a cig. Looked like the photo op was coming to a close as the riders piled into the old diner for drinks and a chat with the Sheriff. The restrooms were quite busy for a while so I waited and finished off the smoke and Coke then went in and took my turn at the stainless steel trough in the men’s room.
The sound of one of those big hogs firing up was very distinct and when about a dozen light up at the same time, it’s also very loud. I exited the facility just in time to see the group heading off towards the west and more Americana adventure. I watched and listened as they roared out of sight. It was still and quiet at Roy’s once again….
I spun around to see one of the leather-clad bikers sitting on a picnic table in the shade. Dammit! Twice in fifteen minutes! How do I not see these people?
“You are the blogger…right?” He was working on a cigarette of his own and exhaled a lung full of smoke at the end of his question. “Yeah…..” I was taken aback by his question at first until it finally dawned on me…This was my interview subject. I strained to find any clues to be sure, but other than the leather and the unkempt gray hair streaming wildly from the bottom of his do rag, there was nothing that made him stand out. Even the too-long mustache seemed to fit in. I was having second thoughts on my first appraisal.
“So.. you’re the guy, right?” I asked. He took another drag, this time the smoke was first and the response was at the end. “The guy?” He seemed perturbed. I had read a lot of modern folklore about this guy and, of course, dismissed a majority of it, but…..at least give me something to go on! He wasn’t even tall! Average, he was Joe Freakin’ Average!
“My interviewee, the infamous Infidel Warrior!” I waited for his response. One last drag and the still burning cigarette butt was launched in my direction, landing at my feet. “Something like that. Let’s get this over with.”
Must be him. Not a very charismatic individual, this guy. “Okay….let me grab my stuff.” I headed to my car and grabbed my recorder, pad and pen, and my camera. I kept glancing back just in case somebody else might be popping up out of nowhere. Nope. I was determined I wouldn’t be caught off guard a third time.
“I thought we were meeting down the road at a roadrunner something.” I set my equipment on the table. He seemed to make a mental note of what I set down, then looked in the direction I had been driving. “That’s what I said…. and just in case someone else heard it, that’s where they’ll be. Not here.” His sunglasses were now trained directly at me. Clearly, he was paranoid. “Oh, of course….gotcha.”
I smiled a fake smile and mentally rolled my eyes at what was turning out to be a waste of gas and precious time. I mean, I could be trolling chat rooms and social sites picking up leads on real citizen journalist fodder. I grabbed another Marlboro from my pocket, lit it, and sat down. He looked down at me from his perch on the table and I suddenly felt a bit uneasy. He stared and waited.
I took a long drag and, not wanting to look intimidated, stared back. I couldn’t see his eyes but I could feel them sizing me up, darting back and forth, up and down, squinting once or twice to focus on something….Focus on what? What is he looking at? What is he looking for? Just who the the hell does he think he is anyway? And why the hell am I out here baking in the sun in the middle of nowhere with this gnarley old biker dude sitting on a bird crap covered picnic table, sweating and getting a rash?
“You’re looking a bit pekid. Better hit one of those waters. You’ll dehydrate in no time out here.” He was right, I did feel a bit queasy. That Coke was sitting warm and syrupy in my gut about then. Without breaking eye contact, I twisted the cap and guzzled. Oh that was good! On the very last gulp in the bottle, I choked, spraying a mouthful on his boots. Needless to say, I broke eye contact as I coughed the last of the water from my lungs and he turned and shook his head slightly. Damn!!
“I’m good,” I wheezed and realized I had doused my cigarette in my near-drowning. I flicked it under the table, hoping he hadn’t seen that as well. He continued to look off down the highway as I got myself together.
I cleared my throat and tried to make a comeback. “Okay, Mr. Infidel Warrior, just who are you….really?”
I quickly clicked on my digital recorder and waited for his response. I wanted his name, his history, his reasoning for waging his vendetta against Muslim Americans and Islam in general. Sure, the ancient faith had been hijacked recently by unsavory extremists, but dammit, you can’t attack a whole religion on the basis of what a few adherents do! It’s unAmerican! It’s bigotry in its purest form and it pissed me off.
The scuttlebutt on this guy was wide and deep. Mostly conjecture and, I was certain, created by some right-wing, down home, garage-based PR firm consisting of church ladies and uneducated white guys that could spew vile profanity and bible verses in the same breath. He was the champion of the church league and lonely widows. What I did find odd, very odd, was that his following also included a large number of Atheists and Agnostics. How were they falling for this Anti-Muhammed on a Harley?
I had heard stories that he had been either black ops, special forces, CIA, or an Army Ranger, as well as a missionary to Africa that had seen his entire family wiped out in Nigeria. Another tale that circulated was that he had been a secretly held P.O.W in Afghanistan for 7 years and was now trying to raise money and an army to inflict payback as a civilian. None of it held any validity whatsoever.
He was was watching a young lady of about twenty with a bad case of bed-head run from her boyfriend’s car toward the lady’s room yelling back at the young man to run in and grab her a Diet Coke. The boyfriend adjusted the radio a bit higher and the base thumped relentlessly out of the still open passenger door. She would have to get her own Diet Coke.
You could see the disdain on the leathery face of the man behind the shades. He turned my direction. “You want to know who I am?” He removed the black framed glasses and set them on the table. His eyes were surrounded by weathered wrinkles and one lower eyelid that twitched a little when he looked right at me. I swallowed hard and cleared my throat as I nodded. His eyes narrowed as he leaned in to answer.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Through his I could see a fire burning deep within his soul, not quite a rage, but an energy. His reason, the very source of what powered him, what electrified his being. I was looking at a reactor core burning at 1000 degrees and the only thing that protected me and the small, ever changing population of Amboy from radioactive annihilation was the restraint he was currently showing.
“I’m Charles Martel…” I was making a mental note of the name as he continued. “and Jan Sobieski. I am Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer. I’m Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge. I’m Geert Wilders and Theo van Gogh. Bridgitte Gabriel, Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I’m a Coptic Christian in Egypt and scores of murdered Hindus in India”
“I’m Hector Aleem and Asia Bibi awaiting the death penalty for merely being Christians in Pakistan. I’m 3000 people that went to work or got on a plane thinking it was another typical Tuesday morning in September. I’m an American mother that followed a link on the internet and unknowingly watched the crude, shocking video of her own son’s slow and deliberate beheading in a filthy deserted dwelling somewhere in the hell-hole of the Middle-east.”
“I’m 300 schoolchildren and parents murdered in Beslan. I’m a retired father and husband on a cruise with my wife on our own vessel, kidnapped and held for ransom in Somalia. I’m hundreds of hacked and burned Christians whose bodies littered the streets of Kaduna, Nigeria. I’m young schoolgirls beheaded in Indonesia.
I am 270 million victims of “The Religion of Peace” over the last 14 centuries.”
“I am every victim, every survivor, every person with a spine that has stood up to Islam and said “No, Hell no! I will not surrender, I will not give in, I will not bow and I damn sure will never submit!. I will gather with those that feel the same as me and I will educate those that do not know the truth. I will speak for those who can’t and I will shout beside those that can. I will vote and I will exercise my rights to the utmost and fight to keep those rights.”
“I will stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians, Atheists, Wiccans, Hindus, people of color and different languages. I will man the trenches with gay, straight, young and old against the evil that is Islam. I will stand up for this country and its ideals no matter how outdated you and your friends may find them. I will not let this country or its citizens fall to the enemy. Yes, I will call Islam what it is, The Enemy. I do not fear what any Imam or radical cleric says or does. I fear no fatwa and I’ll tell you right now there are no “PC” guidelines in my entire being.”
“I am an American…I am an Infidel…I am a Warrior.”
He finally took a breath, but I could see the energy still rising within him as he looked into my eyes and into my very soul. I didn’t move. I felt I didn’t dare.
“So now you tell me, blogger, who the hell are YOU?
That was twelve years ago.
He went on and on about the dangers of Islam and how the ‘Islamists’ were bent on ruling the world and how that one thing had been the driving force of the religion (or ‘Ideology’ as he put it) for over 1400 years. He quoted the Qur’an from memory and denounced Mohammed as a pedophile, necrophile, pirate, bandit, false prophet, demon worshipper, terrorist, and madman.
He proclaimed The Crusades were 400 years late and a hastily assembled, last-ditch effort to save Europe from the Muslim Hordes. Without the advent of Islam, he said, there never would have been Crusader armies in the Middle-East. If not for Islam, the U.S. would not have a sea-worthy Navy. Only because of the Barbary Pirates (he called them Muslim terrorists and extortionists) attacking and plundering American merchant vessels and holding crews for ransom were American ships built and commissioned. He likened them to Somali Pirates today. “Muslim thugs in boats” he called them.
“That’s what Mohammed did, so that’s what they do. ‘Monkey see, monkey do.’ To his followers he was a shining example of a perfect Muslim. He raided and plundered, They do the same. He took a 6 year old as a bride, they do the same. He made treaties with others just to break them, they do the same. He ordered and participated in the murder and beheadings of more than 600 Jews. They still follow suit to this day. Their violent and hateful ideology was spread by the sword and history attests to it. There’s no denying it!”
“They are the same people now with the same mentality and vicious ideology as they were 1400 years ago. Their book has not changed, their goal has not changed. There will never be a peaceful co-existence with them. They don’t want to co-exist, they want to DOMINATE! They will continue to immigrate, proselytize, wage lawfare jihad, sue, play the victim, and strike terror into others until people either submit and convert, pay a tax for not being Muslim, or wind up dead for refusing.”
He went on to lay out an apocalyptic scenario of massive immigration, “no-go zones’ and radical Muslim enclaves all over the country. The legal system being forced to allow for Sharia mandates and judicial decisions. I quietly dismissed most of what he was saying. We have an iron-clad Constitution, Bro! This stuff is NEVER going to happen here. This is America!
He was adamant. “They will come here. They will force their laws on us, Churches will be destroyed, women and children enslaved and raped, and our cities plundered!”
That was when I made my first mistake. Having heard the many hushed stories from the war zones, I quipped, “You talking about Muslims still or American soldiers?”
It gets dark very quickly in the desert.
I awoke a ways from the picnic table with a skull-deep pain that radiated sharply from my left cheekbone and wrapped around my entire head in a continuous, throbbing reminder of just how fast this guy was. My mouth was dry and tainted with the bitter taste of dirt and gravel impregnated with decades of oil drips and tire wear. My hair and clothes had also become the landing place for a very good amount of rooster tail that had obviously been propelled by his back tire upon his exit.
I left that meeting wincing with pain, but salivating at the character assassination I would soon be delivering. I stopped for a couple of Red Bulls and a bottle of Advil to keep the pain down and the creative juices flowing on the drive home. I was gonna nail this guy to a cross!
That was twelve years ago.