They had planned to get to their destination in ten hours, eleven at most. Dwight originally was going to fly but decided to ride with Uncle Art when he learned they were leaving the same day. Both of them were originally from Detroit and were close. Art actually had a hand looking after Dwight for some time while the kid was growing up until he moved to Philadelphia to work for a trucking company where he first drove the interstate semis for some years up and down the east coast (north to New England, south to Florida), saved enough to buy chunks of shares of the company later and then rose to become part of management. Now Dwight understood only so well why Uncle Art, now comfortably retired, preferred, loved to drive long distance than fly, especially on a trip to their old hometown.
Dwight meantime went to CUNY, Brooklyn, where he obtained a degree in computer and information science, and another in finance and business management. And as fate would have it later, he got a career job as an I.T. management specialist in a large investment company in Philadelphia where uncle and nephew got reconnected. He was now thirty-eight years old, thirty years younger than his Uncle. But with Art hardly showing the years behind him with little graying and a robust physique like Dwight had, they didn't look that many years apart. Dwight Coleman was six three, two-hundred thirty pounds of toned muscle from working out every other day at the gym. Art Mendoza was a little under that at six feet flat and two hundred ten, a young senior hale and fit as his middle-aged nephew. He was closer to being brown, more Hispanic, from his Puerto Rican side, than black like Dwight Coleman who was pure African-American from any angle with his short curly hair and dark complexion.
At ten minutes past noon, with Dwight at the driver's seat of Art's year-old Hawk 500, a bestselling air-compression engine Korean model, they followed a sign directing them to a temporary exit road from the highway to a service area a mile out of the town of Clarion, Pennsylvania. They saw that repair construction was underway on the regular exit road.
They went into a place called Benny's, a nationwide chain that's a cut between McDonald and TGI Friday, taking a window table after seeing the entry sign Welcome: Please Have a Seat. They each took the menu from the table rack and read, and read. Then waited for service. And waited. And waited and waited.
People who came in soon after them got immediate attention and were waited on. Nobody paid any attention to them, they noticed minutes later, except by a quick glance from the workers and the other customers from near and far. They also noticed that everybody was white.
Twelve, fifteen minutes later, they got the message loud and clear. Art Mendoza had been through this kind of shit before since way back when he was younger, twenty-five, thirty years ago, at the height of what came to be known as the great mass migration of the races in America, resulting in what was now a segregated society which the government in Washington refused to admit to this day.
He remembered a day in Boston when he and a fellow trucker, a Hispanic, sat in a restaurant, were denied service outright and told to leave. They refused and were then physically thrown out by several musclemen. When they complained to the local authorities, the police, they were told nothing can be done about it. Company policy. They were practically ignored and simply told to go where their kind could get service, given directions how to get there and were escorted back to their eighteen-wheeler.
Dwight Coleman, too, had been through this painful experience, a few times. During and after college. The reason he ended up going to CUNY, Brooklyn. He was first admitted at a prestigious school called Langford College in Indiana which he attended for a semester. Five months, every single week, every single day of which turned out to be hell on earth for a young black trying to get ahead in life by securing himself a higher education. The ostracism he suffered drove him close to insanity. Everyone avoided him, everywhere. He couldn't even make eye contact with any girl. White girl. The few brothers he banded with all felt the same way. He wondered why they even admitted any of them at all. Affirmative Action? No one would ever know. It turned out the school was required to enroll a small percentage of colored students, even a minuscule token number, to continue receiving a few million dollars in government grant and subsidy.
Halfway through the semester, he worked on transferring to the school system in New York, in the southeast part of the state which at the time, twenty years ago, had a settled ninety-seven percent black population. The years immediately following college and going into his late twenties, he had a few more direct encounters with open racism while looking for an apartment, job-hunting, applying for a car loan. It turned out he was looking at all the wrong places at the wrong time in the history of the country for what he wanted or needed and what he was trying to do: find a home, find a job and start a career in his chosen profession and build the ladder to ascend a middle-class niche in society.
It had taken him the rest of his third decade of life to see, and admit, what had really become of the country when he finally found the job in Philadelphia and settled on a place to live there. America was now a fragmented country. Racially and ethnically segregated. That's why, looking back at all those places he applied for a job in New York and parts of Pennsylvania and the state of Maryland, he never stood a chance against all the other applicants who were mostly white. It was easier to see simply looking at the map, especially now. He could essentially draw the boundary lines that delineated the region now populated by the majority of African-Americans, which consisted of eastern Pennsylvania, southeastern New York and the entire state of New Jersey. Outside of the region, in some parts he had unknowingly ventured looking for a job or a place to live, he realized then how impossible it was to have been accepted in its society and how even more impossible it would have been for him to endure living in that society.
Presently, Art gave him a fix from across the table, a look that told him it's time to go. Let's give this place up. But deep within, looking back to the innocent years after college and even way back to Indiana, Dwight Coleman was a seething volcano inside. For once, he was thinking just now, he's going to walk away but not before he let out some steam. He finally caught the attention of a female server, mid-twenties, blonde, blue eyes, who had been ignoring them everytime she went by to look after other customers.
"Excuse me," he half yelled at her as she was passing by from the table next to them. Knowing full well she was being addressed, she couldn't help turning to him but with a cold look on her face.
"Yes?" she said mechanically.
"How about some service here! Are we invisible or what?"
With that and the fiery look in his eyes drilling at her, she backed up a step, saying: "I'm not the one assigned to your table."
"Well, who is! Somebody is, damn it!" His voice had now risen to the level three times more than when he first opened his mouth, attracting the attention of everyone around including the male cashier back of them across the aisle.
"I'll go get him right now," the server said, turning around fast and disappearing through the double swinging door down the end of the dining area.
Seconds after she was gone, a man the size of Dwight Coleman but lighter and younger emerged through the doorway followed by another man about the same age, shorter but well-built. When they came to stand in the middle of the aisle by their table, the taller man said:
"Mister, I'm afraid I'm gonna hefta ask you and your friend to leave. There's a place down the road just past the Ohio state line where you can eat."
"Why can't we eat here now? We have money! We can pay!" Dwight Coleman stood mightily now to confront the man, apparently the manager or some security staff called to muscle them out. He didn't care.
"I'm sorry, mister, but we're only following orders. There's a big sign out front. You couldn't have missed it long before you pulled into the parking lot."
"What sign?" the black man screamed.
"I'll show you if you want to step outside with me right now."
"I don't care what's out there. We've been sittin' here for twenty minutes and got nuthin'--" With his voice now booming all over the place while poking the man with an index finger, the latter couldn't hold back any longer and suddenly retaliated by ramming both hands against his shoulders in a snap, causing him to stumble against the table. He leaped back like a mad dog now and attacked the white man with a combination of hand chops and punches to the face, the head, the ribs. All the instincts of the defense mechanism that was awakened in him years ago during the Army ROTC advanced training courses he had taken during his years in college, especially the martial arts part of them, suddenly came to life. The man, suddenly realizing he was outmatched, only moved defensively to prevent himself from being bloodied any further.
Seeing what was happening, the other man mixed in fast and threw a few quick punches to Dwight's rib cage and head. Dwight appeared more annoyed than hurt by any of the hits and at one instance caught the young man's fist, as it was coming at him, twisted it outward in a lock-hold of wrist to elbow with both hands and with his right foot completely immobilized him with a rapid succession of kicks to the stomach and the face. In a matter of seconds, the young man was a lifeless heap on the floor with a bleeding face and a broken wrist.
The cashier, a robust man around forty years old and about six feet, two hundred forty pounds, came from behind Dwight and immediately seized him in an arm choke-hold. Seeing this, the manager-security man lunged at Dwight to get even but, instead, was met by a monstrous front snap-kick smack on his face and he crashed flat on his back on the floor unconscious with a broken nose.
Overcoming an arm choke-hold was the first lesson he learned in the AROTC class, the easiest one to remember, and execute.
And he remembered.
The first thing he did to distract the man and lessen the pressure of the hold around his neck even slightly was a good shot of the elbow on the rib cage. It did do the job for when he quickly grabbed the hand of the arm around his neck, twisting it outward, it came off with a little less resistance than he felt at first. Another shot of the elbow, the other elbow, on the rib cage, helped even more this time to stun the cashier, knock some wind out of him, enough to put Dwight at liberty to keep twisting the man's wrist until he was free to completely flip the man over up in the air and down on his back on the floor. A few vicious kicks on the solar plexus that could have ruptured his diaphragm and effected abdominal hernia kept him writhing on the floor, gasping for air, completely defenseless.
The whole restaurant was on its feet stunned. Behind the swinging doors, the blonde server who had the first words with Dwight was on the phone with the police as she watched Dwight and Art go through the lobby towards the front door.
Dwight turned around for a moment and with arms wide at his sides screamed: "What're you all white trash looking at? Call an ambulance and get these motherfuckers to a hospital!" He then grabbed a bunch of bananas over a food stand next to a tall cooler. Behind him, Art took a couple of cans of soda from the cooler and a handful of peanut-butter crackers and they hurried back to the car.
Driving out of the parking lot to the I-80 on-ramp, they gave the restaurant one last look and saw a big sign on a pole by itself a few yards from the front entrance. Like the man inside said, they couldn't have missed it from the direction they came on the highway exit road but they didn't see it because the exit road was closed under construction.
The sign read in big uppercase letters:
NO BLACKS. NO HABLA ESPANOL
WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE
SERVICE TO ANYONE.
The dashboard clock read 12:45P when they got on the highway, full speed at 75 MPH. It took them a few minutes to recover from all the upset and excitement and finally realized they hadn't eaten a thing. They each ate a banana and some of the crackers, shoved them down with the soda, leaving the rest untouched to make room for the real lunch they expected to have in less than an hour when they crossed the Ohio state line. Youngstown, a few miles from the line, now one of the major black metropolitan cities of Ohio, was forty-five miles away.
It would be like crossing into another country once they're inside the line, one of the boundaries that defined the five-state Great Lakes region of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, which now had a ninety-eight percent African-American population.
But the excitement they left behind wasn't quite over, they soon learned not ten minutes after they got back on the road when Dwight looked up at the rearview mirror and saw the blue and red light turning on top of a police car speeding to catch up with them.
"Shit! Here we go again, Uncle," Dwight said, slowing down to pull over the shoulder.
An overwhelming fear suddenly descended upon them, especially on Art Mendoza. He was a sixty-eight year old senior and he didn't know how much more of this racial conflict, let alone a possible police abuse or brutality, he could take beyond what he'd already gone through in his life in America.
"What're we going to do, Dwight?" he asked while they waited for the officers to approach, expecting the worst of them--guns, nightsticks, cuffs, aerosol weapons, tasers, all ready to use at the slightest provocation.
"Don't say or do anything. Just keep quiet. I'll handle this," Dwight said as they watched two officers get out of the car and size up the situation for just a moment. They were Pennsylvania state troopers. One tall and skinny, the other some six inches shorter, around five eight, but built solid.
They sported the ubiquitous dark sun goggles under the familiar PA troopers' hat with a high chinstrap that looped just below the lower lip some say was there to catch doughnut crumbs. One of them, the tall one, used a small bullhorn to tell them to step out of the car, both hands up in the air, before walking briskly towards them. Dwight saw them unstrap their side arms on their right hip while dangling a night stick in their left hand.
They did as they were told with Art coming around the front of the car to stand next to Dwight. They watched the officers get nearer and before they got within striking distance of the night sticks, Dwight asked, politely: "What's this all about, officers? We're not over-speeding."
"No, you're not," said the skinny one. "Back there in the restaurant you were."
"Don't get fucking smart with me, boy!" The trooper barked and told them to turn around, hands up against the car, legs spread and the rest of that.
Dwight was thinking: No point trying to communicate with them in any way. Their minds are made up to just cuff them and haul them away behind bars or maybe rough them up a little first for what he did to their fellow white guys in the restaurant. He needed to make up his mind, too, what to do, fast.
And he did.
With the left hand, Skinny took his left wrist first to cuff him, swinging it back behind him. Left to left. At this instance, he thought it was a matter of whose right hand could move faster--Skinny's to get the cuff from behind him on his belt or him to reach for Skinny's gun that was ready to draw on Skinny's right hip. Before Skinny knew what was happening while he arched his right arm behind him to get the cuff, Dwight simply swung his right hand straight for the trooper's side arm, took hold of it and in one quick motion turned around, shoved the muzzle up under the officer's chin and said: "Freeze! Both of you!"
The other trooper who was about to cuff Art too heard and for a split second made a quick motion to go for his side arm but was stayed by the ominous tone of Dwight's warning:
"I wouldn't do that."
Dwight then ordered them to 'reach for the sky' and told Art to take his trooper's weapons. Night stick and gun, and handcuff too. He walked them back to their cruiser at gunpoint and there he had them empty their pockets of everything before he had them re-occupy their seats in the car and told them to cuff each other to the steering wheel. Then he blasted the radio with a couple of rounds and immobilized the car by exploding all four tires with a couple of rounds each.
The trooper in the driver's seat, the short one, cursed briefly and said to Dwight as the two started back to their car: "You're not going to get away with this."
Dwight held himself briefly, turned around and bent forward to eyeball the trooper gingerly. "Maybe," he said. "In the meantime, I can't imagine anything you can do after you've been sittin' here awhile and you have to take a dump."
Dwight wasn't worried a bit. Even if they'd taken note of their license plate number or committed it to memory. In less than forty minutes, they'd cross the state line and be in Ohio. They'd be in their country, out of this hateful, white racist, evil part of America.
As they sped through the highway the rest of the way out of western Pennsylvania, he had a thought, off and on, about the possibility of a time coming when the African-American Great Lakes Region might secede from the union, do so successfully, and become a separate country. The same with the black regions of the east and the south where the rest of the brothers in the country were now settled.
That would mean another civil war. But not the same kind as the North against the South conflict of old, between two white people of differing cultures and political beliefs.
It would be a civil war not for any issue like slavery or the integration of the races. Instead, it would be a war for the separation of the races. A racial war that would finally result in the true emancipation of the blacks in America.
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