Will closed his classroom door behind him and strode down the hall, briefcase in hand. He cheerfully nodded to students he saw on the way out. “Have a good weekend, Kelly! Good luck in the game, Starksy!” He tossed his blazer an and briefcase in the back of his blue Honda fit, turned on the radio (tuned to National Public Radio), and drove out of the parking lot. As soon as he cleared the school grounds, he plugged in his MP3 player and cranked up the volume on Snoop Dogg’s Gin ‘n’ Juice, bouncing around in his car and waving his arms with abandon.
He pulled into a fast food drive-through and gave his order. “$2.71 at the next window, please. And can I have your zip code?” asked the bored acne -ridden boy with the headset.
“No” said Will firmly.
“What?” the boy was confused.
“You don’t need my zip code,” said Will.
“Well, we’re supposed to get it,” said the boy. “It’s so they know where their customer base is, I think.”
“I am paying with cash for food. There is no reason whatsoever for you to collect any personal data about me.”
“So, I’ll just make one up,” said the boy, talking to himself.
“No, you will inform your management that the citizenry do not appreciate giving out personal data when they just want something to eat. Some of us still care about the bill of rights. You should, too. And what do you plan to do when you apply for a job and the company requires you to give them your Facebook password? Are you just going to roll over?” demanded Will. The driver behind him laid on the horn, and others behind him joined in.
“I, um, have a job,” responded the boy, gesturing to his polyester uniform.
Will shook his head in disgust as he pulled forward to collect his food. The middle-age woman smiled as she handed him his food.
“Are you sure you don’t need my date of birth to hand this over?” he snapped as he took the bag and drove away with a screech. She looked out in confusion.
Shoving food in his mouth as he drove, Will was heading for the eastbound freeway to take him to his home in Pollock Pines He turned a corner too quickly and almost hit four men wearing camouflage. They were toting lumber across the road toward a makeshift shack on the way to the freeway entrance. Will pulled over, got out of his car, and approached them.
“Hey, guys, what’s going on here?” he called out.
One of the men turned to him and Will could see he was armed. In fact, noticed Will, they were all armed. Acting as one unit, they lowered the lumber and surrounded Will. “What’s your business here, sir?,” asked one of the men, a well-padded fortysomething who squinted into the sun. He casually placed his hand on the butt of the gun strapped to his thigh.
“My business is I’m leaving town. Who are you and what are you doing here?” demanded Will.
“We’re a National Guard unit out of Bakersfield, called in by the Governor. I’m Sgt. Lafferty.” He took his hand off his gun and reached out for a handshake. Will shook his hand. “Hi, nice to meet you. So, what are you guys doing?”
Lafferty jerked his head toward the shack. “Building a toll booth.”
“Toll booth? For what?”
“For use of the state highways, I believe.”
“What?! Are you kidding me? The governor is going to charge us for using the highways? He can’t do that!” exploded Will.
“I think if you’re not part of the state, he can charge you for coming in and out of it,” said Lafferty.
“And you guys are just going along with this? Just following orders, like good soldiers? Bleed the people until they give in, is that it?” said Will. He face was flushed and his armpits were clammy.
Lafferty glanced at his men and said casually, “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t. And I’m not going to give you my name. You have no right to that information,” said Will, suddenly pushing past two of the soldiers and running for his car. He wondered if he should run in a zig-zag pattern to better evade bullets. He jumped into his car and threw it into reverse, backing up around the corner, and then headed back for the other end of town. The soldiers all watched until he was out of sight, and then went back to moving lumber.
Jeremy had on his work apron and was replacing brake pads at the bike shop when he heard the bell indicating a customer has come in. He looked up and saw Mr. Ingersoll burst in, all disheveled and puffy looking.
“Hi, Mr. Ingersoll. Is everything okay?” asked Jeremy, putting down his tools.
“Do you know what the government is doing, Jeremy? Installing toll booths at the HIghway 50 entrance and exit to Placerville. They say they’re going to charge us to use the state highways!” Will tried to calm himself down. “I don’t know what they’re planning to charge, but it will take effect when Placerville breaks off from the state.”
“They can’t do that!” protested Jeremy.
“Oh, they can, and they are,” said Will. “You kicked a hornet’s nest with this petition, Jeremy.”
“Maybe it’s the government that kicked the hornet’s nest when they took away teenagers’ rights to drive,” countered Jeremy. “Eidenberger brought this on himself.”
“But who’s paying the price? If people can’t afford to come into and out of town, the whole place will grind to a halt within a month. I can’t afford to teach here anymore if I have to pay a couple of hundred dollars a month in toll fees. The gas stations and restaurants won’t get any business by people on the way to Nevada – they’ll just take alternate routes. Your mother’s bakery won’t have any customers either, so how’s your mother going to survive?” Will sat down wearily.
Migo joined the conversation from across the room. “Couldn’t you bike to work? You live in Pollock Pines, right?” he shouted to Will. “I bet a lot of people could do that.”
“So I should lose the ability to drive in exchange for Jeremy restoring his rights?” said Will. “That makes sense. Divide and conquer. Study your history. That’s how they’ll get us.”
“You know, I have an idea,” said Jeremy. He leaned in and whispered furiously to Will.
Will pondered for a moment. “Politics makes strange bedfellows. I’ll make the arrangements.” He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and started punching numbers into is as he left the shop and headed for his car.
“What was that all about?” yelled Migo.
“Saving Placerville, I hope,” said Jeremy.