The sparkling new Hummer sped down the freeway on a beautiful Friday afternoon. It was the 28th of April. Monday was the 1st, Loyalty Day. That meant three day weekend. Michael Helkers had decided it would be the perfect time to take the family down to Philadelphia; see the Liberty Bell and all the history of the United States. His ten-year old son Jimmy had been looking forward to it all month. The Helkers rarely traveled; any time they left New York for a trip was a wonderful experience.
“We’re gonna be at the border soon, Jimbo,” said Michael.
“Aren’t you excited?” asked his mother Rita.
“Are the guards going to have guns?” asked Jimmy, pushing his head forward between the two front seats. He was almost more excited to see the border guards than he was to see Philadelphia. Everyone talked about the soldiers at school but nobody ever saw them.
“You bet, Jimbo, great big ones,” said Michael. “Don’t make any quick moves or they’ll shoot ya,” he said, giving Jimmy a wink through the rear-view mirror.
“I want to be a soldier,” said Jimmy, bouncing against his seat belt.
“You’ll be the best little soldier the United States ever saw, Jimmy,” said Rita. “You might even get elected President one day.”
“Anything’s possible in America, Jimmy.”
Michael began to slow down the Hummer. The pristine green landscape alongside the highway was broken by a gigantic billboard: “APPROACHING NEW YORK-PENNSYLVANIA BORDER CROSSING A-5. SLOW VEHICLE AND TURN OFF HEADLIGHTS.” Underneath was a pair of bright blue eyes peeking out of a blue background with the words: DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.
“Here we go, Jimbo,” said Michael. “Sit properly, now.”
Beyond the billboard one could see a chain-link fence extending as far as the eye could see in both directions and standing 20 feet high. A huge gate blocked the highway. It was defended by three guards in dark blue uniforms matching the blue of the billboard, machine guns gripped tightly in their hands.
Michael brought the Hummer up slowly and rolled down the windows. A fourth soldier approached from the building. He didn’t carry a gun but instead held a small electronic device.
Jimmy sat still in his seat, watching the guard approach. Behind the soldier he noticed a beat up old van parked on the far side of the building beside the gate. Four soldiers were talking to a dirty looking man and woman. Jimmy had trouble figuring out which was the man and which was the woman. Both had long, greasy black hair. All four soldiers held a rifle, aiming at the dirt. The dirty man threw up his arms and yelled, “I want to see my mother! She’s fucking dying while you assholes keep me here!” Three of the soldiers lifted their rifles at the couple while the fourth smacked the man across the face with the butt of his weapon. Jimmy wanted to ask his dad what was going on but knew he was supposed to stay quiet.
“Good afternoon,” said the guard, smiling in the window of the Hummer beside Michael. “Three in the vehicle?”
“Yes, sir,” said Michael.
“I need to retscan you.” He held up the device in his hand to Michael’s eye; a blue light blinked on then off. “Taking the family on a trip, Mr. Helkers?” he asked as he went around to the other side of the Hummer.
“To Philadelphia for Loyalty Day.”
Rita let the blue light shine in her eye. “Nice day for traveling,” the guard said, glancing up at the cloudless sky.
“Yes,” said Michael.
The soldier put the device to Jimmy’s eye last, smiling at him. “I’m a Yankees fan too, Jimbo,” he said, reading off the back of the scanner.
“Really?” Jimmy was awestruck. The soldier was talking to him!
“Johnson’s pitching great this year. I think they’ll take the Series.” He gave Jimmy a wink then turned to face Michael. “That’s all we need, sir, you’re free to go.”
“Thank you, officer.”
The soldier waved to the guards at the gate. They moved and the gate slid open. Michael drove through and it shut quickly behind them with a jangling slam.
“Wow,” said Jimmy, “that was so cool!”
“Wasn’t it, Jimbo?”
“Yes! But who were those people by the building?”
“The guards, Jimmy?” asked Rita.
“The people in the van,” said Jimmy.
“Oh, don’t worry about them, Jimmy. They’re bad people.”
“What did they do? He wanted to see his mother. He said she was dying.”
“I don’t know, but they wouldn’t be stopped if they weren’t bad. They were yelling at those brave soldiers. Bad people lie, Jimmy. He probably doesn’t even have a mother. They tell stories so they can cross the borders and do bad things. Don’t think about those people, Jimmy. Just think about good people like us and those soldiers out there protecting our country every day from people like that. That’s what Loyalty Day is all about: thinking about the good people and the greatness of America. Those dirty people in the van don’t deserve to live in this country.”
“Are they going to shoot them?” asked Jimmy. “Soldiers shoot bad people.”
“I hope so,” said Rita, gazing out the window.
“They’ll probably shoot them,” said Michael. “Looked like they were about to while we were there. I don’t give those people long.”
A loud crack went through the air. Jimmy spun around to look back at the border station fading into the horizon. “Was that a rifle shot?” he asked excitedly. Another loud crack rippled through his ears. “They shot them!”
“Sounds like it, Jimbo,” said Michael, smiling.
“Wow! This is the best Loyalty Day ever!” shouted Jimmy. “I wish we could’ve seen it.”
“Maybe next time, Jimbo,” said Michael. The Hummer sped away as Jimmy watched the border station disappear in the distance, wishing he were still there.