AND HERE IS THE (THRILLING?) FINALE!!
It’s a small yellow pickup with an open-topped trailer attachment. I recognize it from a video on the sanctuary’s website, which showed a sheep in horrendous pain; the trailer was so packed that a cow had one of her feet on top of the sheep’s face. Her eyes bulged from the pressure. She bleated in agony. This time the trailer is filled solely with sheep, about a dozen of them crowded and huddled together. The truck exits the grounds and turns left. After waiting until the truck is about a hundred yards away, we follow.
I tell Frank about what I saw. When I talk about the little black lamb, and how heartbreaking it was, he says something that makes it even worse. “Next time just take off with her. We’ll take her to the sanctuary.”
“Are you serious?” My heart, sinking. My spirit, another little death among millions.
“But that’ll compromise my ability to return there, won’t it?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Who gives a fuck? Too good to pass up.”
I sink into the seat. “Fuck.”
“No, it’s alright. In the long run, it’s probably for the best.”
I shake my head, biting a fingernail. I’m sick of the fucking long run. At what point does the long run become now? Even more importantly, at what point does the long run move into the past?
The yellow truck is about five cars ahead of us, waiting for the light to go green so we can turn left and merge onto the freeway. “I wanna see where this guy’s going,” Frank says. “If it’s as fucked up as I think it is, and we can get footage, we could maybe shut down his whole damn operation.” The light turns green. Cars and trucks in front of the yellow truck–our mark–inch forward, some of the U-turning like tortoises with sticky feet. The mark makes it through.
“Come on, motherfuckers!” I cry. With three cars in front of us, the light turns yellow. We have to make this light. It’s a busy intersection, and if we have to wait through another cycle the truck will have a good two-minute head start. If he gets off the freeway or switches to another one within a few miles we’ll lose him. The light turns red just as the car in front of us hits the turn. We’re ten feet back. Frank guns the engine and rockets through the intersection and onto the freeway ramp with a throaty roar of the diesel engine. I laugh, vamped up, almost delirious with excitement. Oh Christ please I hope a cop didn’t see us. We’d be toast for sure, the tailing job finished before it really even started.
But no. We speed onto the 60 and find the truck, hold back several cars in the next lane over. But this becomes difficult, because the fucker is going so slow. Eventually we have no choice but to fall in right behind them (we can now see there are two men in the truck cabin) in the far right lane. The fastest they ever go is about 60 miles per hour. Which is good for the animals, I suppose–better than 70, anyway–but bad for tailing someone. The only thing working in our favor is that it’s dark. Our headlights are the only thing clearly visible. After 30 or 40 minutes we’ve changed freeways twice (a common occurrence anywhere in southern California) and we’re on the 210 North, the Pasadena Freeway. It seems we’ve passed the point of no return. After following them this long, it makes no sense to turn back around. We’ve come this damn far. It would make all the time spent so far a total waste. We’re in for the long haul.
Frank talks about his views on kids, a subject on which we immediately click. He doesn’t have any. Doesn’t want any. He’s quite a misanthrope (hence a kindred spirit) and loathes that there are so damn many humans on the planet. He is vasectomized–a heroic act in my opinion. At this point I’m only 21, and already I’ve been thinking about getting one. The only thing that stops me at this point is my doctor parents, who think it’s a wretched idea. They don’t understand that if I ever want kids–highly unlikely–I’ll just ADOPT. Imagine that! Helping some poor unwanted kid who’s already alive, rather than creating yet another hungry mouth and shitting anus. My mom says any doctor who would perform a vasectomy on a 21-year-old would be a hack, and might hack off parts I want to keep! I have heard it’s difficult for just about anyone in their 20s, let alone early 20s, to get a vasectomy. This, along with my omnipresent malaise, and monetary concerns, delay me. But I do eventually get one, just a few days after turning 25. One month, in fact, before beginning a four-year prison sentence in Illinois for marijuana trafficking.
Frank expresses a brilliant idea; why the fuck do people get their foolish and selfish breeding subsidized by the government in the form of tax breaks?? It’s further encouraging overpopulation and the straining (and draining) of public and social resources–e.g. schools, roads, and welfare programs. Instead they should reward people for not having kids, for being responsible in this hyper-crowded, hyper-polluted, hyper-destructive country. It is another dream of mine to someday open a free spay-neuter clinic–for humans. How awesome would that be? It would certainly attract a lot of publicity, that much we can agree on!
Frank begins to worry that we’re being too obvious, that the driver of the yellow truck has caught on and will lead us astray. So Frank pulls a daring and clever evasive (or rather pseudo-evasive) maneuver. As we approach an exit he makes like he’s getting off the freeway. He actually merges onto the ramp, on the other side of the widening shoulder from the slow lane. He drops his speed to 40. The yellow truck is now several hundred yards in front of us. At the last possible second, Frank wrenches the wheel to the left. Onto the shoulder. He slams on the brakes and we crunch to a stop on the gravel and dirt and detritus. Then he kills the engine and we sit in darkness for some 30 seconds. Letting them get a little ahead. There are no freeway interchanges for a long time, so that’s not a concern. The only problem is if they take an exit. But it’s a risk worth taking, because we can’t have them certain they’re being followed.
Within a few minutes we catch up to them again. Frank tries to hang back but it’s even harder now because they’ve dropped to a consistent speed of 55, sometimes even 50 mph. Seems they know we’ve returned. “If they pull over,” Frank says with deadpan resolve, perhaps in a fugue of angry determination, perhaps thinking more clearly than ever, “I’m gonna stop behind them. I might punch out the driver and take the truck with all the animals. Then you’ll follow me to the sanctuary in this.”
I stare at him. “Are you serious?”
I swallow. The idea is scary, but at the same time exhilarating. It would be so incredible to be part of saving so many animals in one fell swoop–future legal ramifications be damned! “Okay then.”
But they never do pull over. We end up following them for over 75 minutes, including five freeway changes. Off the Interstate, northeast of L.A. among the high-walled scrub brush bluffs, they turn left into a residential area, and we follow. Now they know we’re tailing them. The street is narrow, barely wide enough for two Kias.
“If he stops,” Frank says, “I want you to quick jump out with the camcorder and climb on the back of the trailer. Film how crowded and miserable the sheep are.”
I’m anxious but pumped. I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. “Alright.”
But the yellow truck goes up to a house at the top. Another, bigger pickup pulls out into the street once the trailer is past. This new big black pickup blocks our path. It just sits there. “Well there ya go,” Frank says. “Must’ve called ahead to his homies once he noticed we were following.” I can’t believe the nonchalance in his voice.
“What are we gonna do?”
He wiggles his lips, as if trying to gum a piece of food without opening his mouth, thinking hard. He pulls onto a side street, turns around. We drive back down the hill. Park behind a little Mexican restaurant. Ironically we’re fewer than ten miles from the animal sanctuary; we started the drive some 70 miles away. We wait 15 minutes and then cruise back up toward the house. We park and get out. There’s a little gully on the right, filled with brush and vegetation, that infamous desert-ish chapparel that makes southern California a veritable tinder box.
Staring up at the house, we crouch there and wonder what to do. The gully slopes upward at the far end to the front of their property. We’ve come all this way. I’m bristling with nervous energy, but adrenaline courses through my bloodstream like big fat salmon shoving their way upriver. I want to do something. Concerns for my own safety have disappeared. I’m in the action zone. In terms of fear and worry, once you get past a certain threshold, you begin to feel invincible; the hard part is conquering that first stretch.
Frank finally speaks. “I hate to say it, but the best thing to do would probably be ta call it a night.”
I frown, scanning the area. “Why don’t we sneak through there.” I gesture to the gully, thick with vegetation. “Hide in the bushes at the top and see what we can see.”
“It’s really dark. A flashlight would give us away.”
“Our eyes will adjust. Plus there’s a decent amount of moonlight.” I do not want to turn tail, so to speak, and leave. 70 miles of following, all that diesel burned–we should do everything we possibly can.
“It’s just not a good idea.” I can tell he’s reluctant to leave as well–this is, after all, the guy who earlier wanted to knock out the driver and steal his truck!–but he’s trying to do what’s smart, rather than that which satisfies our angry guts. “We know he’s got his homies up there. They could have guns. Even if they don’t, there’s only two of us. But at least now we know where their farm is.”
I nod, disappointed. But he probably is right. We begin the long drive back to Chino, to where my car is parked. I can’t shake the disturbing and horrific images of the day from my head. At least now, though, I don’t have to trust others when they say how badly “food” animals are abused. How they live in squalor. Because now I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
We stop at Denny’s on the way back for coffee and chow; it’s close to 11 P.M. and we really haven’t eaten since lunch. We’re both vegan, of course. But tonight, after this day, I take extra care to make absolutely certain that our veggie burgers are 100 percent free of animal products. It’s the least I can do. The least.
But is that really enough–or even close to enough, given the amount of suffering? I don’t think so. I just don’t….
That night I dream of flaming arrows, of shooting them over fences. Of fire. Cleansing, beautiful fire of the just. The just plain fucking fed up.