Chapter 1. Tuesday, July 19, 2005
It was one of those mid-summer mornings in Oceanic Park that you can tell is going to develop into a scorching hot day. It hadn’t cooled off much during the night and the temperature already was on the rise again. The sun was a fiery red ball starting to creep above the horizon and, by the middle of the day, would be beating down fiercely on the town, making the asphalt on the streets and the sand on the beach hot enough to burn the soles of people’s feet.
As I did every morning, I made my way through the streets of the Old Town section of Oceanic Park toward Java Joe’s Coffee Cafe. I walked past the familiar surroundings of old- fashioned storefronts, shingled fisherman’s cottages, and Victorian-style hotels that dated back to the earliest days of the seaside resort, around the turn of the prior century. Interspersed among the older buildings, were pre-fab townhouses and semi-high-rise condos of the sort that were starting to encroach on the Old Town neighborhood and alter its character. At that hour of the morning, Old Town had yet to come to life. A few early-risers were out jogging or walking their dogs, but it still was too early for most vacationers to be out and about. Most of them probably still were recovering from the activities of the previous evening.
As I progressed through Old Town, it began to dawn on my still-foggy consciousness that the neighborhood been struck by a flyering campaign during the night. Flyers had been posted in a haphazard manner throughout the neighborhood by attaching them to whatever surface happened to be available - flyers had been stapled to telephone poles, placed under the windshield wipers of cars, and taped to mail boxes, newspaper boxes, and store windows.
I paused by a telephone pole, tore down a flyer, and glanced over it. The flyer looked like it had been created on a computer and then photocopied. Across the top of the flyer was a bold-faced headline that read “PRESERVE OCEANIC PARK’S HERITAGE - IMMIGRANTS OUT NOW!” Underneath the headline was a sub-headline that read “Protect Oceanic Park from Crime, Gang Violence, and Degenerate Third-World Culture.” This was followed by a list of demands: “(1) End unchecked immigration; (2) Make English the official language of Oceanic Park; and (3) Ban foreign-language signs in Oceanic Park.” Beneath the list of demands was a caricature of a sinister-looking Latin American immigrant wearing a sombrero and sporting a Zapata mustache with a gunsight superimposed over top of the image. Underneath of the caricature was another bold-faced headline stating that “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!” At the bottom of the flyer was the name “OCEANIC PARK VIGILANTES.”
I crumpled the flyer into a ball and tossed it into a trash receptacle. This was the third time this summer that the neighborhood had been plastered with these anti-immigrant flyers. No one had ever heard of the group calling itself the Oceanic Park Vigilantes or had any idea who its members were. The police had announced that they were launching an investigation into the matter, but, so far, they had failed to turn up any information.
I brooded over the matter as I continued on my way toward Java Joe’s. The cafe is housed in a shingled storefront with a large plate glass window that overlooks the sidewalk and a hand-painted wooden sign hanging over the door. As I approached the cafe, I saw Joe Laubach, the proprietor of Java Joe’s, on the sidewalk in front of the cafe, using a putty knife to scrape scraps of flyers and strips of tape off the cafe’s front window. His hair was disheveled, he was unshaven, and he was dressed casually in a loud Hawaiian shirt and khaki cargo shorts. He looked in my direction when he heard me approaching.
“Can you believe this?” he asked, waving his arms in exasperation at the storefront win- dow. “These idiots have struck again!”
“So I see,” I responded. “The flyers are all over Old Town.”
“This is becoming really annoying,” Java Joe continued. “They used heavy-duty packing tape to stick the flyers on the window and that stuff is really hard to get off. I don’t understand how they’re getting away with it. You’d think that someone would have seen or heard something.”
“Whoever’s posting the flyers must be very fast and well organized. Or else they’ve just been really lucky.”
“Or some sympathetic members of the police force are looking the other way when it happens.”
“Yeah, that could be.”
“Have you heard anything more about who’s behind the flyering campaign?”
“No. There’s a lot of rumors and speculation going around, but no one actually knows anything.”
“Well, I’ve got to finish cleaning the window before the breakfast rush starts,” Java Joe sighed. He resumed scraping the remains of flyers and tape off the window and I proceeded to enter the café.
By the time I left Java Joe’s, Old Town was starting to come to life - there were more people out on the streets, stores were opening their doors and setting up displays of merchandise on the sidewalks, and the air was starting to buzz with the sound of voices, music, and traffic. A crew of city workers was making its way through the neighborhood, tearing down the anti-immigrant flyers, and tossing them into a trash truck. They were too late, however, to prevent vacationers from seeing the flyers. This incident would deal another blow to Oceanic Park’s carefully-cultivated image as a family-friendly resort where people could escape the cares of the world.
Oceanic Park is located on a barrier island that is 12 miles long and half a mile wide. During the summer vacation season, Oceanic Park undergoes a transformation from a small, sleepy town of 7,000 residents to a bustling city with a temporary population of 300,000. A large, seasonal work force is needed to meet the demands of the increased population. A lot of seasonal positions are filled by high school and college students on summer vacation. They are joined by an influx of seasonal migrant laborers who come into the country on guest worker visas under the H-2B program. Two industries, in particular, rely heavily on migrant labor - hotels and seafood processing plants. Hotels employ migrant workers as maids, groundskeepers, and maintenance workers, while seafood processing plants employ migrant workers as crab meat pickers and oyster shuckers.
As nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment had increased in recent years, the use of migrant workers had begun to create a bit of friction in Oceanic Park. Up until recently, it mostly had been limited to cranks calling talk shows or writing letters to newspapers to complain about the presence of people who couldn’t speak English or signs in Spanish.
Recently, however, things had escalated. A local radio station, WDSF Business Talk Radio, had hired an abrasive talk show host named Walter Braddock who hosted a morning drive-time show dubbed “Rude Awakening.” Braddock had taken up the issue of immigration and was trying to be deliberately provocative, referring to migrant workers as “wetbacks” and saying that their presence was causing Oceanic Park to resemble a third-world country. When people demanded that he apologize, Braddock refused and reveled in the controversy that he created. His provocative style appeared to be popular with listeners and his morning drive-time show was doing well in the ratings.
Now, the anti-immigrant flyer campaign was escalating things still further. There was something particularly nasty and ugly about it. And there were a lot of unanswered questions. Who were the Oceanic Park Vigilantes? Was the flyer campaign a stupid prank by some thrill-seeking kids? Was it a publicity stunt organized by Walter Braddock to stir up more interest in his talk show? Or was there something more serious and sinister behind it?