Spent 36 hours in small border village of St Jon, mostly in gas station’s lobby, getting work done. Left St Jon on the legendary (and actual) Route 66, siding the I-40. (Till I was eventually forced back onto the interstate). The engine temperature is still playing tricks, but miraculously settled after the sun hid behind a cloud. I finished the drive in the night, came to Ft. Sumners.
Billy the Kid’s grave (and also, accessoirement, to a memorial of one of the not-uncommon episodes of Navajo – and more generally Indian – deportations… huh, I mean willingly forced displacement.)
Few encounters over the past days unfortunately. As the tourist season kicks in, there are more people on the road, everybody’s minding their own.
Driving to Roswell, desert and ranches again. Haven’t seen much or any unclaimed roadside: barbed wire lines even the smaller roads, walling the immensity of sand and dirt. Let’s get a taste of UFOs!
Waitress: “What are you having my friend?”
– Before the guy answers:
“A hard time?” Lovely laugh. “Another week?” Lovely laugh.
Few minutes later, guy gets back at waitress:
“So you been doing good?”
“So you haven’t been naughty?” (Not as good, but he retorted.)
The ten cowboy commandments:
1) Just one God
2) Honor yer Ma & Pa
3) No tellin or gossipin
4) Git yerself to Sunday meetin
5) Put nothin before God
6) No foolin around with another fellas gal
7) No killin
8) Watch yer mouth
9) Dont take what aint yers
10) Dont be hankerin around for yer buddys stuff
– Visit the Roswell UFO Center
– Wildfire in the mountains. Flies and insects swarming away from the thick red and black air.
– Breakdown: the car stalled in the mountains, first. Managed to start it again. Then a second time. Was lucky in some ways because the stall cuts power steering and breaks out as well. Also because I was nearby some houses, where I got a soda.
– The tow truck comes. The auto insurance handles the fee all the way to Las Cruces, a good hundred wenty miles or so.
– Robert, lean Mexican with green eyes, is mistaken for Italian in Georgia: builds bikes, don’t believe in Church although God, started as cleanup boy six years ago, now 23, towing and mech, doesn’t go for all the new biker BS, is a real old-school, tastes of music, TV shows (Happy Days, Father and Son). Hasn’t been around too far, but has the right spirit. Loves the road, to sit back in his yard and fall asleep with the stars above, or on the back of his truck, kick back. Weekends or rest days just likes to drive out to lone spot with buddies, smoke some pot, have some beers, shoot guns, but mostly sit back.
– Has a Yamaha 650, Suzuki etc, all ‘choppers’ from back in the day that he builds himself, dresses as such, sets up ice bag with pinpoint holes for AC. Also a F-150, and 4-wheel drive for the outdoors, “like death going down the road,” no chrome, painted all black, except on the front.
– “Sometimes I think I was born at the wrong time”
– I drop off the car at the dealership, where it will get inspected the next morning. I meet family friends, Nancy and Al, who help out and put me up for the night.
– Conversations: Al worked in city planning for many years, has written 2 books, one entitled something along the lines of “Why we should help the poor,” the other a self-help book (can’t remember exactly the angle), got PHD in psychology at 57, believes in non-chemical psychiatry, dealing with roots instead of symptoms, providing environment where patients are in comfort zone, left to deal with problems at their pace, not made to think of their issues as problems – they’re mere psychological reactions to an environment. Not unlike the more modern Talk about old age and process of disengagement, true but in fact increased focus on the important things, recall words from my grandpa about just watching time
– Car miracle… The car starts in the morning. I talk to the guy at the dealership: the engine diagnostic runs over a hundred dollars, with no guarantee that they can find the cause of mechanical failure. End up not having it checked thoroughly.
Al invited me to good breakfast grub, got a Mexican dish, colorful, dense and tasty.
Now @ El Sombrero, again happenstanced on a popular venue, families pouring in steadily, only trouble (for me, not in respect to the owner’s policy, meant to safeguard the customers, families and small kids) is that they’ve limited me at 3 beers… felt like dozing off yesterday’s events, enjoying some time off…
There are four things in life that have absolutely no value (says a gruffy war-vet-looking man to the waitress):
– Warm beer
– Cold coffee
– Cold women
– Wet toilet paper
Leave Las Cruces in the morning after witnessing a DUI in the parking lot where I elected to sleep.
Story of a dollar
I leave Las Cruces although my front right tire looks desolately flat. A mistake it turns out, because a few miles on the interstate, a car honks and as it overtakes me; the passenger screams and waves his arms. I stop at the next exit.
The tire looks very very flat.
I scrap through the glove compartment, pockets and bags in search for change. I can’t manage to collect enough spare coins to make for the dollar required by the air machine. In the driver’s tray, I find the shiny golden dollar coin that I got from a rest area in Texas, after a memorably beautiful and stressful drive through the desert hills.
Something about how new it looks. About its shine. About its story. I don’t want to part with it.
I enter the gas station reluctantly. The clerk, a kind woman, notices the golden coin immediately. She comments on it. I admit to her that I didn’t want to use it.
“Well, better air than a dollar,” she affirms wisely.
I inflate the tire (which in fact was, unbeknowst to my naïve self, inconjurably flat).
I can’t make up my mind to leave. There’s another thirty miles to El Paso. I return into the gas station and ask the kind lady if I can somehow pay for an item with a debit card and get the dollar coin back.
There’s a grumpy male manager that responds in the negative.
“It’s your lucky dollar, isn’t?” asks the clerk, compassionately.
She digs into her pocket, fishes a dollar bill, places it in the register, and hands me the coin.
I am very grateful to her – more so, to what that moment meant.
I’ll keep the dollar, as a constant reminder.
I park in downtown El Paso. From there one can breathe the hot air coming from the South, from Mexico. From Juarez, one of the world’s murder capitals these days. A swarthy woman walks by the car and notices the license plate.
“You’re from New York? God bless you.”
Couple screws loose up in her parents’ bedroom.
The midday heat hits violently. I find a shop and take the car in to fix the flat tire. I tip the guy heftily, reminiscing my morning benefactor.
4th of July is around the corner.
Meet Sarah at the museum.
Loll around the downtown area, they’re having a street festival that has attracted a rather large crowd, some evening fireworks.
In the morning, I have a monstruous hamburger at a ‘classic’ diner near the airport – which has long been acquired by a tentacular food chain.
Arrive in El Paso. Don’t know what to do. I feel confused. Tired already. Not a good sign. One of the reasons for this: I do not know where to go next. Head north, through the Rockies, all the way to Montana and Wyoming? Or salvage what’s left of the car, and make it due West through Arizona, the Grand Canyon, to California? The dilemma is work-related.
Get some rushed shots of cattle farms that I’d seen on the way to El Paso and meant to capture. Don’t want to be caught trespassing or nothing. I’ve had enough of those encounters.
End up in Las Cruces, don’t feel like going out but figure I’ll give it a try. OK – am looking for a ‘Tavern Keeper,’ a kind strangeress who’ll offer some hospitality. I wolf some whiskies at the town’s main venture, a bar with country dancing, salsa, hip-hop and karaoke. Leave there at closing time, frustrated (libidinously but also because this hasn’t been the best use of my time: I meant to be at the White Sands national monument at dawn to get some shots).
Sleep in the lot.
The mountain pass on the way to White Sands almost gets the better of the car. The gauge soars as I reach the peak. I let go of the gas and glide downhill, it comes back into the normal range.
Visit the monument: nice, but it’s too late: the whites are blinding. The heat is getting me. I lull, without thought. Drive to nearby town of Alamogordo, get groceries at Walmart, ice for the first time.
“How’s the son?
“They took him away again.”
“For some bullshit.”
“Because I didn’t take my depression pills, bullshit.”
“No, for that?”
“I’m not even depressed. I’m ADD. Just learned that. The doctor told me. This my brother by the way.”
“Nice to meet ya.”
Survive the day to the end of the afternoon and return to the monument.
Worth it. Priceless.
No words for it: seldom have I seen, felt, lived a scene of such natural, breath-taking, heart-wrenching beauty. The sun sets over the mountain range, the dunes awash in hues of blue shadows, the moon sets out, pale translucence of the fine sands; bristle. The stars come out.
(also about the desert’s silence, or how voices are carried on the wind for miles…)
I wish to spend the night out but am reminded out by the park ranger. I drive out of the White Sands guided by the moonlight alone, final instants of beatitude.
Make my way through the mountains back to Las Cruces, same trouble, same climax, same high and glide down to the city, where I drop from exhaustion, in the same parking lot as the previous night.
10th July. Wake up baked. Find the strength to work out in the parking lot. Start driving North, past border patrol check, past Upham, home the world’s first commercial spaceport (emphasis on this).
The rattle of White Sands has fed the crack in the windshield a good two extra inches.
Stop by Truth or Consequences, which I meant to. For the name, simply enough. Gets my vote as best name for a town. Otherwise dry and dreary. Dusty and sparse. Local as can get.
Eye on the engine temperature, as usual. Stop by in Socorro, intrigued by the signs advertising the ‘Contact’ project. I’m told it’s 45 miles east of here, so basically a hundred miles there and back. For a few shots.
Will I go?