Hitchhiking east from the Grand Canyon, I got stranded for five hours in Flagstaff. Then, a crazy lady picked me up.
She wasn't extravagantly crazy or dangerous - but she had her problems. And, it wasn't she who drove me to Albuquerque, but I who drove her. She asked me to take the wheel. I was so happy to drive - even crazy Beth's old, beat-up Chevrolet.
Beth, a scrumpy blond lady, talked at me. It was impossible not to notice how, in the United States, the people I rode with were much more interested in what they had to say than what I thought. Americans rarely asked questions - some never did - much in contrast to the very-interested Canadian ride-givers. Many Americans seemed not to acknowledge they could learn from other people, perhaps thinking they already had the answers.
For example, Beth asked me one question I can remember. She did this in between stories of her visiting her boyfriend in prison, stopping her son from killing himself, and throwing gasoline on and trying to blow up an ex-boyfriend's motorcycle. She asked what my writings were about. As soon as I gave my brief answer, she shot that it was her passion to write. She claimed she would write her book, called, "How to Be a Super-Model in Your Own Mind in Your Living Room."
She told jokes, horrible jokes, and guffawed as if no one was funnier. "Did you know gravity doesn't exist? Yeah, the earth just really sucks." ... "You're 23!? What a coincidence. So am I!" (She was forty.)
One of Beth's problems was she allowed herself to become dependent on things. She was a "Pepsi-holic." She did all kinds of pain-killers and did them often, complaining about her knees and back. She had a handi-capped sign she used. She "tweaked" (did "speed"), as did most of her friends. She loved shopping. And, she couldn´t understand how I could possibly drive without sunglasses.
Her talking never relented. Albuquerque was five hours away. All I could do was put in one of her CD's and turn it up.
"Run, baby, run, baby, run, baby, run, baby, run!" - Sheryl Crow
I don't particularly like Sheryl Crow, but that song was awesome as I drove us through the dry nothing of Arizona, and it indicated how I felt about getting away from Beth.
Just then, we smelled smoke, and a worn-out tire popped. Great. I quickly got to work, utilizing Beth's car manual to change my first-ever flat tire. Beth, meanwhile, was as worthless as a walrus in the desert. She just kept chattering! I toiled desperately. I wanted/I needed to ... get ... to ... Albuquerque.
Beth couldn´t find a tool we needed, so we had to spend the night in the middle of nowhere. Darkness had already fallen upon the desolate land. Crazy, scrumpy Beth began freaking out at any plane or satellite in the night sky. She claimed aliens sometimes abducted her.
I slept coldly but most importantly sanely out in my sleeping bag, away from Beth in her car. First thing in the morning, Beth found our needed tool. I was proud of my first changed tire, and I was happy to save Beth money when I put on her new tire at Wal-mart. But, I was above all happy once I was away from Beth in Albuquerque. She was so drugged on pills and queasy and groggy, I didn't know if she could drive herself on.
Luckily, I was taken care of in Albuquerque. My friend Shauna Revo's parents hosted. The Revo's were a Jewish family that seemed close-knit. The father kissed his wife "hello" and hugged his teenage son. They showed pictures of Shauna's bar-mitzvah, a multi-day festivity in Israel. The mom took me out for salad and pizza at Scarpa's, which was awesome. The merry dad told me about olden days, about dances where he went nervously to ask girls to dance and got humiliated when they turned him down and he had to return back across the dance-foor alone.
The Revo's insisted I take $40 and all their phone numbers and hugged me good-bye in the morning. A retired Minnesotter pulling a travel trailer, Ken, picked me up south of Albuquerque and drove me all the way to White Sands National Monument.
Ken - a former deacon - and I had a wild conversation on theology. I said I believed in humanity and in resurrection, and that I believed life on earth could and should be paradise.
Ken's blue eyes became firy like ice. He excitedly supported most of what I said, but he then came back with wilder and wilder stuff. He said he was Robert E. Lee in a past life. In the time of Robin Hood, he was Friar John and his friend was Robin Hood. Ken said this friend could still wind his leg behind his back and kick him in the butt, and he laughed wildly.
"You're beautiful, and what you're doing is right," Ken told me. I got out at the White Sands National Monument. An imposing fence warned that people weren't allowed on the dunes. I hate fences. The only thing they're good for is climbing over.
I headed onto the modest, white, pretty sand dunes. A smooth bleach surface rolled around amongst plants and bushes, with mountains in the background. I trekked far to a cool, comfortable spot beneath a sand mound. I read, wrote, and ate pb&j's until nighttime. Then, I set up my dad's tent and played in the sand and ran naked in the night. Whoo!
There was time for "The Infamous, Amphibious Tennis Ball Game: Sand Dune-Style" the next morning.
Then, GREAT AMERICAN HIGHWAY - NM45 took me east across southern New Mexico. The road glided along at an elevation of 9000 feet. It was a cool temperature, mostly empty, and beautiful. Surrounding, hilly forest tried gaining a height advantage on the highway. The road passed small towns and small-town shops. A few homes dotted the scenery, some of them in riverside clearings beside planted willow trees.
I got into western Texas this day, so that crazy Frank could pick me up in the morning.
Driving down TX285, Frank was hillarious. With tan skin, he looked like a shorter, more round version of Eric Estrada, from CHiPs.
During the '70s, he used to travel around in a Cadillac, selling drugs and working construction as he watched rock bands like Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
He still drove a Cadillac, but he reservedly drove 52 mph nowadays. He said javolinas (hefty wild pigs) would cross the road. Frank hated javolinas. He carried a shotgun in the back so he could kill javolinas he saw just for the heck of it. They could do $4000 worth of damage to a car, he said. "The javolina ain't got no money. I'd take him to court. They'd say (about Frank), 'Man, those must've been some drugs he was on back in the '70s. He's still high." Jokester-voiced Frank delighted in his humor. "Ha, ha!"
He showed me the scenes of two fatal accidents - one caused by a javolina - along Hway 285. He showed where he'd stopped once and rode beside a 40-mph-running javolina. He actually acted out all the accidents right there, even stopping squarely and turning around and driving in the wrong lane. It was a pretty desolate road. He said, about his slow speed, "My wife hates riding with me. I go 52 now. When I'm 80, I'm going to be driving 20, in the shoulder, with my hazards on. The cop'll come by: 'Is something wrong?' 'No, not at all, Officer."
It was funny that he acted out driving motions to tell his stories, when he so feared accidents. He also opened up a beer as he drove. "You ain't no NARC, are you?"
He laughed also about hitting people. "Heck, I gotta watch for ill-e-gal aliens crossing the road sometimes. I'll look up, and there's a giant sombero running across the road. Ha, ha! Heck, I know that wasn't no javolina I just hit ...
"Yep. That's all I do. Go to work; come from work. Go to work. Come from work. I go home; screw the wife; pat the kids on the head. 'How was school?' ... 'Good, good.' 'I just killed someone today.' ... 'Good, good."
He worried about blown tires. He'd once seen an RV cross the mid-line of the highway for this. "If some guy in a 150/$180,000 RV hits me, I know he's got money ... 'I'll take your wife! She can clean my house. You - walk that way. I'll take what's left of your RV."
Frank said a few more hillarious things I can't mention here. He dropped me off, and 76-year-old Harry Adjemian let me in his van.
Harry was very wrinkled. His Armenian accent and temperament were generally a bit cranky. He asked if I liked rocks and geology, and I said those things were boring. Harry told then that he was a rock-and-mineral salesman.
So, we hadn't gotten off on the right foot. But, old Harry and I became good friends. Harry told me of his second wife, who he'd married when he was forty. It was nice to observe how he really loved and cherished this late wife. He told happily of how she sang, she danced, she painted, she cooked. He laughed to say she used to kick him out of the kitchen when he tried to cook.
Harry had always loved going to Mexico before, back when it used to be safe. He dreamed of going to Brazil or Peru or Argentina and paying for his trip by collecting rocks there. But, he said, he was old. I told him he still could do it if he really wanted to.
Harry drove me five hours to San Antonio - the last half-hour of which was out of his way. I said I'd send him a card for christmas. Harry said he'd send me one of his late wife's paintings. Harry was a great guy.
In San Antonio, I opted to save myself $20 on a hostel and headed to the airport for the night. My mom and grandparents would fly in the following day.
It was a great place to pass the night. A girl from Hawaii was there too. She was flying home and down to $1. So, she was very happy about the two things I could offer her: some stories of mine to read, and a pb&j sandwich.
We went outside the airport, to a slanted lawn. Green birds awoke and flew by the dozen out of trees, greeting us with crazy but friendly-sounding, airwaves-filling chirps. The Hawaiian, Melissa, played me a Thoreau-inspired song on her cello. She slept in my sleeping bag, and I put my tent over us. "You're a nice guy," she said.
I corrected and said I was more often the recipient of niceness, even from crazy people. We slept well on that slanted lawn, from one until five, until Melissa flew home in the morning.
Yep. - Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Elise; Jeff & Gigi; Beth; Ken; Tim; Howard; Larry; Juan & Ariel; Ernie; Frank; and Harry Adjemian for the rides!
Much thanks to Marti, Terri, Ian, (& my buddy, Shauna Revo) for the place to stay!
NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS; big centipede in the dunes, weird green birds