I. Setting Forth
Everyone has their vice of choice. Some find themselves at the bottom of a bottle of Makers Mark, while others seek refuge between the legs of women whose names enigmatically illuminate the sky for a night, only to be wiped away by the first rays of dawn. As for myself, although not opposed to the latter, have found no better lover than the road. Just when I got her pegged as a good girl she stumbles through the back door at three a.m. drunk and screaming ’cause she can’t find her cigarettes.
Sure, she might be rough around the edges, tirelessly unreliable, borderline psychotic, but at the end of the day when my head hits the pillow and I’m left with nothing but my thoughts, a content grin creeps upon my face reassuring me that at least she’s not a boring prude. If the road was a mistress she would indeed take you by the hand and show you the unfathomable, make sweet love to you beneath the great sea of stars and that very night slip out the back door without even a note. Yes, the road has been my blushin’ bride since I can care to remember, and despite the countless times she’s walked out on me I always leave the door unlocked, for I know, she’ll be back.
My mind was caught somewhere between the endless rows of cottonwood and the humming floorboards when she really came back to me. I had been in hiding for years and she found me lying restless on the floor of the waiting room that was my life, and now that I had her back I would follow her to the edge of the world if it came to it. When the certainty of routine becomes the monotony of life itself it’s time to pack up and hit the road. And as the many white lines passed between me and what I called home the wild inside me opened its dormant eyes and in an instant I was reborn.
Up until then, Tucson had been home for the last two years or so and if there was one thing I’d miss it would be those cool desert evenings where the mesquite sat under my nose and the stars rolled on for infinity. My last few weeks there I had spent most of my time plotting the next phase of my life while at the same time wondering if I was actually insane for leaving an excellent job for any twenty-five-year-old and trading it all in for a one-way ticket head first into the unknown. However, the longer this question sat on my tongue the more it became clear that I would have gone insane if I had actually stayed. Setting forth had become my only option. Just as no man can live without air, no man can truly be alive without taking a time to rendezvous with that which lies in his heart. I had watched the sun rise and fall too many times from the same dusted windowsill, knowing full well that out there a world completely unbeknownst to me was in full swing and to be merely a spectator was no longer enough. So, with a loaded car we turned out of the drive and as the Catalina’s faded from my sight I still felt a part of me lingering with them under the red sun.
Our first pit stop outside Tucson was in the small town of Wilcox. The sun hadn’t turned down at all, so standing there stretching my limbs under a still blue Arizona sky I smiled because I had nowhere to be and no one to please but my own bubbling curiosity. Combing the outside of a small squat n’ gobble I locked eyes with an elderly man wearing a ten-gallon hat seated across from a lady about the same age. Through the window I watched, and as he sipped coyly on his black coffee his weathered eyes began to speak. “Boy, I once raced like you, toiled and sweat under low afternoon skies, back before long years brought these brittle bones. Better not waste it, ya hear?” My response was a half grin as I realized the truth staring back at me. The undeniable truth that one day I too would sit and view the world with hardened eyes, skin ingrained with stories and fables just the same. That all that is born shall also die, and I no exception to this rule. The only thought that came to my mind following this moment of clarity was that I was I was not yet dead, rather fully alive and life was just beginning. I was happy.
Once we’d gotten our share of that small town we pushed on. Deming brought back memories of a hailstorm that fell out of nowhere and beat my car to hell and back. Las Cruces was and still is an anomaly to me. All I can say is that small towns and love affairs take on a life of their own and continue to replay in the mind long after ones parting dust has cleared. I thought back to the few days Mase and I spent there chasing all the petite brunettes from Cruces to El Paso as Marty Robbins sang tales of his fiery young maiden. I recalled one evening in particular my curiosity found me wandering the streets of Mesilla for no real reason other than the air was ripe with autumn and I felt like getting lost. I passed by a family that had just come out of La Posta, all grinning from ear to ear and still presumably buzzed off margaritas as they slowly put on their jackets and laughed all the way to their car.
White Sands New Mexico played with my mind as always, looking like snow covered hills in the blistering heat of day. Alamogordo didn’t spark much for memories but I did enjoy watching the setting sun light up the landscape purple as the last hot air balloons puffed up their envelopes in the dying day. Looking out the window as the sun fell I felt a wave of ecstasy fall over me. The world was sublime in every detail, albeit only a brief moment. Once the sun fell completely we came across a sleepy casino town called Ruidoso where we laid our hats and called it a day.
The next day found us heading out into a pristine New Mexican morning. Hills laden with sharp rocks and boulders lined the path all the way to Roswell where we stretched out and caught the UFO museum. I had been there many years ago when I was young but having seen two UFO’s on previous South American travels had expelled any remaining skepticism that even my thirteen-year-old self was capable of bearing. Once we hit Texas things really flattened out and my thoughts suddenly had miles and miles of seemingly endless land to ponder over. Plains was another small town where tired old farmers fumbled around in their faded jeans, dogs sprawled under their porches looking on as another Texas day had come and gone.
From my window, I watched the oil wells rise and fall methodically under the hot afternoon sun, pulling and pumping like the heart of America itself. Once the sun lost its seat at the high throne the oil wells became haunted silhouettes and began to look like hundreds of praying mantises coming to life in the old dark night. Rows of blinking power lines that push on as far as the eye permits, connecting the slow farmers with the hustling Wall Street maniacs and everyone in between. So much has changed since laboring men hoisted up the first power lines, and yet so much remains the same. And once Brownfield laid out her brick streets I began to wonder about the men that laid them and how their lives all played out years ago in fleeting moments of happiness and despair and if they were still alive what they’d have to say.
More rows of crops brought us all the way to Lubbock, Texas where a tireless gas station attendant filled me in on the previous night’s events. “Hadda big game last night man, shame all them Texas Tech girls be tucked pretty in their beds at this hour. Daammnn!” He had a sincere air about him, the kind one develops after years of watching people roll up, exchange half glances and drive off as fast as they came.
All the miles we had gone since Tucson had robbed a few hours from the clock and for the first time in years I had no idea what time it was nor did I care. I had spent so long living by numbers, routines and ticks of the clock to the point I believed it was all real. Then all at once that existence became a ghost in the attic while I sat in the sun-room of life and remembered the world as it was long ago. The further into Texas we got the accents grew thicker along with the locusts. By then night once again swept over the land and blinking power lines likened towering UFOs, observing the earth while scratching their heads and making arduous calculations. The birds had all settled in their nests, and buzzing locusts took their place as we drove into Wichita while the town tossed and turned in their sleep.
The next day we got hot on her trail as we headed straight for Paris then Texarkana, even Little Rock with her highways that twist and bend like snakes among the treetops. By then the days had begun to feel stitched together, the foliage being the only sure proof of a days progress. The trees were flush in ways I hadn’t seen or smelled in years. We arrived late at night to Alcoa, Tennessee and I could think of nothing else but a comfortable bed. As I turned the corner of the motel I spotted a red corvette parked inconspicuously in back as to not draw attention from the road. Motels always sparked my interest because they are where people go when they are either in a pinch, weary from the road, or to shack up with their one night Sallies and lay in smoke filled silence.
As my head hit the pillow that night I spent a time looking up at the ceiling perplexed at the craziness of it all. Everything made absolute sense and no sense at the same time, and I loved all of it. All around the world there were millions lying in their beds at that exact moment, and millions of others going about their lives completely oblivious to myself and my existence. I felt like running down the hall and banging on all the neighboring doors in attempt to express the sheer joy I felt. Then in a blink my thoughts and their charade disappeared leaving me alone with my bliss, void of all worry. Once my satori faded my thoughts came back again to the people. Would I meet them all? Of course I wouldn’t. But I would meet a few, and this was good enough.