An Overland Odyssey: Travelling North America by Road

Part Two: Southern California to Santa Fe

Will Franks 🌊
ILLUMINATION

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Paintings by Jose Aceves
All images owned by the author

Read Part One here.

Day Four

America. I’m in. First stop: Calexico, California a dry and dusty border town, where almost everyone still speaks Spanish. Due to little choice of venues on the edge of town, I spend the evening in a Starbucks writing and charging my phone and checking maps for a well-aimed hitching spot for the following morning. I decide to sleep outside in a shopping estate (because right now it is simply the more interesting and exciting and evolutionary option than booking a lifeless motel), the kind of place with all manner of big stores and parking lots with bright lights and a strange static atmosphere, especially at night when there is no activity except a drunk (or high) dude with slick oily hair stumbling about and shouting angrily and who at one point walks right up close to me, looks at me and turns around and keeps stumbling on his way leaving me cooling off the possibility of a potential confrontation, standing and thinking where I might sleep that might be more serene so I get to exploring the vast big estate and soon come across a big bush connected to a semicircle of smaller bushes making a little cubby hole just the right size for a curled up human so I stuff my bags into the bush and set my sleeping bag as a pillow and lay down under a blanket and gaze at the bright sign opposite me of a smiling yellow star with the words “THANK YOU” beaming right into my face, and I say well of course I just do what I do and you’re most welcome, star of Carl’s Jr (if that is indeed that Carl Jr himself or even Carl Sr, inventor of the apparently popular “Charbroiled Burger” chain, a meat-preparation method which I have never heard of before and do not wish to know the workings of), and then because the strong white overhead lights are beginning to bug me and prevent drowsiness I turn my setup around so that I am perfectly snuggled into the shadow cast by the lights falling on those same small bushes and thus become invisible and feel much safer from any potential troublemakers and proceed to breathe and soothe and regenerate the inner space with the clear light of voidness delicious and weightless and rainbow dark and I smile for hours and hours with Maharaji and Ram Das and Hanuman and feel so happy in my unplanned unexpected karma yoga as a weird wandering travelling troubadour, my own unique way to god and divine adventure and feel the blessing of all of it even and especially the scruffy poverty of it and the demands on my survival intelligence and I feel my vibration refining and becoming subtler and more thoroughly inseparable from perception itself, and I lie for hours exploring awareness and strangely don’t feel tired at all and watch many cars roll through the night listening to the broken perfection of the nearby traffic light that says “password” in a robotic female voice every two minutes or so and then after a several hours I hear somebody whistling nearby and approaching footsteps getting louder and louder so that oh shit surely someone is heading right for me and so I brace myself for impact and when the steps are right up close I jump to my feet and there he is the same angry raving oily-haired drunk a mere three feet from my face only he is facing ninety degrees to the left so that I am seeing his profile and then to my absolute amazement he keeps walking and I realise with disbelief that he has not seen me or even registered my presence and he just keeps on going so after a brief shell-shocked second I duck back down under the bushes and watch through the branches as he stumbles on his way shouting BUMBACLART! and kicking a helpless bin and I crouch there for several minutes in shock and holy joy laughing at the miracle of the near encounter, safe in my apparently well-protected magic bubble of space. I curl up again but sleep doesn’t come just a ringing bright luminosity within and a calmness too, the calmness of trusting the universe and that whatever comes my way is perfect, utterly perfect for my ongoing evolution and unfoldment into soulful presence. After some time I need to pee and since getting up breaks the bubble of the spot I hoist my bag and walk around to sleep well for a few hours before sunrise outside a big boarded up store.

Day Five

Dawn greets me lined with palm trees and I her and rising with the orange I hop across to the food store opposite and find myself the first good dark chocolate I’ve had since Europe, after six months of its mysterious absence in Mexico despite being a producer country (for the basic reason that in Mexico chocolate is drunk not eaten). Well I am drunk with happiness at this reunion and eat an entire half bar with some fresh rice pudding from the deli in the warming kissing sun and after checking maps on my phone I hoick ten minutes over to a rather poor hitching spot (though it looked good on the map) because the cars are all too fast with nowhere easy to stop so after two long hours I catch a 7 mile bus ride to El Centro a town right on the interstate, the energy of the people on the bus is heavy and slow and dim, as if they were drugged or sedated and it makes me sad and I get my own first taste of the breaking of golden american dream, moving as I am through a sea of groaning fat bodies, cells and hearts plugged full of industrial molasses and artificial sweeteners and who knows what else and it gets me down but it’s also welcome because it sobers me up to the reality of life for these beings who live in the hot empty border towns of the southern states, so that when I’m finally out in the sun thumbing for rides on the busy highway on-ramp with a good space to stop (technically a near- perfect spot) I am sensitive to the hard angry hateful energies of the thousands of drivers who pass me by, most without acknowledgement, many with smiles and waves, and shrugs too, some with scowls and palpable disdain bordering on hatred, a few with a peace sign and one, before one shining heart power being slows down and swings in his big whiteblack campervan and sure enough I hop in and then I’m rolling free again on the generosity of the universe (not that I wasn’t when standing by the road, though, only now I feel it) and the indifference of a thousand drivers is balanced and subsumed in the kindness of one heart and my joy to connect with a new brother, the mighty Marcellus from San Diego who is driving the camper all the way to Tucson Arizona for a friend and that’s just swell for me so we spend the whole day talking and enjoying the company and he is a truly beautiful and generous dude with a kind peaceful spiritual energy and majestic freaky dreads and colourful bracelets and I’m glad and grateful to be rolling through the vast Arizona deserts with a new friend, marvelling at the sparse forests of solemn cacti and mountainous rock formations and the hot straight road stretching headlong before us into the shimmering distance.

As we talk I feel that the deep archetypal patterns underlying American culture are beginning to crystallise out of the chaos, revealing themselves to me in all manner of spoken and printed messages. “Gospel Rescue Mission” reads the name of one church in Las Cruces. A fat and friendly God-loving man in a Tucson chicken joint where I refill on water and coffee tells me how the good lord assists him in confronting the evil forces of darkness as they live and move here in the human world; how Jesus loves me; and he delights in telling me about his encounters with evil people and spirits and how satanic priests and cults across the country cannot overcome the protection of the good lord (and perhaps not, reasoning that the lord of love dwells within, and the open heart of kindness can embrace and hold any confused or demonic being, such that one is protected from absorbing any of this dark energy and thus indeed holds space for its transmutation into divine alivenes and conscious kindness). And yet it feels obvious how many Americans are identified with the good and firmly pitted against the evil, without realising that such reactivity actually reinforces the good-evil dualism, allowing psychological and social fragmentation to continue. Pitting yourself against evil (rather than living in heartfelt connection to and solidarity with the deep suffering inherent in those “immoral” and “evil” actions)… this only propagates the destructive patterns that we may call “evil”, and also strengthens the “shadow of the good” which is the unconscious rescuer role (manifesting across America and the Christian-Colonial Empire as an unconscious superiority complex and saviour complex). Hence, Gospel Rescue Mission. I don’t think either side of the good/evil divide realises that, by being opposed to one another, they are actually strengthening one’s appearance and psychological prominence in the culture. How fascinating!

Marcellus and I have a good big day of rich spiritual brotherly conversation talking through the religion and disconnect and decadence of the culture and also the seeds of revival and survival of indigenous wisdom, natural wisdom, natural living and the sprouting alternative regenerative cultures weaving their way through the land and the towns and the cities. The flames of hope are alive and well. That said, by the end of the day I feel quite depressed at the unexpected darkness and shallowness of the country, just a sea of big signs with piercing bright lights and big shops and big cars and a million metallic drive-ins serving plastic dead food to poisoned bodies, it is nightmarish and I connect to my heartbreak for the first time. I sleep out next to a bush on the edge of the estate under the stars and dream of a big-eyed owl with an intense piercing gaze perhaps somehow symbolising the all-seeing inner guru and knower of all psychological dynamics inside and outside of meditation.

Day Six

Next morning I shake and jump and stretch with the orange rising sunlight falling on my face and on the big sombrero rock formation behind me, a yellow hot air balloon soaring overhead in testament to the innocent and audacious skybound visions of humanity and especially of America. I eat two bananas with pure dark chocolate and sing some songs with my guitar, road songs, Americana, Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, Canned Heat and then head off for the highway. A Roma gypsy dude offers me drugs and when I refuse, still hands me a crystal telling me it isn’t drugs but an opal and indeed gifts me a shining little fluorescent rainbow rock, which I nonetheless decide to leave behind on a metal box, not knowing the energy or history of the strange and curious gemstone.

I get to the on-ramp ready for another long wait and my NEW MEX sign on a cardboard piece but within a mere ten minutes I’m riding with a good local boy Chris who is going to visit his injured brother and he is full and overflowing with that good American enthusiasm and heart and laughter and it gets me feeling very effortlessly and joyously well. An old hitchhiker himself, he is keen to drop me in a good spot and indeed pops me by an on-ramp in southern Tucson before his turning. Thumb out again, now on the edge of town amongst a scuttling flood of drug addicts who are limping and hopping and laughing and shouting and lying on the ground twitching and raving stark mad like one lady who comes up to me and tells me I know where her boys are and I gotta tell her where they are right now and at this I see how crack cocaine (and/or crystal meth) break the structure of the brain until what comes through is the unfiltered unorganised mess of the unconscious mind much like an infant child or a dream without coherent identity or story, and it’s sad really sad to see so many lost souls, and yet it’s perfect too and I find that I have grown in my capacity to respect the path of every soul even through madness and mayhem and not to place myself as a superior rescuer but just a being among beings, I’m doing my karma you’re doing yours and here we are and what a wonder that our paths have intersected in this utterly unexpected manner.

I write three acapella songs, little bluesy hitchhiking spirituals whilst waiting in the sun and thumbing for rides and slowly realise that in a neighbourhood full of junkies nobody wants to pick up a scruffy hippie, simply not worth the risk and I get to thinking about alternatives so catch a bus to downtown Tucson, book a cheap Greyhound to Las Cruces in Texas five hours along my route, and catch some live gypsy jazz before drifting off to all-embracing ambient music on the road.

Las Cruces is another flat pancake town of cars and shops and I’m flagging a little at this point running on only two or three hours of sleep a night but still, I feel bright and positive and spend the day writing in a fancy hipster cafe and studying travel maps and transport options because again in a border town like this everybody thinks you’re a smuggler or a junkie or a refugee from Mexico which makes hitching difficult at best so again I begrudgingly decide to bus it up to Alberquerque. I’m overjoyed to find a copy of The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk possibly the ultimate utopian science fiction novel in the local bookstore and spend the afternoon reading and sleeping on the dry grass in the central plaza. I leave with one hour to walk to the bus station at the edge of town at sunset and walking into the sun listening to music start feeling good at the unfolding adventure and keep walking and before long I realise I must have missed the bus station and then my phone dies and with only twenty minutes to go before departure (the last of the day) my other phone dies and now I’m out in the sticks with all manner of crusty dodgy figures shifting around in little caravan parks where I can smell the sour blue-white crystal meth smoke and receive hard blank stares from people in their doorways and when a woman gives me directions to the bus station I heel it one eighty degrees and start to run, for indeed I missed the correct turning quite a while a back and so with my heavy pack and guitar perhaps twenty kilograms in total I begin to really sprint as fast as I can (which despite the huffing puffing effort amounts to a comical and demoralising speed equivalent to a regular person’s fast walk), panting and slowing and speeding up again, people watching me shuffle by with little reaction (to them I am just one more scraggy mad junkie crazily hopping his way to another hit), take the turning down the correct road but no sign, no nothing but I keep going and keep running and nada and with five minutes to go I am accepting the inevitable and slowing down but figure also that I can definitely manage five more minutes hard sprint and it will be worth it on the off chance that I’m close, in order to fly on my way out of this strange apocalyptic caravan park and not spend the night, and in the final minute I see on the sidewalk below me graffitied in black spray paint WF (my initials) in a circle giving me a final burst of supportive free love energy from the universe which also manifests the sudden miraculous appearance of the very bus station I’ve been running for, and in a panting hot sweat I pop the door and slam my money on the counter (okay I waited for the card machine, but the metaphor stands) – right as the bus pulls up! I hop inside and breathe my way back to relative normality and eat a colossal pineapple salad that I found in town earlier with immense satisfaction, the satisfaction of a victorious warrior who has broken yet another imaginary barrier and my body feels happy and strong like a soldier in training and I sleep deep and dream good for several hours. I pass right through Alberquerque by night seeing only the inside of the bus station where I sleep and read for several hours before a long dark icy ambient walk through a desolate industrial landscape of freight cars and warehouses and empty lots and catch the 4AM train north to Santa Fe, scarcely aware of the next awaiting level of this strange and surreal video game that I will soon step into: North American winter.

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Will Franks 🌊
ILLUMINATION

A Heartbroken Terrified Warrior Who Is So Happy To Be Here. Meditator. Researcher. Soulmaker.