Here is how I imagine this.
Her blonde hair is blowing in the wind, a red bandana snapping like a flag, keeping the little wisps out of her face as she’s driving. The cool mountain air, pine-scented and softened at its edges with the warmth from the sun, fills the car like the joy flowing through her veins at being out on her own, finally. There is no one looking over her shoulder, telling her what to do.
But she’s lonely, too. She’s discovered that traveling alone without the companionship of her Papa or her recently broken-hearted ex-husband isn’t quite the same. When she exclaims over a pretty bird, or wants to stop to see “The Thing,” after miles of road signs extolling its virtues, there’s no one to turn to over her shoulder, either. She’s decided at some point, to cheer her up, she’s going to up the adventure ante and pick up the next hitchhiker. A good-looking one, of course. And a man, obviously.
Having driven through Alpine many times myself, I see her yellow car slowing to the town’s 25 mph speed limit, all her windows down and some local ranchers gawking. She’d feel at home here, all the green grass and tall trees, but still feel the adventure of the wide open blue skies of the West, the absence of black people, all the brown people she’s never seen outside of her trip to Mexico and the last drive through Texas. She’s probably got a little fear-excitement sitting low in her belly, though the years of road trips with Papa have helped her feel safer in unfamiliar locations. Nothing bad has happened. Nothing bad will happen.
Mary passes the café with the chainsaw bear sculpture out front, the candy shop with colored flags in the window. She slows at the one stop sign in front of the gas station, where big diesel trucks are pulled up next to the two pumps, their trailers full of hay for the cattle and their drivers spitting tobacco and chatting, leaned up against their doors. Horses come close to the fence, the fields spreading back behind the station into the verdant little valley. She smiles at them, turns right and is already out of town. Just as she starts to accelerate to propel the Bug up the hill, she sees him up ahead, his pack beside him on the ground. There’s my dad. He sticks out his thumb, casually, looking back at her as if willing her to stop. Her fear-excitement jumps from her belly to her throat, and she thinks ,“This is it. “
She slows down, the car putt-putting as she puts it into neutral and pulls up beside him. Her upside-down smile peers out the passenger window.
“Need a ride?” For a moment he thinks she’s a guy, her hair pulled back and her no-makeup traveling face on. She has that strong jaw, and her prominent nose is more so without her hair framing her face. When he looks closer, he grins.
“What are you doing picking up a man by yourself?” I imagine his wheels turning, Ed – always on the prowl.
He’d throw his pack in the back, slam the door, and off they drove into my future.
I imagine it’s like being raised in a commune. Your little network of interactions is so specific and well-known. The outcomes of disagreements are easily predicted; no matter what happens you will stay friends or family, because you have to when your network is only six people deep.
Stepping out into the world of other new and strange people is a different ball game. Relationships are begun, destroyed, fall apart as easily as speaking your mind too bluntly. My second real job was in Glenwood, washing dishes in the institute of a cafe known as the Blue Front (now, sadly closed as many businesses in Glenwood have). I think I was too young to legally work, but the owners’ kids worked there too and besides, nobody cared. Everyone in town worked here or had worked here in the past. There aren’t a lot of options in a town of 500. Being in the back at first was good for me, since I was shy around people and would often freeze when faced with a question. I talked plenty once you got to know me, though. I had and have a lot of opinions, kinda known for that. I might tell you even if you don’t ask, now, though that’s something I’m trying to work on. I’ve discovered people often don’t want to hear what you think, even if they do ask.
The Blue Front started the granting of my freedom, by providing me with a little bit of money and a small group of mostly ladies that at least pretended to listen to me and maybe felt sorry for me. I credit them with the first lessons in relating to “normal” people who hadn’t lived in cars and buses their entire lives before this town.
I began to learn how to be in one place, what it meant to not always walk away from an issue or something I disliked. I’d never had to learn that before. Before, I’d known that it wouldn’t be long and the problem would be a distant memory.
I think that, didn’t’ I tell you I met your dad in 78. Then we traveled a little bit and ended up living in Tucson a few months. SO the summer of 79 I just realized is when we went to Alaska, so we talked about that. And that was probably September. We had a little bit of money so I think we backpacked around, we must have ended up somewhere in the southern part of the states, probably southwest because it was warmer.
Did you hitchhike?
Yeah, we did hitchhike some. Took the train, couple of places, Amtrak, I don’t think we ever took the bus. It’s kind of all blurry then but I remember somehow we ended up in Lee Vining, were there for a while with this older couple Blanche and Frank, I forget their last names. And we got hired on in Mammoth Lakes at the Motel 6. And that’s, I was pregnant with you already. So it was just a little village back then, I’m sure it’s grown quite a bit since then, it’s become a big resort town. But it was nice, we had a room and a hot plate we cooked our meals on, I craved hot fudge sundaes. There was a little ice cream bar across the street.
I love ice cream, so it must have been me.
Laughs. There were a couple of nice girls there, one was an Indian girl we became pretty good friends. She was working there too.
Indian from India?
No Native American. And of course that job ended, I got tired easily and I was starting to show by then I think. And I don’t know where we went from there, I have no idea.
Well you ended up in Lake Havasu.
Yeah, and we ended up living in a bus. So I think we probably went to Quartzsite from there, because I think that’s where we acquired the bus.
Had dad been there before, was he circling around to all these places like Quartzsite, or…
I think he had already traveled that route. Course they had big swap meets there in the winter and you can live on nothing.
How did he figure out this lifestyle? It’s not something his dad did so..?
No definitely not. I don’t know he was a drifter when I met him.
And that was after the war, right, Vietnam?
Yeah he just couldn’t, stay in one place for long, couldn’t settle down, things would get a little too tough with responsibilities or schedules and he’d just take off and go somewhere else.
I’ve been at a writer’s retreat in the Big Bend area this week…here’s a little something I worked on as an assignment.
The assignment was to write a non-fiction scene, in the style of a journalism long-form story. This was chosen as a stand out piece of writing to be presented to all attendees and instructors at a reading at the close of the retreat.
Freddy drops a quarter into the parking meter in front of the TV, turns the knob and you can hear it drop and clink with its fellows. The meter is an old-style one with a little gold plate that says “Police Officers Will Not Turn the Knob,” meaning maybe that it was from the day when actual cops had anything to do with parking tickets and people expected that cops should be there to help instead of hinder. The flag inside the glass bulb drops, and Freddy has two hours.
“It’s for Cowboys games, when he tries to come in here and camp out all day,” Harry said in his thick German accent, rolling his eyes. “Nobody wants to hear him going off like that; at least he can pay for it if we have to.” He grins toward Freddy, and you can tell it’s a subject that’s come up through the years over and over. Like the same long Texas evening, like when you step inside this place with the cow bones all over the porch roof, the same day just keeps replaying. Where the fun never stops.
It’s hot and sticky inside even with the swamp cooler and all of the fans blowing at once, kind of like sitting inside someone’s beer-scented mouth while they’re panting and sighing. Outside, a few locals are strumming guitars and a mandolin, taking turns singing and passing the same couple of women around. One has tattoos above her lady business, and cut off shorts and tube top to make sure you can see them – the other wears sweats and no makeup, with tough eyebrows like the cholas I knew in high school. She doesn’t smile.
“It’s 3 to one men to women out here,” the cute brown-skinned female bartender smiles. “I just stopped dating when I moved to Alpine for school.” She flips her short dark bob as she turns to serve another icy Lone Star – (Estrella Sola! The man she’s serving asks her, and she looks at him like he’s asking for Courvoisier. He explains it means the same thing as what she’d been handing him all night, just only in Spanish this time) – Harry leans in and says she does hav e a boyfriend who she doesn’t call her boyfriend. She disappears a little later with the non-boyfriend. 3 to one odds you’ll end up with one of those out here, I figure.
The guy with the gas pipeline company has been kicked out at least once today, but he comes back in and buys the whole bar a round, so they let him stay this time. He’s good and drunk, having a hard time focusing on anything and sweating all the way through his Stetson. He has small eyes, fat pink lips and I don’t like him, partly because he stands with his sweaty arm against me when there’s a whole bar to his left, partly because I’ve heard him talk about the female bartender who threw him out, repeatedly calling her a bitch and whining to anyone he buys a beer for that “she hates me.” I figure she knows him well enough to judge, since Freddy and Harry both say he’s a good guy. You can’t trust what they say, since they’re drinking the beers he just bought. Miller High Life and Natural Light, respectively.
“I raise pheasants, and let ‘em go out here,” says Freddy conversationally. “I just let 20 go in Ft. Davis. I put an ad in the paper in up there to let people know not to shoot them ‘til December. I want to reintroduce them to this part of Texas. Gotta keep the rednecks and Mexicans from shooting them all, though! At least for a while, give ‘em time to breed,” he laughs, rubbing his big belly. “I put the ad in Spanish and English.” He’s Hispanic – about 45, greying, with the body of a long-haul truck driver. He says he’s not bitter about his wife leaving him with their two daughters. But that was 12 years ago and he hasn’t dated much.
“Freddy’s probably the smartest guy in town, even though it doesn’t seem like it,” Harry says to me, keeping up his revelatory side conversation. “He’s just acting dumb.” I’m not sure why Harry’s giving me the inside scoop, maybe to set himself up as the guy who knows everything about everyone. If I lived here, I don’t think I’d tell Harry anything unless I had a reason for piping information into the gossip mill. Just like when someone tells you “Don’t trust so-and-so,” I make it a rule never to trust the speaker of those words.
Scott the pipeline guy oozes back inside to lean against a bar stool next to mine – too much cologne, undertone of sweat, liquor and ready-to-hump. “It’s so dang hot! I can’t stand it,” he complains, trying to get someone to talk to him. He pulls out his phone and sloppily tries to text. I glimpse the screen and two words in his conversation before he makes a “How Dare You” face and slaps it against his chest so I can’t see it. He pouts his lips, playing coy, like, I can’t believe you peeked!
“She fucks,” the text says. Over the bar, a sign says “We Don’t Rent Pigs.”