"I'll be with you in just a moment, ma'am." Ma'am?
I had just returned from the liquor store on the corner to get hand rolling tobacco for the twelve hour road trip to Albuquerque
. Second to last item on the list. I was holding an icepack to my elbow, dripping blood
I decided to just ride my skateboard to the store real quick like before ocelot
showed up, and took a huge chunk out of the sidewalk with my elbow, and strangely my shin. Fuck. Not a good start to the weekend. Last thing I needed is a case of swell-bo
to carry with me. That damn left elbow is going to be nothing but a scar
someday, sooner than later. Haven't bit it
like that in ages though.
"I was called a ma'am!" First thing ocelotbob says to me as I open the door, obviously amused. He was talking about visiting his local AAA
office for maps and whatnot. "She said, 'I'll be with you in just a moment, ma'am' and I said, 'at the moment, I'm a male
I laugh, packing things away into the Plymouth
Stuff the car, then off to Trader Joe's
for their usually fine selection of well priced liquors. A stout, stiff little bottle of British Navy Pusser's Rum
for crowjane, a heavy square bottle of vodka for me. Triplesec for bob.
Hellish traffic most of the way to Interstate 15
, a late start. Fuck fuck fuck
. Smile. Clench teeth. Relax. Smile.
Yeah, dumb that. Even thinking of leaving Los Angeles
. Towards Las Vegas
. On a weekend. Uncountable trucks, RVs, trailers towing watercraft or dirt bikes and cars packed to the windows with kids, pillows and jackets swarm around us like a cloud of angry bees
The 15 is the 15. Auspiciously mountainous beginnings in the El Cajon pass
, only to ground out in Victorville and on into the straight flat scorched nothingness of the Mojave Desert
Do not misunderstand me, I love and actively understand the desert, particularly the Mojave. I love it. I love the solitude, the scorching dry heat, the naked horizons, and the stars like powdered sugar on velvet. I love the creosote bush
, bottlebrush cactus
, barrel cactus
, and Joshua tree
. I love the rattlers
, and Solipsid vinagaroons
. The 15 is not the Mojave, it is a nearly endless procession of truck stops
, gas stations and the fastest growing suburban blight
in the known world. The Mojave lays behind all this filth, this plaque that would not even cling to its harsh existence without its precious artery of asphalt. The Mojave secretes itself in pockets behind heat blasted quorums of rock, sand, and creosote bush, at the end of a ribbed ribbon of sand winding through millennia of alluvial sediment, tectonic upheaval. The Mojave is a quiet buzz, a stasis, and a tension, an eternal waiting on geologic timescales
. Waiting for water, for seasons, for a favorable wind. For the prey and preying. Waiting
Needles gives way to the I-40, which dances a slow tango with Historic Route 66
is a blur of rest stops, truck stops, piss stops, smoke stops. Flagstaff
brightens over the darkened edge of the world rolling towards us, unfolding into constellations of sodium-gas glare. Climbs into forests, a pause to conjure with unfamiliar stars. My star map is no help, oddly. It only shows high-magnitude stars whose names I don't recognize, save for Aldebaran
, which are hidden behind trees. An astronomer I am not, save perhaps in longing. I doubt I could find Pleiades
here and now in the pin and needle stipple-scatter of the creamery butter-smooth Milky Way
. I learn later it is still below the horizon, my map calibrated for a distant latitude and longitude. I use a compass to find north, and find it nearly opposite of where I thought it would be.
The eastern border of Arizona passes meekly. Fatigue crumbles around us like indigo gauze
, muffling thoughts, perceptions and reactions, road-weary to the point of goofiness and hallucinations
. A road repair project uses this knowledge to actively fuck with us by removing the painted stripes and reflectors for ten miles. It is like driving into a blackened, starless sky. Velocity
almost become immeasurable with the lack of reference, an empty universe
. Spooked, we tread cautiously.
Bleary-eyed at a Love's
, I browse the ingredient tables of various behind the counter philters
. Truckers Love It. Double Stacks. Black Beauty. Magnum .357, Buzz Bombs, Stackers, Mini Naturals. A candy shop of alertness, mania
and eventual delusion
. Mountain Dew
and company gave up on me two hundred miles ago, waving a shredded white flag
and running a screaming defeat, tails tucked quivering. 'I want something with real ephedrine
in it.' 'You know ephedrine is bad for you, right?' Blink. I haven't used
any in nearly half a decade. 'I know.' The young clerks are helpful, if not amused. Long ago I used to chew 25 milligram MiniThin tablets like cherry Pez
, ridiculously disdaining true CNS
stimulants that would arguably do more for less. I inspect every bottle. I'm offered a garishly colored plastic cylinder like a toy pepper-spray unit covered in prismatic foil bearing exclamations, promises and warnings. A spray device promising to deliver the equivalent of 7.5 milligrams of ephedrine in the form of liquid ephedra
extracts, along with an encyclopedia of other herbal anti-fatigue tonics. I laugh, fingering the incongruous novelty, imagining some heavy-lidded trucker at the wheel of a doubled forty-footer loaded to the rafters with something hazardous or volatile, squirting this odd brew under his tongue feverishly. I select a bottle of tablets, which contains the least amount of superfluous ingredients, though this still has Kola nut extract for caffeine. Goddamned FDA
How you doing?
I'm alright, you need to keep talking to me, though. SO we need to find something to talk about to keep me going.
You feel the ephedra?
Yeah, I feel the ephedra, I don't know if I like it much.
So what should we talk about?
I dunno, throw a topic at me, a conversation.
Sure. I'm writing right now, about the trip so far. Hey. Is that the continental divide? I thought that was in Texas?
No I think that's it. See, there's the marker. Seven thousand, one hundred and twenty five feet. I need to find a rest stop.
stretches out like a wrinkled sheet of dun-colored canvas under a brightening sky. The sheer blackness gives way to an eastern smoky wash of delicate gray-blue, limning the first visible traces of mesa
. Glimmer is replaced by an orange-pink incandescence. We pull off the interstate, and I point ocelot
to a spot over a bridge just off the highway where I could watch the sunrise
while we rested. We stand and stamp out accumulated miles, making small talk in the pleasant dawn coolness. I point out the true dawn, moments away, and the fire of the sun slivers over the end of the world exactly on cue. Bob exclaims in a stunned amazement. He explains he has never seen a sunrise before now, and I exlaim my disbelief. We simply couldn't ask for a better example of one. Being a dedicated insomniac
I've seen countless, but this one easily ranks in my top ten, with it's grandeur and vastness. The desert suddenly has true color, sage
, long shadows perceptibly shrinking with a surreal swiftness.
Well into the morning, we crest over the final rise into the valley where Albuquerque
lays. Though I had no expectations it feels anticlimactic, but gentle. In an unnervingly unsudden way we find ourselves in a small city, as though we had been in it all along. Somewhere there was a nebulous transition, but it didn't come on in a crescendo of fragments, nor did it engulf us like a crashing wave of concrete and steel. Subtly, softly, it was just unassumingly there.
We find crowjane's
place easily, and I call her with my cell to make sure she's awake. Three words and she is on her apartment porch waving. We stumble into her wonderfully comfortable home, so lived in
grabs his sleeping bag and sprawls on the floor, but jane
and I are already falling into an easy, tangential banter. Very enjoyable, comfortable and especially so when prefaced by online conversations to build upon and refine. Bob tosses and turns while our conversation grows energetic. After a time, ocelotbob decides sleep is futile, and crowjane recommends we go for breakfast at the local diner, named 'Route 66 - Albuquerque', just a minutes walk down the road right on old Route 66
. The diner
is a classic, and not just one of those reconstituted MRE
tasting ones. I expect to find a brood of pomade-slicked greasers
staking out a booth and shooting nickels into the jukebox
, soft-shoeing across the checkered tile like rutting tomcats. Instead we find local oldsters drinking coffee and reading papers, and the hip young staff itching to get out to a proper bar, coffeehouse, or neo-pagan gathering of their choice.
A smoking section
! An honest to god smoking section! Toto, I don't think we're in California anymore. I order coffee, and a glass of milk. Crowjane and ocelotbob choose the 'Pile Up', an aptly named accidental mess of potato, egg, cheese, green chili sauce. We talk and talk, like the geeks we are, easily bridging the gulf of the unknown and the new with the commonality of thought and interest
, jumping topics like blacktop hopscotch
. Gorgeous. Talk turns to computing, an issue unresolved. Jane pulls a laptop out of her bag, bob shows her the missing settings box in XP
. I fiddle with my palm pilot while poking fun at jane for bringing her laptop to breakfast, but also vocally wishing that I had brought my own.
Back at janes, we loaf and talk, whiling away the morning. I break out the vodka, chain smoking, becoming energized by the good company and conversation despite the severe lack of sleep
. Crowjane samples her rum. Things move oddly, slowly, rules of physics bending gently. Things have certainly been surreal from the go, but not overwhelming. Ocelot heads for the shower. My friend Lisa
calls, saying she's called in sick
to work, and wants to come over and say hello. I haven't seen her in almost a year. She moved out here to Albuquerque last September. We tell her to cruise over. I'm supposed to be done showering before she shows up, but crowjane and I are still talking when she does. A big hug, a warm hello, and a few words or so and I leave her with strangers to hit the shower so we can leave.
I guess at some point I should actually discuss the nodermeet, and that point will be now. Ocelotbob, crowjane, and I arrived late, sadly, but ocelot and I were too cracked out
from 16+ hours on the road to move with any sort of vigor. Haze
and his wife Katie are excellent hosts, and their children robust examples of the joyful delirium of early childhood. MacArthur Parker
is funnier than a manic circus clown in a blender, sharp like a Gillette, yet still reassuringly human with his foibles. Starrynight
fled for some wedding when we arrived. A wedding?
Hi. Hello? There's noders to jive with, food to eat, and beer to drink! We later called him and 7ghent just in time to giddily harass them with non-sequitors
and to voice our objections sight unseen. Engelbot
and I swapped scary-silly mad science stories. Everyone told jokes, made lethal puns, and waxed elegant to serious as the topics and tangents phased to and fro with easy grace. Haze
sat and smiled a lot, thoughtful, obviously enjoying the odd company, and speaking up only when most succinct, choosing his words with an uncanny precision
. He and Katie plied us all with excellent food, of which I was only able to nibble at. I was so tired, that if I ate any decent amount I would immediately fall asleep. Luckily others tucked in with more appetite than I.
A turning point came as we discussed politics and the perils of activism, upon which MacArthur Parker said "We should fill the White House with bees!
", which sent everyone giggling like Boones
-drunken schoolgirls. A few conversations later, and Englebot
was telling us about, if I recall correctly, 'The Los Alamos Black Hole
'. Some ex-Los Alamos lab
employee who has been buying and collecting bizarre surplus hardware
and forming a sort of junkyard museum. I commented that it sounded a lot like someone I used to know who was a technology and information kleptomaniac. To illustrate, I had said something like "A trip through his backyard was like this; we'd be walking along, and he would pick up random items and announce what they were. 'Gieger counter. VT-100 terminal keyboard. Inflatable trauma pants
.'" which was found highly worthy of amusement in our drunkeness. Inflatable trauma pants. Inflatable trauma pants, filled with bees.
The day wound on into evening, the stars coming out with kindly enthusiasm, gently piercing an indigo canopy with a million-billion affirmations. We moved to their wonderful stone and tiled front patio to take in the stars and the evening cool. Talk was slow and easy, beers were sipped, cigarettes smoked.
At some point, crowjane talked about a story that reminded me of the novel I'm attempting to write. What I said about my novel reminded Haze about a Greg Bear
novel he had read called 'Blood Music'
, which he gave to me. What I've read of 'Blood Music'
does remind me of a much darker biotech
, and apparently more hopeless version of what I want to write. I should save such judgments for the end, though.
The gathering wound down slowly, and we said our goodbyes. Leaving felt like saying goodbye to family, with Haze and Katie and kids waving from the porch.
Back at crowjane's, I continued drinking and smoking, and we talked and geeked into the bright morning. She gave me a short, succinct, intuitive and extremely intense Reiki session, pinpointing several surprising things, even noting that my throat was thrashed from talking and smoking. She used rare earth
hard disk magnets in her hands, though her energy required no such aid. There were revelations, for sure, as well as discoveries, secrets, and knowledge shared. I'm afraid that at least one point into the early, early morning, I behaved oddly and even boorishly. Partially fuelled by sleepless delirium, partially by drink, but inexcusable nevertheless. I thank her for kindness, and incredibly open demeanor. Any of us would be so lucky to have her nearby.
Much of the journey back was a complete fog. An extended derangement of sleeplessness for the entire weekend spilling into the dry desert like so little water, soaking into the sands to return to which it came so suddenly. I remember sleeping fitfully on crowjane's hardwood living room floor. A leisurely meal at the local diner. Sneaking upstairs to whisper goodbye to crowjane.
Ocelotbob and I took random turns out of town into the sunset, and stumbled on the touristy but gorgeous Old Albuquerque
town center. I bought touristy postcards to fill out in the car and send to friends, one to grundoon
currently rusticating in Canada.
The drive back was taken slower, easier. A two hour nap for bob in the Meteor Crater
rest area off the 40. Another at some truck repair center tucked amidst the high mountain forests of Arizona.
We detoured from Kingsman, AZ
to take a segment of old Route 66, winding through the fire kissed, toppling slag-heap hills of Oatman
right on through to the California border. The 15 was the 15 again, as it always is, but we traversed Antelope Valley instead of immediately diving down the El Cajon
pass into the ever-expanding smog-choked madness of Southern California
. Ocelotbob tried to explain it away as trying to avoid afternoon traffic, but I knew he just wanted to drive Angeles Crest
over the mountains and down into the foothills of Pasadena and Glendale, where I would be dropped off, thus ending my journey. For now.
I'm left with only images and impressions, and a strange mix of disquiet and peace, as though I left something out there in the open, but brought back something wind-polished and mineral-dense.
I can only look forward to next time.