The mountains circling the basin cut into the starry horizon like jagged blots of ink and I lost a lot of time just staring at what I could see of the universe. Stars without light pollution make so much more sense. Of course humanity would create time and navigation and mathematics and religion and pure wonder in a world without lights. Things are recognizable in a dark sky. Constellations and their paths are not impossible to identify and follow and if you’re a creature on the brink of reason, you’re going to incorporate into your life what you see in the night as you would prevailing winds, tides, weather patterns, and animal migrations. The sky as a system in our cognitive development seems to be lost these days. It doesn’t affect us the way so many natural systems have in the past and we forget that it’s there, like a season that warms and cools the mind alone. It’s like a combination lock, spinning in billions of independent dynamos and of all the beasts on this planet, it’s ours to figure out and explore but we’ve forgotten about it. Where would we be, I wonder, if our faces weren’t cemented to so many luxuries that simply ease the slow passing of our time? Where would we be if humanity’s attention had never left the stars? Don’t know. Meteorites streaked across the sky. Five in three minutes. It sounds like bullshit, I suppose, seeing so many meteorites in so few days, seeing them every time I’ve ever hitchhiked, but they’re there. I promise. All you have to do is look up. I’ve met adults who have never seen one.
Scott and I left
Big Bend and he dropped me off on I-10 where he’d picked me up. He disappeared toward and resurfaced as my Facebook friend. I’m okay with that. I walked a couple of miles to an underpass that in the blistering heat, never seemed to get any closer. There, I constructed this sign and sat for the next 4 hours. Indiana
It was the only shade as far as the eye could see and you could see in all directions after you left the mountains and wandered in the flat of an all-around desert. I stood for a while. I sat. I read. I stretched my back. I paced in bored circles. I despaired. Shortly after arriving, this bizarre creature appeared:
I obsessed over it for about an hour. It looked like a wildcat of some sort but it had a long snout like a fox. At first it lazily watched the chattering birds that swarmed the underpass then it slept. I could have crept up and had a closer look while it napped but I left it alone. What a total asshole I’d be to chase it away from the only comfortable shade for miles. Anyway, I named him Mr. Aesop.
After several hours of doing nothing, the heat began to overtake my senses and I started nodding with sleep. The occasional jerk wailed an amplified and elongated horn as s/he (likely he) passed, and the fox and I would snap awake, wag our heads with bewilderment then eye each other with suspicion. During a moment of wakefulness, I turned in the direction of traffic that had judged me and passed and saw a beat up red truck reversing on the interstate’s shoulder. I sprang off the road, waved au revoir to Mr. Aesop, and met the truck half way to my bridge.
Jimmy Ortega was a long-haired Mexican-Indian looking man with a red bandana covering much of his forehead like an indigenous outlaw of yesteryear or Axl Rose. He wore a sleeveless tee shirt, exposing a massive black widow tattoo down his right arm and an equally sized snake down the inside of his left. His eyes beneath the red bandana held a comatose vacancy and his right hand held a tall can of beer. I hopped in. Jimmy was a kind and generous but tragic man who admitted alcoholism and drug addiction and celebrated a life of aimless rebellion, strife, and self destruction. I hated his tragedy and even though he was born in 1969, 11 years before me, I wanted to grab him by his shoulders and shake him until he realized he’s a man who’s been pitted against himself since the day he came out of his mother’s womb with brown skin. I think I’ve transcended feeling angry over race and class and gender discrimination. I’m just overwhelmingly saddened by the ignorance of their victims now. Family, friends, and myself included. Jimmy had two sons, one freshly paroled from prison, the other freshly put in. He lived with his daughter and because he didn’t have his own, he gave me her cell number in case I couldn’t get a ride by nightfall. We rode 100 miles into his hometown, Ozona, where he was “hot.” He asked me not to tell cops how I got there if they stopped me. “Just tell them I was looking for work and I picked you up 12 miles out of town. That’s it.” I agreed. “It’s because I’m hot in this town,” he repeated. I said I understood.
Jimmy dropped me off and I lugged myself into a restaurant for my first meal of the day. The usual stares followed me to my table and with satisfaction, I recognized familiar faces I’d seen pass me in countless cars on I-10. I don’t blame them for not picking me up but I do hope they felt ridiculous for not stopping. I’ve picked up rides that way.
The walk back to the highway proved to be too much for my old hiking boots and the sole on my right foot ripped half off. I had noticed their decline while at Big Bend and hoped they’d weather the trip, but alas, outside of
on August 17, 2010, shoes that have seen upwards of 10,000 miles in three different countries died. A moment of silence please. . . .Thank you. Ozona, Texas
I was walking like a man in clown shoes, searching for a shady place to duct tape my flapping shoe when Jody stopped for me. I liked Jody. Within the first few minutes of our ride together, he pointed to the side of the road and said, “Oh that looks like a good place to hide a body” and laughed hysterically. “I was thinking the same thing,” I told him. He and I had a lot in common, personality-wise. In everything else, we were markedly different. He was 40, married 13 years, a business owner, and a father of two children. He was a successful foil of me. We ranted, laughed, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. He even drove me an hour past
San Antonio, the junction by which he intended to change directions and continue to , and took me home. Decent man. Also a new online friend. Houston
So yeah, I made it back. And for those of you who worried so much about me, here I am, and I didn’t just survive. I made it back alive. More alive than many. More alive than most.