Friday, August 27, 2010

Big Bend 6 of 6

Day 6

Austin. Around 5AM, I heard a crunching outside my tent just before a flashlight spotlighted into the mesh roof. Good thing I wasn’t nude. “Carlos?” I heard. It was Scott. He’d be leaving within the hour and wanted to know if I still wanted a ride. Yes. It was either leave with Scott or not leave the park at all. He vanished and I packed my gear in the dark.

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 Indiana 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.

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 Ozona, Texas 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.

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 Houston, and took me home. Decent man. Also a new online friend.

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.


austin1503 said...

I was curious as to what kind of beer Jimmy had. Sounds like a good trip!

Pearl said...

Oh, I really enjoyed that.


Leslie said...

...more alive than when you left?

Heather said...

I really enjoyed traveling through the wild with you and so glad you made it back okay.

f8hasit said...

"More alive than many. More alive than most. "

That is so obviously true Carlos. What a great read. The entire thing. I truly enjoyed reading about your experience...and can't wait to hear some more of the little tidbits that'll come to mind.


C. Andres Alderete said...

Austin1503, it was Bud Light, I believe. 16oz. He'd toss the empties out the window.

Thank you, Pearl.

Leslie, absolutely.

Thank you as well, Heather. I'm glad to not be dead too.

Thanks, Nancy. I'll try not to disappoint with hateful rants.

Chindiana said...

Finally caught up with your latest adventure Carlos - this here's a great foundation for a whimsical road trip movie - giant killer bears, mutant bob cats, good cop, bad cop, symphatetic cop (was she cute?), a wanted outlaw, genial business man (who could turn out to be a member of the Illuminati), framed by gorgeous mountains streaked by shooting stars. If the script is ready can I play Jody? (only if you write him up as the Head Boss Illuminati, Texas branch)

JennAventures said...

These have been nearly perfect(I'm particular alright) posts!

I think my favorite was Mr. Aesop.

And you were right, it was a bat.

Dreamfarm Girl said...

Damn it, I loved this so much I will have to go back and read the ones I missed since you almost died of heat exposure in the desert. And just as I was ready to shut down and go to bed. I love the night sky as a combination lock. I have never thought those words, but have felt that feeling whenever I look into its depth on the rare occasion that I am out of the city.

Rene LeBlanc, Mother, and hopefully, later my relunctant son, Colin (who also has autism...sorry I'm outing you Colin) said...

Right poetic, Carlos. Nineteen-eighty. Ouch. I was calculating at some point tonight how long I'd live (rather what age I thought I'd live to when I was a twelve-year-old). . . I'd like to change that estimate. Nice post. (It's too late for me to think of a more accurate descriptor--sorry, your essays deserve better.) "More alive than most." It's ringing, so to speak. But now I'm worried about Jimmy. "Hot" in Ozona. More than sad.

C. Andres Alderete said...

Nice, Chindiana. I got a chuckle out of that one. And yes, she was a looker.

JennAventures said...

So I couldn't find where to comment on your latest post. Maybe you don't care what others have to say, and I suppose that's fine. I'm really sorry to hear about your friend. Its tough when good people die-and also the mental fallout from realizing mortality is never pleasant.

On a completely separate note-saw your tweet about Glenn Beck...I loathe the man. What he does is draw on ignorance and hate...I deplore that he is celebrated and actively fantasize about him getting his ass beat...or caught in a hotel room hiring a transvestite hooker.

Julie Buz. said...

This was SO beautiful, Carlos. I enjoyed re-reading it!

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