Monday, October 14, 2013

Westward Ho!

You'd be surprised at how much can fit into the back of a small Toyota pickup truck that's covered with a shell.  Seven boxes of record albums, a twenty gallon fish aquarium with a stand and filters, clothing, a 22 rifle, a 33 millimeter camera.   In the small front of the truck which seats two, you can fit a small pet carrier with a manx cat inside, and by the passengers feet you can even fit a medium sized German Shepherd.
We had decided that with Southern Records being closed, my divorce and the Liberty City race riots, it might be a good time to pack up all our worldly belongings and set out on a cross country adventure.
"Some of my best friends live in Santa Fe, New Mexico," said Norman.  "That'll be a great place to visit.  And a couple that I went to college with live in Oklahoma and have been bugging me to visit them for years.  Let's go."
That was about the extent of our plan.  My mother was not too happy that I was leaving my hometown of Miami.
"You know your dad is really upset that you're leaving," she told me one day in an attempt to get the guilt to kick in.
I figured it would be a good idea to go talk to my mom and dad, I owed them at least that much, a visit in person.
I showed up at my parents house, the house that I'd had so many memories of my youth, so many good times in Miami Springs on Hunting Lodge Drive.  There wasn't much for me there those days.  Susan had gotten married, moved to Orlando and already had a baby, Monica was living with her soon to be husband who she'd end up having a son with, and moving to New York.  Jim and Carol were getting ready to make one of their many moves for his job, Laura had moved to Brownsville, Texas with her husband.  My first attempt at marriage was a big fat joke, which I was more than eager to get away from.  It was a time of change for all of us.  I was excited about putting some miles between me and my first twenty years.
When I walked into the living room, my dad was sitting in his favorite chair reading the Miami Herald.  Mom had a concerned look on her face, she wasn't ready to cut the apron strings yet.
Best to jump right in and talk I figured.  "Dad, mom tells me you're upset that I'm moving."
My father looked up at me from behind his reading glasses, blinking and said, "No.  I'm not upset."
I don't know if this was a man who didn't want a confrontation, something my mother was itching for, or more likely, he was open to his daughter going on an adventure.  After all, he'd left his hometown of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania right after graduating high school and never looked back.  There wasn't much to say.  My mother wasn't going to get a fight out of him or me.
The "No, I'm not upset," was all I got out of Dad.  No lecture about being careful on the road, no pep talk about how great it was going to be to be on a cross-country adventure.  Nothing.  Just, "No, I'm not upset."
Mom and I huddled in the kitchen, where she stood wringing her hands.  She still hadn't met my boyfriend even.  "Yennyfair, you really going to do this?"
"Yes, mom I'm going to be fine."
"Well, I want to meet the person you're moving with."
A couple of days later, after we had the Toyota packed to the gills, Norman and I planned to meet my mother in the parking lot of the record store where he worked.  It was his last day.  Norman was one of the nicest men I've ever dated; polite, funny, caring and loving.  My mother had nothing to worry about but she didn't know that.  As we waited in the parking lot, I saw Mom pull up in the gold Chevy Impala, a worried look on her face.  We all got out of the car and made introductions.  I can't really remember any of what was said other than my mom hugging me and saying to Norman, "Take good care of my baby."  I leaned into my mother as she gave me a fierce hug.  She smelled of Oil of Olay.  That would turn out to be the last time I lived in Florida.
We spent the very last night of my life in Florida at our friends Larry and Bill's condo in Kendall.  Larry and Bill were two good ol' boy drinking buddies that Norman and I had befriended at the Crown Disco Lounge in South Miami.  That was a place that we liked to hang out at after work for a night of drinking and listening to disco music in the dim lounge with the large dance floor that featured a glittering disco ball in the center.
"You all are stayin' with us tomorrow night," slurred Larry over a scotch and water.  "You guys need a place to stay, me and Bill here are always happy to help," he said while hugging his brother, a tall redneck with dark hair who tried to look as white collar as possible.  "And you bring that dog and cat of yours too."
We had already moved out of the migrant farm worker house in Florida City and needed a place to stay just for the one night, so it was off to Larry and Bill's bachelor pad where they showed us around.  The condo was a small two bedroom cracker box, on one of the many lakes (read rock quarry with reptiles swimming in it) that graced the Kendall area; an area like all of South Florida that was really meant as a home to the wildlife of the everglades, but instead was built up by hungry developers to house families and hard core drinkers alike.
"This here'll be your room for the night," said Larry, opening the door onto a bedroom with one queen sized bed.  "You guys can have these army blankets I got from the good ol' U S of A," he said while handing us a couple of scratchy green army blankets.  "They'll keep you warm while you're traveling."
Bill continued the tour, a slight sway to his step from getting a head start on drinking that day.  "This here's the bathroom.  Cushy toilet seat's for my hemorrhoids, and that fake salt in the kitchen's for my high blood pressure," he said with a laugh.  "Feel free to help yourself to anything.  Me and Larry's heading out to Crown.  Got us some serious drinking to do."
Norman and I hunkered in for the night, getting King and Princess settled into the bedroom.  We fell asleep under the scratchy army blankets and were awakened around two thirty in the morning to King letting out a low growl and bark as Larry and Bill staggered into the condo for the night.
"Just doin' his job," I heard Larry laugh.
Bright and early, and we were off, Larry and Bill waving to us from their post on the front porch, cotton robed and steaming mugs of coffee in their hands.

We had decided ahead of time to take turns driving one tank-full at a time.  We had a supply of cassettes with music like The Beach Boys, The Mama's and the Papa's, The Rolling Stones and The Young Rascals.
"Listen, I can do all the voices of the Beach Boys," said Norman as he sang along with one of their many harmonious songs.
I was excited to be on the open road.  The further we drove through the long state of Florida, the more I felt my old life slipping away from me.  I felt free for the first time in awhile.  We drove and sang, drove and ate fast food, drove and laughed, drove and drove.  I had made the right decision.  I was happy.

Amarillo, Texas is located at the very top of Texas, the area known as the panhandle.  We were driving on Interstate 40, the main highway through that section of Texas, which is long, hot, dry and flat--an arsonists dream.  The panorama goes by in a monotonous repetitive scene--miles and miles of government issued fencing which lines the highway to hell.  It was Norman's turn to drive and since we didn't have air conditioning in the truck, I was trying to cool off by sticking my head out the window hoping for a breeze.  It felt like someone had taken a giant blow dryer and was blowing it right in my face.  King lay by my feet, unresponsive in the heat.  Princess curled up in her cat carrier, eyes closed, pink tongue panting, trying to get some relief from the heat.  It was getting late in the day, the shadows getting long.
"Let's find a place to stop for the night," I told Norman who was busily looking for signs of civilization.  There were none.  We'd already passed through the last chance stop for gas many miles ago, a dusty place where a desiccated old man wearing a white mechanics jumpsuit had jumped up from his position on a folding chair, tossed aside the sports section, and pumped gas for us.  We'd seen nothing but tumbleweeds and scrub brush since then.  Suddenly, a small town loomed in the distance.  Was it a mirage or was that really a Motel 6?  It was!  The neon sign outside the two story L shaped building advertised $19.99 a night in blinking neon (blinking because the sign was threatening to burn out).
“Looks like they’ve even got air-conditioning,” Norman mused as we pulled into the dusty parking lot, white gravel crunching underneath our tires.
The first thing I noticed about the Motel 6 was the sparkling blue pool surrounded by a chain link fence, hard white plastic lounge chairs haphazardly strewn about the concrete pool area.  How great would it feel to jump headfirst into that pool?  We stopped in front of the office, Norman pulling the parking brake up as the Toyota slammed to a stop.
The reception area, if you can call it that, of the Motel 6 was a cracker box sized room with a long white counter directly in front, rows of wire holders on the left which held an assortment of brochures detailing all the fun we could have in Amarillo, Texas. Get Your Kicks On Historic Route 66 or Camp in Palo Duro Canyon.  I’d be camping in the Motel 6 tonight, thank you very much.  A bespectacled man wearing a white t-shirt advertising a local plumbing company turned the considerable volume down on the black and white TV that was blaring an episode of The Price Is Right.  Bells rang and grandmothers who waited to be called to Come On Down screamed.  What is it about game shows that makes the contestants look like they’ve consumed way too much Red Bull?
“Can ah hep ya folks?”
“We’d like a room for the night,” said Norman while extracting his brown faux leather wallet (the one he’d bought at K-Mart) from his back jeans pocket.
“You folks have pets?” said the hotel manager while craning his neck past us and looking suspiciously out the window at our truck in which sat an almost full grown German Shepherd.  “Twenty-five buck cleaning deposit.”
We made our way, key in hand to room sixteen which was right next to the ice machine and vending machine, the latter offering a tempting array of hydrogenated, high sugar delicacies like Butterfinger bars and my personal favorite, Cheez-Its.  We opened the door onto home, sweet, home.  The room featured a queen sized bed with one scratchy sheet, two flat as pancake pillows, an open-air closet with three rusting wire coat hangers, a black and white TV hanging near the ceiling, which would be certain to cause a crick in the neck to the viewer, a sink with a large crack running through the middle, a bar of soap about the size of a postage stamp, and an air conditioning unit against one wall.  I walked over to the air conditioner and turned the knob onto high and was rewarded with a blast of cold air, the fan blowing my long blonde hair behind my head.  I walked into the toilet and shower area, flipped the light switch and the fan came on at the same time.  That’s how you can always tell the grade of hotel you’re staying in--either the fan is separate (in high class resorts) or it’s all one unit (in dives like the Motel 6).
“I’m going to walk King,” said Norman while clipping the black leather leash onto King’s choke collar.  “Why don’t you put on your suit and I’ll meet you in the pool when I get back.”
I let Princess out of her cat carrier, her small tailless body creeping out with suspicion.  “Hey sweetie, you hungry baby?” I said while filling her plastic food bowl with Friskies.

The pool area was devoid of any decoration at all.  No poolside bar with a Calypso band playing.  No scantily clad cabana boys offering me ice cold lemon-aide, no plush lounge chairs.  There was basically: the kidney shaped pool, about ten cheap molded plastic lounge chairs haphazardly set out on the hot concrete, a torn net on a long pole resting against the chain link fence and a sign advising me what to do if someone drowned.  I was to check for an open airway by tilting the victims head back, then I was to run to the nearest pay phone and dial 911.
I dove headfirst into the sparkling water and was thrilled with the feel of cool water rushing against my skin.  Popping my head up, I could feel the hot, dry blow dyer air doing its best to dry my face.  I floated on my back as a family of four; mother, father, two requisite screaming boys entered the pool area, the boys squealing with laughter, executing perfect cannonballs into the water, splashing happily.  Norman followed behind them, one scratchy white motel towel draped over his shoulder.
“Guess what?  There’s a Taco Bell in town,” he said.
We loved Taco Bell.  Norman had worked at a Taco Bell during college and told me that they used real beans in their bean burritos.  Good enough for me.
“Really?  Where?  Let’s go.”
“Well, I don’t really know where it is but I saw a Taco Bell cup on the sidewalk when I was walking King.  We’ll ask the manager.”

As the sun set, we sat at the small table by the window in our room, King and Princess sleeping contentedly on the lumpy bed, and ate our feast from Taco Bell; bean and cheese burritos with green sauce, bean and cheese tostadas with extra cheese and gobfuls of hot sauce squeezed out of individual hot sauce packets.  We showered, and as I climbed under the covers, Norman grabbed a handful of quarters off the dresser.
“This is so funny.  I’ve never seen a vibrating bed before,” he said while feeding a quarter into a coin slot that was positioned at the top of the headboard.
The entire bed started to shimmy and shake, sending a surprised Princess jumping off the bed, her fur standing straight up as she streaked underneath the bed for cover.  The vibrating bed was supposed to be relaxing and soothing but really it just felt like a train was going by.  Once the shaking finally stopped, I closed my eyes and fell into a deep sleep dreaming of cabana boys.

After you drive through Albuquerque, New Mexico--a city that looks like a giant had been playing, built a sandcastle city, then inverted a large plastic bowl over the city to trap in all the exhaust fumes and dust--you start the climb up the long winding road to Santa Fe.  It’s sixty miles of elevation, landing you in the capital of New Mexico which is at an elevation of 7,260 ft. above sea level.
This charming artists community is filled with beautiful adobe homes, historic cathedrals, a town square where the locals like to relax on a park bench or play chess while the Native American’s sell their handmade turquoise jewelry.  The town features authentic Southwestern Mexican restaurants like Tomasita’s where I tasted the most delicious green chili burrito I’ve ever eaten, and bars.  Lots of bars.
“I told my buddy, the Hip, that we’d meet him here,” said Norman as he pulled the Toyota into the parking lot of a local watering hole.  I can’t remember the name of the place but it was probably something along the lines of The Double Down or The Tequila Slammer.
‘The Hip’ was a tall blond long haired guy who looked like Greg Allman.  He strode into the bar with a decisive air, a few of the local girls smiling in admiration as they took long pulls off of their Coors beer bottles.
“Hey man, good to see you!” he said to Norman pulling him into a bear hug.  “And this must be Jenny.”
Norman had been visiting Santa Fe for a few years because his friends Jim Lang and The Hip, who he’d grown up with in Nutley, New Jersey, had relocated there.
“Lot’s of work here if you want to work in the service industry,” said Hip.  “It’s either you got money and one of those big adobe houses out in the desert or you’re working behind a bar or flipping burgers.  Jimmy got a job as a chef so he’s making pretty good money.  The day’s are warm and the beer is cold, so who am I to complain?”
From there we made our way to Jim Lang’s house, a humble adobe home in a residential neighborhood.  Loud music blared from the living room when we walked in, King on the leash, Princess patiently waiting in her cat carrier in the truck.  A tall man wearing a faded red plaid shirt who looked like Grizzly Adams barreled into the living room from the kitchen carrying a couple of cold beers for us.
“Name’s Woodie,” he said.  “Welcome to Santa Fe.”
The house was turning into pandemonium as more people arrived, laughing, smoking and drinking.  Suddenly, Woodie opened the back door and a pig ran into the living room.  This was not a smart pet pig like Arnold on Green Acres.  This was a regular, barnyard pig that was not sure what it was doing in a living room as it ran circles around the coffee table.  King jumped up onto the sofa in alarm without even bending his legs.
“That’s my pig,” said Woodie.  “I’m plumping him up for a big barbecue we’re gonna have.  So, don’t be thinking of naming him.”
A few days later, as we were in the local bar enjoying a cold beer, Woodie walked in and told me, “I named the pig.”
“What?  You can’t name the pig.  You’re going to get attached to him.  What’d you name him?”
“The pigs name is Dead.”
We all thought this was one of the funniest things we’d ever heard.  Drinking too much Coors beer can do that to you.

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