This is real life out here. No second chances. I’m trying not to dwell on it too much, but if my car were to break down, or more likely get a flat then there’s no-one I can call on to come help me on these desert phone-less roads. I don’t think many people do this type of drive alone and even those crazy-arses that do probably make sure they have satellite phones and kegs of water, oil, gas and at least a working knowledge of how to change a car tyre!
The man is at the window...the man is at the window!
I think the people in this diner reckon I must be from LA or Mars, the way they’re eye-balling me. I swung into New Mexico round 11 a.m flipping the bird to Texas and blaring out a track from the Royal Trux on the exceptionally bassy stereo.
Fantastic breakfast just been slapped down in front of me of eggs, grits, hash browns and an old trucker’s finger.
I tell an old guy at the table next to me that I’m just passing through on my way to Albuquerque, so that he doesn’t need to run me out of town himself! and if he knows somewhere good to have lunch in between.
He recommends a small town called Moriarty. So that’s where I’m heading next.
A worrying development’s just occurred. My credit card has just been declined at the Gas station when I tried to buy some petrol.
I think I need to check my email really soon. If those f**kers at Egg have cancelled the card due to “unusual activity” then I’m in deep. I was worried this might happen. If only I could get a phone signal I could text them.
Moriarty was a bit of a letdown. Like Sherlock Holmes nemesis with the same name, both have failed to deliver. A small town with nothing but KFC and Subway vibes. Where’s all the San Jacinto, Don Juan and Wild West Americana at? In defense of Moriarty though I did get to meet some fantastic characters in Subway.
They, of course, would not consider themselves to be characters, but to an English strain like myself, they are fantastic. The woman who made my chicken sub moved at the speed of light despite her thin old age.
She knew all the customers except for me and called them by their first names. She had a pleasant relaxing way about her despite the kung-fu speed at which she assembled the subs.
A couple of truckers in the corner were chowing down, grunting like wild boar and making eyes at the school girls who were behind me. A black guy could get himself hung in here, no problem.
Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I’ve just checked into the Blue Hotel, Albuquerque – the Posada Hotel, which the Lonely Planet had recommended slightly more is closed for refurbishment.
Nonetheless, a body blow after driving round for an age, one hand on the wheel, one hand on the massive Lonely Planet, one eye on the shark-like traffic, one eye on the LP map.) I feel shattered. I’m going to catch 40 wanks then check out downtown.
But just before I do, D’oh! I’ve just realised that I’ve driven through another time zone today without realising!
Another first for me! So everything’s now gone back an hour. I should have twigged when I drove past the Highway sign saying “Entering Mountain Time”. How surreal that when I passed it, I got to repeat that last hour again! I need a Satellite Chavigation System!
Albuquerque is the Hot Air Ballooning capital of the world. I bet you didn’t know that you didn’t know that! The state bird is the Roadrunner. Meeep Meeep!
I’m looking at the detailed map I bought for New Mexico and I’m really getting a feeling of mystical atmosphere for all the Indian reservations that pepper the deserts, especially surrounding Albaq.
The names of some of the natural features listed really whet my appetite for a spiritual experience – “Enchanted Mesa”, “Ice Cave”, “Very Large Array” “Navajo Reservation” – these all sound like perfect places to strip naked, cover myself in Coyote shit and howl a primal scream from the table-top mountains until an eagle flies down out of the night and reveals the mysteries of the Universe to me.
A more likely resolution would be the NM Police department revealing the mysteries of their night-sticks up my anus!
I’m going to ask the Red Indian... I mean Native American at the hotel reception what the deal is with these Indian reservations. Can I visit and have a Pow-Wow?
Alrighty. Yes! This is the stuff I was after. This is the adventure I was dreaming about during all those dark days cramped in the office! The plan for tomorrow is to drive out of Albaq on the I-40 until I reach the small town of Paraje, then head south down what looks to be a tiny dirt track road until I reach “Sky City” (Acoma Pueblo in Spanish) – the oldest consistently inhabited town in North America. The village is thousands of feet above sea level at the top of the “Enchanted Mesa” Mesa being Spanish for Table.
Table-top mountains. I’m going to hang out with the Native Americans and then head on up to Grants on the I-40, where I can go off road again through the Cibola National Forest, taking in the Ice Cave, El Malpais monument, a few more Reservations, up to Thoreau and then finally on to the town of Gallup, which the LP tells me is an Indian trading town, really ruff n ready, but with a certain ole’ Hollywood magic.
By the time I reach Gallup I’ll be on the border with Arizona. I’ve got a mate called Brett Solinger from my prep school who moved out to Arizona – I must remember to check the local phone directory and see what if he’s up to catching up
Gallup is known as the “Gateway to Indian Country” and between Albuq and there live twenty different tribes and nineteen inhabited Pueblos – a lot of them traversing the route that I’ll be taking tomorrow. Exciting stuff!
I’ve just realised as well, that when I hit Flagstaff on Thursday I’ll be about seventy miles south east of the Grand Canyon. I hadn’t felt that turned on by it before, imagining it would probably be a bit of a tourist trap, another opportunity for Uncle Ron MacDonald to take something natural and beautiful, corporatize it, rip out its heart, fence it off, shit on it, put in a massive concrete car park and then charge you $100 to get back in.
BUT. I think I’m wrong on this one, having just read more about it. So, I think I’ll do that Saturday. I hope that Flagstaff proves worthy of the two nights I have planned for it!
It’s the little pieces of knowledge that make the big differences between a good trip and a great trip! Back in London before I left for New York, I asked everyone I knew who’d ever been to the US for advice.
BUT, the most useful singular piece of knowledge that no-one mentioned is to TIP.
Tip the barman especially, the maid, the barista, the sun if it’s shining nice! If I hadn’t been told to leave that lil’ole dollar on the bar each time the amber nectar was poured then I wouldn’t have met half the people I have so far. I’d be viewed as the scum of the earth in every state from NY to pissed.
I’m holding court at a bar in downtown Albuquerque. “Maloney’s”. I can never escape these Oirish theme bars. What is it about these places? The Oirish bar seems to be Irelands biggest export and legacy to the world. “Pour me a fecking Guinness”.
I haven’t travelled across oceans and deserts to feel like I’m sitting in O’Neill's in Harrow! Go, Go Meldrew!
To shake off the road, I’ve put on a freshly ironed blouse and had a bath for the first time since NY. I feel ready for “ a night”! Truth is though, I feel totally asexual tonight.
A mixture of tiredness, belly-overhang and being in an unfamiliar town. Meldrew becomes Woody! “Come on, Mr. Allen, you ain’t in Manhattan now. Analyse this!”
From this point forward, acting on the advice of Jonathan Tarot Reader in Nawlins, if anyone asks me what I do for a living I’m going to reply “I’m a Writer”.
It’s an interesting expression that, “...for a living”. To live. Not “to get by” or “to subsist” but “to live” Will Squire “gets by” with his driving job, but would “live” as a Filmmaker.
Albuq’s got a sophisticated feel to it. It’s the biggest city in New Mexico and the people here seem to be quite Chicago-esque in their presentation. Not that I’ve ever been to Chicago, but it’s how I imagine the people to be.
The music in this bar is quite Gonzo, as is the young hip crowd. I’m here way too early though. It’s more or less just me and ten bar staff who are being as attentive to my needs as the Queen Mother’s butlers. Leave me be, please!
I have moved on. I was beginning to have to swat the bar staff at Maloney’s like a horse swishes its tail to keep off flies. I’ve moved down the block to a happening “Micro-Brewery” pub, which Albuq is famous for. It’s the “Foundry” of Old Street transported to New Mexico.
Great Music, atmosphere, and fine-looking locals. Their premier draft is called “Arrogant Bastard” ale with the tag line “You’re not worthy!” As I sit here drinking it, a handsome man of the desert comes up to me and asks how long I’m in town for. He wants to know if I’ll be here tomorrow night, because he really can’t drink tonight, see, but tomorrow we could have a laugh...Yeehaaawwww!
The rest of the night becomes a spinning kaleidoscope of colours and freeze-frame images in my mind, as the arrogant bastard reacts to the “Arrogant Bastard”. One of the most full-on and hi-jinx nights of the trip so far. I love the kindness and opportunities of American Bar culture, how you are welcome and expected to sit at the bar if you’ve come alone, and how the barkeep is usually interesting, open and intelligent, a perfect cocktail of comedian, therapist and if male, future lover!
I wish English bars were like this. I’m imagining sitting at the bar of my local in London and trying to strike up an enlightening conversation with the spotty 19 year old geezer behind the bar – I don’t know who’d hate it more!
Anyways, I spend most the night chatting with this Mexican bloke who grew up in Roswell. He is the main course, with a side-dish being this mechanic guy who tells me that the only place to be on July 4th, next week, is down at Lake Havasu in Nevada. It’s where all the college freshman and cheerleaders go to do watersports and watersports! The Mexican guy is a revelation.
He is probably late 40’s and clearly has a drink problem, He’s the slightly ostracized uncle of the young guy who’s behind the bar, and each time I offer to buy him a beer, the kid scowls at me, as if I’m throwing oil at a chip pan fire.
I don’t care, I feel surprisingly powerful tonight. Even in New Mejico you’re not allowed to smoke in bars anymore, so I step outside to smoke a joint with the Mexican guy.
He says his weed is so good that he’s the only guy he knows who smuggles it INTO Mexico! “In a cactus, coz it ain’t gonna get busted!”
As I feel the smoke creep into the dark crevices of my lungs like the whispey fingers of a skinny priest, I look up at the pink sky. I can tell from the unusual colour that behind the glass buildings there is desert and cacti. Hot grains of sand blow down pavemented streets and settle as a fine film on car windscreens.
Suddenly there is a flash of lightening and out of no-where clouds roll in. Rain in the desert. Rain on Arrakis! I tell my new friend that I am a Rain God. Rain loves me and tries to follow me wherever I go. I should be employed by governments.
The heavens drop down their spittle in hot globules – it feels like taking a shower fully clothed. This is very unusual for New Mexico, he tells me. Maybe only three days a year do they get rain. I’m here for one of them. He says I must be good luck and should stick around.
We move back into the bar and he tells me his theory on the Roswell incident of the 1950’s. Out here in the desert it is totally believable that aliens came down to earth to check out the place.
The landscape feels so alien to me that I could be the visitor and they the true residents. He tells me that his mum was about 25 at the time of the crash landing but has no memory of anything unusual happening or even being reported at the time.
The first she was aware of was in the 70’s reading reports and watching TV of townsfolk talking at the time.
Yet SHE and her friends have no memory of it. This, he goes on to surmise, is clear evidence of the “Men in Black” and their nifty zapper, red light, that wipes your memory. I’m not convinced but keep my opinions to myself.
I pick up on the fierce rivalry between States, with the exception of Texas – which all the states unanimously seem to think is f**ked. New Mexico is boxed in by Arizona to the left and Texas to the right.
A cool wind blows in through the open door. The rain stops. My mate turns to me:
“Do you know why New Mexico has such strong wind..?”
“Because Arizona blows and Texas sucks!”
Back at the Blue Hotel. Soaked to the bone. Soaked to inside the bone, wet marrow like clay mud.
Before I left, I started to philosophize with the Mexican guy, telling him my take on the meaning of life and how important for him it was to stop being so angry at the world.
I remember having the strange sensation that I was channeling a higher force.
That it was important that this guy heard this, but I was being used as a vessel to broadcast the message to him. I wasn’t originating it. We parted with him saying how great it was to meet people that are “real”.
I told him that I thought we were all going to make it as a species, because there will always be enough “real” people to keep the idiots in order and because “real” is irrespective of country, race, religion, gender.
Real is Real is Real.
WHAT A GROOVY NIGHT. I HAVE BROUGHT RAIN TO NEW MEXICO. I AM AT PEACE.