Correction. A sudden uncontrollable urge to use the restroom grips me with vice-like urgency. I pull off the Interstate at an “Indian Village” shop, selling trinkets and ponchos. The road has been littered with them since entering New Mexico, selling trinkets, dreamcatchers and petrified wood. Touristcatchers!
The shopkeeper says she loves my accent. She may well do, but she won’t love what I’ve left for her in restroom cubicle two! I’m out of here - people will think there’s been another atomic test in New Mexico when that smell begins to creep out. In fact, as I sit here in the car, out front of the shop, women and children are running out screaming and holding their noses. Grown men stagger out, weeping! Sorry ‘bout that, folks! Never again the Huevos Racheros.
I’ve just noticed a sign which tells me I’ve been sitting and sh*tting on the “Continental Divide”. This means that to the left of me, all rainwater and rivers flow to the Pacific Ocean; whilst to the right everything flows back to the Atlantic! Wow! I wonder which side my turd will fall down on, or perhaps it’ll just sink straight down through the earth’s core and trouble China?
What a crazy afternoon. When I’m settled in Gallup with a beer, I’ll tell you about Sky City and the closed road. Got to keep moving, it’s getting dark. Coyote’s howling.
City of Gallup, New Mexico
Wow again! What a difference twenty minutes can make! This is the classiest hotel I’ve ever stayed in! Welcome to El Rancho, Gallup, the haunt of Hollywood movie stars in the 40’s and 50’s and now, for one night only This nameless nobody! A real moody c**t at reception though.
I filled in his little moody form with my details, leaving the car make and registration boxes blank. He pushed it back to me and said “fill it in”. There was just something in the way that he ordered it which put my back up. I replied that I thought this was a hotel and not a motel and why was it necessary to know what car I was driving? He shoots me a really menacing Reservation stare and swipes the key fob for the car out of my hand and fills it in himself. Relax yourself Geronimo! I’m the f**king customer!
For those of you still with me at this point, Gallup is the Indian Jewellery capital of the world. It sits on a crossroads for ALL the north American tribes. Surrounding me in all directions is the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. Mesa Mountains, Ice caves, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Joshua Trees jutting out from the bright red rocks into the azure blue sky.
In fact, so many Westerns were being filmed here in the 1940’s that a Hollywood producer decided to open a swish hotel for actors and production crew to stay in whilst filming. Each of the rooms here at El Rancho is named after a Hollywood star. I’ve got Howard Newsom, whoever the f**k he was?! How dare they give me a f**king B-list movie star. I demand Nicholson at the very least!
I’m having a beer in the surreal hotel bar, all crushed velvet and faded paint. It has the flavour of the bar in Blue Velvet where Isabella Rossalini sings to Dennis Hopper’s Frank Boothe. In front of me are thick vaginal red curtains, slightly parted and caked with a thick dust from years of inaction. I made a film-stars entrance from my room, onto the landing, to the balcony and into the lobby.
A lot of guests were seated in the lobby, being given a demonstration of the delights of Indian Jewellery with a view to being sold to. The hard sell was being led by a guy who looked like the Native American equivalent of Del Trotter. I was “revealed” at the top of the snaking dual staircase and coughed, unintentionally, causing everyone to look up as I slowly hi-kicked my way down the 40’s Hollywood staircase like Bruce Forsyth. I felt like each step was lighting up as I landed on it. Magic Moment!
This hotel has a lot in common with the French Quarter of Nawlins, not just in its romantic atmospheric attention to detail, but in its nature as a gilded cage for tourists, shielding them from the harsher, less palatable reality outside the gates. Looking around the hotel bar, the crowd is white middle-class Americans, nearer 60 than 30. I real RV rabble. “Oh look honey, a real Indian, if you poke him he laughs...look...look...look” Bang.
This hotel (and their RV’s) allows these flabby burnouts to have the rough edges smoothed and their danger sanitized. It is the equivalent to someone giving you a glass of seawater from the Pacific ocean and saying you’ve “done” the Pacific! It allows them to say they’ve lived on the edge, but the reality is that this lions had its claws and teethed pulled and languishes behind a 12 inch Perspex screen! Dangermouse! Where’s Frank Boothe, eh? Perhaps I’M Frank Boothe?
“Mommy wants to F**k..!”
Two beers down and I’m hungry for stink. It’s one of the guest’s birthday and a massive platter of cheese and ham has just been brought out and people in his party are starting to get excited. The clock ticks down to my exit.
here are two young Mexican lads shooting some pool to the left of my table and they both seem unbelievably pleased to be here! They whoop it up round the table, waving their cues like Zulu warriors. I’m listening to them rapping to each other in Spanish and am amazed at how little I understand! I did an intensive Spanish 4-week course at the Institute Cervantes in London prior to this trip, but just weeks later I can’t even remember how to say “ I bet I can beat you on the next game!”
OK Three beers down and the juice is starting to oil the brain and flick the switch, rusty as it is, that delineates between driving and doing; and creative writing. Time to tell y’all about today, before the switch grooves on down to the final position of drunk senseless!
Morning broke over the Blue Hotel, Albuquerque finding me with a mouth like a New Mexico Highway. On my way to check out, an old American Senator-looking guy holds the lift door for me as I stumble up with my weight on my back like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. I ask him if he got caught in the downpour last night, which soaked me to the skin. He ignores my question and instead looks me up and down:
“Where you from, miss?”
“London, sir”. (Wanting to slip in “sir” like I’d seen in the movies.)
“London...” He let the word hang in the air, chewing on it like tobacco, exploring the different aspects of its flavour. Satisfied, he responded, nodding his head.
“...That’s a nice place to be from...”
Back on the road, I follow Route 66 for a bit and go across a really atmospheric metal suspension bridge that spans the Rio Grande. I felt like I was riding on a stolen Harley Davidson, my massive thingy throbbing in tune with the engine like a compass point giving me my bearings. I’ve never felt so feminine and juicey.
I wanted to rip up the confederate flag and tie it around my head like a bandana. As I’ve given up smoking, I released the rebel in me by unwrapping THREE sticks of gum. How Ian Botham is that? THREE Shredded Wheats! I wish I still smoked!
I’ve taken to driving with my i-pod in my ears these past few days, which has proven to be fantastic news. The random “Shuffle” function puts my musical choices in the hands of the gods and spirits of the desert, whichever cares more, and so far it’s usually worked out with crazy relevance and enjoyment.
I turned off, making the sign of the cross, and the sign of the times, down a much smaller dirt track side road hoping to find Acoma – Sky City. Han Solo, in his Millennium Falcon searching out Landau Carlrisian. Fifteen minutes later I was beautifully, romantically, atmospherically, oceanically TOTALLY ALONE.
Surrounded by the real Wild West that I’d been hanging out for: Mesa Mountain tops, Buffalo Skulls and fiery red earth. Above me eagles squawked out my insanity and the clear blue sky reflected the clear passage with which the universe and all of its complicated energy flowed through me.
I pulled the car over onto the hardly shoulder and ran up and down the empty track, whooping for joy. In front of me, the “Enchanted Mesa” rose up like Ayres Rock, fifty miles down the track, but already splendorous and as isolated and alone as I was. I took a photo of the moment, so inadequate and unexplanatory. The beauty lay in the scale and isolation of the moment. The same as in Oklahoma when I started driving and was on the knife edge of a panic attack due to the sheer expanse and flatness of the 1,000 miles vacuum around me. The photo I took in both moments, may as well have been taken on Hampstead Heath for all the power and sentiment it gets across!
It felt so f**king good to be so physically alone. I can’t explain truly why. I can lock the door in my Aunt’s small flat and turn off the phone and be alone.
I can cycle off to the middle of a London park and feel alone. I can even watch a club full of friends dance the night away with pills stuck between their teeth like Gary Oldman in Leon... and feel alone. But. It has never felt so good, so powerful, so completing as it did in this desert deserted moment.
I span round, faster and faster, arms outstretched, feeling the landscape enter into me and centrifugally speed me up, until all I could see was a swoosh of blue and red, all I could feel was the hot sand swirling up around me as I buried myself deeper into the scrub like a corkscrew.
But above all, what sticks most in my mind, was the feeling of unboxed joy that emanated from deep within me from a place that didn’t seem to use any of the five senses as a reference point.
It’s nature, truth and power originated from a place as old as the red rock bedrock that my trainers were spinning on, kicking up dust, creating friction, flint starting fire. A fire in my soul.
I’m reading about sunset at the Grand Canyon. I want to get me some of that on Saturday night, and then I think I’ll haul arse through the Mojave desert Sunday. I was just looking at how to bypass L.A. from Barstow, to sort of ping off Barstow upwards across the desert rather than continuing the descending straight line into the sprawling extended mass of Los Angeles. It all looked do-able until I realized simple looking pen line on the map was actually taking me straight through Death Valley! In the newspaper USA Today, I read that it currently hits 120 degrees by breakfast].
I’ll not be doing that.
Back at the empty road, I gets back into the car and drive up to Acoma Pueblo, the highest elevation inhabited in the US of A. I turned up just as one of the organized tours was leaving so I paid my $10 and rushed to the mini-bus. I didn’t have time to buy a photo permit, so the mean looking female bus driver told me I’d have to hand her over my camera – not coz the injans believed it stole their soul, but because they hadn’t stolen enough money off me! The tour was good, if a little sanitized, but for some reason right now it feels a bit too dry to recount it all here. Too formal and “Whicker’s World”.! The only thing I want to mention was the stunning mission church at the peak of the mesa.
Apparently the Indians were wary of Catholics in the 17th Century and took to rolling them down the mountain when they turned up to preach their tales of guilt and suffering. Except for this one priest who whilst being rolled down the mountain inadvertently hit a young Indian girl who fell off instead. He went down to check if she was still alive and unbelievably she was! The Indians took this to mean that this priest's god was hardcore, so they let him stay and build the mission of San Juan. The church is still used today and really seemed still like a mission in the 17th century.
The village had no running water, electricity or gas. Or so they said. I kind of got the feeling that as soon as the tour group moved on, out came the mobile phones, satellite dishes and HBO. The Native Americans in this part of the US are really sticking it to the White Man at the moment, due to some favourable Arizonan and Nevada gambling laws especially for them. “Affirmative Action”. Virtually tax-free Casinos.
To get back to my car I chose to walk the Rattlesnake infested path cut through the rock rather than just get back on the bus. THIS WAS INCREDIBLE. The views, the steepness of the craggy naturally created footholds, the heat, the sweaty arse-crack of the dude in front of me who would’ve found it hard to negotiate his way up to the counter at KFC.
The Visitor Centre was a typically slick operation that seemed to have a nerdy white guy calling the shots. This always depresses me and makes me suspicious. It was the same in New Orleans: the two Voodoo places I went into had white guys in charge. I want my Voodoo hot strong and black, and my Navajo dreamtime full of Peyote and Coyote.
I’m after a “Doors of Perception”, Mescaline in the desert experience. I want to smoke the peace pipe at midnight in a sweat-lodge and take peyote buttons in the moonlight and be transformed into an eagle, then a wolf, and then return, filled with the secrets of the universe. Manimal! Instead, I bought a dollar stickerbook of Navajo symbols for my step nephew, and a bottle of water.
Hold up! I’m suddenly on my fourth beer and it’s only 18:30 Mountain Time. One more time zone to pass through before the end.
I then drove on to Grants – a real Hicksville town – and had a plate of Huevos Rancheros again to make sure I hadn’t just been unlucky the first time. I hadn’t. Shitty. Tasted like the puke bucket that the vomit mop is stored in after a redneck egg eating convention. Tasting notes: Sloppy, warm and snotty, with a back-taste of Play-Doh. Spurred on by the urge to get as far away from the Café as possible, I boomed it to where I figured the National Forest should be. Took wrong direction, turned back. Tried another route...no good. I’m flapping the map around as I’m driving, exploring different angles and ways to hold it. I stumble onto the right road and drive for about 40 minutes through some great secret scenery of sparkling blue lakes and shinning redrock and then at last to the edges of the great dark spidery Mirkwood Forest. I start to head in, the car dwarfed by forbidding towering pines. A think I can hear Ravens croaking out warnings,
The sign, so cavalier, so matter of fact! Nothing for it. After 50 minutes of single track east, I slam her into reverse and dodgem it back down the track till I can swing round. This is gutting.
I was about a centimetre on the map from a larger connecting road that would’ve taken me to the Ice Cave and El Morro. I could always circumnavigate tomorrow, but it would be a long gnarly detour east and this trip is all about the west baby!
That’s enough for now. This hotel bar is full of Floridian’s retirees. I’m going to try to find a Red Indian bar and get some steak, beer and a good thrashing! But it never happened. Walked out into the dusty orange sunset and bowled down a long dusty road. I found myself walking alongside a native American bloke, early 20’s. He starts talking to me out the blue, without turning his head or acknowledging me.
I ask him if he knows a good local bar within walking distance in which to get messy. He speaks in a high, almost girlish voice, telling me to follow him. He knows somewhere. We get to talking as we walking: He’s a Navajo from a reservation near Flagstaff. He asks me if I have a boyfriend. I say I have, suddenly paranoid that he might be trying to pick me up. He nods and asks if I am a “helpful person”. I say I am. Am I a “kind person?”, I say I hope so. Can he ask me a favour? I say how much does he need..! He seems surprised by this, but to me it’s obvious what he’s now building up to.
Twenty bucks. Fuelled by my 4 Coronas and the belief that nothing out here happens by chance, I offer him the $20. He says his name is Kevin and he’ll take me round his reservation tomorrow, if I look him up. Apparently he’d been dropped off here with no money and was now waiting for his sister to arrive and take him home.
I don’t think he was drunk but possibly high. He had a vibe about him that really didn’t care whether I lent him the money or not. When I finally did, after quizzing him as to how honest HE was, he was just as indifferent as if I’d said no and told him to f**k off.. We carried on walking for a further half mile along empty dusky streets until he pointed to a doorway across the way and we parted company. I entered.
This was a REAL Indian bar. It reminded me of the Maori drinking bar in the film “Once Were Warriors”. No f**king about here with fruit machines and beer nuts, just solid heavy drinking. Maybe there is a connection between Red Indians, Maoris and Aborigines – they seem to have a similar vibe, are prone to alcoholism and an inability to access or adapt to modern life. Hang on, that sounds like me! In fact, my Aussie ex – Jojo told me that in about 50 years there’ll be no true aborigines left.
As I sat down at the metal bare bar on a squeaking metal bar stool, I wondered whether it was alright for me to be here. I soon got my answer when I ordered a can (no bottles) of Bud. The tattooed skull of a barwomen asked for some ID. I’d purposefully left my passport, cards and driving license in the hotel, so that in the likely event of getting into a fight, I could only lose my front teeth and a few dollars. Bollocks. Nothing for it but to leave: 20 bucks lighter and 20 mins older.
On the walk back I’m thinking maybe it was a blessing in disguise. It’s getting twilight and dark shapes are moving in the adobe shadows. This is a tough Red Indian trading post – a real “City of Thieves” atmosphere. Stern-faced youths drive past menacingly in a pickup, pony-tails shaking like wagging fingers of warning. For truth, if I’d stayed at the bar and walked back f**ked in the unlit streets at 2 a.m, I would without doubt find myself in a “situation”. The last time I felt a vibe like this on the streets was in a town called Jammu in Kashmir. It was the one and only time in India that I felt threatened and questioned the sanity of what I was doing.
Flagstaff tomorrow, and with it a new state. ArizonA...