I‘d been listening to a Tubes song (“White Punks on Dope”) on Spotify. I asked her what she’d like to hear. “Debussy,” she said. So be it. I found some preludes. She’s played them all. She lives for this. You have to feel good where you are, right now. It’s the only rule.
The idiot in the shiny red Jeep from Texas had tons of room to pass on the long straight highway west of Clovis, but sat there tailgating a slow sedan in front. (“Oh, Lord…”) I waited five seconds, cursed, and stomped down on the gas. The 235-horsepower V-8 bellowed like a maddened beast, shooting us over 90 mph before I pulled back into my lane, ka-boom! “Was that fun?” she asked, no longer tensing when I told her to hang on. Passing, it turned out, was one of the best things about driving the Dakota. This was on the way back from Sweetwater, where I’d pulled the plug and turned around just half a day from Austin.
For weeks I’d planned the trip to pick up my brother’s ’96 BMW R1100R. Such a glorious, generous move on his part. The bike was well-used but lovingly maintained. I could see it covered with the dust of Taos, cool as hell, and nailed the adventure down: a day and half each way, five nights in motels, a U-Haul trailer waiting for me somewhere in the city. Two and a half days for visiting and shakedown rides were probably too short, I realized, but I was game. Somewhere in that time frame I’d pick up the trailer and load the bike in Texas heat—combined tow weight, 1,800 pounds—then push the fear down long enough to get us over the passes on the long way home.
The thing was worth the doing, anyway, no matter that my previous two-wheel experience was limited to motor scooters in West Texas and the year I’d ridden a Suzuki X-6 in grad school. That was also back in Austin, when the town was a tenth its current size and $35 per month apartments had no air conditioning. The Suzuki was shiny, fast, and I knew nothing. I sold it after I got married and was probably relieved. Not for nothing is there a stack of motorcycle magazines beside the toilet in the old adobe on the hill, however. Three years ago I took a motorcycle safety course and finally learned to ride.
The day before we left, I woke up with a panic attack. In the early morning hours of departure day, I had a dream about an avalanche. Just an snapshot, really, of the moment when the snow begins to slide.
Building fires is still a thing here. Callie the Wonder Cat is no dummy, although she’ll sit there sometimes when the Ashley’s cold. Cargo cult cat voodoo: if I lie here, heat will come. Oh that Ashley. I used to read the original Whole Earth Catalog when I was plotting my escape to northwest Arkansas. That was probably before you were born. The section on wood stoves was full of hippies in Taos, New Mexico heating their adobe huts or old school buses with Ashley stoves, and I guess I never forgot. Maybe I should have, but I can almost get a stump in ours.
It was just before the landlord died. The lady from next door, two females EMTs, and I wrestled all six feet, six inches of him in his wheelchair through the snow and into the ambulance. We hurt him dragging him onto the stretcher and he cursed us, but “Uncle Dale” would never return to his tiny one-room studio apartment over the septic tank at the end of our old rented adobe. A few weeks later his heart gave out in Taos’ only nursing home. In the spring there was a ceremony with a medicine man, and a small group of us threw his ashes in the acequia at the bottom of the hill.
I rented the place alone, after my honey moved away to Iowa to find a job and take care of her mother. We were separating from necessity, not lack of love, but it was still the worst day of my life when she left me crying in the parking lot, holding the cat like he would save me. I bawled for hours afterwards. The worst part of cleaning out the condo was taking apart our bed.
The old adobe, minimally renovated by my landlord forty years before, was fine for a beat-up lonesome fool. The next-door neighbors weren’t rich or entitled yet and life rolled on. I was so poor, I had to kill our health insurance. At least I had the Internet and credit cards. The ’87 Ford truck ran well enough to get me around with little maintenance. My health was fine except for teeth. Credit debt ballooned. I almost made a living building websites and let myself buy clothes again, writing and publishing online the whole time. The primitive house was solid, warm, and large enough for one so long as I kept the storage unit full. There were many splendid days.
My wife flew down for visits when she could. I drove the truck to Iowa. Our weeks together saved my life and also scared me. (The underlying if-she-loved-me-she’d-come-back was mean). When she was in Iowa, we phoned and emailed constantly. This lasted maybe three years. After her mother died, it came down to deciding and she jumped back in. I fixed up a neighbor’s little building so she could have a studio—installed a wood stove, hung curtains, painted the floor, etc. The last trip down here from Dubuque in her daddy’s Dodge was one enormous high.
We’ve shared this spot for a dozen years and wanted to leave for five. My sister died. My mother died. My brother died. There were mobile homes in Tucson to be emptied and disposed of. I wrote and loved the demons all I could.
The latest version of Photoshop CC 2018 tempted me to play. Reminds me a bit of R. Crumb’s infinite cross-hatching style with the exception of the sky. This is actually a shot of the Rio Grande at the Taos Junction Bridge from late this afternoon, with the unpaved road to Carson curving up and to the right.