Until that moment, I had never attempted to hitchhike; except for one time with my friend Mike when we were about eleven. We thumbed our way for maybe a mile on Chestnut Road to where some friends said they were going to be playing touch football. The guy, who must have been in his twenties, picked us up in a small, light-blue, two-door foreign car with whom I assumed was his wife beside him. He did so, we soon discovered, with the dual purpose. Once we got in the back seat, he proceeded to berate us for being so stupid as to commit such a dangerous act. And by giving us the ride, he must have felt he was succeeding in keeping us from becoming ensnared in the net of some sick-o who could have been out trawling for small fry like us upon which to perpetrate unspeakable acts.
This Good Samaritan driver was, of course, absolutely right on both counts. But that was then. This was different. I was different. I was older, wiser, and more worldly. Or, at least, I must have so believed as I stood there on the interstate; a party of one, seated at the table of the feast of my life with a magnificent view of this glorious moment in time. I may have had a big appetite, but paradoxically my main course came with a side order of a tinge of nausea, as well.
Journal: Sanders Carrying these and other emotions and feelings along with my backpack and high school book bag, I pushed headlong toward the highway exit and up the off-ramp. As I did, the silence that had just been so penetrating instantly dissolved into the synchronic sounds of sand grains and gravel grinding under my boots, the squeaks of the frame of my backpack pressing against my own, and the metronomic beats of my heart and bellows from my lungs, all in concert with the erratic crescendos-and-diminuendos of cars and trucks roaring by. Normally unnoticed white noise, at that moment these sounds compounded to a decibel level that rendered mute anything my inner voice may have been attempting to say to me and created a sensorial racket that blocked what I could see straight on, or even out of the corner of my mind’s eye.
After crossing I-40 via the freeway overpass bridge, and then crossing an other bridge--this on spanning something called the Puerco River, in which I could see no flowing water--I soon came upon a conglomerate of occupied and abandoned buildings; although I was unable and had little interest in discerning which was which. Evidently, this was the center of the community of Sanders. To my big-city eye, there was no uptown nor downtown in little dot-in-the-desert town of Sanders. You’re either in town or you’re out of town and no matter where you may be when you are in town, you’re always on the edge of the outskirts of town, even when you’re smack-dab in the center of town. I venture to guess that a lot more blew through Sanders than ever landed there and, like in most such outposts, that is likely just fine with most of the folks who call it home.
This isn’t to say that Sanders doesn’t have an interesting story to tell. But, whether it did or did not, it wasn’t evident to me; at least with the minimal attention I paid to the place that day. For the life of me, I just can’t remember much of anything about the hamlet, except for marching through it as quickly as I could. After all, I was on a mission, which included distancing myself from, not familiarizing with, Sanders, Arizona.
Upon making it past the main drag–which doubles as US Route 666 (now US 191), which cuts right through Sanders--I crossed the road bridge spanning the Puerco River--Pig River--an ephemeral mostly dry wash and tributary to a tributary to the Colorado River. From this bridge, a view is offered of an abandoned bridge on the original alignment of Route 66--the Mother Road. I continued on past the standing structures and soon parked myself on the side of this two-lane thoroughfare to get-on-out-of-there.
So, there I was, a couple of big-city block lengths south of where the buildings that defined Sanders to me petered out. Facing the road, I lit on the white stripe dividing the road from its shoulder like a bird on a wire, and then a cigarette to calm my nerves. And there I stood; between drags, filling my lungs with the luscious high-desert air and sucking on a sweet piece of life’s hard candy. After about ten minutes of watching no cars pass by, it dawned on me that I may be standing there for a good while. So, I decided to take off my pack and lean it up against the telephone pole behind me.
It wasn't long before my attention was drawn to metallic chirps being coaxed by a light breeze from a nearby Aermotor® windmill, which in turn coaxed me to leave my belongings roadside and be drawn the dozen or so yards through the short, dry grasses and scrub brush to inspect the contraption. Although I’d seen many of these water-pumping icons--stoic sentinels of the American farmstead--in pictures and on TV, like just about everything else surrounding me at that moment, I had never before seen such a machine up close. Not much call for them in the Bronx; at least not in my neighborhood, anyway. And until that time, I had thought that these pinwheels of the prairie stood vigil and labored in silence. But its repetitive squeak...squeak...squeak drew me to it like a peephole would a passerby in a construction site safety wall. I just had to take a closer look. Was the windmill attempting to convey a message to me? And if so, was it like the Tin Man imploring Dorothy to let me know that it needed a squirt or two from the, "Oil can...oil can?" Or was it a, “Welcome, mi amigo, to the wild west; Or maybe, good luck to you, you gringo, tenderfoot, greenhorn?” Or perhaps, the admonition, “Abandon all hope ye who enter these here parts and dare to chance it down this here road?"
The Road With Good Intentions is Paved Like Hell Whatever the steely message, if there indeed was anything more than my imagination at work in the windmill blades and bearings, I started poking around the tower and pacing the circumference of the stock tank encircling it--a vessel I presumed to be in place for the windmill to pump full with water. Upon peering over the tank wall I discovered that it was bone-dry, as were the randomly spaced desert weeds confined within it. Not knowing a thing or two about how this water pumping system or its "pieces parts" actually worked, I couldn’t tell if the it was supposed to be operational and the well had run dry, or if it was temporarily turned off or disconnected, or if the thing simply was abandoned. All I do know is that I let out a pensive, “Hmmm...”
Being that before me lay about sixty miles of desiccated land though which I had the intention of thumbing before coming to the next town down from Sanders on Route 666 called St. Johns, and being that this very same morning my path had crossed that of the child star of The Exorcist who was on location filming in the lead role as the "born innocent," and being that in some religious circles the number 666 is claimed to be a sign for Satan based on words written by St. John--a belief unknown to me at the time---I might have thought this all some kind of a terrible omen. But for me this day, no omen, be it real or contrived, was revealed to me.
No omen, mis amigos, was blowing in the windmill, no omen was blowing in the windmill.