December 21, 1996, I-40 at Coors Rd., Albuquerque, New Mexico:
On our family Christmas car trip to Texas to visit my brother-in-law, Tom, we stopped at about the halfway point from Las Vegas, in Albuquerque, for the night on the west-of-the-Rio-Grande side of town. Before dark and dinner, I walked from the motel, where the kids were watching TV and using the beds as trampolines, to the nearby freeway entrance in the hopes of finding a light pole or two with some hitchhiker messages on them. On the way to the ramp, I came upon a dead dog; one of those breeds I call “bedroom slippers”--furry little shoe-sized creatures that typically make more noise than their stature merits in Napoleonic attempts to get the proper respect they believe due them.
Anyway, this one had a collar bejeweled with, I assumed, rhinestones or paste diamonds. I walked down the I-40 on ramp--called the Coronado Freeway, here--at the Coors Road intersection, and got nothing; not one message. On the way back, I passed the dog again. Almost. Having our own dog, Sadie, with us on the trip, I knew I couldn't just ignore the poor thing. Actually, it was the thought of its owner–someone who would adorn an animal with such a collar would certainly be fretting on its whereabouts--is what preyed on my conscience. So, as antiseptically as practical, I reached around with my fingers and in tweezers-like fashion, fished for the tag I was certain would be somewhere in dirty matted-fur mass enshrouding its cold, hard little body.
Man! All I wanted to do was get some messages. What the hell was I doing, I thought, on a motel and fast food strip on the edge of Albuquerque in the late December chill stooping down among the grey-black roadside filth, breathing through my mouth in an attempt to avoid the fetid decomposing wisps of biochemistry in action, peering through the now murky latter stages of dusk combined with the illumination afforded by a distant street lamp and the glow of a Denny’s Restaurant on the other side of the freeway retaining wall? The stray rays of light I had at my disposal did allow me to make out the essential information I was seeking stamped into the once smooth and shiny face of the stainless steel ID coupon to indirectly connect me to the folks who would momentarily get the word that their Muffin or Sparky or Snookums would be celebrating this and future Christmases with them only in their hearts.
To my relief, there was no "My name is ____ I belong to____" tag with the name, address, and phone number of the anxious owner to whom I would now be compelled to call to break the sad news. I had envisioned the cracking voice of a distraught stranger on the other end of the call, with children wailing uncontrollably in the background, and me trying to pinpoint the whereabouts of their best friend's remains in a state of deepest, detached sympathy. Mercifully, selfishly, all that was dangling from the collar was a local license with the number 380746.
So, instead of hitchhiker messages, here I am writing down a dog tag ID in my logbook. With no desire to linger any longer than I already had, and with a dreary darkness upon me, I straightened back up and surveyed my radius for a pay phone, the closest of which was in a convenient location across the street and outside a store termed the same. What was inconvenient and bordered on frustrating, though, was trying to contact the appropriate animal control official, what with it being after hours on the Friday before Christmas.
After about fifteen minutes and for about 75 cents, I got a live human to talk to--the one who seemed to be the guy to notify about dead dogs in those parts. After giving him the all-important ID number and geographic position of my reason for calling, my work was done. Hanging up the phone, I walked across the busy Coors Road and back to the motel room. First thing I did was wash my hands. What I couldn't wash away was the memory.