Saturday, February 21, 1998: On and around I-10, Exit #1, Ehrenberg, Arizona.
Where am I? I lost and found myself in the town of Ehrenberg, Arizona, a town lying on the California border just across the Colorado River from Blythe; give-or-take one-hundred-and-fifty of some of this country’s most vacant superhighway miles away from much of anything to Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun to the east or radiating out in any other direction. I say this as a denizen of, with a hearty respect for, and having a deep interest in that so-called desert emptiness--all that lies within it and the small towns and the peopled and ghost outposts dotting the landscape in these parts where, like the occasional mesquite tree and stand of cottonwoods, there is or once was enough water to support them.
Ehrenberg is at Exit #1 on Arizona’s stretch of coast-to-coast Interstate 10, the whole length of which, from LAX to JAX, seems to gird the entire underside of the nation like a lasso around the belly of a short-legged steer. The portion of the road in this part of Arizona is also known as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway. And while it is quite a long, dry way from the Ehrenberg area to most anywhere else, this road nickname reminds you of the somewhere you are: on a swatch of ground sewn into the quilt that is the fabric of America. And that its inhabitants contribute to the character of the composite that makes us the complicated and eclectic and vibrant race of people whom we have become and into which we will continue to evolve.
At seventy degrees or so, it felt warm for a February morning as I drove into Blythe. Even for this southwestern recess of the US called the Palo Verde Valley; a place where soon enough a temperature of 110-in-the-shade just won’t be any kind of a big deal to the locals. This day, the light haze that blanketed the sky was diffracting the rays of the sun just enough to make sunglasses more of a necessity than a convenience or fashion statement.
Blythe, California, is agriculture. At least from what I saw of what surrounded it as I drove south through it with my black lab mix, Sadie, from Vegas on US 95. Fields squared and irrigated to summon from the crust of this unlikely plot of Earth what looked from the highway to be mats of clover or hay or some other baleable feed crop lying intermittently with large patches of lettuce or cabbage poking their heads forming a pattern of mounded, uniform rows like barracks of recruits dressed right for a drill sergeant’s inspection. The valley air that made its way into the car window was filled with pockets of thick, pungent smells, the kind that only emanate from expanses of cultivated fields in arid lands. Each crop with its distinguishing, moisture-engorged, stomatically transpired breath, the odor of which collects into wafts that are immediately and greedily sucked up into the thin, desiccatory desert sky. Every inhale of each planting’s collective exhale seems to coat the nasal passages, palate, and uvula with an almost syrupy residue you can taste as it makes its way to the lungs.
Across, on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, for whatever the reasons, there was not a hoed row or tilled swath of ground to be seen. It was desert. The edge of the Mojave and upwind from its transition into the relative lushness and the big cactus that are the icons of the Sonoran ecosystem typically associated with Arizona. Just to the north of I-10, out of eyeshot, is the community of Ehrenberg. The town was named for the German immigrant, adventurer, engineer, cartographer, soldier, and a pile of other things, Herman(n) Ehrenberg, who was found murdered in 1866 nearby in California. Friends, the Goldwater brothers--ancestors of the famed US senator from Arizona and local department stores--saw to it that this town that had sprung up at a once major ferry landing on the Colorado, would be renamed for him. The existence of this unincorporated community continues to revolve around transportation; specifically trucks and trailers–a truck fabrication plant, a truck stop, and several residential trailer parks scattered about in a wide array of states of upkeep, or lack thereof. While not necessarily a stop for tourists–maybe it never was--if nothing else, it is certainly worth a side drive through Ehrenberg in honor of its dynamic namesake.
It had been a few hours since I struck out from Vegas, threading my way through the desert on US-95 to where it crosses I-10 at Blythe. There, I did find some hitchhiker messages, discoveries which always please me. Crossing the Colorado, it was time to stop for lunch and to fill the tank. Since faithful Sadie--a great traveling dog--was with me and I knew she needed to stretch her legs and south-end body orifices, after being welcomed by an Entering Arizona sign, I pulled down the eastbound frontage road off of Exit #1 and parked at a roadside turnout which had been conveniently carved into an arroyo whose course cut perpendicular to the roadbed. As we walked up its gravelly grade, it became apparent by the type of trash piled up and spread about within it that this section of the dry drainage was frequented by partying locals--and perhaps passers-through--who would make campfires and hang out overnight and revel until the dawn would unveil the cloak of their anonymity and send them, like vampires, high-free-tailing it for cover at first light.
Why am I Here? While Sadie, doing as dogs do, ricocheted from smell to smell, I slowly plodded my way up the incline of alluvial deposits comprising the substrate of the parched desert wash. While doing so, profound feelings of loneliness and isolation seemed to come upon me seeming from out from nowhere, as if they had been stalking me from the nearby shroud of salt cedar; suddenly jumping me from behind and mugging me of all my emotional valuables. My energy. My confidence. My desire. Although dazed and numbed by this insidious assault, I was at least left with my wits, which had been tucked safely away like a folded up an emergency fifty-dollar bill sewn into a seam of my jacket which were inaccessible to those unseen thieves of my spirit. Whatever it was that was taken from me, it all came out in the wash.
This was all inexplicable and made no logical sense to me. But I attempted an ambulatory analysis and cure of it. I knew what I was feeling wasn’t a result of weariness caused by the 200-plus miles of driving down the two lanes of Route 95, either by itself or in concert with the hour I had just spent chasing down hitcher messages around Blythe. I had certainly driven many more miles and spent much more time searching out messages in the past without even traces of this kind of forlorn fatigue that was draped over me. And, it wasn’t the anxiety of being separated from my family. I had been gone from Maureen and the kids for only a short five hours and would be home with them soon enough--either that evening or certainly by the following midday, whether I was to spend the night at a motel or find a place to camp out. I had been much farther from home for expected longer periods of time than that and hadn't felt this particular suite of sensations upon my psyche; ones leaving me feeling as vacant inside as there was open space out there between Phoenix and where I stood at that moment. All that was clear was that this debilitating, paralyzing sense of emptiness was there and it was stuck to me like having stepped on a wad of Bazooka on a summer sidewalk with an old pair of Keds. I just couldn’t shake or scrape it off. And I didn’t know how to begin to fix it.
But this feeling was one not altogether alien to me. It came to me that I had had a similar sensation nearly twenty years earlier when I found myself sitting solo at a diner lunch counter. It, coincidently, was in another small desert town that begins with an “E”: Ephrata, which is in central Washington. It was in Ephrata, in 1979, where I had gone from my home in New York alone and on my own to take a new job. I was some three-thousand miles and an unknown length of time from anyone I knew. I recalled the diner full of people who all seemed to know each other and I had the sense they all knew they didn't know me. There sharing the lunch counter with local patrons, I looked urinal-forward in my swivel stool as I crammed a tasteless order of food down my gullet as if trying to stuff a wad of cotton back in through the neck of an aspirin bottle. I knew that I needed to eat, but I lacked the appetite to encourage it and, thus, sufficient saliva to aid in the digestion process. I’m sure the food was good. It was just that even my taste buds weren’t doing the job they were hired to do.
I think it may have had to do with the feeling of being something of the prisoner of my own freedom. Of feeling completed isolated in a crowd. And, of being a strange face in a place full of faces so familiar to the faces so strange to me. The only things I was sure I had in common with all those Ephrata locals chattering and chewing around me were our language, our basic humanity, and the legal tender. And all I had to hold on to at that moment was the tenuous relationship mustered and maintained with the waitress; one that hung on threads of the cook's competence, my demeanor, her service, and my tip.
Returning back to the moment in Ehrenberg, the only comfort I had standing there in the wash was the knowledge that I had had this feeling at least once before, that it had passed then, and that it would pass again this time. Like a popsicle stick excavating the gummed-up crevices of a sneaker bottom, I knew that after enough digging into my soul, the passage of enough time, and by moving one foot in front of the other enough times, this short circuit in my head would eventually be rewired back to my version of a proper grounding.
So, simultaneously scrambling up the arroyo walls at once to gain a visual perspective and emotional equilibrium, I surveyed the Ehrenberg surroundings as if looking detachedly through the lens of a movie camera panning a scene. It was basically a flat and typically unattractive tract of raw desert interstate and fencing. The dominant feature was the Flying J truck stop and its brightly colored sign, the tallest structure for miles and a beacon day or night, announcing its existence and enticing the desert traveler. Cars, trucks, and motor homes encircled the place like Conestogas in a defensive stance on the prairie. Lines and angles of chain-link fence installed for various purpose--to keep some things out and others in–intruded on the creosote bush- and yucca-dotted foreground. Fence and flora, alike, were unwittingly adorned with their share of snagged and ensnared grocery bags and other bits and streamers of litter windblown into their clutches; adding yet more unflattering clutter to the landscape.
Along with the other numbing sensations I was experiencing came the sudden loss a desire for lunch. But this didn’t preclude the car from needing its fuel. So, sliding down the eroding drainage wall, I called to Sadie and we funneled our way back down the wash and to the vehicle. After watering her, we drove up to the truck stop where I methodically tanked up and paid for the gas and pulled up to the freeway entrance across the way to scope out Arizona’s Exit # 1 in ramp light poles and signage. As I did, I was hoping to come upon something to snap my sorry butt out of the pathetic, self-pitying feeling I knew I had no business having.
Who are You? While reaching down between the two front seats to jerk up the parking brake handle, I couldn’t help but notice a figure walking on the shoulder of the on ramp; what appeared as a silhouetted female form a good fifty yards ahead. At first, I couldn’t make out whether she was walking my way or away. As my brain and eyes synchronized, it was clear that she was, in deed, a young woman; young in shape and appearance, but by the way she walked, old enough–in deed! She was trim, had shoulder-length light-brown hair, and wore a sleeveless top, calf-high cowgirlish boots, and what looked to be culottes or some other style of baggy skirt-like shorts. She was about half way down the ramp just strolling towards the freeway thoroughfare in a sashaying, prancing sort of way. Her manner was at once peculiar, forbidding, and intriguing. And, even from a distance, she seemed be attempting to exude a blithe essence about her. So, curious about what I was viewing, I proceeded to turn off the engine and pull the keys from the ignition. But, instead of getting out to look for hitchhiker messages, as was my original intent for stopping there, I chose to sit for a minute and spectate down the ramp and speculate about the spectacle before me.
I couldn’t tell if she was a hitchhiker, but I knew that if she was, I would shortly have to come face to face with her and face the issue of whether to give her a lift and deal with all the possible issues that might come with such an action and interaction. She came to light on the white line a healthy distance down the ramp. She then did an almost military right face, with her back to the roadway–not the direction someone hitchhiking would face. She seemed to have a sign or some other thin object in her hand, which she appeared to be showing off or displaying to someone through the chain-link fence that separated the freeway from the same frontage road I had parked along to walk the dog not ten minutes before. I never did discern what this curious behavior was about or if she was actually gesturing to anyone in particular, because as quickly as I began spying on these antics, her attention was diverted to a pair of 18-wheelers that had just barreled past me and were headed in her direction. Upon noticing this, she fluidly and seductively hung an about-face, nonchalantly stuck her right thumb out and to her side, buckled her right knee pointing it in the same direction as her thumb, arched her back, and swiveled her hips forward. Twyla Tharp had nothing on her choreography and ability to impart a story in her movement.
And just like that, the engine of the leading truck went from a building roar to a grinding whine. Its brakes began to hiss and squeal. The driver then whipped the trailer onto the shoulder and, with the skill and precision of a fighter pilot landing on an aircraft carrier, brought the vehicle to a swift and graceful halt about two truck lengths past her as the second semi rumbled on by and sped into the flow of the I-10 East freeway traffic.
Even from a distance of nearly a football field, I could make out the point of eye contact between the driver and the girl as he was coming to a halt. The information being transferred by each set of optic nerves is purely my own supposition. But the beauty of suppositions is that you can create, manipulate, and believe them based on your own biases, perceptions, and motives. Whatever the dynamics of this situation, the young woman just stood casually in place until he–not much of a stretch to presume driver was male--came to a full stop before the girl made even the slightest attempt to move. And when she did so, it was more of a saunter or a mosey, rather than the rapid, adrenalined pace of your typical hitchhiker in a hurry to accommodate someone that was being kind enough to accommodate them. As she came even with the tractor, the passenger door, aided by gravity and the downsloping shoulder grade, swung wide open to greet her. The young woman cocked her head up and exchanged some words with whoever was inside. Then, not being encumbered by any baggage of a physical nature, she reached up and grabbed the handle with her left hand while, placed her right on her thigh for leverage, raised her left leg to get her boot on that first big step up, and then snapped her body forward. In what seemed like one move--obviously having done this before--she hoisted herself up and disappeared into the cab just like that.
Then, as quickly as it opened, the door slammed shut. From its upright exhaust pipes, black dieselly clouds first billowed above and then swirled into the draft of the truck as it lumbered through its own combusted plume and strained to get back on its way and regain the speed it needed for the freeway traffic which was lost by stopping near the far end of the acceleration ramp. Within seconds the semi, along with its operator and new passenger, disappeared eastward over the rise on I-10 and into the unknown. Maybe only to the next exit or rest area, or perhaps as far off as JAX.
For me, the only thing that remained was what was left to my imagination. Who was she? What was she doing out there? Where was she headed? Why did she choose to get to wherever she needed to go by hitchhiking? What about the driver and his motivations? What did the two say to each other? What went on between them? And, what has become of these two souls? Such are some of the perennial questions that can be asked of those that hitch and those who give them rides by those of us that either have done either, both, or even neither and who just observe the act either vicariously, contemptuously, or with casual or puzzled curiosity.
It came to me later that what was so perplexing about this young lady was not that she was hitchhiking or maybe even seductively hawking her wares in which to do so–I’ve seen females hitchhike before and there’s even the famous scene in the 1934 film, It Happened One Night, where Claudette Colbert “hitched” (or "hiked") up her skirt to get a ride after her theretofore overconfident and arrogant traveling partner, Clark Gable, could not. So, her behavior is certainly nothing new under the Arizona or any other's sun. But, what it was about her that was poarticularly curious was that she had no bags with her. None at all. No suitcase. No overnight bag. No backpack. No canvass tote. No nothing. Not even a purse did I see. What woman travels anywhere--to the mall, to the gas station, even to a restaurant bathroom--without her purse?
For me, at least in this case, it was with relief that the provocative young thing’s story was left to speculation. Moments before she was picked up, I had been thinking that I would soon be confronted with the choice of either stopping for her or passing her by. In any hitchhiking transaction, the driver (almost) always has that option. Not that mine was any less so, but her peculiar behavior raised some concern in me. If she was in desperate need of getting somewhere, her demeanor didn’t give any evidence of this. Most hitchhikers walk with determination when bent on reaching a destination. Why was this chick on the road? Was she lost and in despair, just hoping for a hand? Or was she just relying on the kindness of strangers? By the way she was acting, it’s my guess she’d be more likely end up instead finding “a kind of real strangeness in liars.” Or could she have been a working girl? A ramp tramp? A desert strumpet? A mobile service station? A Botts’ Dot boffer. A freeway streetwalker–there’s no such thing as having your freeway with someone--performing her own version of interstate commerce? Ah, the eternal five W’s plus one more question of the journalist or, rather, tabloidist: who, what, where, when, why, and whore? Or was she looking for adventure and–BTBW--whatever came her way? Get your motor runnin' Head out on the highway Lookin' for adventure And whatever comes our way Yeah Darlin' go make it happen Take the world in a love embrace Fire all of your guns at once And explode into space --Born To Be Wild, Steppenwolf, Mars Bonfire, 1968
With all that I didn’t know about her--which was just about everything--what I did know about myself was that the object of my own desire was a couple of hundred miles due north tending to the products of that desire. So, when I saw the tractor-trailer pick up and drive off with this particular thumber, I knew that any awkward moments of eye contact and the decision of whether to give her a lift or pass her by was usurped by the actions of that anonymous big rig operator.
With the curtain of this real-life soap opus closed, and having nothing else of interest to watch through my virtual television screen-cum-windshield, I finally got out of the car to check for hitchhiker messages. I discovered a paucity of them on what I was hoping was going to be what, based on its layout and location, could be a “good” ramp for graffiti. Ironically, what is a good ramp for this is usually a bad spot for the hitchhikers who find themselves stuck in a place long enough for them to feel the need and have the time enough to write messages on proximal light poles, guardrails, or signs. All I was able to find was one name from the freeway entrance sign and another from the “Pedestrians...Prohibited” sign. These were:
Miles Shane Cassidy
Logan 1-8-98 FTW [Editor's note: BTW, FWIW, I’m told that “FTW” stands for “Fuck the World.”]
What do you Believe? Not satisfied that these were all the hitchhiker graffiti to be gleaned from this freeway on-ramp, I got back in the car and zipped down to just past where that hitchhiking chick was picked up, to where a set of three light poles had been installed on the edge of the hard shoulder at the junction of the acceleration lane and the main I-10 traffic flow. Although it was way past the “Pedestrians...Prohibited” sign and, as such, technically and statutorily at a point from which it would be illegal to hitchhike, as I crept up to the first of these poles, my quick scan detected it was rife with graffiti. Seeing this, a seed of delight was planted at some level in the depths of my depression. I pulled up past the pole, grabbed my logbook, told Sadie to stay and be a good dog, extracted myself from the little Toyota, and logbook in hand, readied myself to write.
Prominent above the dozen-and-a-half others, both in pole position and content, the first message to get my attention was penciled at about eye-height up and circumscribed in one complete, connected rotation around the pole--circumpolar. In fact to read the entire message, I had to walk a full turn around the galvanized-aluminum cylinder. In doing so, and in letters almost two inches tall and a font style which may be termed “legible scrawl,” the graffito simply but cryptically and provocatively, revealed itself to proclaim
L.D.S. = F.A.M. = ANTICHRIST =
Now, it may have been a mere coincidence, or perhaps it was something more spiritual, supernatural, or paranormal. I don’t know. What I do know is that upon viewing this. What could be considered a “mathematicoreligiosocietal” statement, an “endlessly incitable equation,” a "refutable formula of defamation," I feebly tried to process it and its intended meaning, because on many levels it astonished me. For, it was earlier in that very same week, I had been doing a little research on purported connections or the lack thereof between two of the three above entities: the Mormons (Mormons = Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints = Latter Day Saints = L.D.S.) and the Masons (Masons = Freemasons = Free and Accepted Masons = F&AM = F.A.M.).
The catalyst for my interest in this--some would say--complex dynamic came from an episode of the In Search of History television series I had seen just that very week on the History Channel. This particular series installment focused on the story of one Captain William Morgan. It seems that way back in 1826 in the western part of the state of New York, Captain Morgan vanished under highly suspicious circumstances. It was alleged then, and is still believed by some today, that the Masons–a group to which Morgan was a member--played the principal role in his mysterious disappearance and presumed cold-blooded murder. At the center of this tale is Morgan’s disillusionment, for reasons only speculated, with the Masons as an organization, and that he was in the process of breaking his blood oath by revealing the tenets and practices of this secretive organization through his authorship of book which was about to be published. Supposedly those local F.A.M. members who, being in positions power in political and law enforcement machines, saw to it that if Morgan’s attempt to release this book was thwarted and that he would reap no reward from this if he succeeded. For they would follow through on executing punishment of his not abiding by the oath he took by spilling his blood before he could spill their beans.
I went on to learn that, with his exiting the scene, William Morgan left behind a young family: two small children and a young widow, Lucinda Pendleton Morgan whom, it was said, was quite a beautiful woman. Through a convoluted series of events, Lucinda would eventually get remarried to a man by the name of George Washington Harris. Harris was, himself, a one-time Mason, who, after his “decloaking,” converted to Mormonism and became an early leader of the fledgling LDS church which was being organized at that time in the same western regions of New York. Eventually, the couple plodded their way to Missouri as they, with many other new Mormon faithful, were pushed and prodded and, some say persecuted, to the west by an American society hostile to their beliefs and practices.
Coincidentally–although, some say otherwise--Joseph Smith, the founder and a prophet and saint of the Mormon Church, would eventually come to know Lucinda (Pendleton Morgan) Harris in a biblical sense. It is presumed this occurred after her marriage to G.W. Harris had faltered. This is all hotly debated, as is whether the prophet Joseph took Lucinda (Pendleton Morgan Harris Smith) as his "first second wife"–turning him from a mere bigamist to a full-on polygamist. It is also contested whether the consummation of this relationship greatly contributed to or caused the establishment of the polygamist philosophy to be adopted (adapted to?) by the LDS as part of early church doctrine. A “do as I say and as I do and say ‘I do,’ too, to two or a few or a few more than a few” approach to the Mormon view of the institution and bonds of marriage.
This whole Morgan-Mason-Mormon affair spun into a maelstrom filled with espionage, intrigue, accusations, counter-accusations, exclaims, disclaims, and claims of bias and bigotry and harassment and injustice. And that’s just for starters. In any case, the murder of William Morgan sparked a firestorm of anti-Mason sentiment that spread throughout the nation; enough so that a short-lived political party dedicated to the decommissioning and dismantling of the Masons as an entity brick-by-brick, the Anti-Masonic Party, was formed. Now, there are some like-minded theological theorists who maintain that much of the Mormon symbology and practices come directly from the ceremony and tradition of the Free and Accepted Masons who, in turn get much of theirs from the mysterious and mystical practices of alchemy. Regardless of whether there is even a grain or gram or seed of truth in this--and what the big deal is about it if there is--what cannot be denied is that Mormonism as a belief system came into being in the same area of upstate New York in the same era in which brewed what has come to be known as the “Morgan Affair.” And, whether one may be anti-Mormon or anti-Masonic, (or anti-alchemist, for that matter), just exactly how and where, as the anonymous hitchhiker chose to equate on the Ehrenberg on-ramp light pole graffito, the Antichrist comes into play in this, I do not know and will not speculate. But, I do know, though, that the so-called Antichrist is also known as or is associated with Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, the Beast, Lucifer, and other personages synonymous with all that is said to be evil. I also know that there are former- and latter-day Anti-Semites–including theological theorists, theological conspirators, conspiratorial theorists, and self-proclaimed theologians (or theologians, in theory only)--who have over the millennia also unceremoniously thrown Jews into this latter Antichrist category. So, I have cultural empathy for those practitioners of the Mormon faith who take umbrage with being equated with the Antichrist. I do not, however, know what their opinion is about the L.D.S. = F.A.M side of the balance of this equation.
With all this kind of information swimming in my head, when I read this “L.D.S. = F.A.M = Antichrist =” graffito standing there at the base of that Ehrenberg on-ramp, for an instant I felt as if the base of my brainstem had just them been plucked like an overtightened guitar string by icy apparitional fingers; a sub-cerebral shock that sent a silent chill reverberating down and then back up the length of my spinal chord. Twan-an-ang--slush-sh-sh!
This sensational graffito equation of accusation and its interrelational intimations had no date nor author documenting when or by whom it was scrawled, so that I could not tell whether it had been penciled on the pole that very day or if it had been there even for decades. Still, for reasons I cannot explain, I looked around me half-expecting some or another entity (perhaps a ghostwriter?) to materialize and discuss with me any of the deeper or perhaps disturbing meanings of this inscription. I was, of course, in the flesh, standing there alone. I think. I’m sure. I think.
What are You Doing Here? Shrugging these weighty phantasmally ambiguous feelings to the ground like a wet bath towel from my shoulder to the road’s, with my back to the on-ramp traffic I began transcribing into my logbook this and all the other light-pole graffiti. Among these inscriptions were other disparate references to religious and spiritual matters. While jotting in my log, I noticed out of the corner of my right eye that I, in fact, was not alone. It was an Arizona State Trooper, my Lord, in his Crown Vic Ford slowing down to take a critical look at me. Turning towards him as the cruiser crept toward me in the acceleration lane, his frown changed to one of what seemed more of ambivalence, almost as if he had originally thought I was in the midst of performing a private act of relief on public property. Whatever his initial thoughts, he simply gave a nod and moved on as if he didn’t much care what I was doing as long as it wasn’t what he thought it might have been. Maybe that feeling I had just had of being watched was real, after all, and had more to do with matters statutorial rather than anything supernatural.
In any event, about five minutes later, while continuing my personal business on public property, a second trooper pulled up alongside me conducting his business of the official kind. Although it didn’t dawn on me at the time, I subsequently suspect that the first cop had radioed this one to check me out if I was still lurking about when he was passing by. This backup lawman seemed to bring with him a different demeanor and interest in my actions than did his partner in crime-stopping. With the full-mustachioed half-smile of someone straining to be polite and prepared for everything a cop is trained to be ready for, he hunched down and with piercing dark eyes peered at me through the passenger-side window.
It immediately became apparent to me that I had just accidentally anted up as a player in a head-to-head game of “Arizona hold-em.” He being the dealer and I gripping an unwitting hand having to abide by the rules in what was his house. “Hello, officer,” I opened with my best poker-faced bet, in an attempt to head off at the pass any uncomfortable moments of silence between us as I sensed him taking my measurements to fit me for a collar.
“Hi.” he responded, seeing my opening bet. He then bumped it with an, “Is there a problem?" in a cold, clinical tone of a cop mixed with the accent of a southwesterner. Twan-an-ang--slush-sh-sh! Knowing full well that my curt, pseudo-innocently delivered response would not satisfy his paid-to-be-skeptical nature, I nevertheless saw his raise with a simple, “No, sir.”
The uneasy moment I had tried to avert seconds earlier by initiating the conversation had nevertheless, by this time, worked its way into the heart of the dialogue. We continued to look at each other and it was apparent to me that he had a problem with the fact that I claimed to have none. Before our fresh looks at each other turned stale and hardened into a stare, he came to the conclusion that I was finished with my anemic response to his query and it was time for him to sweeten the pot. So, with the same salutatory smile he had greeted me with but, with a tad more insistence in his voice this go-round, he went all-in and barked, “Talk to me!”
Laughing to myself–and only to myself--at the way in which his urgency demanded my elaboration on the minimalist answers I had been dealing him, at his attempt to see if I would dare to match his bet, I followed with, “Oh, I guess you’re wondering what I’m doing, huh?”
“That’s righhhhhht,” he sing-songed (sang-songed?) with a healthy hint of impatience and irritation, and a large dose of sarcasm; calling me to show my hole cards. So, laying them out on the blacktop table, I proceeded to explain myself, just as I had done to the other cops and “civilians” elsewhere when quizzed about my puzzling on-off-road antics. As I did, his disposition changed and his body relaxed, indicating that he had no need to either get out of the car, reach for a weapon or a restraining device, or make any other preemptive moves to hold me--Arizona trooper style. At least not just at that point, anyway.
Although all of his five senses seemed to be trained in my direction, his sixth must have turned his adrenalin production from continuous flow down to a slow drip. Elaborating on my mission, his reactions seemed to drift in and out of the realms of curiosity, incredulity, and plausibility. At times he even seemed to be on the same wavelength I was, which must have unnerved him at least just a little. Never completely comfortable with my presence in his jurisdiction spending time parked on his watch, he was at least satisfied that I had a low probability of being a “perp” of one degree or another, and surprisingly to me went to the other extreme by giving me some fatherly flavored advice about being careful “out there” on the road. He admonished me to be aware of those who may be lurking about and who, while in his mind the may not be any more or less crazy than I seemed to be, tended to be and trended more toward the violent, predatory, and malevolent side of the median strip of life. After responding that I understood these dangers, a scowl came across his brow, as if I had just insulted him in his moment of paternal benevolence toward me. In an attempt to soothe what I sensed was his wounded ego, I thanked him for his kind words of caution and assured him I would be wary of the possible dangers he was warning me I was exposing myself to. With that, convinced “his work was done here,” he nodded, I waved, and he went about his duties, leaving me to my own peculiar devices.
So, in the end we, at worst, played to a draw...or maybe somehow we both came out just a little ahead from the encounter.
I Am, Here By the time I finished logging down the graffiti, it began to dawn on me that this rapid succession of physical and mental stimulants–the hitchhiker chick, the one very peculiar statement on the light pole, and the visits by the pair of highway patrolmen--all contributed to the dense mind fog of my depression evaporating into the cerulean heavens above. And as had my personal blues lifted, I noticed that the ambient morning haze in the valley had done the same. That may be why the desert sky is so blue. But, I cannot recall if this desert was an ocean with its life in the sky and the perfect disguise underneath or just when my mind came back in sync with the rest of my brain or if the hippocampus it rode along with into the desert went by any other name or by none at all. Regardless, it did all come out, not in the wash, but at sometime after I climbed out of it.
With my funk having dissipated out there on the I-10 shoulder, I once again reveled in the challenge of my search and how lucky I was to be alive and what a good life I had.. Sometimes you need something to remind you that inner strength and a little patience can sustain you when you lose your rhythm and trip up as you step down the path of life where you can be beaten down and tread upon until you feel the back beat brings you back around and lifts you to regain your footing and gets you back into step to continue your trip through life. Maybe all it takes is a little kindness, like for that lonely stranger sitting at that Ephrata diner lunch counter when the waitress serves a dollop of humanity atop the slice of humble pie in front of you along with a simple “...and can I refill that coffee for ya’, hon?” Or maybe the voyeuristic vicariousness of the visage of an 18-or-so-year-old flagging down and hopping up into an 18-wheeler. Or maybe the precariousness of getting your actions questioned by a cop. Some folks need just such little nudges. Some need way more than that. And, still others need more than anyone can give or anything that they get. That’s just how it is in life.
And what was it for me? All I know for sure is that in the course of about a long hour that day, I lost and then found myself in Ehrenberg, Arizona.
The messages I found at this on-ramp near to the spot where the girl was picked up by the trucker were:
Acts 2:38 [This bible passage states: Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.]
Fear the Lord L.D.S. = F.A.M. = ANTICHRIST =
A lot of good energy has been put here - use it wisely my friend
Pray it help
Aletha + Mitch been here all night. Slept under the bridge. It's Sunday morning and we are sore We are going to SC
Good luck to all who stop here and God bless you! Aletha (Bodine) 3/8/81 Mitch (Trip) to Abbeville South Carolina
Maybe it's been replayer
Kick your ass
Valerie -– Jimmie Hadlock James and Valerie to White Mountains I love James B. Hadlock Valerie Ford
Praise God that you are here M.L.M. 4/20/88 Amen [3 crosses drawn] V Again (88) to Arkansas 3-19-88 J
No Ass Cam Terry to New Mexico 5/9/82
Tim Cavilee 12-6-81
America the Beautiful Lynn + Eric Chicago
Esta cabron la cosa [Translates to: This bastard thing]
Butch Jorgenson New Orleans March 12th 82 10:00 pm
Donald Rauff[?] Chad Salmon LA to Boston 4-28-79
Epilogue - Where is There?
It is my impression and my own experience that this sense of isolation and loneliness is a feeling shared by most hitchhikers at least at one time or another in any given journey--standing out there naked to the world wondering what on Earth they’re doing and if whatever it is they’re doing is actually worth it. Questioning if they really need to go to where they’re trying to get to? Or, should they try to somehow scrape up the cash and just hop a Greyhound if all they really need to do is get to where they’re going? Or, should they just turn around, walk into whichever town is nearest and get a job and make a life?
And then just like that, when despair is pressing against any number of emotional pressure points, red tail lights flash on--a signal which means STOP to most people, but translates into go-go-go to the hitchhiker--they get a ride. And for that moment, at least, all those questions and doubts melt into a puddle left by the side of the road where they stood until they are let off and in search of that next ride. It’s similar for the lonely diner when the waitress serves a dollop of kindness on top of the homemade pie she slides in front of you (“...and fill that coffee for ya, hon?”). For some, a little bit of human interaction is all that's needed to jump-start them back into the human race. Other people need more. More than anyone can give.
And what of Ehrenberg? As so often happens, I think I only got a glimpse of the interstate face of the town. The true character and essence of Ehrenberg is bypassed by the road to elsewhere.
At what cost, the freeway?
While interstate hardware and landscape architecture serve as bulletin boards to be marked and branded with the words and glyphs of the thumber--revealing the souls and names of these otherwise faceless itinerant and transient pariahs or social outcasts, as hitchhikers are often perceived--these superhighways rarely allow those for whom they were intended a hint of the thoughts and emotions traveling through and residing in the hearts and minds of the inhabitant of the towns and hamlets these roadways skirt as the passersby, hurling through vast space in little time, peer through their expressway display-case windshields at the huddles and rows of blurred building facades.
By the time I finished logging the Ehrenberg graffiti, it began to dawn on me that this rapid-succession of stimulants–the hitchhiking young lady, the intriguing messages on the light pole, the visit by the police officer--all contributed to the woe-is-me cloud evaporating into the cerulean sky. Maybe that’s why the desert sky is so blue. And as the cloud lifted, I noticed that the morning haze had also gone. Hmmm?!