Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Brian On The Road 12
November 13, 1960
Brian woke up to the sound of a voice. He looked up. The cell door was open and the unsmiling policeman was standing there with a container of coffee. "Here" he said. "It's black, no sugar."
That was not the way Brian liked his coffee but he wasn't going to refuse it. "Thank you" he said. "And thanks a lot for putting me up. I'm very grateful." The cop nodded and Brian left the police station.
The sun was coming up, yellow and strong as he drank the hot coffee. Last night's restaurant was open so Brian went in for some breakfast. He thought about the cowboys and cowgirls of the previous night: who were they, where did they come from? Other than the small town he could see no expansion or developing real estate on either side of it. Somewhere, off in the mysterious distance was a drive-in movie, accessible only by pick up trucks evidently. He wondered if when those kids grew up their children would be watching one of Brian's films from the same al fresco theatre.
After breakfast he walked out to the edge of the town and back onto the highway. In a few minutes the same unsmiling cop passed him in his own vehicle, evidently off duty now. They saw each other and Brian saluted him as he went by. Soon after Brian got a couple of short rides. One of them left him off a short walk from the next town. The highway had been cut through a mountain area and there were cliffs on either side of it with signs warning of falling rocks. When he heard a strange sound he looked up to see if there were any rocks coming down on him. There were no rocks but there was a cougar looking down at him, tense and dangerous, deciding if Brian was a good catch for lunch. Brian’s heart was pounding but he resisted the desire to run. He lowered his gaze and just kept walking.
Brian just kept walking and silently, but fervently, saying "Mr. Mountain Lion please don't jump on me, Mr. Mountain Lion please don't jump on me." Fearing to look up again he kept his eyes on the road ahead of him, Finally, after he had gone about 50 feet, uttering his prayer to the cougar, he glanced up and the animal was gone. He sighed in relief. Later on during his trip Brian would have another experience with a wild beast more dangerous than this one.
The road descended from the cliff area to the town below. When he entered the town he saw a sign saying "Welcome to Dalhart." Somewhere along the road he had crossed the border into Texas. He had always wondered about Texas. It was a place with history and Brian had always wanted to visit there, But his only Texas experience was to be in an obscure corner of it in a town no one had heard of.
He saw a general store, went in and bought some post cards, them went to the post office near by and bought some stamps. He sat down at a table in a tiny park and wrote some notes telling people where he was. He wrote to his folks back in Waynesburg. He wrote to his sister Louise in Virginia. He wrote to Bob in Boston. He wrote to Margie and Mary Lou in Cleveland. He had to go into his back pack to get some addresses and came across the slip of paper with the name Della Lipinski an address and a phone number. He debated with himself about writing to her. Finally he decided to do it, a short note about where he was. He thought of saying that it was a pleasure to meet her, but since they had spent the night together it sounded much too formal. On the other hand he didn't want to say "Thanks for a good time." That sounded too much like those notes you see scribbled on phone booth walls sometimes "For a good time call Della." He decided on a short friendly note "Hi Della, I'm in Dalhart, Texas heading west. It's been a fascinating trip so far. Brian" that's all. He stamped the post cards, put them in a mail box and walked on.
Brian was now walking down a road marked Rte. 54 toward New Mexico. He saw no more cliffs harboring cougars for which he was glad. The scenery around him was changing as he went. There were fewer buildings and the land was beginning to look more like a quiet desert. There were new things to look at, interesting rock formations in the distance lit up with an amber fluorescence by the blazing sun, things growing solitary in the sandy soil he had never seen before, a dusty aroma.
After a while the silence was broken by the sound of twanging country music coming from some distance behind him. It got louder and a car pulled over with pictures of lightening painted on the sides, some sort of animal tail on the antenna and a confederate flag decal on the window. The driver turned the radio down and shouted out the window "You ever been to Tucumcari?"
"No" said Brian.
"Well, that's where Ah'm goin'. Git in."
Brian got in. The driver was wearing a cowboy hat and a big smile. "Where you from?" he asked.
"I started out in Boston, Massachusetts."
"Well dog me, you done some travellin'. Hitched all the way?"
"Damn! You like country music?"
"I like all kinds of music."
"Hot damn!" He turned the radio back up full blast and that was the end of all conversation until they got to Tucumcari. When they got there he turned the radio down and said "Here's where Ah haul up. I gotta see muh girl. Good luck."
"Thanks" said Brian. He got out and the cowboy turned a corner. Brian noticed as he drove off that his license plate read SKUNK U.
Almost immediately another car stopped for him. In it was a middle aged man. He wanted to know where Brian was headed and said he would take him as far as Kingman.
Brian asked where that was and the man said western Arizona. This was to be the third of Brian's four long rides. The man introduced himself as a Louisiana state trooper on vacation and on his way to visit his daughter who was in college in Las Vegas.
The trooper was a talkative fellow who kept up a constant stream of conversation about human behavior. He was a moral philosopher Brian determined. There was nothing the man said that Brian could disagree with. It wasn't about politics or religion but a straight forward down the line utterance of common sense about standards and values. Now and then the man would ask Brian if he agreed, which he did, Brian didn't have much to offer otherwise.
While the man talked Brian stared out the window at the scenes going by. He felt as if he was on another planet. The giant rock formations, the shrubbery along the road and now and then a small white cross beside it. The colors were the most amazing thing for him. Everything was yellow, amber, orange, rust, red. There was a grand and formidable mystery about the land. It made him think of some of the paintings he had seen in museums back east. But none of them could catch the invisible spirits that seemed to proudly stand tall on this land. There were views and visions Brian would never forget. He tucked them away in the same memory box that held the experience of crossing the Mississippi River at dawn.
As the afternoon sun was lowering the same colors took on a bluish tinge and the shadows spread across the desert like a quickly growing moss. Then as a curve in the road changed his perspective he was startled to see the frame and lights of a huge power station in the middle of nowhere, rising up out of the desert with nothing around it like some mammoth work of surrealist art.
"Wow!" said Brian.
"That means we'll soon be in Albuquerque" said the trooper.
As they drove into Albuquerque Brian guessed it was a major stopping point for people traveling west. There seemed to be motels everywhere along the road. And many of them were designed to look like life in the Southwest. The units were miniature haciendas, pueblos and even one that was all tepees. They had names to match.
The driver who by now, was known as Allen, pulled into the parking lot of a diner. As it was dinner time Brian was hungry. They sat at the counter. Brian ordered a hamburger which he ate even though it was the worst hamburger he ever had, tough and tasteless. That puzzled him. Here he was in beef country. Why couldn't he get a good burger? The banana cream pie he had after it wasn't much better. Go to Oklahoma for banana cream pie, he thought. And New York for a good burger. Was Brian getting homesick. Not yet.
After a drive around town Allen drove into the lot of a motel that had no special designs. A simple place with the units in a row on a porch. Allen explained to the motel clerk that Brian would be sleeping in the back of the car and not to disturb him. And that's where Brian spent the night.
To be continued.