Co-Pilots Log: Day 4 Aztec, New Mexico; I’m sitting in the Encore Motel. I am amazed and astounded that A). We made it this far, B). We made it this far without killing each other, and C). The van made it this far. We are almost at the halfway point, and it has been a beautiful/magical/awe-inspiring/insane/nerve-racking hell of a ride. Me and the captain have argued, bickered and fucked like rabbits in a tent. The first day started out in good spirits. The Murder Van was loaded to the gills; the change jar we’d been saving forever was cashed in (netting $69). We were leaving St. Louis with the wind at our backs, singing Lucero and laughing all the way to Kansas City. That’s when the first flecks of shit hit the fan. We fought in the parking lot of the world-famous Arthur Bryant’s BBQ Joint, over whether or not to go to see Rancid. Not that I don’t like Rancid, it’s just I had imagined a more touristy-site-seeing-off-the-beaten-path exploration of America. Selfish of me I know. Long story short-we went. Long story short we almost lost the side mirror in the process.
I actually ended up having fun against my will. We got to hang out with our old pal Steve from Atlanta and party with Murphy’s Law after the show. I even rode a mechanical Bull for the first and hopefully last time in my life. It was all good, as the kids say, until we drunkenly got lost in Kansas City and almost split up. Day two we made up and drove forever across Kansas to an empty camp site in a place called Pawnee. Where a kindly fat policeman (probably nine years younger than me) informed us that tornadoes occasionally take people from this particular camp site. That was conveniently located between a juveniles correctional institution and a mental institution. We set up our cheap $20 tent rather easily, considering neither of us had even been in a tent in years. We got it up fine and wound up the battery-less lantern and were good to go. A almost full pint of warm moonshine courtesy of Twain back in ST. Louis, and some much needed outdoor sex, just before the rains came. It poured like hell for about ten minutes before I felt the lightning that accompanied it would kill us. So we hoped back into old Murder Van, and somehow the captain managed to fall asleep, while I sat up for hours trying to capture the perfect lightning bolt on film. It was a fun game but all I really got was a dead battery in my digital and 400 pics of blackness. So I had to erase all of them and I was left with about four or five shitty pics of half-glowing clouds. In the morning we made the seemingly endless drive across the rest of Kansas to Dodge City. Home of the TV show Gunsmoke. Yeah I know most of you don’t even remember Miss Kitty and Festus, but those of us over the age of 29 might remember their dads watching it on Sunday mornings before the football games came on and we went in our rooms to play with our G.I. Joes.
You know for the most part Kansas wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all flat (though most of it was), there were some really amazing scenes and you could imagine how it must have looked back in the 1800s when it was still pristine and wild. There was tons of dilapidated mess. We stopped in Topeka before we reached Pawnee and saw the home of “Brown v/s the Board of Education”. We saw tons of windmills just before that too. They were these huge alien looking structures that stretched out for miles on these rolling hills. They looked so unnatural, yet so amazing. It was hard to even conceive of man being able to construct them. It made me think about an old sci-fi story where aliens were secretly using humans as crops or cattle or something and that they were farming us and the earth with these huge windmills it seemed true. We saw some more on the endless back roads to Dodge City. We pulled over and read some visitor info about them and they were only built in like 2006 so that made them seem even more alien. I couldn’t imagine living with them every day it would creep me out.
That among other things is why I’m sure Kansas has a huge Crystal Meth problem. I mean weird alien windmills and the saddest most dilapidated farm communities that you could ever imagine. I felt like we were getting a private glimpse into the real heart of America. We were avoiding for the most part the main highways and instead sticking strictly to the two lane back roads only traveled by people who either grew up in the area or were there enough to never follow the speed limit. As we cruised along in our loaded down van soaking up the scenery, like a couple of city-slicker tourist. Cars driving by men old enough to fart dust zoomed past us. Each tiny town or town-ship was marked by huge Silos where the communities name was written on the side and the word co-op was stuffed in somewhere. It was sad to see whole groups of people placed their lives in crops that from the looks of things are kept alive by these giant trolling spiders that spray God knows what onto the food that we eat.
Trees bent to the ground marking the paths of countless tornadoes. It was enough to end the fighting between me and the Captain for a while. The sheer appalling nature of it all, the flat land desolation and endless space between homes. The thought of the one kid out there who wants to be a punk, or gay, or see someone who’s a different color than himself and how that would probably never happen here. These are the people we call the heart of this country. By the time we got to Dodge City though everything was closed down. It was only 1 in the afternoon, but I think we missed the big stuff by about 30 years. They had a Rodeo they were very proud of but it didn’t start until the following night and we simply couldn’t hang around until then. Though we did see a ton of “cowboys”, unloading their gear. Which, of course, made the Captains Brokeback fetish tingle. Ate some decent Mexican food, and laughed at the sad attempts of the town folk to hold onto a glory they shared by having a TV show set in their town during the 1860’s that aired during the 1960’s. It was weird thought that their Mexican population went home for siesta at 2 though.
Just outside Dodge, we found a little laundry mat to wash our filthy clothes at. The kindly old lady who owned the place along with her mildly retarded husband decided to tell us all about how the Mexicans came in and stole all the jobs after the paper plant burned down. Now everyone works for Tyson and they pay well, but the Mexicans just showed up out of nowhere and now they make all the money. There was no wonder there was a for sale sign in the window of her laundry mat. Being situated across from a huge trailer park and surrounded by a Mexican restaurant and a Asian candy store, I ‘m sure here racism didn’t net to many customers. From there we made our way into Colorado which at first appeared no different than Kansas. The monotony drove us back into fighting mode and in a little town called Lamar we had our biggest fight of the trip and I almost found myself stuck alone in the town bearing my middle name. Tempers cooled and we made it to La Junta where we stayed in a cheap motel and made peace. We met a gangster ass (eastern) Indian dude who once lived in Atlanta. He tried to sell me a restaurant, which I and the Captain took as a great sign. The rest of the drive through Colorado was amazing. After a few more hundred miles of farm land that was apparently being defended against sale to the Army. Hand painted signs reading “Not for Sale to the Army”, dotted the landscape. We watched as the mountains on the horizon got right in our face and we drove through the cracks in between. This was where you want to live when you’re old and gray. This was where you wished you where. The sheer size and scope of everything was bigger than the now tiny Appalachian Mountains I had known my whole life. This was the real mountains.
It reminded me of the ten thousand piece puzzles I used to put together on the floor with my mom. I snapped away frenzied and awed. It was everything I had imagined and more. The air smelt cleaner the sky looked bluer and everything popped with life. The Captain tried to convince me the mountains looked purple but I couldn’t see it. They were to me the truest green I had ever seen. Well Forest Green anyway I know my colors. The mountains were purity and almost turned me into a fucking hippie. Only the last vestiges of my punk rockiness held on. When we finally descended the first set of mountains, and some snowboarding hippie kid tried talking to me all I could do was mock him and his “killer snow” lingo. I’m sure he only spoke because obviously I was the only non-white face for days. The beauty of what we just went through was somewhat lost on the Captain. She had to focus on the steep winding roads why I snapped picture after picture out the passenger window. Some of the most amazing shots I have ever taken. Mostly with her camera though. We made it out of all that and found ourselves in New Mexico a little later than we’d like and now she’s passed out and I’m far too drunk to write anymore down.