After I pulled out of Fort Apache and began a northerly ascent, a strong sense of regret descended upon me. The melancholy I was feeling had been creeping up on me from the moment I started my bike. Before I left, the kids to whom I had given balloons surrounded me and the Deuce. They were smiling and saying “Please don’t go” while adults were offering me a place to spend the night. But I had to go—I was running behind schedule.
I had invited my half brother, Roy, to ride along with me on his bike to Washington, DC. We were scheduled to arrive in our nation’s capital over Labor Day weekend. In Winslow, Arizona, the time spent having the bike’s sissy bar repaired was both heartwarming and fun, but it was unplanned and had delayed me. I despise having any kind of a schedule when I’m on a bike run, because a schedule can rob me of unexpected and pleasurable experiences. And even though I had just had an unexpected but pleasurable experience in Winslow, I was now feeling robbed as I cruised along on the highway that had taken me deep into Apache territory. I was feeling cheated out of precious time! I was left to wonder “what might have been” had I had the time to hang out with my new friends. Unfortunately, even if I were to pass that way again, I would never be able to re-create the moment—that time when I went from a stranger to an invited guest. It’s best not to ponder “what might have been”; those thoughts never get resolved.
As I continued north on Highway 73, I began to escape the regret I was feeling while I considered the long and winding road that lay ahead. Thoughts of what may come are worthy of our fleeting time. By looking back we set ourselves upon a carousel of confusion. A merry-go-round that will not end in merriment. It’s a vicious cycle. Pink Floyd pointed this out to me when I first heard them sing “and then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun. And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking. Racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older. Shorter of breath and one day closer to death . . .” It’s best not to find yourself lagging behind, dwelling on life’s missed opportunities—or brooding over lost love. Life is to be lived; it should not be spent reliving it.
Once I arrived at the top of the horseshoe road, I connected with Highway 260 and headed east. I had planned on riding deep into the darkness of that night—to try to make up for lost time. Not only did I have an appointment to meet up with Roy, but we also had a prepaid hotel reservation and had to be in DC over Labor Day weekend—or forfeit the cash.
I would be heading up to Georgia and connecting with Roy after I had ridden down to the Florida Keys. On my way out of the Keys, I’d be passing right by my aunt Bea’s home in Sebastian. From her place I could ride a northwesterly route and visit my friend Melissa Conway in Gainesville. They both lived in the Sunshine State, and I wanted to see both ladies as I made my way up and out of the Keys.
My aunt Bea had twice played pivotal roles in my life, and Melissa had recently been discovered in the rough (when we had met, I’d told her that she was a diamond in the rough) and she wanted to introduce me to her man, Daniel, who shared my same opinion. Plus Melissa had been responding to each of my texts, which contained pictures of my bike and witty words. It was more of a need to see those women—rather than a desire—that would drive me to their doors. I’ll be writing more about these ladies because my aunt Bea has twice saved my ass—and Melissa is a one in a million soul.
By the time I resolved my misgivings about leaving Fort Apache and committed to two pit stops in Florida, I had arrived back at the top of the horseshoe road near McNary, Arizona. It’s a crossroads of sorts where highways 260 and 73 meet. With the Apache-Sitgreaves Forests to the northwest and the Gila National Forest to the southeast, I headed east toward Eagar, Arizona. Once there I planned on hooking up with US 191 and riding down to connect with US 180. It would take me through the western part of Gila National Forest before dumping out onto Interstate 10 at Deming, New Mexico. From there I planned on “dropping the hammer down” and hauling ass to Fort Stockton, Texas. If I had been able to complete the planned ride from Winslow, Arizona, to Fort Stockton, Texas, that night I would have ridden 615 miles. That’s a perfect day’s jaunt on a bike for me. Six hundred miles per day on a motorcycle clears my mind of everything, leaving just the day’s ride and the road ahead to contemplate while looking for agreeable grub, a shower, and a bed. For me that’s the best of times—not the worst of times—that I can call upon in my times of despair. Touché. The Dickens, you say?
Having dealt with windstorms, thunderstorms, and rain on day one of the bike run, I was in no mood to deal with any of them again on day two of my ride. So when the skies started threatening me with rain as I arrived in Eagar, I decided to stop for the night. It was around six thirty p.m. when I began to look for a cheap—fire safety compliant—motel. I rode around looking for an inexpensive room until I was in Springerville, Arizona, just north of Eagar. It was there I saw a motel with an acceptably priced room advertised on a scrolling LED-lit sign. I pulled into the motel’s graveled parking lot, registered, showered, gobbled down the two bags of beef jerky I had purchased earlier in the day, and hit the bed.
In the morning I headed south on US 191 to Alpine, Arizona, where I stopped and ate breakfast. Alpine is where I would hop on US 180. It would take me down into New Mexico. After breakfast I rode through the Gila National Forest on US 181, full of gratitude. I was grateful that the sky had turned angry the night before and had forced me to stop for the night. If it hadn’t, I would have ridden through the beautiful Gila forest oblivious of her beauty; she would have been shrouded in darkness. By being forced to spend the night in Springerville, the stage had been set for me to view part of America’s Gila National Forest. The beauty of all beautiful things lies in the eyes of the beholder. It’s truly impossible to entirely impart the beauty one sees to another human being. Experiences are unique to the person experiencing them—and beauty belongs exclusively to the beholder, rendering a person incapable of completely explaining an experience or fully exposing beauty. Most of the time it’s best not to try to share beauty or an experience with another person. It’s simply sufficient to scratch the surface and say you need to experience it for yourself—or to say I hope someday you see the beauty that I have seen. If you get a chance, you need to go to see the Gila National Forest.
In Deming, New Mexico, I enjoyed a lunch of authentic Mexican food. In my opinion, Tex-Mex food is for fools who are missing out on the real deal! After lunch I enjoyed a cube of deep-fried ice cream before I departed Deming. I then headed eastbound on I-10 and burned (rode quickly) on down the road leading me to Las Cruces, New Mexico. From there Interstate 10 drops dead south; then it turns east again as it passes through El Paso, Texas.
When I was just a lad, barely a tad over seventeen years old, I joined the US Army. It was the midseventies, and the pain from the Vietnam War remained. America was trying to put the “Vietnam Experience” behind her—but that battle will remain evermore. Near El Paso, Texas, I had attended AIT. AIT is the army’s “advanced individual training” of its soldiers. My AIT vocation immediately followed my basic training invocation. Basic training is where soldiers are quickly trained in the art of killing another human being; AIT is where non-infantry soldiers are trained to serve a function other than killing . . . but every soldier’s primary function is—first and foremost—to kill.
Fort Bliss, Texas, situated near El Paso, is where my AIT occurred. My MOS (military occupational specialty) was 16J. Being trained as a Sixteen-Juliet-Ten meant that I learned about radar. The US Army’s FAAR (Forward Area Alerting Radar) system was a mobile, rapidly deployed radar machine that was part of the army’s ADA (Air Defense Artillery) units. During the AIT phase, drill sergeants reign supreme, just as they do in basic training. I had a drill sergeant (I don’t recall his name) who served under Drill Sergeant Howard, who was my AIT unit’s primary drill instructor. His underling was insane. I arrived at that opinion one day when he said something along the lines of: I cannot wait for a war to break out with Russia. I want to kill Russians. I want to slaughter them by the thousands. I sat there in that training room in stunned silence (as did most of my fellow trainees), wondering how someone could possess such a penchant for violence. I’ll never understand that. As I listened to my drill sergeant ruminate about his desire to kill, as I look back upon that moment in my life, that day may very well be the day that I adopted my pacifistic views.
I am not against kicking some ass when an ass kicking is the only option left because it has been forced upon me and is thereby justified—but I’ll be goddamned if I’ll dream of a day that I’ll kill someone. That day—the day I experienced a drill sergeant’s desire to kill—was the day I started counting down the days until my ETS (expiration of term of service) would arrive. That day, the US Army and I would go our separate ways.
After leaving New Mexico I took a picture of my bike at Texas’s welcome center. I parked the Deuce right under the big Texas sign made from granite formed into the shape of the state of Texas. The sign has “Texas” carved into its center. I texted the picture I had just taken of the Deuce to two different groups of people: male and female. To the girls I texted: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” It was my way of making a joke while being dead serious. Anyone who knows the least bit about me knows that on my most generous days I view God as simply a magnet—just a force made by man. Deep inside I always smile when Hunter S. Thompson’s words about God surface in my mind. He wrote: “This is how the world works. All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet.” The dead-serious part of my Holy Mary text that I had sent the girls comes from the fervent and blind patriotism I’ve seen explode out of Texans. It’s best not to mess with a Texan over the silliness of them being the “lone star” on the American flag. I’d rather dance with a king cobra than mess with a jingoistic Texan.
When I texted the bike’s picture under the Texas sign to the guys, I wrote: “I was told that everything’s bigger in Texas. I just checked and have sadly discovered that that’s a lie. It’s still only six inches. My whole trip is now worthless and a waste of time.”
I drove away from Texas’s welcome center laughing out loud and pleased with myself. When I got to El Paso, I exited I-10 at exit 37 and pulled into a Petro truck stop. I needed to fuel the bike and relieve and hydrate myself. While at the Petro, I took another picture of the bike and texted it to friends with words from a Marty Robbins song: “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl.” My text ended with my own words of “I better get down the road before I’m stuck in El Paso with a woman carrying my child.”
I have always loved music. It’s like fuel to me, fueling creativity. It’s like a muse, bringing all nine of Zeus’s daughters together for me. I assume we have all been asked the same silly-but-serious question while growing up: “If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would it be: vision, hearing, taste, smell, or touch?” I could never answer that childhood question. All I now know is it wouldn’t be hearing. How about we all give up the pseudo sixth sense we think we possess and retain our instinct instead. I am unsure if I could remain in a world where I could not hear music.
When I left El Paso’s Petro I was hoping to burn up 230 miles of Texas’s eastbound I-10. My target was Fort Stockton, Texas, located around I-10’s mile marker 260. But fatigue overtook me when I was ten miles shy of Van Horn, Texas, one hundred miles short of my goal of Fort Stockton. The fatigue I was feeling might have been psychosomatic by nature because just before I felt tired, I had remembered that I’d packed a bottle of Midleton Very Rare Irish whiskey in the bottom of my T-bag. I’d also remembered that six Montecristo Habanitos were inside of a traveling humidor, and it was lying right next to the wooden box containing the lovely booze. Just like Forrest Gump and Jenny went together like peas and carrots, Midleton whiskey and Montecristo cigars belong together like Bogie and Bacall.
The stormy weather of day one’s ride followed by the repair to the bike’s sissy bar on day two of my ride conspired, and together they made me forget all about the stogies and liquid Irish relief I had packed. After remembering I had them right behind me in the T-bag, the old worn whistle-stop town of Van Horn, Texas, appeared on the horizon, and it became a welcome beacon signaling me to stop and enjoy a few nightcaps over a satisfying smoke or two. Without a moment’s hesitation, I exited I-10 at Van Horn, Texas.
At night Van Horn is a wide spot in the road with lights on, on an otherwise dark and lonely stretch of interstate highway. To weary truck drivers it’s an oasis, mainly because of the Love’s Travel Stops (a modernized truck stop). Love’s truck stop beckons travelers and truckers alike to pull over for a bite—or for the night. I had pulled over at Van Horn many times as an over-the-road truck driver. When I spotted Van Horn that night, I remembered that there was a motel with a restaurant on the east end of town, across the street from Love’s. I was ready for a shower, grub, whiskey, cigar, and sleep, in that order. I was sure that the Sands Motel would afford me all five as I pulled into its dirt parking lot.
The Sands Motel looks like it was built in the mid to late fifties. I always envisioned that its restaurant had a tasty greasy spoon menu. When I was driving semitrucks I had seen the Sands Motel and its connected restaurant many times. Whenever I parked across the street over at Love’s, I’d always think about walking over and getting a bite to eat at the Sands restaurant. But the trucking industry’s pay rate of cents per mile dictated that I get the truck’s wheels rolling as soon as possible. So instead of eating in a sit-down restaurant while I was a trucker, I’d usually grab fast food and head out the door—and down the road I’d go.
Without the trucking industry, America collapses. The trucking industry is mission critical to America’s ambitions and to her survival. Yet truckers are reviled by most motorists and by society at large. This is true for a menagerie of reasons. Most of the stereotypical images of truckers have been earned by truckers’ behaviors. The trucking industry attracts a diverse workforce. It attracts people from all walks of life. When I was in the trucking industry, I had colleagues who ranged from former chiropractors and bank executives to 1% bikers and ex-cons; from offseason carnies to hardened criminals; from failed entrepreneurs to immigrants; from retirees to newlyweds; from vagabonds to people simply looking to travel on someone else’s dime while earning a buck or two. In a way, we were all running away from something while running right back to it. Out of all the people I had observed while in the trucking industry, I concluded that about 10 percent were the finest people humanity had to offer—they were damn good people! Forty percent were rather wishy-washy; there was no particular reason to make the effort to get to know them, nor was there any particular reason to avoid them. My interactions with that group consisted of basic human courtesy.
Then there were the rest of the truckers. In my experience, 50 percent of truckers I observed while I was in the trucking industry were the most wretched, vile scoundrels that evolution had ever produced. If you left your valuables untended around them, or you turned your back on them, you did so at your own peril. Single-cell amoebas have a more evolved conscience than they did. They were truly living life on the lowest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy, with no desire or drive to ascend.
I always say that the trucking industry could rid itself of that horrendous group by simply changing the commercial driver’s license test from multiple choice (where a blind man stands a 25 percent chance of passing) to a fill-in-the-blank quiz. I explained my proposed change in truck driver testing to a friend of mine while we both were working in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields. He was the regional manager of the oil field service trucking company that I was driving for; he was both my friend and the top boss. It was during a quiet regional safety meeting when I whispered to Mr. Joe Swaney: “Do you want to know how to bring the trucking industry to a halt?”
“How?” he whispered back.
I smiled as I said, “Change the test truck drivers take from multiple choice to fill in the blank.”
“Game over!” Joe involuntarily exclaimed as we both broke out with laughter, leaving everyone else assembled for the serious safety meeting to wonder just what in the hell was so funny. I can still see Joe’s expression when I think about that safety meeting, which was being held inside of a balmy truck repair shop’s bay, while outside it was a chilly minus twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Tioga, North Dakota, gets very cold.
One sees way too much carnage while traversing the lower forty-eight states’ roadways as a truck driver. I have seen many highway collisions from down low on a motorcycle’s seat and too many to count from up high in a semitruck driver’s seat. If I had to guess at the number of accident scenes that I have driven by in my life, that number would be well over one hundred. I noticed something that human beings have in common from experiencing those tragic scenes. We always drive by them slowly. We are usually forced to do so by the flashing lights emanating from the gathered vehicles of law enforcement and ambulances and tow trucks. But even when we are being urged to move along by traffic cops, we slow down and strain to see the damage: to witness the twisted wreckage resulting from vehicles colliding; to see bodies banged and broken, some dead, scattered about and lying on the roadway. It’s human nature, I suppose, that kicks in and makes us drive by those scenes slowly, even when we are not forced to do so. Something innate takes over and makes us want to see vehicles totaled, humanity devastated—to witness the utter carnage. I don’t know why we do that, why we drive by slowly when we are being motioned to speed up—hopefully we are subconsciously retaining the horrible images we see, and by doing so we are becoming safer drivers, but I don’t think so. All I know is that I have seen way too much carnage in my travels.
I had thought about all of that from the time I realized that Van Horn was just ahead of me and that I had good liquor and fine cigars I could enjoy right away if I were to take the Van Horn exit.
I pulled the Deuce right up to the front door of Van Horn’s Sands Motel’s registration office, such as it was. I’d like to say that the Sands Motel had seen better days, but I am doubtful. The paint was faded, reflecting Van Horn’s fate. The motel’s paint was peeling away from its doors and from the trim of its windows. Even the Sands’ sign was faded and peeling. A layer of dust covered everything. The dust came from the wind blowing across the dirt parking lot from the other side of the attached restaurant. The wooden screen door to the office was full of holes. The office was connected to what I assumed was living quarters for a residential manager. The living quarters’ door was open when I walked inside the office. As I stood at the registration desk, I noticed that personal effects were strewn all around, making the environment I was standing in indistinguishable from an office and home’s messy living room.
An older woman came out from what I assumed were her living quarters. As soon as I saw the woman, I could tell that the years had taken their toll on her. She was drawn in the face and her eyes were sunken; her skin was weathered and wrinkly; she was stooped at the hips as she walked over to the desk. She was extremely pleasant during the formalities of registering me for a night’s stay. She was very welcoming as she was explaining checkout procedures and other such matters.
All I was looking for was a shower, an agreeable meal, a few pours of my fine whiskey, and a stogie or two. I also wanted a Wi-Fi connection. I wanted to check my email, which I hadn’t done since I had left Las Vegas three days earlier. After accomplishing all that, I just wanted some sleep.
When I asked for the Wi-Fi connection information, the woman said that it was not working and that she could not get anyone to come over to help her get it back up. “My husband,” she said, “usually fixes it, but he’s in the hospital. He had a heart attack yesterday, and it is not looking good. My grandkids said that they could fix it, but they haven’t come over yet. I understand if you want to go someplace else to stay.” She continued, “I’ll refund your money.”
She was at work, and her husband was in the hospital—at death’s door, I thought to myself. I wondered if she was working because the income was needed or if she was there out of a sense a duty. Was she there because she was the owner, or was she there as an escape from her trials and tribulations? I wondered why in the hell she was there while her husband was in the hospital while it was not looking good. Why was she there?!
When I pulled into the Sands Motel on my bike, I’d noticed that there were only two other vehicles in the otherwise deserted Sands’ parking lot. I figured the Sands desperately needed my business. So I said, “That’s all right, ma’am. A break from technology would be fine. How long have you and your husband been married?” I asked.
“Forty-five years,” she responded. “I know I am going to lose him now; we’re both old and worn out,” she said.
What in the hell do you say to someone who you just met and is standing in front of you—in pain? It’s tricky at best. It’s treacherous terrain. Disaster looms as you prepare to speak. I simply said, “Forty-five years? You two are so lucky to have found each other. That’s what life is all about, growing old with someone. I missed that boat, but you two sailed it for all it was worth.” I was trying to get her to smile.
She did smile, and then she straightened up and said to me, “It’s never too late, sweetie. You have a nice rest, and, by the way, that’s a nice bike you have.”
I exited her office after saying “thank you” and headed off to my room, with my nice bike underneath me.
Before I showered, I had called the restaurant and placed a “to go” order: fried chicken and a Cobb salad. After showering I slipped into sweatpants, pulled on a T-shirt, and headed to the restaurant to pick up my dinner. When I returned to my room, I poured some liquid relief in a paper cup next to a small coffee maker. I poured whiskey into the twelve-ounce paper cup until it was way over half full. I grabbed a cigar, a cutter, and my lighter and went outside and sat on the curb, where I had dropped the bag containing my food when I had returned from the restaurant.
With my room to my back and my bike at my feet, I remained there all night, eatin’ and sippin’ whiskey while thinking about my life. I refilled that paper cup twice more before switching over to water. I did not sleep. I kept pondering what the old woman had said to me: “It’s never too late, sweetie.”
I knew my chance at true love had come and gone long before I pulled into the Sands Motel that night. Back when I was young, I had had it all. I had had love in my life. I had experienced the all-encompassing kind of love. The kind that we read about; the kind Bogie and Bacall had had in Key Largo when they had had it all. And I knew I’d never settle for anything less. But that kind of love is for the young in years—not for the young at heart. The old but young at heart are too cautious; they have too much to lose if they lose at love.
I was up all night that night I spent at the Sands Motel. I was thinking about this and that and another thing too. I was thinking about what might have been.
At the break of dawn, when the sun hit the Sands Motel, my bed remained empty. The morning light made me realize that I had to get a few hours of sleep before I rambled on down the road. I have never needed much sleep. If I get eight hours, the day is a major drag. Five to six hours is optimal for me. I can function on less, on as little as three hours of sleep.
I slept for four hours and awoke slowly around ten a.m. After I got out of bed, I hurriedly dressed, packed the T-bag, mounted my bike, and left the empty Sands Motel parking lot as dust flew around my bike’s tires. When I hit I-10 without having any coffee or breakfast, I knew I was running on empty. I felt empty inside, and I was trying to rid my mind of “it’s never too late, sweetie.” I was riding hard and fast in my quest to rid my mind of “what might have been.” I was desperately trying to forget about lost love.
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