Sunday, July 26, 2020

Looking for another mountain

"Gone to look for America"

Driving through the Texas Panhandle seemed interminable. Speed up, slow down, pass through a little town. Bogdanovich redux. And repeat. Until the border. The further north and west one goes in Texas, the more red-hot it gets. And flat. Not to say there’s no life out there. There must be some life worth preserving, why else would everyone need a gun, as the endless billboards proclaim? That part of Texas is locked in a scenario that time has passed by. Every town is portraying their version of Mayfield. Everyone’s parents are Ozzie and Harriet. There is no pandemic. There is no need for a mask. Move along, nothing to see here. Leave us alone. Go back home. Leave it to Jesus.

One town I drove by, Memphis, looked like a set-in-waiting for a Sergio Leone revival. I could hear Morricone’s soundtrack as I crawled, at 35 miles per hour, through the place. Glen Rio, New Mexico was still 2+ hours away, as Elvis crooned Heartbreak Hotel on Spotify.

This week a young friend texted me and wanted to talk. I gave young friend a call. “I want you to know I love you as a friend. But you are one privileged sonofabitch, being able to drive around like you did and then write about it as if there wasn’t anything else going on in the world.” “Like what?” I asked. “Like how are we young parents going to get back to work and how are we going to be able to educate our young children safely?” Young friend had a good point. I promised I would try and check my privilege (and enthusiasm) safely from the keyboard.

New Mexico finally appeared. It was noon, the day was heating up. My little car was cool as a cucumber. I pressed on, thinking maybe get to Albuquerque, or Santa Fe before calling it a day. But Albuquerque just sailed on by the windshield. And somewhere along the way north, the junction to Santa Fe went unnoticed. I was moving well, within the law, was it ever gonna get dark? Why not press on to Farmington, see if I could make some tracks?

Highway 550 from Bernalillo to Farmington goes through the heart of Navaho country. The road was nearly deserted on the Sunday after July 4th. It was eerie.

Even more so with the outdoor signs dotting the road and entrances to the pueblos, urgently advising Native Americans to stay home, don’t venture out, this is a real emergency. Virus outbreaks in the pueblos, and in Sandoval county, where I was driving through, had been ravaging the Navaho Nation.

I’m not a Native American. But I am an American who is native to this country. I’m not claiming to be anything I’m not, but I feel this. It was as if the constant sun of noon had gone behind a larger-than-life moon. It was a dark ride. I could hear souls crying, lamenting one more incursion, this one as deadly as the ones before, ever since the Spanish conquistadors arrived here 400 years ago. “Nothing but death and destruction, they bring,” one soul whispered in my ear, as I slowed down for a curve ahead. I wanted to turn around, go home and put my head under the covers.

But I couldn’t. My young friend might say “That’s because your white privilege, just like those Spanish bastards, gives you license to push on, while the Navaho Nation must shelter and wait for the virus to move on.” 

I was looking for another mountain, one apart from the mountain I climbed as a father, a husband, an employee, a son, a brother. It was out there, in the guise of a deferred vision quest. “See,” I’d tell my young friend, “I’ve gone from Kerouac to He–Mene Mox.” I imagine my young friend responding with a phrase not printable here.

But there was no turning back.

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