Scenes from the Road: California to Arizona

Preface: My brother and I are driving across the American Southwest with two primary goals. One, to visit my Dad, his ladyfriend, and my younger siblings in the Sonoran *cough* Suburban desert town of Chandler Arizona (where I am now), and two, to visit my Grandma in her new place in the much anticipated Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Temecula, CA

We pick up my grandpa at the Shell station on Route 79. He’s bumming a ride to Yuma to fetch his camper van, which he entrusted to some RV dealer to sell. Bum luck for the sale, it’s been, so he wants to get it from Yuma and drive it to a dealer in El Cajon. Good timing, grandpa. Your Chariot Awaits, and it’s called an Isuszu.

Highway 8

Our Isuszu is climbing into an alien landscape buttressed by pink granites (Orthoclase! Orthoclase!) interspersed with strokes of twisting sage. When we descend down the other side, she doesn’t need any gas and whizzes effortlessly by motorhomes towing trailers towing cars towing boats and whatnot in high gear. We’ve fallen into cloudless blue and alarmingly agricultural plans that end up in sand dunes somewhere past El Centro. Dune Buggies are crawling and rolling all over their granular slopes and the aforementioned motorhomes congregate in the foothills. My grandpa’s on the lookout for remnants of the old plank roads through the dunes as we pass by. All I can think of is Peter O’toole riding a camel.

Yuma, AZ

“Do you have the attitude to match that red hair?” Is the first thing I hear from Smokey as he shakes my grandpa’s hand. “I can say things like that, you know, I’m married to a redhead, so I know about the temper.” Smokey’s a big man: at least six feet and borderline rotund with a thick graying mustache flayed over his upper lip. His cowboy boots thud as he walks out onto the porch of his trailer home turned office, squat in the middle of his gravelled RV lot just past mile marker 11 outside of Yuma, Arizona. He thuds, I realize, because he doesn’t bend his knees as we walks. He’s got a silver belt buckle and a murky indistinguishable tattoo up his forearm and if he says one more thing about redheads I’m gonna go all beserker on him. Or at least I’d like to think I would.

“Smokey hasn’t sold my goddam camper van in the last five months,” my grandfather told me earlier. “How in the hell is he gonna sell it when he’s this far outta town?” Now here we are, face to face with Smokey, and the big man begins to protest:

“But the season, why it’s just beginning now,” Smokey is gleaming the salesman smile. “All them snowbirds gonna be coming down from Canada…” My grandpa gives him a look that says I’m takin’ what’s mine, and Smokey quits yammering about sellin’. “Well sir,” he says, “I’ve got her right over here.”

“Alright kids, this is it,” grandpa says, coming in for a hug. “And thanks for the lift!”

I don’t necessarily want to abandon my Grandfather in this godforsaken RV lot a stone’s throw from Mexico, but it’s what he wants and he’s damn near eighty so I figure he can do as he pleases.


Gila Bend

We’re skating the Blood Meridian. On our left are the infinite and sandworn flats of southern Arizona, El Norte. On our right is a wire fence and beyond that, Sonoran Mexico vanishing in the folds of deep lavender hills that melt into the distant spectrum of winter desert sky. Specifically, that desert, having always lived on the valence of my cognizance through mountaintop vistas in El Cajon, through hearsay, and through literature, is beyond the reaches of my actual knowing. Oh, Mexican desert where Jaguars walk and Coyotes prowl, were the bones drying on the sides of the roads are of not just the bovine variety.

We’re stopped at a border checkpoint and a patrolman in aviators (I kid you not) peers into our car, the name on his uniform: Jimenez. “Be safe now,” Jimenez says, and waves us by.


Chandler, Arizona

I cannot believe I am in a restaurant called Famous Dave’s, and Famous Dave’s logo is a pig BBQ’ing a rack of ribs. Oh, and there’s a neon sign: the outline of a pig enclosing the word ‘Meat’, where the ‘M’ flashes on and off. “Eat…Meat…Eat…Meat…Eat…Meat…” the sign proclaims ad nauseum. Everything around this place is newly made, old timey BBQ decor, but all I can see is factory farming, environmental degradation, broken and irresponsible food systems, obesity and rampant heart disease. But it’s what my family wants, so I bite my lip and say ‘no thanks’ to the ribs. I’d rather survive on Le Trailmix From the Back of My Car, thank ye kindly.


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