Chapter 66

Off in the distance, a shooting star flies low on the horizon.  Wildlife begins to stir and fill in the desert air with music. It must be safe to get going; the things that live out here should know. I hope I run into someone friendly soon. I won’t last another day out here.  The thought of death is very real. I need to focus on something positive before I get depressed, lay down, and give up. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find another water station.

I walk for half an hour and see another shooting star, and it skips low across the horizon too. Soon, another follows the same path across the sky. That’s weird. Wait! Those aren’t shooting stars—they’re headlights! There must be a road over there. Oh shit, I think I’ve made it.

I seem to be getting some of my energy back as I head straight for where the lights were.

After another half an hour or so I can sometimes hear the cars grow louder, then softer again. This is so awesome . . . wait, is this America or Mexico? I think it’s America. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. If it’s Mexico, I think I’ll just call Mom from El Burrito Crazy and tell her where to bring my ID. I’ve probably already lost my job. There’s no real rush any more.

I’ve made it. I think I’ve really made it this time. Here comes a car. God! I hope it’s not the border patrol like last time. That would so suck to have come this far and . . . It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to die out here. I’ll just flag it down . . . Okay, next one. I’m so tired. I can’t wait to get home and crawl into a real bed, or take a real shower. Heck, I’d even settle for my old seat next to the jailhouse toilet. Here comes another couple of cars; one of them should pick me up . . . I guess not.

Picking someone up at night, alone, on a dark, lonely highway . . . You’d think this sombrero would erase any evil in this situation. This whole outfit is ridiculous. I feel more of a Scooby Doo vibe than a Stephen King one. Still. One thing’s for sure, if I stay out here long enough, the border patrol will surely find me.

 

I wave at a pickup truck as it passes me. I could have ridden in the back. I must be really freaky to look at out here. I might as well just walk in the direction most of the cars seem to be going.

Here comes another car, but it’s coming the wrong way. I jump down the shallow embankment and wait for the car’s lights to pass me by. I don’t think it was a cop. Oh well, it’s going the wrong way and it probably wouldn’t have stopped anyway.

Either direction I go, there’s going to be a town sooner or later. I just hope this direction is the sooner one. God, am I thirsty. I wonder how far it is between towns out here.  I need to keep a lookout for the border patrol. Or one of those bottled water delivery trucks—that would be awesome.

The warm asphalt heats the cooler desert night air. It smells like home. Hot summer nights in San Diego, playing kick the can, hide and seek, staying up all night for months at a time. No cares, no bills, no work, no school.

 

 

 

 

After about half an hour, I watch in amazement as a pickup truck pulls to the side of the road. I bet a border patrol officer with sunglasses on—at night—is going to jump out of the truck and start making fun of my clothes—and my name.

Nobody is coming out. I’m obviously expected to come to them. Good sign.  It’s an older red Chevy half-ton pickup. I go over to the passenger side window and catch a reflection of myself before it rolls down. Damn.  All I need is theme music and a side kick, and I’d be a Saturday morning cartoon.

Behind the window is a broad smile of very white teeth. He’s a pleasant looking senior citizen. Finally a friendly face.  “Where you going dressed like that?”

“To the nearest payphone.”

He thinks for a moment. “Okay, hop in.”

I go to jump in the back, but the passenger door opens a crack. I get in before he changes his mind.

He’s about sixty, with mostly dark hair, but with some silver on the sides. Mexican. I should have known. Nobody else would have picked me up—heck, nobody else did.

“Hi, My name is Roberto.”

 

I don’t want to ruin this, “I’m John Wayne.”

He looks me over. “Really? That’s great. Hey, you’re a long way from home, John, what happened?”

“It’s a long story.” He’s not speaking Spanish. Am I in America? “Hey, how did you know I wasn’t a Mexican?”

“Why, are you trying to be?”

“No, but I’m dressed like one.”

“Really? Did you just step out of a time machine? Because I don’t know too many Mexicans that go around dressed like that these days, and I should know; some of my best friends are Mexicans.”

He smiles and then we both start laughing. It’s obvious he’s Mexican, yet he pretended . . . he . . . wasn’t.

“Besides, I’ve lived on this border all my life, and I ain’t never seen a Mexican try to cross the border dressed like that. You had to be just, like . . . coming from a party, or your car broke down on your way home from a play . . . or your friends left you out here in some hazing ritual or something. Did you lose a bet?”

“Yeah, something . . .”

“Man, you look beat up. How long you been out here?”

“All day.”

“All day? Really?”

I nod. I don’t really have the energy to continue this conversation. A combination of dehydration, exhaustion, and the possibility that this whole odyssey is finally over, immerses me in what I can only describe as a nervous waking slumber.

“Where do you live?”

“Not far.” I hope.

“You need to call somebody or something?”

“Yeah, I need to call my mom. She’ll come and get me.”

“Hmm. You look like you could use something to eat.”

“I could go for a gallon of water.”

“Okay, I’m on my way to Dennys for my nightly constitutional. You can use the phone there. I’ll get you all the water you can drink—on me.”

Denny’s! I’m in America. His smile and sense of humor make me feel more relaxed. I bet he has grandkids. His face is deeply wrinkled from probably a million laughs. They give him an easy going look. His rough hands grasp the steering wheel lightly, and his wide middle suits him. His life used to be hard, but now it’s easier.

 

 

We pull into a Dennys parking lot. “Where are we?”

He looks at me.  “Puerto Centro,” he pauses, “Arizona.”

“Yeah, thanks.” That’s not far from Tobar. I’ve made it. I pull out my plastic bag, with the phone numbers, photo, and Mexican money. I take out the Mexican money. “Is this enough for a phone call, you think?” He looks like he’s beginning to think I’m crazy.  “I’ll explain everything in a minute.” I grin as we both get out of the truck.

“Yeah, I have a feeling this is going to be the most interesting thing to happen to me all day.” His smile is comforting, and I’m feeling a little more relaxed, walking up to Denny’s—a definitely American institution. “I’m glad I picked you up. I come here every night and shoot the breeze with a couple of old farts. Usually we just sit around and lie to each other, you know, exaggerating the high and low points of our lives. This is really going to spice things up.”

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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