One highlight of the trip was a particularly windy plain. It was plowing season and epic dust devils were on the horizon. Larger than anything I’m used to seeing. I was entranced.
As a colossal dust devil loomed ahead. The mightiest of the many we were seeing. I judged the road would nearly cross its path.
“Dust devils aren’t tornadoes right?” I reasoned.
“Whatever.” The kid was in space cadet mode again.
“Can’t lift a car or kill a cow right?” I mused.
“Huh? They’re pretty cool to watch.” When I started mentioning flying cows he decided he’d better pay attention. He had no idea what I was thinking.
I rolled to a stop. Then turned the engine off so it wouldn’t suck half an acre of dust into the air filter.
“Get your kite.” I announced.
“Awesome!” He was out the door in a flash. We hoofed it to the edge of a dusty field and he launched over the fence; right into the belly of the beast.
This is an element of nature I’ve never messed with. It was a good 500′ tall or maybe more; hard to judge. Thirty feet or so wide at the base; with sharply defined and oddly beautiful edges. At the base I saw blocks of dirt about the size of cement blocks tumbling about. I wondered what they weighed. The land was dry. Maybe those chunks weighed 20 pounds each? There was nothing else blowing about in the base but then again the field was barren. With nothing else for it to pick up was a 20 pound dirt clod it’s carrying capacity or would it suck up a dishwasher if one was sitting in its path? There are dust devils and there are dust devils and this one looked pretty bad ass to me. If it blew over us would the dirt blocks pummel us to bits? Would the blowing grit sandblast us? How would I explain that to Mrs. Curmudgeon? ‘Our kid is battered head to toe, I have a rock stuck in my ear, and the truck is sandblasted to bare metal; but the kite flew super high’. She’s heard me say things like that before.
It missed us by 60 yards or so. That’s close enough. The kite survived and indeed flew like a champ. We had a great time tempting fate. Good clean fun. Actually good dirty fun.
A few days later I stopped at a crossroads.
“Look, I’ve lived here. There’s a north route and a south route.”
“Uh.” Zombie mode again.
“North route is pretty empty but it’s no big deal. South route is longer but highway.”
He fiddled with the GPS. “This way.”
I looked at the road, remembering a thousand old road trips. This didn’t look right. Then again who knows? I’ve been everywhere but I can’t remember every single route.
“Are you sure?”
“Pay attention.. there’s nothing out there but coyotes and dirt. I want you to be sure.”
He consulted the GPS. “Yes, this is the correct way Dad.”
And so we went. He was about to learn another lesson. The bad part of lessons for a kid is that you’ve got to let them happen when you’re an adult; which sucks because you know better… that’s what being adult is all about. Every few miles I’d ask if he was sure this was a good route and every few miles he’d tell me to chill out.
Many miles later I stopped the truck and stepped out. It was time to swear. “Where the fuck are we!?!”
He looked concerned. “This does seem a bit weird?”
I took a leak in the middle of the road because there was nobody to see. I could have taken a dump on that road, built a cabin there, taken a nap, it wasn’t going to have traffic for a while. I stretched. We listened to the wind. A vulture drifted overhead. Time to summarize our situation:
“Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the middle of nowhere. You might say I’m an aficionado of nowhere. I generally like the taste and texture of every place that’s a long ways from everywhere else. I once took a solo vacation in Death Valley because people annoy me and I wanted to detox after exposure to California. I camp in Canada where there are no roads and… well there are no Canadians either. You might say nowhere is my favorite place.”
“Uh oh.” He was definitely concerned.
“And this isn’t nowhere. This is fifty miles from where the fading edge of the idea of nowhere was still on the horizon.” I paused. “Where the hell are you trying to go? How can this save fuel?”
“It’s a straight shot?” He reasoned.
“I’ve been driving 14 hours. It’s getting dark.”
“See those antelope. Notice how they’re the only living things we can see?” I ignored the vultures and a nearby jackrabbit because I had a point to make.
“Remember how I said that antelope are addle headed freaks that wait to sunset and try to mate with your front bumper?”
“Better stop for the night?” He concluded.
“Yep. I agreed.”
He smiled. As ‘navigator’ he’d been playing an active role in picking hotels and stopping times. We’d stop and catch some sleep and all would be well. It was all settled.
“Find me a hotel.”
His jaw dropped. That was a monkey wrench in his plans. We were more likely to meet the Ghost of Custer than find a Super 8.
“Shall I take over navigation?”
Maybe I’d been too hard on him. He and I had been through a lot. I’m a adept traveler but he doesn’t even have a license. “I wish I’d remembered our sleeping bags.” I groused. It truly was peaceful. I had a couple cold beers in the back. Sleeping under the stars would be fine.
“We can pick some up at WalMart and camp…” He stopped when he realized there was no WalMart. At that time and place it felt deeply and viscerally that there would never be a WalMart again.
“OK here’s the plan, you turn that GPS off and I go out of our way, burn all the fuel we need, and get us to somewhere where we sleep under a roof and maybe buy a steak?”
A hundred miles later we swung into a one building “town”. I bought a steak from a genuine cowboy who cooked it up on a George Foreman Grill at a bar that looked as rustic as John Wayne’s outhouse. In the parking lot I stood in the back of the truck next to a derelict combine (the only other vehicle) and held my phone just so. If I stretched real high I had a half a bar. I dialed a hotel that was only 30 miles away and eagerly booked their last room. Disaster avoided!
On the single fuzzy TV in the bar Quigley Down Under was playing. You gotta’ watch Quigley when you’re in a cowboy bar! We played pool. I had a beer. I hated to leave.
After sunset a zillion antelope tried to die under my wheels but we made it to the hotel. It was a dump. We didn’t mind.
Shockingly, the dump of a hotel had wifi. He checked Facebook. Facebook from there was out of place. Like cable TV on Mars. I was out like a light.
The next morning when we rolled out he accidentally left behind his laptop’s charge line. (At least that’s where we guessed it went.) Thankfully the laptop was with us.
We were almost home.