THE WRONG PLACE TO BE LOST, BOY
Jan 29 Day 7 Salton City to Mecca. Today: 31 miles Cumulative: 158
Nina has different hair today, its just as large, but today its more brown. Her real hair, tomorrow shell be a red head she tells me. That Id like to see, but I will not rest until I have reached the holy city of Mecca. Nina gives me all the same advice that my mother did, the advice all mothers would give, take care of your feet, take care of your dog, be careful who you trust, there will be highs, lows, danger, sunsets, keep your head up, and so on. She points to the sky, Godspeed my son,, onward and upward! And as I walk away she sings an old cowboy ballad about the highway, one that I have never heard before. She loves the drama.
Salton City doesnt look as desperate when the sun is out and the sad song of the wind in the power lines has stopped, the funeral is over, a new day. Clear and cool. My feet still hurt, I am still happy. I raise my arms in the air proclaiming the beauty of the day like a tel-evangelist from time to time. Sing a song appropriate to the view, thank the road for being smooth, kiss my dog for working hard. From a car on thew highway I am sure I look like a madman.
All the mountains surrounding this area look like the mountains of Afghanistan, in fact they are the same latitude as the northern part of that country. The biggest, baddest, badlands in the world. From the first day man claimed land and called it Afghanistan, it has been at war. Today America is in one of those wars, F-16s fly east over the sea to drop their bombs in this perfect replica of Afghanistan, the chocolate mountain aerial gunnery range. Looking for ways to kill more efficiently. War games.
This side of the war, it is a beautiful day. I am not close enough to hear the bombs. Storm clouds on the horizon, all the right colors, sheets of rain over Afghanistan, applause to the director of this movie. In Desert Shores I buy a half gallon of milk and stop to stretch. A man named Jon says a few words before he walks into the store. When he comes back out he wishes me the best of luck and shakes my hand, leaving a $5.00 bill in my hand, For a cup of coffee down the road. There are so many good people on these roads, not because they always seem to hand me money, but because they come out of their lives for few minutes to share some wisdom with me, a smile, a handshake, a hug, a piece of fruit, a piece of themselves.
Trucks loaded with hay and alfalfa pass too close to us, but thew sweet smell they leave in the air makes me forget that I am on a bust highway. Out of the desert into vineyard and orange groves. They are trimming the rows in the orange groves to leave more room for the pickers, and the air is full of citrus, fresh cut oranges. I will sleep in one of these fields tonight. The chocolate mountains glow in thew setting sun, stripped crimson, brow, and black, hard shadows in the steep canyons. Looking into them now I am afraid, the Bradshaw trail, the empty quarter, Arabian Sands. I can hear them breathing. A low groan, War.
The walking is always harder when it is dark. There are no distractions. I have been charging for 7 days, and I am beginning to see the enemy, my Achilles. I have been limping the last two nights. I try to focus on something else, the smell of the oranges. In Oasis, a community of field workers, I stop for coffee. It feels like another country, no English spoken here. This is part of the new America, more Hispanic communities, more illegal immigrants, more cheap labor.
A highway patrolman tells me where I can camp on the road to Mecca. He did it once on a stakeout, watching a meth lab all night. Plenty of bushes on the one side, by where the meth lab was, and orange groves on the other. You can camp either place. Limping those last miles I see the orange groves are flooded, but when I try to set up camp by the old meth lab, the ground gives way to inches of dust under a thick salty crust. The cart gets stuck, garbage is everywhere, I try closer to town, more garbage. I feel like a bum.
Into Mecca, I hope to find someone and ask for help, it is midnight. Packs of wild dogs are following us. Sheriff Ernie Lopez finds me and I explain my situation. This is the wrong place to be lost, boy. You sleep outside here and I guarantee youll get robbed. Lets try the fire house. Down the road at Firehouse #40 they give me a room and go to sleep, they had 9 fires today. I thought I would be in an orange grove tonight, instead I am sitting on a couch watching David Letterman. Every day has surprise ending. Nothing can be predicted, I wont even try. Keep walking.