Monday, January 23, 2006

A Counter-Culture Georgian Finds Difficulties Hitch Hiking In Northern New Mexico

In 2002 I moved to Taos, after my flamboyantly liberal cousin Jill, on Thanksgiving said, "You should move out. We’ll lend you the van. But you can hitch hike easily as well. We do it all the time."
         I accepted her offer.

         A few months later, acclimated to the elevation and dry air, I decided to visit a Buddhist shrine down Rim Road. From their earth-ship I walked to the intersection of Rim Road and Two Peaks Road and seamlessly got a ride from a guy with a mohawk and a pierced nose. He had an open top Suzuki Samurai. We wash-boarded three miles then stopped by a road with Tibetan prayer flags auspiciously folding in the wind. He said, "I’d take you on up, but my girlfriend’s waiting, you know..."
        "Na, that’s cool man. Hey, thanks for the ride." I got out and anxiously walked on.
         After sitting half-lotus for an hour in front of an elaborate stupa chanting mantras with sandalwood prayer beads laced between my fingers, I got up and checked out the entire compound. Satisfied, I ambled back to the entrance with the prayer flags and then about two more miles down Rim Road. I managed to get picked up again by a couple of nappy fellows with long matted hair and beards, reeking of numerous soap-less-days, folks we called mesa-rats. I climbed in the back of their hatch back and sat in a carpet of dog hair beside the shedding mutt and wash-boarded down the rest of the road as they discussed the war. I got dropped off at the intersection; they were heading East. Seemed I was back on my feet.

         Now, ponder on not having second nature transportation and giving a lot of thought about the welfare of feet on asphalt/earth walking, standing with a thumb raised like an SOS distress signal.

         I now lived in my cousin’s school bus, but we’d had disagreements about my attitude and productiveness, none-the-less I felt I needed to jet, settle in on my own. I had a bag packed with clothes and personal effects and walked to the intersection—put my thumb into the air. I watched as a half-dozen other hitchers acquired rides and headed off East. I was heading West; no one else it seemed was. Two hours past standing with a Viagra-stiff-thumb as Jill and her husband Stuart rolled up sixties' style in their peace-blue-micro-bus, stopped beside me and inquired, "You trying to get to work?"
         I replied, "Yyyeah."
         Her husband smiled, nodded his head and said, "Good luck then," turning the Grateful Dead back up and puttering off into the dust. I gave them the bird—‘damn pseudo-hippies’. So, I didn’t make it to work on time but did eventually get a ride. All in all over three hours were wasted as well as my temperament and health in the dry summer heat.

         But let’s backtrack, back before the dissension. My most extensive hitch hiking ordeal. Imagine: fire swelling in dehydrated thighs and loins, blisters rubbed raw into heels and big toes, lips cracked like the death-valley’s surface, and eyes wild and burning with exertion and stimulants—a few things I gained on this trip.

         I drove my cousin’s family van everywhere I went, but they’d decided one day to take the Chrysler-junk to Sante-Fe on a day I’d decided to go nature-hiking into the Ski-Valley. Their other vehicles had straight shifts. They said, "We’ll drop you off at the ‘old blinking light’. You’ll have no problem getting a ride."
         They dropped me off and I pushed the walk button on the pole, waited for the traffic to thin and the white-lighted-man-walking to appear. On the other side standing on the concrete curb facing the route to the valley, universal-pick-me-up-thumb raised, I immediately had a GrandPrix with a California tag pull over. I got in with a couple younger guys touring the Southwest. They took me up past Arroyo Seco, dropped me off at the corner of the road that continued into the Valley. They were taking a left into an area I’d yet to travel. From here I stood by a lone adobe art gallery with a plastered lion head and front legs erupting from the building above the door for around an hour with about three or four vehicles passing by.
        ‘No good luck like that first quick snag,’ I thought.
         I started walking past the gallery and headed down a steep hill. Half way down a red truck rumbled by; they just looked and continued on. Most of the vehicles I’d seen so far had Texas tags and other Mid-Western state tags, even saw one from Florida; tourists from areas not accustomed to picking up odd looking characters off the side of the road.
         I continued walking for a few hours with pain cutting into the heels of my feet. I wore Tiva hiking sandals, but they were showing definite design flaws. I found an spot by the river that ran along the winding road where I could make my way down and soak my feet in the cold mountain water and rest. Slightly relieved I made my way back up and continue on. I guess I’d walked a good eight miles when a grey compact car rode by and turned off onto the embankment. My pace quickened and as I made my way up I noticed yet again another California tag. I started to believe then that Cali. must not be too bad. I related to her my troubles up to now as she gave her equivalent of the Southern phrase, ‘Well bless your heart,’ but with genuine concern. She drove an eternity of only two miles. She apologized for having arrived so late, not able to have given me much help. We exchanged a laugh and parked. I got out and thanked her.
         The Ski-Valley felt deserted; it was summer I suppose and walked into the Dutch replicated town-scape and went inside a pizza joint to see if I could get some first-aid for my feet. Inside, a stoner-frat-boy looking guy came out of the kitchen. He asked what he could do for me.
         I said, "No pizza man, just wondering if you got some Band-Aids, gauze, Ducktape, and Neosporin?"
         He pulled out a box with the variants of each item. I took what I needed, went outside and sat on the front stoop and took care of my feet. I returned the box thanking him and asked if he knew the location of the Bull of the Woods trail. He directed me, off I went, temporarily relieved.
         Three miles up the arduous trail I collapsed; my legs felt like a polio patients’ and my loins felt like I’d taken a bullet in ‘Nam, lost in an unknown mountainous jungle. I lay there thinking about the stupidity of my notion to go hiking; I intended for it to be pleasant and enjoyable, like hikes I’d taken before, but I’d already walked around eight miles on asphalt under prepared, out of shape, and seriously pissed I’d not been able to have the van. I realized then that I should have just taken it easy at the pizza joint. I lay on the grass in a small opening in the evergreens off the trail, napping. Awake and alert again I stretched, feeling like I’d walked all day and just slept on a concrete slab.
         I half stumbled down the trail ready to get an early start on panhandling for a ride back to the bus—a good twenty plus miles away. Back at the empty pizzeria I introduced myself officially to the cook/cashier guy. I spoke vaguely about the trip; he offered to give me a ride back down the valley to the ‘old blinking light’. Relieved to have someone easily offer a ride I started idle conversation. He asked if I didn’t mind making a beer run to the convenience store on the other side of the resort—"Within easy walking distance."
         Mindful of how great a beer would be at that point I took the guy’s money and left. I returned and handed him a six pack of Coors’ Lite and his change. He pulled one out and handed it to me along with a slice of pizza and said, "I’ll have to close the store out, but it won’t be late since it’s Sunday."
        "That’s fine man, I don’t mind chilling out for awhile waiting. ‘Least I know I got a ride."
         Enter montage of present tense time passage. [It’s early evening. I’m watching television. Two underage guys, who work at the place, show up to goof off. I ride with the two guys for more beer. Everyone in the kitchen is drinking; one guys pulls out a joint; we pass the joint around. Another guy shows up with more weed; tells me he’s from New Zealand and was an extra in the second Lord Of The Rings movie—drinking and smoking continue. Three German foreign exchange girls who know the pizza-making-crew wander in. Drinking and smoking halts as customers walk in: a yuppie family—husband, wife, and daughter. Miraculously their order is taken and their food is sufficiently cooked. They get the drift and take it to go. The sun is now setting into the mountains. The two underage guys are hitting gravel rocks off into the town-scape, aiming for a stain glass window or anything that might cost money. Near dusk—everyone has canceled excitement for either realization of parental domination or excessive school work and return home.] Exit montage of present tense time passage.
         With the restaurant closed but not clean we left and were finally blazing away from the Taos Ski-Valley Resort. We came to Arroyo Seco and past the Gypsy 360 café and by Momentitos de la Vida’ and finally to the red traffic light of the ‘old blinking light’. Groggy but thankful to at least be here I got out and told the guy we should smoke out again. Standing alone I realized it did not seem like a good idea to hang around the intersection with myself inebriated and it being pitch dark. I pushed the walk buttons at each section and darted across like Frogger. I figured I’d walk on up and stand off the pavement on sixty-four west and try to get a ride; people turning in would already be at a decreased speed and there was plenty of space to pull over. In the swirl of sound and lights I stood uneasy with the prospect of what I intended to do. ‘It’s night,’ I thought.
         I decided to start walking again.
        "Damn this hitchhiking," I said, about to fall over seeing car lights approaching, unsure if I had too much of my body in the road, trying to force someone to see me. One after another cars, trucks, motorcycles careened by me. ‘No one’s stopped so far, no ones probably gonna stop at all,’ I thought.
         I topped a hill and saw the Taos Regional Air Port; then it clicked; I remembered Stuart worked at the airport. Jill—I’d forgot about my cousin. I pulled out my cell phone, turned it on, pushed the contacts button, scrolled down until I found their number and called. Surprised that Jill actually answered the phone, I said, "Hey, I’m just before the airport on the side of the road. Come pick me up. I’m half dead."
         Shocked that I’d waited so long to call, she replied in amusement, "Ok, give me a minute to get myself together and I’ll be there, just don’t ride off with someone else."
        "If I could've gotten rides as easy as you'd said, I wouldn’t have called," I said as an autobahn-speed-sedan roared by me...

         Again, ponder on not having second nature transportation and giving a lot of thought about the welfare of feet on asphalt/earth walking, standing with a thumb raised like an SOS distress signal. Be it day or night I found hitch hiking to be too romanticized a notion of travel—be prepared to walk more than ride most time. Have sufficient foot wear, water and food even if the distance isn’t necessarily far. Things go wrong, like having no one stop or having to spend four or five hours partying. Be aware that sometimes people are not inclined to pick up strays off the road, unless their hard-core locals or they’re from California.