Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Loss for Words Pt. 14

(CONTINUED) I turned the heat on low and forgot to watch the temp gauge so the truck overheated before 10 AM near the New Mexico line. I pulled well off the gravel shoulder to avoid the blowback of the semis. Once the steam had dissipated I looked under the hood. All the hoses appeared to be intact but the plastic reservoir was empty. I grabbed an old rag from the truck and eased the radiator cap off. A small cloud of hot steam billowed up into my face and then a steady trail of vapor rose from the pipe. I got back in the truck and sat looking out at the cloudless blue sky and the miles of rock and desert stretching in every direction. I couldn’t tell you what went through my mind although at some point I realized I was going to need water for the truck. Then the cell phone started to ring. It was Julie and I almost answered but an Arizona state trooper pulled up behind me and I turned the phone off and drew a long breath.

The trooper asked me what had happened. I told him the radiator had overheated and that I was waiting for it to cool. I didn’t know if Ruben kept proof of registration in the vehicle or not. If the trooper started asking questions I was going to find myself in trouble very quickly. Instead he asked me if I needed water and I told him I did. He went to his car and returned with a plastic jug. I got out of the truck and he asked me if I thought the water would get me to Lupton, where the next service station was. I replied that I believed it would if I kept the heater turned all the way up. He laughed and looked at the sky and said it wasn’t a good day to have the heat turned up. I laughed and said it was not and thanked him for the water. He waved as he pulled back onto the interstate and I poured water from the jug into the radiator.

I got back into the truck and checked the phone. Ruben had called while I was talking to the officer, but I didn’t listen to the message. I did listen to Julie’s message and she said that I could ignore her previous call about the boy but she still hoped to hear from me about the book club. She asked me to call her regardless of whether I could make the meeting or not.

With the heat back on full I was able to get all the way to Gallup before stopping. I got a couple jugs of coolant and a couple more jugs of water just in case. I ate at an old worn-out diner that had most certainly thrived a few decades earlier when Route 66 had brought travelers by the thousands right past its front door. Now, however, with the interstate bypass the management couldn’t afford to replace the cracked and scoured linoleum or the torn upholstery on the benches. Even the cups and dishes looked 40 years old. I ordered huevos rancheros and ate alongside the other patrons, Indians, mostly, and if the meal was good or bad I didn’t notice.

By 3 PM I was pulling into long term parking at the Albuquerque airport. For the last 100 miles the truck had been shaking and rattling so bad that it was hard to keep it going in a straight line. As I pulled into a spot I heard a grinding from the right front wheel. Now I knew I’d see the Jaguar again, but wondered if Ruben would ever see his truck. I walked a couple rows down and got into the Jaguar and sprayed the windshield to clean off the thin film of dust. I watched the wipers go back and forth until they started to squeak against the dry glass. I felt like I had to do something but it seemed hard to believe that there was anything that was worth doing. Then I called Julie McGregor and told her I was at Albuquerque International.

“You coming back to Santa Fe?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m on my way.”

“Great. Can you meet with us next Tuesday?”

A plane flew low overhead and I had to wait a few seconds before replying. “Yeah, I can do that.” I didn’t know what else to say, so I asked, “Did you get everything straightened out with that guy you were looking for?”

There was a pause and then another plane flew over. Julie said something but I couldn’t make it out. “What’s that? I couldn’t hear you.”

She said that she didn’t want to get into it right then and that she’d tell me about it when I got into Santa Fe. Then she mentioned that she’d seen me watching her at the mission but the memory was painful to me now and I responded only in monosyllables. Finally, she asked me where I’d been.

“San Francisco,” I replied.

She told me she’d never been to San Francisco but that it looked wonderful and that she wanted to go some day. Then she began to ask questions about what I’d done and seen but I said that I’d tell her more when I saw her. She laughed and asked what I was doing that night but I was in no shape to see anyone so I said I was busy.

“That’s okay, maybe some other time.” But she sounded unsure so I said I was free the following day.

We agreed to meet in the plaza at noon and after she’d said goodbye I laid my head on the steering wheel. I felt far away from myself, unreal. Another plane rumbled overhead. I pressed my fingers against my aching eyes. All I had with me were the few things I’d left in the car. I drove out of the lot and merged onto northbound I-25. (CONTINUED)

Photos taken at San Xavier del Bac Mission, Sedona, and Montezuma National Monument, respectively. That's all in Arizona.

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