Day 24 of the Long-Distance Dad road trip was a travel day, but that doesn’t mean it was dull. Zooming along for mile after mile, we still experienced some of the wonder of the Southwest.
Lugging our stuff out of the room in Lubbock, Mtuseni bumped into several guys who were also leaving. Decked out in tight black jeans and leather jackets, jet-black hair, silver bracelets — they were definitely in a band. Mtuseni exchanged “Excuse me’s” with them and that was it.
As they piled into their oversized van I said, “They must be heading off to their next gig.” On the way out I stopped to get a bagel and then we bid farewell to Lubbock and its overpowering smell of fertilizer … or manure … or something farm-like. With breaks, we had a 6+ hour drive to Santa Fe.
As expected, Route 84 was two lanes in each direction surrounded by miles of flat nothing. You could practically see the curve of the earth. Occasionally we’d come up on a small town with a few houses, a dollar store, maybe a silo. They were nothing more than gas-and-piss stops on a long road in the middle of nowhere. You could drive through one in a couple minutes, then back to the lonesome highway.
We stopped a couple times to take care of business. Then at the third place, who pulls up but the band in their black van! Mtuseni and I were more than a hundred miles outside of Lubbock. We’d stopped randomly for various lengths of time. Yet here were the only people we “knew” in all of Texas, stopping at the same nothing little gas station, moments behind us.
I don’t know what you call that — just coincidence, perhaps. But I found it totally cool. It felt like bumping into old friends. Maybe the guys weren’t in a band. Maybe they were shamans. Or spirits. Or spies. I chocked it up to the mystery and magic of the Southwest.
As we headed back on the road, with many miles ahead, I hoped we might encounter our compatriots again. We didn’t. Maybe they were headed someplace else. Maybe they just vanished in the haze and heat. Maybe they never existed.
Just before turning onto Highway 285 for the final leg to Santa Fe, we stopped at Clines Corners for some gas and kitsch. These throwback gift shops remind me of the ones on Cape Cod where we’d spend summers in the 70’s. Most of those are long gone now. People had less sophisticated taste back then; there was a bigger appetite for cheesy souvenirs and crap.
After the endless flat plains of Texas we’d at least begun to experience a few small hills in New Mexico. A couple miles outside Clines Corners there was nothing but open space in all directions. I got out to look around and grab a photo of the road ahead of us, rising gently skyward toward the horizon … with untold adventures great and small on the other side. It felt like a metaphor for our trip — and for life. There’s endless possibility in all that emptiness. It’s one of my favorite photos.
The American Southwest … It never disappoints!