Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cornered

So we are sitting the Peace Tree Juice Café in Monticello, Utah, and a nice young lady is explaining Utah’s liquor laws to a table of six young men who have been speaking German.  You see, in Utah, in a restaurant you must be eating something if you want to drink beer. 
            “Do you want to order chips and salsa?  Maybe hummus? That’s the cheapest.”
            Turns out the men ask for a menu.  They want something more substantial. 
            “And before I get you that Bud Light, I need to make sure you are twenty-one.”
            Knightsmama and I are reading through IRS documents and writer’s guides on-line to make sure that we are not breaking any laws with the tax deductions we are taking for the Caravan.  Let me say this boldly, if you haven’t been paying attention:  I do sincerely intend to turn these writings, based on this crazy trip across these here United States, into some kind of book that will make me a millionaire, and if not that, then like all my other writings, a thousandaire.   Just you wait and see, I raise my fist and shake at the ceiling. 
We Are Moving West
            It has been a crazy day, here in Southern Utah.  First of all, it is my father’s birthday (and also Thomas Jefferson’s—strange, we are in Monticello).  If he were living, my dad would be 103.  I have said in previous posts, my father’s life, ambitions, and pleasures have informed this adventure a great deal.  He was one of those Americans from The Greatest Generation who enjoyed his automobile and employed it to see America.  The family photograph albums, now in storage, are basically a record of vacations, sightseeing, and family gatherings and reunions.  When the Caravan began its wanderings, I could say that some time in my life I had visited maybe 40 of the 50 states on vacations my father took with my mother, sisters, and me.  The problem was that I didn’t remember many of these places because I had visited them when I was very young. The crazy part is that as many sons, as much as I have tried not to be like my father, is how much I have become like him.  On this trip, the similarities:  national parks and historical sites, battlefields, baseball, and beer.  The differences:  the caravan itself, art museums, coffee shops, graves of dead writers.  Of course, the most important difference is this blog, these posts.  I write about the adventure.  Even though he let me know quite definitively that he did not support, would not support, my writing habit, I do think he would find, at least, the reportorial aspects of the blog entertaining.   Therefore, tonight, I will lift a beer to him—not a Budweiser but a Devastator, an 8% abv Double Boch, from Wasatch Brewery in Park City, Utah.    Cheers, thanks for the gift of loving travel and the history and land of this nation.
Peace Tree Juice Cafe in Monticello, Utah
            What has really been strange today is the weather.  This morning is was chilly but sunny.  Then all of a sudden around ten, the sky clouded, and sleet and snow fell for an hour or so.  At moments, the sky was so thick, we could not see the 11,360 foot tall Abajo Peak that stands right out our trailer window.  Then our snow and sleet melted, blue shown brightly, and the peaks radiated white.  Odd how quickly it all happened.  Odder that it happened twice more during the day.  Winds stirred, and fell still.  Sleet and snow sliced the air, and disappeared.  The sun radiated, and turned dark. 
            In the Peace Tree, we met a fellow who stopped in for a burger.  He was traveling from Salt Lake City to Albuquerque.  We discussed our travels, and he asked if we had been caught in the drizzle in Moab, and I told him we had been in Monticello all day and about our surprise at the changing weather.  All he could add was a glib, “Welcome to The West.”  In Texas, we talk about rapidly changing weather—a Blue Norther charging in and dropping temperatures 40 degrees in an afternoon.  But that is nothing to what we experienced today.
            I don’t know what else to tell you.  Today was sort of a wasted day.  Except, of course, that we completed our taxes using the Wifi in the Peace Tree.  For a while we seemed to be on a useless chase for internet.  Our campground Mountain View RV Park in Monticello provided decent connections, but during all the haywire weather, things got sketchy. (The internet is working now, obviously.  I am posting this from the campground.)  In addition, Knightsmama and I figured that as we finalized our taxes, we would want to talk without the boys arguing, begging for junk food and sodas, or loudly playing electronic devices.  So we hit the road searching for some place to light.  Not finding anything open in tiny Monticello, we actually drove 26 miles to Blanding, thinking we remembered the town as something more substantial.  Wrong.  You know, Southeast Utah is sparse.  And on Sunday something open is even sparser.  We even began to wonder if on Sunday everyone just ate at home.  When by 1:00 we had returned to Monticello, we found neon signs proclaiming the Peace Tree had opened.  Was it open before and we just missed it?  I don’t know.  I am not going to investigate.  Whether through stupidity or chance, on the road Knightsmama and I were able to engage in adult conversation for an hour or so.  I had some pet theories about Eastern and Western states and industrial waste, which she convinced me were not ready for prime time.  She had regrets that we had missed ski season in Southern Colorado and wanted to make sure we scheduled other, substitute activities for the boys.  My checkbook groaned a little bit, but agreed. 
            Like I say, it was a strange day, a kind of wasted day.  Knightsmama ate a bagel with salmon spread at Peace Tree.  I ate a hummus wrap with blue corn chips with a cup of coffee.  Both were tasty.  Other folks near us got some carrot juice that looked as yummy as any I have seen at Wholefoods in Austin.   I recommend the Peace Tree.  Back at the trailer, the boys played x-box and watched Netflix through the Mountain View RV internet connections, which seemed to settle down once the weather returned finally to bright, chilly, and windy.
On US 160 on Way to Four Corners
            The only thing I have to add is that we drove here yesterday from Durango, Colorado, but took a longish detour to catch Four Corners—that place where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah touch.  It was nothing like what I expected.  All that I hoped it would be is simply a marker on the side of a road.  Something simple, and merely statish and official.   Maybe kitchy.  What we found instead was a quick right off at the top of a little rise on Interstate 160, which I missed, and had to turn The Monster around for.  Good thing there isn’t much traffic on this road.  Once we got The Monster pointed down the correct dirt road, we met a strange lady in a ticket booth, who informed us that to go further would require $5.00 per person.  You see, it turns out that the four corners happens to be on land reserved for the Navajo people.  I say the lady was strange, not because she was Navajo.  I have no information about her.  But she took our money, and while my Big Ass Truck’s diesel engine roared and hummed, she just stared at her cash register or something else I couldn’t see inside the ticket booth.  This went on for a minute or two, until another lady appeared in front of the truck, came around, then entered the booth, and said a few words to her co-worker.   The first lady returned from her puzzlement or reverie or whatever it was and handed me a receipt. 
            Since we were in the desert, there was plenty of parking, a lot of space to guide The Monster to a pretty little spot all poised for a quick getaway if needed.  The Navajo Nation has created, I think, a very interesting monument.  Of course, there is the metal marker on the ground that indicates where the corners of the four states meet.  For those of us who look for these kinds of things, I note that we have straight lines.  A “T,” or a cross.  I have no idea if the border between Colorado and New Mexico, on the east, and Utah and Arizona, on the west, are perfectly North/South.  Nor do I know if the border between Colorado and Utah, on the north, and New Mexico and Arizona, on the south, runs perfectly East/West.  I assume they are not. But one could say, either poetically if not factually, that we have the marks of the compass right here.  But our linear selves are disrupted by the great brick circle that encompasses, surrounds, and encloses these straight lines.  We enter the larger circle, and  we notice circles inside of that one, guiding us, concentrically, to the point, the center, this political mark on the imaginary grid of our geography.
Captain Crunch Bridging the Four Corners

My sons hear, and repeat to me, a man saying, “Is this all there is?  And I paid $5 for this?”  There is a point here, several points actually.  Why did any of us drive so far out of our way:  33 miles from Shiprock, New Mexico; 40 miles from Cortez, Colorado;  65 miles from Bluff, Utah; 77 miles from Kayenta, Arizona?   What did we expect to find here?  A carnival, a gunfight, a monument detailing the history of The West, a declaration of independence?  Did we expect a certified vision delivered to us on the wings of Eagle, on the back of rattlesnake? 
Let me tell you what I saw there, in my vision.  I witnessed a bunch for folks like me and my family taking photographs.  One man slightly younger than I with a man slightly older—father and son, most likely—hugging side by side, feet straddling two states each, then changing position.  A slightly over-weight woman in her fifties, doing Downward Dog, one hand or foot in each state, her somewhat flabby butt raised triumphantly to the sky:  “I told my yoga instructor that I would do this.”  Her husband, as straight as a small town banker, clicks her photograph and smiles at me.  A teenage girl lies on her back, arms and legs forming an X, one limb into each state, her manipura chakra over the spot where the states meet.  More and more families and couples forming a raggedy circle, all witnessing each other, all noting whose turn is next.  Congratulating each other, laughing with each other, celebrating each other.  Captain Crunch forming Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or, in English, the Bridge Pose, kind of like Downward Dog, but upside down.
            And around all this, witnessing these individual rituals, in booths enclosed in the outer circle, are the Native Americans selling their jewelry, arrows and bows, dream catchers, sand paintings, and food.  (Both Knightmama and I have new earrings; the boys got fry bread.) We have entered a place unique in our American journey.  But something in me is reminded of the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty.  Above us, the US flag, the four state flags, and the Navajo and Ute Mountain Ute tribal flags remind us of the complicated history that transpired in arid landscape.  But here also in 2014, people are gathering, people are called together onto one strange piece of ground, and if we are lucky we begin to see something beyond state boundaries.  I begin  to recognize both the pain and horror of American history and the never ending desire to right those wrongs.  I don’t have much hope that we will ever come to terms with the great migration, or the great invasion, if you will, of The West.  In addition, as with slavery and its mark on Americans and our history and sense of self, I am a bit wary of rituals where the oppressed forgive the oppressors.   Sure, you can accuse me of Liberal guilt, if you like.  Or we could listen to my father, who as an adamant believer in manifest destiny, and admit that “we” stole this land, fair and square. 
The Devastor

            I can tell you one thing, I am not going to complain about paying $20 for my family to stand on this ground.  And while wars go on in Afghanistan and Syria, and while Russia claims the Crimea and Ukraine creates or loses its future, I know I must recognize the historical realities of populations and migrations and wars and cultural independences and cultural alliances.  Our history in The West in the Nineteenth Century is no different. Still, my moods shift as often as the weather out here.  I guess I am just going to keep pondering what the hell all this means ought here and wonder where we go from here.  Time for that Devastor, Dad.


Soundtrack Double Feature.  Jerry Jeff Walker.  "My Old Man."
and
Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet, "Cold Rain and Snow."

1 comment:

  1. I love the photo of Theo doing his backbend at four corners. I think your dad would love your Caravan journey and the fact you are documenting it with words, in addition to photos and video! Francine

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