by A. E. Sadler
Well, here I am. A little after 3:30 in the afternoon. I'm in downtown Santa Fe. I'm looking for a coffeehouse and I can't find the right one. And just the fact that I'm looking for one at all makes me feel like one of those "damned halfway tourists" that Kerouac talks about. How come he never had this pitfall? I'm going to use up all my time, my precious time.
Before leaving, my friend Randy bought me a book of postcard stamps and told me I have to use them all up before I get back. He wants me to use the photos I shoot along the way as postcards. Just got my first roll developed, so now I pull them out.
Postcard #1 9 Apr 93 CAN'T FOCUS any of it -- time -- spaces whiz by me sitting still And never am I alone with myself passage of time/years feeling too much of everything blurring & here I am Somewhere in the universe of time passing by The craters of my heart convulse converge convulse
Allison stands among the ceramic bells of Arco Santi in a second picture. We stopped there--an hour north of Phoenix, roughly--to check out the place, an ecological commune of sorts struggling to survive in the middle of the Arizona desert. The clock on the wall watches me with its proprietary face. I still have a few minutes.
Postcard #2 There's Thelma--(5) caught her looking @ bells We rang thruout Southwestern deserts dreaming in pastels, paintings pretending to be land--we never blinked Our American night huge moon grinning as magic carpet car flies us into the ribbon road swirls And did you know Rickie Lee is singing - right now - on the radio against my coffee her voice rings like a bell someone forgot to answer Just always remember FirstThoughtBestThought6 & you might not understand yet still won't have to wonder. (I'm in a different place right now, Randy)
I can't seem to stop, tho' Allison will be here soon.
Postcard #3 "Having a great time" "Wish you were here"-- I've got feathers7 in my ears blessings from the winged sky am cuffed with a heart everything spills out when I open the trunk everything spills out when I open my mouth/pen
I'm in a Taos bookstore right now. Used books. Ten Directions Books and Prints is the name of this place. Watching a bird peck at a straw feeder that's hanging from a pillar out in front of the store. There's a dangling cactus in the window. All this tourist stuff makes you feel like this is a place for wealthy people. An old bright red station wagon rolls by, a little girl inside waving at me. Maybe she's coming down from the pueblo. It's dry and dusty and windy. When we were up at the pueblo earlier, the dust rose up like a wake. Three feet off the ground. I don't have answers. I don't even have any questions.
We're getting ready for the big stretch--New Mexico to Texas, through Texas to New Orleans. What else? This thing about maps--we've been clutching maps like teddy bears. All the things in the world to be afraid of, clinging to the safety of the known.
We Anglos with our white ways have created so many conveniences for ourselves--conveniences that barricade us from the earth. I choose to move forward, dive forward, voraciously tasting of new things, finding my way...opening, surrendering, adapting...release my grasp to control that over which there is no control...free...this is freedom...release from the bondage of your own clasping hands.
My inward shakiness is fear. I am tense, uncertain. Fearful.... I am where I am and so what? I am letting myself drift. Let me be like water.
Everything on this trip seems like a metaphor. What's even reality? If I cut myself and the bleeding represents something else I won't be worried about the blood that's really coming out? Three dimensional reality's never been my preferred plane of existence.
There is tension--I feel blocked energy, resistance. Both Allison and I felt instinctively that an unplanned trip would be most likely not to disappoint expectations. We've left it open to the wind and are now in a mad race to get Everywhere. What will racing Everywhere do? So far we're "rushing through the world without a chance to see it,"8 feel it--I might be studying9 Kerouac, but in my instincts, I am trying to follow Least Heat Moon. And conflicted about it at the same time because I found him so boring. But then I'm conflicted all over the place, tense as hell, feeling very vulnerable. Wishing time would expand to match the expanse of the space we're moving through.
Life falls on you like rain, like snowflakes, sometimes like hail (or hell). I can escape into myself.
Instinct...I'm trying to follow it yet I find myself too disoriented to hear it.... I heard it for a few moments at the vortex10...the land. Awe spilling out as mountains of rock rise up, walls of God opening to the sky...I want, too, like them, to open to the sky.
Images of landscapes, mountainsides, fields...keep floating in front of me. Maybe I keep floating in front of them. I'm in a space--still in a moving picture--a space that's hurtling through time. It makes you wonder about the whole dimension of time, how time functions. Are we escaping time by rushing into it? Behind my eyes is a closed door (?) of images.
Sun over my shoulder, sunset in the rearview mirror. A milky orange framed by shadowy clouds, the shadows of clouds, horizontally stretching out.
These sand-colored fields and gently rolling hills--to be cliche--disappearing into a blue expanse on the horizon. Spreads out as far as you can see, interrupted only by a small Chevron sign that says: "Food Gifts RV Parks Showers Laundry"--the Mount Capulan Country Store right on Highway 64 near Santa Fe Avenue nine miles before you hit Des Moines. And now we snake out of the small town into that blue horizon. It's starting to grow dark. "Dangerous cross winds," the sign warns. It's a dark horizon that awaits us. And the ribbon of road just rolls on. I can't imagine anybody out here driving 55 miles an hour. You'd never get anywhere. Billowy clouds overhead. Road kill by the side of the highway. Kind of goes along with Neil Young's "Old Man."11 We don't want to join them. Wonder how I'll know when we're in Texas. Telephone wires, poles with lights on them, reflectors unwind in front of me, stream over me as I head into the curve. My sense of fragility increases with the night. Because in the night you can't see. With the fading light, as the sun goes down, these fields become paler. "The mighty land" is right.12 I'm not looking for America. Like Kerouac, I want to see it. But I'm not looking to find it.13 Tiny red dots of light on the road far, far ahead of me. They just went over a hill and disappeared. Night's upon us and everything before me is one great big black fog. I just keep my eye trained to the white line on the side of the road. There are some things you might be able to avoid or escape by going on the road...the bill collectors, looking at those bills every day. You don't escape yourself.
At the beginning of his book, Kerouac talks about how there'd be girls, visions, everything. Somewhere along the way he'd find the pearl. Every night as I go to sleep--I can't seem to remember my dreams, but I get these visions, as I'm drifting off. Strange visions, visions of people I've never seen before, images I've never had, that are new to me.
Straight flat roadway. We're in Texas. There's something that endless roadway flashing headlights at night does to you...as if you're in one of those simulation machines. Like Andy Warhol says, "Real life is less real than the movies." You've even got the soundtrack--playing through the Sony Walkman earphones--in your head. Texas for Allison and me on our zoom through the night is nameless towns. Nameless and faceless towns.
We've been driving around the Houston loop and I am ready to get out on the highway. Get away, leave this chaos behind. Houston is a city of freeway bridges, huge monstrosities of concrete...these bridges never end! Sun setting over our shoulders. Sunset orange sinking into the western sky. God, get me the fuck out of town.
We're in Texas traffic now. Getting out of Houston doesn't mean getting out of Texas traffic as I, personally, am finding out. And Texas traffic means big vehicles moving fast. Over lots of narrow bridges. Texas traffic means being tailgated by enormous trucks when you're going 70--70 mph isn't good enough for these folks. They've got too many wide open spaces to cover. It's just like a road race. Traveling at high speeds when you're dazed and confused. Somebody who's been slowing you down, you pass him and all of a sudden he's changing his mind about what speed he's gonna travel. Needless to say, I don't think I'm quite cut out for Texas.
I feel like I'm floating off the ground. The oncoming cars look like a string of Christmas lights. It's night. There's a gap in the clouds that looks like the silhouette of a huge bird in flight. I'm riding in the back seat of the car...and it sounds like it's gobbling up the road. Images flashing by the windows...like dark gloomy shadows. We're driving on Interstate 10, heading into Louisiana. Next stop, New Orleans.
To be continued...
5 We watched the movie Thelma and Louise to get psyched for the trip.
6 Another Kerouacism and one of the founding principles of Spontaneous Prose.
7 We stopped at the Hopi reservation, earlier, along the way.
8 In the voice of On The Road's narrator, Sal Paradise, Kerouac bemoans this same peculiar-to-the-latter-20th-century fate.
9 What I really mean here is ghost chasing.
10 We stopped briefly in Sedona to hike into one of its famed geological power places.
11 I'm listening to this song, on Decade, his collected ancient hits, about an old man sitting by the side of the road with an answer in his hand, all the life roaring by as oblivious to him as if he were road kill, which he becomes by the end of the song.
12 Kerouac's words. Mine--Enormous, vast and indifferent, a shadowy blue whale swallowing you up like tiny plankton swimming helplessly on the surface of the ocean.
13 Unlike Kerouac, most authors I read before embarking on this trip write with journalistic authority of the disappearance of the 'real' America. But who's to say what that even is? The picturesque country store where, according to the eminent John Steinbeck in his book Travels with Charley, "the national character" was formulated, belongs to yesterday. Today's America is the next movie reel, the next chapter in the everchanging collision of lives and ideas and whatever and tomorrow's America will become the accidents of fate that day ushers in, don't you think?