Needles, CA – Day 8
Roadside-vendor fry bread and tamales may not be enough to build a life around, but they’re a nice thing to come across on any given day.
Especially this one, which began before dawn in Canyon De Chelly. Though I was awake and rarin’ to go, the rain poured down until well after 8am. I bided my time, waiting out the rain and drinking something that bore a certain resemblance to coffee from the Keurig capsule machine in my room at the Thunderbird Lodge (which, except for the coffee, I highly recommend. Oh, and except for the cafeteria; don’t eat in the cafeteria).
When I finally did venture out, it was 40°F (about 4.5°C) with a furious wind that waited until you came into the open, then jumped out and tried to gut you. I visited the three lookout points on the North Rim drive but the cold kept me from lingering.
I thought the wind, rain, and cold would discourage the lookout-point vendor men and it seemed to—except for one, who, I was amused to note, had memorized the same spiel as all the ones I had met yesterday (it starts off with, “My mother/grandmother lives down there in the canyon….”). Remembering yesterday’s crows, I stopped to look at what he had laid out on the folded white sheet spread across the hood of his car: a series of paintings on rocks featuring Kokopelli, bears, baskets of corn….
It was one of those moments when you know it’s going to be nearly impossible for either one of you to escape your roles. He’s the tore-up-looking Navajo kid illegally selling dubious “native” art (there are signs at every lookout: NO VENDING) off the hood of the car it looked like he slept in. I’m the tourist guy who, though I may not be rich, have more money to throw around than he does. Plus, I can leave. Though I would genuinely be interested in native art, I find the canned stories about the deep spiritual meaning of some pretty bad rock paintings to be as depressing as they are irritating. From his perspective, what was I doing there if I wasn’t looking for Indian flavor, which he was offering?
So … I’m sorry. I’m sorry I don’t want to buy anything. I’m sorry your life is a mess. I’m sorry for the genocide and the rez and the shit schools and how fucked you are. I’m sorry for everything, really.
But all I said was thank you.
I started back down 191, and for the rest of the day, the heavens seemed determined to hurl whatever they could at the earth. The wind increased in intensity as I headed south to meet up with I-40 near Winslow, Arizona, at which point the car was being smacked so hard by the wind that it felt like someone trying to tip a cow. Only white knuckles on the wheel kept me in a straight line. I escaped from Winslow, moving west at 75 mph, just as an immense dust storm was blowing in from the east.
The wind kept up until I’d passed Flagstaff, then gave way to rain, nearly continuous and sometimes blinding, pausing only for the occasional fog bank, all the way to Needles, where it still sounds like a hurricane outside. There is no sign of Spike.