We got a water fill up at an RV park for five bucks, which seemed like the deal of the century given the drought conditions we witnessed all across the country and since we paid hundred bucks in Ouray the previous day for three sandwiches and three undersized orders of fries—I mention this for comparison sake only, not because it’s owning my head or anything. Anyway, we stopped at the “Coffee Trader” for a quick burrito and another coffee. Then we said goodbye to Donna.
Though we drive each other crazy at times I can tell you as I sit here I’m getting a little choked up thinking about her twenty-five-hundred miles away from me back home in Buffalo. We’re not a perfect match to say the least but we’ve been through a ton of things together—being broke, buying a house, caring for and burying our parents, raising kids, health scares, her inexplicably not loving Todd Rundgren, yet we have endured. There’s a line from another of my favorite musicians, Paul Westerberg, that I think succinctly sums our relationship over the decades:
Here with my headaches and cigars
My love for you has finally scarred…
You may think I’m making another joke, but I’m not. People often try to manufacture beautiful moments to mark their time together—birthdays, anniversaries, vacations—but the thing that means so much to me about my relationship to Donna is though we’ve always been a rough match we stuck it out and never quit on each other. And, like a scar, it may not be pretty, but it’s enduring. I’m very proud of how far we have come together and I think she is too. And, I miss her.
Caroline and I had a long day ahead of us if we were going to make it to Joshua Tree by the next day and then be back in L.A. on Friday because she had a meeting about a possible animation job and then an orientation about a temporary job—she was going to be part of the staff conducting haunted hayrides at Griffith Park through Halloween.
I didn’t like doing it, but we had to go from Montrose to a campsite in the Coconino National Forest just south of Flagstaff, Arizona which was a seven and a half hour ride. It started out kind of bad as we went down the twisting, anxiety ridden “Million Dollar Highway” through Telluride, Dolores and Cortez. But then gloriously, as we approached the The Four Corners—where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona came together we hit the copper colored flat open expanses of the Arizona desert that was specked with countless miles of scrub brush, ancient sandstone mesas and buttes and a sky that went on endlessly. Not only was it hot and beautiful, it was great driving.
We drove Rt 160, a dusty 65mph two-laner at almost 80 all across Arizona, until we slowly gained elevation and greenery as we approached Flagstaff. Sitting upright in the van hitting the gas pedal hard the hours flew by without issue. Also, besides the breathtaking landscape we now had consistent entertainment since I had figured out the download function on my phone.
Last summer when Caroline moved to L.A. we tried to listen to the Audible book “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” by Ross King, as we crossed the country in her 2016 Chevy Cruz. Maybe it was the sitting position in the Cruze which was like stretching out on a chaise lounge with your legs extended, but I could not stay awake listening to this book. In fact, no matter what we listened to I had a hard time staying awake and we would have to go long stretches in silence which seemed to help me catch a second wind.
But not so in the van, where you sat in an upright position with your knees bent like in a kitchen chair. As much as the driving position helped, the open flat road that was a great benefit too. No twisting or constant break tapping—just the pedal to the metal, as the kids used to say. And this time, there was no head bobbing during the Michelangelo book, which was pretty good. Of course, my lack of knowledge about the process of painting frescos and papal history was a hindrance but I could follow along. Even though we listened to some of it last year we started from the beginning and made it through sixteen chapters, which was half the book in a little over three hours. Last year we made it through eleven chapters total.
We saved the other half of the book for the following day and then listened to my June 25, 2020 Playlist which had an Outlaw Country kind of attitude with some Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Wilco, Neil Young and even some R.E.M. It was perfect as we rolled along passing other drivers not feeling it like we were—they were probably listening to the Chili Peppers or Coldplay, but we were rockin’ down the highway.
We stopped in Kayenta, Arizona for gas. In the late 80’s in a last gasp attempt to finish college—it’s a long story—I student taught at the Navajo school just down the road from here in Rough Rock. If I recall correctly it was like a thirty mile jaunt from Rough Rock to Kayenta. Sometimes with a couple of other student teachers we would take the ride not only to hit up the Kayenta Burger King, but also because it was just so breathtaking with the mesas, buttes and the ever changing sky. It was much more developed since I was last here with a big hospital, a museum, a bakery, a Church’s Fried Chicken and of course the Burger King. On the way back to Buffalo I plan on making a stop at Rough Rock and also the surreal Canyon De Chelly. But for now it was time to keep moving.
Throughout our trip it was apparent that Caroline’s work situation was weighing on her heavily. Shortly after arriving in Montrose a week earlier we developed a plan of action that included, as a worst case scenario, the possibility of her having to return home temporarily to regroup and rebuild her nest egg. Having a plan, knowing she was welcome to come back home and that it would only be temporary made her feel better. But it still was there, occupying her thoughts constantly. A couple of times I even looked at her and asked: “You’re thinking about it aren’t you?” And with a little troubled smile she would cop to it.
We had transitioned off of Rt 160 and traveled south on 89 through some pretty severe switchbacks to the campsite at Forest Road 171 in the Coconino Forest. I thought this was going to be a BLM site but it was a regular RV park that charged $22 a night.
After we unpacked a bit and stretched our legs I made us a little something to eat—peanut butter and jelly for Caroline and I went for a ham and cheese on a roll—Caroline pulled out her iPad. When I asked what she was doing she told me she had an inquiry about a temporary animation job and she had to fill out an NDA. I was excited for her but she had been through this a couple fifteen times before. It might be something, but she was not going to get her hopes up only to be crushed again. She would know more about this job opportunity in the next day or two.
So after a long successful ride we went to bed on a positive but cautious note.