Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Pleasure and Pain of Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma: 1982

It was supposed to be just a short long-weekend road trip. It was Matt and Clyde and I. Clyde and I worked for the university as housekeepers/janitors/maintenance workers, matt worked for his uncle. It was summer in Iowa City in 1982. . . It was supposed to be just a larky jaunt to Colorado Springs to camp and take in Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods. I think, maybe, it was a three day weekend of some sorts, then again, I could be wrong about that.
It was a great trip, a lousy trip. What happened was, we drove on out there, found a private campground outside of Colorado Springs. We hiked around the Garden of the Gods--all those spiky sandstone monolithish rocks and the mountains and the pines. We swam in a cold pond. Drove up to Pikes Peak where it got cold, snowed a bit and me in shorts. We drove up a dirt forest road and had to turn around precariously. We decided to hike up to a spot on tall mountain--stood there from the camp, picked out a spot, started hiking without any topo maps or food or water, thinking we could get up there in a few hours. Foolishness. After about one hour, barely maiking it up and down small hills and through trees, we knew it was impossible (mountain distance is always elusive to flatlanders). But it was sunny and sweet--dry thin air and the smell of pine; a vertical horizon. We went into Colorado Springs to drink, accomplished that, even danced a little. But I got a hankering for something else.
The Sangre de Cristos run through southern Colorado down into New Mexico. I'd read about the Great Sand Dunes area of Colorado, so I talked Matt and Clyde into heading down there and it was a beautiful spot: fields of wildflowers on the plain, the rise of the Sangres--brown and green and grey and purple--the field of huge dunes, golden and rough up against the mountains and trees. We hiked back in to the San Juan Valley--the National Forest--crossed a stream and made camp in a large clearing off the trail. We put beers in the stream that was there, hiked up a small, craggy-topped mountain, found some elk antlers, came back and drank the now-cold-beer and made dinner. We hiked the dunes. It was all rather stunning, fun for the young. But that evening--night--a huge thunderstorm came in and it rained volumes of rain. We had a huge fire, that crackled in the downpour and eventually drowned. The tent leaked. We sat in our ponchos, hunched above the ground on our heels, under the cover of pines as lightning scratched the air, thunder exploded, rain rained like an impossible faucet. But it was miserable fun. And the next day we decamped, walked out under gray skies, and I had a hankering to see New Mexico.
I'm not sure where I got in my head to go to Santa Fe, but I said to them, "We need to find the REAL Santa Fe.", which was sort of a joke but also a serious quest. And, with no objections, off we went. Now, I should say that we had borrowed Matt's sister's car for this trip. That we all had to be back to work on, what?, Tuesday or someday. But off we drove, hitting good sunlight by the border, dipping and bopping through the dry hills and mountains of northern New Mexico, stopping at a state park--Rio Grande State Park--where we hiked to a big gully/canyon where the small baby Rio Grande ran steel-colored far below. We took in the sun, headed south and down and into Santa Fe. 
(Okay, we did stop in Taos and drank dark Australian beer at a place called Ogalvies, sitting outside with shirts off soaking up the Zia sun.)
In Santa Fe we found downtown and found the Plaza with it's adobe buildings and trees and tourists and Indians selling turquoise on blankets under the ramparts of the old Government Building. Man, we liked it. And so we resumed our beer drinking at a place called the Plaza bar. It was a hole-in-the-wall dive of a bar, full of drinkers and drunks and it's not there anymore. I tried to speak Spanish to a couple of very inebriated hispanic men. We bought them shots of tequila--bought ourselves shots of tequila--and one of them would genuflect before each gulp. Fun. Overheard some youngish guys talking about the Whore House and we asked where this said whorehouse was and they explained it was the ORE House, a bar, almost next door. So, we went to the Ore House.
And it was jumping. It was a fancy place compared to the Plaza Bar, with music and dancing and a youngish crowd. Talked to a guy in cowboy garb, danced with some women, talked to those women, went outside--drunk as a skunk--where kids rode their bikes in the street, talked to them, tried to speak my mangled Spanish and they called me terrible names that I didn't understand, went back into the bar and talked to the women again until they said they'd take us to their place. But I didn't understand the directions and they pretty much ditched the three of us out in the parking spaces along the Plaza. So drunk, we headed out of town.
We did have the sense to stop at a diner and eat and study our bible: The Rand McNally Road Atlas of the United States of America. We figured our route and hit the road with full bellies and warped minds, driving driving across northern desert with the moon out like a giant hamster wheel, knocking our way into daylight and the empty Texas panhandle--Amarillo--then angling into Oklahoma City by two p.m.. Where we had lunch downtown, a downtown empty and silly and boring and I said it was time to discover the real Tulsa. Had a hankering for Tulsa, Oklahoma.
We were supposed to be back for work in Iowa City in maybe two days. We again found a campground outside of Tulsa--some long green pasture place with an artificial lake--them went into town. . . We never really made it into the downtown, but stopped at some neighborhood, ate, and hit a small bar called the Buccaneer Lounge. There we played pool and drank with the day crowd. Night fell. (We had to make a trip to the liquor store to buy whiskey and bring it to the bar for them to sell it back to us due to some oddball/Christian-minded alcohol laws in Oklahoma). We drank beer and whiskey and young people mobbed the place. Played pool, met people, met women, I almost went home with an African-American girl, some Spanish girl kept calling Matt El Diablo and Clyde just watched with bemused drunkenness because he had never traveled with Matt and I before (and never did again) but we closed the place, got back into Matt's sister's car, Clyde up from, Matt in back and me driving and I ran into a telephone pole.
Okay, I swiped the pole. Went over the curb and put a good dented scratch along the right front fender. Car was still drivable, so we headed for the camp, made it, went to sleep. The next day, sheepish and hung over, we headed for home. But of course, the clutch went out.
We were stuck along the highway, somehow got a tow truck to come get us (no cell phones, you know) and traveled into Bartlesville, Oklahoma where Matt's sister's car was taken to a Sears Auto who did not have the part we needed and had to order it. And we were stuck. It was hot hot over 100 degrees in Bartlesville and we had no money, no car, no nothing. We called our parental units and they agreed to wire the cash we needed to fix the car (and eat) (and sleep), but the money could not be wired to Bartlesville, only Tulsa (serious) and the only way to get to Tulsa with the money we had (no one our age carried credit cards in those days) was to take a Greyhound Bus and the bus station was on the opposite side of town. . . So, we hoofed it. Walking walking, thumbs out but no takers, stopping to buy bologna and bread and mustard and drinks and ate in the parking lot and walked and walked in the 100 degree heat, across town, to the bus station, where we bought tickets and waited and took the lousy bus back to Tulsa--near the airport--where we got our Western Union money from the folks and got a cheap motel room and took the bus back to Bartlesville the next day where the part came in and the car was fixed (except for the telephone pole mar). 
So we paid up and got the hell out of Oklahoma. Had to stop in Kansas because the bolts on the car where it had been repaired had not been tightened, had a mechanic do that, paid him five bucks that we needed, but we were off. Rushed to Iowa and Iowa City. I'd borrowed a backpack and walked from my apartment on Van Beuren, carrying the pack, to the U. and work--late. My boss chuckled, told me to go back home. I did. Walked back and slept and ate and slept. Went to work the next day.
So, it was quite the road trip. One of many in those college days. Usually it was Brock, Matt and I. Often Mike (Cheech) and there were others. Usually it was to Florida--Daytona and Key West--but also to Mississippi, New Orleans, Texas and eventually the big drive out to Seattle and up to Alaska. And after school was done, we split and continued our own version of those road trips. Santa Fe and L.A. and Grayton and Seattle and more. They were just, really, extended road trips, complete with jobs and apartments and loves and friends. A drawn-out horsing around with our lives. Matt and Brock and I meeting up again in Grayton and Seattle. Yes, we were ignorant. But we also understood what we were doing--this jumbled bumble against-the-grain-of-common-society, immature living. It was stupendous fun, idyosyncratically profound, a waste of time and a powerful tattoo upon our lives. 
I did it. We did it. And here I am to prove it.