Notes From Nowhere

Yesterday on my way back from Tierra Amarilla, I picked up a hitchhiker on one of the pueblos. It was the middle of the day and he was wearing a tucked in, button-up shirt with a clearly visible ID badge clipped to the pocket. On his way to work, I figured. I was really flying down the highway and so came to a stop a considerable distance away. He seemed to take forever to catch up to the van. It took me back to my days as a younger man when I hitchhiked through northern New Mexico to Silver City in the south.

The little Indian fellow hopped into Thunder and off we were, back toward Española, back to our jobs. Española being a small town, and Rio Arriba County being a sparsely populated landscape, I’ll call the man Lee. Lee’s car had broken down and therefore couldn’t find a way into town. Hitchhiking is still pretty common in these parts. I see several people each day on the roads, thumbing it.

But Lee had an errand to run before his shift started. He had to stop at the bank to withdraw his final payment to the county morgue so he could recover his son’s ashes. It had cost him $3,000, he said, to reduce his son, the second to die in a car accident in three years. He showed me pictures of them both. And then the cross he planned to hang around the ash-filled urn, which he had to take with him into work, being that he had no vehicle to store it in.

Today while driving around Chimayó my left nostril became suddenly clogged. I swerved slightly, wondering if some massive booger had become dislodged, but then it began to tickle. And then it began to hurt. And then it began to burn. Bad timing too, because along this road dozens, if not hundreds, of people walked along the tight shoulder on the heavily trafficked road. Many of whom had walked some 90 miles from Albuquerque to pay their Good Friday respects at el Santuario de Chimayó.

When I squeezed my nose to assuage the hurt I heard a crunch and knew right away some fucking insect had wedged itself up there and was now struggling to wiggle free. Must’ve flown in through the window, my nasal passage being the point of impact. I began to panic and slowed to a 5 m.p.h. cruise so that I wouldn’t strike any of the walkers while digging this thing out of my nose. But at that speed it must’ve been a good show for those I passed. I drive a van and vans have big windshields so as I’m frantically trying to dig the insect from my nose everyone I pass is staring and their children are pointing at me – the man in the van picking his nose.

At last I dislodged the crunchy little fucker. It was long and red and had little pincers, hence the burning that surged through my sinus. It’s six little legs flailing, I flicked it out the window and continued about my day without further incident.

I’m not sure when sidewalk technology arrived in these parts, but it’s fair to say it’s never been fully embraced. And many of the roads are very narrow. Motorists must always been on the look out for small children, dogs and chickens. Yesterday on my way home a pair of roosters were clucking across the road when for whatever reason they just stopped and stood and stared at me, leaving me no room to swerve around them. I honked the horn and they began walking frantically in circles. I threw Thunder in park, hopped from the cab, and chased them off the road. But by the time I got back in the vehicle they were back in the road. So I honked my horn and again they got all crazy and began walking figure eights around one another. I fetched my Droid to take a picture, but  before I could a barking dog cleared my path, the roosters fluttering away.

A fair number of road signs, like the one pictured above, are punctured by what I can only guess are bullet holes. Guns are pretty popular around here, which makes sense considering help of any kind could be an hour or more away. I can understand how cruising along these twisty mountainous roads firing bullets at signs and into the hillsides could be a good time, but evidence of this activity is also a little unnerving given that I read more than a few stories while in Philly of stray bullets cutting lives short. But frontier life is far different from that within big city limits. Out here there’s little risk of becoming an innocent bystander. Odds are greater that the only bang you have to fear is that of the drunk driver smashing into your vehicle. On these roads, which are dotted with ornate, colorful memorials, that thought is always on my mind.

The worshippers who’ve been arriving in Chimayó are called Walkers, a term that evokes the hit television series The Walking Dead each time I hear itIn that show, zombies are called “Walkers,” so it tickles me a little bit each time someone says it. But in a way I suppose it is kind of fitting since they’re all walking to pay their respects to the most influential zombie of them all. In fact, on Sunday, people all around the world will celebrate his resurrection with friends and family. Sincerely, the pilgrimage to el Santuario de Chimayó, is a pretty remarkable thing. I’ve spoken with many of these Walkers and will speak with many more over the weekend. The pilgrimage is a longstanding tradition in this area. Many of those I’ve met first undertook it as children, and were now passing the tradition onto to their own children. Whatever this area lacks in modern amenities, it more than makes up for in community.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Golbach says:

    Pretty funny about the bug, but I’m sure not so much at the time!I really liked your piece in Isthmus. Looking forward to equally good stuff from NM.–Mark

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