Drunk Owl

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Hour thirty of driving. Day three on the road.

Packed my life inside a Toyota Corolla.

Left Florida for New England a few days ago.

Now driving on a road in New Hampshire with granite cliffs on one side and mountain views on the other.

Black mountain shapes with red radio tower lights on top in the night.

A line of brake lights flares red ahead of me.

The cars start flowing around something.

Soon I will see what they are avoiding.

Headlights shine on the paved road texture.

They shine on a hooked beak and round face.

Feathery wings spread out their full span.

There’s an owl standing on the white dotted line between lanes.

Cars and trucks give him his distance.

Owl spreads his wings full span. Bobs his beaked head like a boxer.

Come at me, come at me, to every vehicle.

What’s with the attitude, little animal?

You’re only still alive because many strangers gave you a break and a brake.

Or maybe you’re trying to end it all.

Your little owl life got too dark and hopeless.

I come to a full stop and honk at him. He bobs his head at the car.

I lay on the horn. He flies away after a long blast.

Stubborn bird.

Drive on.

Images of South Carolina

Falling in with squatters and getting my stuff chucked out the window in Brooklyn. The violence and trash talk of a college rugby club. Read these stories and more in my book, Odd Jobs & After Hours

Boards of a two-block-long pier on the shore of Lake Marion slither in the waves like the spines of a great creature, creaking and groaning all the while.

Sunburnt strangers, white stripes of sunscreen striping the rounds of their bellies and slopes of their noses, wave from a passing pontoon boat.

On shore, fishermen bring just-caught catfish, grouper, and flounder to the back door of a wooden restaurant.

Soon the catch will be fried, basketed, and served with coleslaw.

Nearly all of the boats fly the Stars and Stripes on the top of their masts.

Three stray cats stretch themselves under trees dripping with Spanish moss, or they make moon eyes at outdoor diners for scraps of fish.

The sun is behind a grey haze of clouds.

The air carries clean water smell, and is loud with the senseless, perfect music of water.

Blonde women, one in a cut-apart flannel tank top and bathing suit, the other in a pink mega church t-shirt reading, “Jesus Loves this Hot Mess” sun themselves on the shore.

Smoke comes and goes in the air, brought by a cobblestone chimney on shore.

Trailers and RVs are hitched up for the night in a nearby parking lot.

It’s a sleepy southern evening, and Jesus loves this hot mess.

Throw Out All Your Stuff – Don’t Hire a Moving Company

A roommate who threatened to cut my head off, a boss under investigation for murder. Enjoy these stories & more in my book Odd Jobs & After Hours

Throw out all your stuff and leave.

Don’t hire a moving company.

Back in the deep dark early months of the pandemic, I was moving out of Florida back to New England.

I looked up the prices of a moving company online and did a casual tally of my stuff.

Laptop, guitar, one decent sofa, one decent bed. Button downs, t-shirts, jeans. Boots and shoes. I guess it is all worth trying to keep.

The total value of the belongings is probably three times as much as the price the mover quotes me.

Moving company sends me a date, time, and price.

The moving truck will arrive one week before my lease expires.

It is cheaper than renting a U-Haul myself. This plan should work.

I punch in the card numbers to pay.

Add an electronic signature.

The moving company’s first phone call brings trouble.

Hi, says the call center rep, can you confirm your identity with the account code?

I dig up the email and recite 13 digits to her.

“Can you tell us the exact square footage of all your belongings?”

“They’re not all packed up yet.”

“Well, make your best guess about how many boxes you will have! We’re trying to avoid any adjustment fees.”

But are they really, truly trying to avoid any adjustment fees?

I walk around with a tape measure. Condense stuff into boxes in my head. Give her an answer.

When I buy the approved 18″x18″ boxes, I need two more than I guessed.

I guessed three but needed five.

I call them back. After ten minutes of hold music, they ask me to confirm my identity with the account number. Time to dig up those 13 digits again.

The adjustment fee for two more boxes is gigantic.

Still spending less than I would to replace everything though.

Three days before move out date, I am working on my laptop from a mostly packed apartment.

When some of the rooms are empty, they echo again.

It sounded like this in here when I first moved in a year ago.

The moving company calls again.

“Hi! Before we get started, can you confirm your identity with the account number-“

“I’ll pull up the email.”

The rep asks if I have my own bubble wrap for dismantled furniture or if they will have to charge me for that, too.

I bet you charge per bubble, I say to the rep.

She doesn’t laugh.

The call center rep is peppy while she menaces me with each new fee.

It’s two days before the move. I must still disassemble a bed, a desk, a chair, bubble wrap them, and pack the kitchen where I have been cooking.

A video meeting is about to start for my job will start in ten minutes.

The moving company calls me again. Demand that 13-digit number again.

“We will be there in two hours,” the moving company’s rep says after the confirmation code.

“No, you will be here in two days,” I answer.

I recite the date on the email with the confirmation code to her. I’ve got it in writing. The truck can’t show up right now.

The rep explains, again with peppy menace, that in the fine print it says the company has a 48-hour window in which the truck may arrive, and the date in bold at the top is just an estimate.

“What? How do you estimate a date? When you buy a plane ticket do they say, ‘we estimate takeoff will happen in this 48 hour window, so just be ready to dash to the airport anytime we need you?”

She doesn’t like that question. Long explainers. She explains the fine print again. I get it, I get it.

Sir this, and sir that, she says. I tune it out and zoom in on the .2-sized light grey on lighter grey font that does specify, in round-about jargon, the 48-hour window she describes.

And there is my electronic signature under it.

Nothing much I can do.

“I have a meeting for work in two minutes. I can’t stay on the phone with you for long, but I can’t have everything packed in two hours.”

“Let me put you on hold and we will see about rescheduling, but keep in mind if you need to reschedule there is-“

“An adjustment fee?”

“Yes.”

“Can you call me back when you know when you can be here?”

“No, we don’t do callbacks. Please wait on hold.”

Major key piano hold music.

The work meeting starts. I hang up on the hold music.

Three hours later, I call the moving company back.

Major key piano hold music again. The same four chords for forty minutes.

“Thank you for calling Go Mover, may I have your account number please?”

I dig up the email they sent me so I can read out the 13-digit account number they assigned me again.

Finally, they say they can be there on Saturday morning. But I must pay an adjustment fee just to get the date I was originally promised.

Saturday comes. No call, no show. No answer. I leave maybe seven voicemails.

My lease ends on Monday. I’ve got one Sunday to figure out what to do.

I call the apartment complex. Ask if I can please stay one more day till Tuesday. Just till the movers arrive.

The apartment clerk panics. Raves about a security escort out of the apartment for overstaying the lease. Raves about trespassing charges. Raves about personal object removal fees.

I get the idea, I say. I’ll be gone. Hang up.

The movers call me back. They ask me for the 13-digit account code they sent me.

Let me dig up the email, I say. They tell me they can now only show up on Wednesday.

“Just don’t bother. I know I’ve already sunk money into your company, but at this point, I just want you out of my life.”

I hanged up.

Which felt great for maybe two seconds.

Because after two seconds I was in an apartment with boxes on boxes of belongings, books, and furniture.

I now had no plan of how to get it out of here before apartment security escorted me out and loaded me down with fees.

Trespassing, inconvenience fees, charging me because they had to throw my stuff out.

I check the cost of renting a U-Haul and driving it up the whole east coast. It’s four times as much as everything I own. U-Haul does not want trucks in the north east right now, so the prices are spiked.

But for just one day, a U-Haul is doable.

I rent one, drive it to my apartment, and park it outside. Load in the mattress and bedframe. A few big boxes of clothing.

“Hey you,” I call to a stranger in a hoodie prowling around the mailroom.

“Need any free furniture?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I’ve got nothing in my place but me and my dogs.”

Have a sofa. Take the desk and swivel chair. Roll up the rug and walk it out. Want the bed? No, he’s got one. Salvation Army will get that.

As I leave, he shoves sixty in cash into my hand.

“I can’t take it all for nothing,” he says.

I triage my whole life. I want the books. The guitar. Need the laptop. Most of the clothes.

The rest, I load into the U-Haul. Truck it to Salvation Army. They say they accept full beds but not at this location. I drive forty-five minutes to Fort Lauderdale.

I return the U-Haul to the rental center. Drive my Toyota Corolla back to my apartment. Throw the few bags my life now fit into in the back seat. Twist the key and settle in for the long drive north.

Learn to let go, as they say.

I don’t know why.

Maybe because it is good practice for death.

Tire Flipper

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***

Flip, flip, flip, plop.

An old tire spins through the air and thuds in the dirt. Red dust puffs.

Wind blows through golden weeds.

I rip another half-buried tire out of the pile and chuck it.

I’m trading a favor for a favor.

I need a place to store my truck while I fly back home.

A local rancher said I could use his place.

He wanted a favor in return.

He needed the dirt flipped out of a pyramid of maybe three hundred tires.

Dust has been blowing over this pile of rotting tires out in the middle of nowhere for decades. It’s half-buried now.

In a small place where people know each other, you can trade favors for favors.

You can open up the local diner before hours just because you know the owner. That kind of thing.

In a big place where nobody knows each other, there is a lock & price on everything.

I grip another tire and huck it heavenward.

Dirt & dust trail out of the black rubber ring as it flies.

This pile of tires seems infinite.

Like a task Hades gave a dead guy back in ancient Greece.

What is a pyramid of tires doing out in here in these empty acres?

It was birthed by hippies as an Earth ship some decades back.

It was supposed to be a home made of recycled material.

Three walls made out of concrete loaded with beer cans stand nearby.

You can see where they had a fireplace and a window that faced a mountain.

Now the window is a hole in a muddy wall with wind blowing through it.

The commune dissolved in a pool of bitter acid.

“You’re just like all the other people after all.”

“You’re killing the spirit of our place, man.”

All that kind of stuff went down, I’m sure.

They left, dragging their bastards behind them.

The Earth ship became a pile of beer can concrete and rotting tires in the desert.

The rancher I met at the bar wants the dirt flipped out of the tires so he can load them into a dump truck and bring them to the recycling station.

“Your truck is safe here,” he says. “When we see trespassers on the camera, we ride out and greet them with a loaded shotgun.”

I was so right not to sleep in my truck overnight my first night here.

Gloved fingers grip another tire.

What creepy crawly beasts live in this pile of garbage?

Anything could scramble out of there.

Rattle snakes. Tarantulas. Hippies.

I flip the last tire clean of dirt well after nightfall.

Dust myself off, hop in Rhodie, and drive out to the gate.

Found a home for my truck and paid the rent.

To be continued

Putting the Land to Bed

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Rumbling in the truck up to the land once more.

The hum-beep of the truck.

Blackness on vast plains out the window.

Specs of snow circle and float.

Dusty is back in Cali. I’m on my own.

Pull off the exit for the off-gridder’s town. Gas up at the one pump.

The snow is getting heavier.

Pavement becomes dirt road. Dirt road turns into washboards.

No more gentle creep over the washboards.

Push through the rattling to 30mph and the tires find a way to float over the grooves.

Soon I’m back on my land. The future ranch.

Kill the engine. Alone in the hollow sound of wind in a big place.

The snow gets heavier.

Headlamp glows in showers of white snowflakes dancing in the wind like imps.

Hope my sleeping gear is warm enough for tonight.

Tent up again, working with cold fingers.

One ground mat down. One sleeping bag over that.

A second sleeping bag with an insert and fleece blanket for me.

Bundle up in sweatpants, hoodie, gloves, hat.

Sometimes a train whistle blows. Sometimes coyotes yip and howl.

But most of the time, it’s the type of quiet so deep it makes your breath seem loud.

Grab my guitar. Play myself some tunes.

It gives me something to think about beyond all the imaginary ghostly, ghoulish, possibilities drooling in the darkness outside of the tent.

Strum the guitar for a bit, then sleep.

Morning comes.

A camp morning with knit cap rolled down over face like a bag. Twisted in the fleece & nylon of the bedroll.

Work my way out of the tent. Knock workboots together to banish inner creepy crawlies.

The boots are empty.

Out with a plastic camp table. Metal stove on top of that.

Two bottles of water into an aluminum kettle. Ground coffee in the metal basket while it goes.

Legal pad while the coffee percolates.

To do:

  1. Begin clearing brush
  2. Drain two-stroke gas from chainsaw into the two-stroke gas can
  3. Drain generator gas into its own can
  4. Camouflage the shipping container itself
  5. Lock up container & post signs
  6. Grab first trash pile & ride out

Black coffee bubbles into the see-through knob on top of the pot. That’s how you know it’s ready. I flick the burner off. The blue flame dies.

Grab a rag for a potholder & fill my tin mug.

Drinking coffee, pacing in the snow.

Finish the cup & now warm, awake.

On to lopping dead limbs off of junipers.

Gathering them into a thistly pile.

Dragging them all into one place.

Dragging dead logs to this pile, too.

Won’t need the generator or chainsaw anymore. Drain the two types of gas into their respective buckets.

The chainsaw noise rips through the still air. Same routine with the generator.

Now I grab big blankets of camouflage. Like double king-sized bedsheets of ghillie suit.  

Chuck four folded sheets of camo up on top the container. Metal container roof clangs as each bundle lands.

Chuck zip ties up there. Two bundles of rope.

Then grab the metal posts and climb up onto the container myself.

Slick metal underfoot. Gentle snow in air. My camo, rope, & zip ties lie in bundles are waiting for me on the roof of the container.

Knot the four sheets of camo. Grab the rope and lash to one corner of the container.

Walk the line down to the other end. Drape the massive blanket of camo over the side of the container.

You can see a gentle, hazy shape that is the southern rim of the Grand Canyon from up here.

Back to work.

Tighten up the lashings. The wind is getting stronger.

Hop down. Secure the lower corners of the camo sheet.

Lock up, post signs, and good to go.

I truck to the first pile of trash. Back the bed next to it.

Load in a broken toilet, a bureau, plates, broken buckets with holes, & maybe one hundred green glass bottles.

Close the bed. Get in the truck.

Roll out.

Goodbye, land. See you next time.

To be continued

The 6am Club (Not Billionaires)

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There was some book, The 5 AM Club.

It’s about these guys who meet a tycoon on a private island to wake up at 5 AM.

But if you sleep in just one hour to 6am, there’s a diner already open before sunrise in a quiet town of off-gridders way out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona.

Dusty and I are outside the town’s one gas station.

We are meeting a driver who will deliver a shipping container out onto our land. The container will be a box for our campsite and tools.

Every shop in town was supposed to be closed at this hour.

But the town’s one, single, solitary diner has lit up its OPEN sign.

Red lettering, blue oval around it. All in neon. You know how they look.

Outside, it is pitch black and ice cold.

The thought of waiting in a diner after a night of camping out in this weather sounds like salvation.

But only if it is really open.

I mean, did they leave the light on by accident?

I pull the diner door.

Coffee is on. You can hear it dripping into the pot.

Three guys in cowboy hats have their hands wrapped around mugs. They are nodding and chatting.

One could easily be a new Marlboro Man.

Right kind of sharp hat, jacket, & jaw.

“This place open?” I ask one of them.

“It’s closed, but we know the owner. We open her up and put the coffee on. Have yourself a cup.”

Seems like the kind of thing you can only do in a place like this.

It’s self serve. We walk behind the counter and fill mugs.

It’s incredible. Though really, it’s just diner coffee.

But we slept on the ground last night, which makes this hot coffee incredible.

And yes, just as you might imagine, this is a time and place where the real shop gets talked. Where the real deals go down. Where the after hours conversations (though we are all here before hours) get held.

We collect business cards. One guy knows offgrid electricity.

The other guy does plumbing. The third does foundations for structures.

But this only becomes known after a little, “Where y’all from? What y’all up to?”

Hours go by.

Shipping container guy arrives hours after he said he would.

We leave cash for the coffee & meet the driver to bring the container out to the land.

One last thanks & seeya around to the 6AM Club.

They say stop by anytime, they’re here every morning.

Time to work.

To be continued

Circles in the Desert

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Here I am on the end of a string.

Walking in circles.

The circles are getting bigger.

Why?

Pal Dusty & I are trying to find the head of a pin.

The pin marks the back-most boundary of our land.

I step over a shrub.

I walk through red chunks of broken boulder.

No pin yet. Its head is a little bigger than a 25-cent quarter.

It’s the exact same color as a quarter, too.

We have secured latitude and longitude now.

As well as a satellite GPS tool.

But the coordinates are missing two decimal places.

And for this estimate, we are two hundred feet away from our target.

(At least, this is merely another estimate.)

So Dusty feeds out a little more kite string. And I circle.

Horizon: sharp mountain, no mountain, smooth mountains, trees.

Back and forth across the red desert, searching for the head of this pin.

More kite string out. Wider circle.

Same, yet different shrubs, rocks, dead grass, sand underfoot.

Exact same horizon circle of sharp mountain, no mountain, smooth mountains, trees.

It’s easy work.

But dull.

Found it!

Under thick shrubs and branches so dry they look like beach wood, though of course, it is not, I see that silver metal head of a pin.

We build a brick-red cairn.

Big rock base, medium rock middle, little rock top.

Love cairns.

Dumb thing to love, but there you go.

That was the last pin we needed.

Now we know exactly where we live.

To be continued

Desert Morning | Arizona

Camp

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Rock-hard ground below me. Awake, but eyes clamped.

Half-off of the foam pad I’m sleeping on.

Slipping inside the polyester tube of a sleeping bag & on nylon tent ground.

This is the first morning after the first night of sleeping on my land.

What will that be like in ten years?

A cabin with big windows, a bed frame, and a real mattress, if all goes well.

But night number one is in this blue Walmart tent.

I unzip the tent flap.

The desert morning is crisp. Gentle wind. Peaceful.

Red sky, red chunks of rock, and hazy mountain shapes in the distance.

Often, you wake up sweating after camping out.

Not here in the desert. You get a clean, dry feeling instead.

I grab my boots. Turn them upside down. Clunk them together. Beat them against rock. No spiders, scorpions, or snakes crawl out. Clouds of dust.

Pull them on & lace up. Stretch a little.

A big jackrabbit, almost dog-like in size, scampers past my camp.

My friend will be here this afternoon.

I hop in the truck. Fire it up.

Drive the opposite way of the road I came in on because the road is better.

In the daylight, I see landmarks I saw back four months ago, the first time I was ever here.

There are natural cliffs with rocks that look like castles on top.

Nothing man-made. It just formed this way naturally.

Jagged, looming, red shapes of rock. Cacti. Juniper.

Pull into town. It’s mercifully closer in this direction.

Took the long way in last night. Lesson learned.

A place called the Ranch Cafe is open.

Black coffee. Huevos rancheros. More coffee.

Notebook & pen out. Planning & scheming to do.

To be continued

Night Landing

AZ Desert. Night.

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It’s getting dark and cold fast here in Arizona.

The temperature plummets in desert nights.

From a day in the seventies to a night at twenty-nine.

I must find my unmarked piece of land and pitch camp there.

I’m parked outside a now-closed auto shop after getting a tire replaced.

The sooner I start the better at this point.

No, I don’t have satellite coordinates.

I saw the route to the parcel once about four months ago.

Flew into the state, saw the land once in the daytime, flew out, called friend, & we bought the land. A lot has changed in between now and then.

Point being, I’m not completely sure how to get there. That’s just how it is.

Back four months ago, we drove alongside cliffs and past farms that all looked the same.

Red desert, junipers, and distant mountains. Chunky red rocks.

Beep, beep, beep, goes my truck with its one new tire a little bigger than the other three.

I’ve got one map with a disclaimer about its own inaccuracy.

The map shows an entrance one exit back down the highway. I turn on the audio book about the moon landings I’ve been listening to and start driving.

Weighing options as I drive.

The astronauts are on the launchpad in my audiobook.

Should I sleep in the truck and try to find my land by sunrise?

Around here, that’s how you wake up with a shotgun in your face.

They’re nice people, the locals. They just don’t like trespassers.

Drive 45 minutes back to a motel?

I’m already over budget. And I’m this close to my land.

With rising hills of smooth desert and the thistly shadows of juniper trees under the moonlight on either side of me, I truck farther.

In the darkness ahead of me, a white ranch sign looms.

Through that gate, somewhere on 40 thousand acres, is my 40-acre piece.

It is even darker on the other side of the gate.

Far past the reach of any streetlight or porch light’s glow.

The paved road has ended. I grab the lever to engage the four wheel drive.

Truck through the gate.

The whole truck vibrates, shakes, and rattles like a machine gun. Everything jumps off the seats. Slides off the dash. The mirrors shake.

Is the four wheel drive failing?

I open the door to look at the truck. The shaking is not mechanical. The dirt road itself has washboard paving.

Rock-hard ribs that seem like they could rattle the truck to pieces.

No way out but through.

Rattling & rumbling down the road. Let all my supplies tumble to the floor. I’ll get them later.

Headlights from another vehicle. It’s cruising at about 40.

White Toyota truck. I flash him down.

Ask him to confirm my location on the map.

He says the exit entrance I just found isn’t the one marked on the map.

He shows me our location, miles upon miles away from where I had guessed.

At the pace the roads allow, it should take over an hour.

I follow the other trucker for a few minutes.

My windshield is completely blocked by clouds of dust filled with yellow headlight glow. Blackness beyond that.

We come to a fork in the road.

Guide must go left while I go right.

We honk goodbyes and set off our separate ways.

My fork in the road dives downhill into a narrow, single-vehicle-sized path. Thickets and weeds crowd the edges of the path.

Chunky red rocks under the tire. Red rocks shaped like gigantic molars and eyeteeth – possibly ready to chew my tires to pieces and leave me here somewhere in the middle of 40,000 acres of nothing.

There’s a sign on a ranch fence, that’s good.

TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT. SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN.

Nevermind, it’s not a good sign.

Onward.

The moon landing audiobook talks about an incident in which, mid-flight, the Apollo vessel started firing its Abort Mission beeper alarm. A solder ball floating in zero G completed the abort mission circuit.

And my own truck, not long after that paragraph in the book, starts beeping again.

Nothing I can do about that. Working my way over piles of red rock. Rock-rocking and bump-bumping along in the cab. High beams shine on dust and darkness. Vast, blackness in the desert night.

There are mountain cats out there. Coyotes.

Beep beep beep.

Houston, disregard that abort mission signal. We’re landing tonight.

Beep beep beep.

Shut up you stupid truck! Just get me there.

Just kidding, Rhodie. Love you. You know I’ll get you anything you need.

Beep beep beep.

Rocking and rolling over chunks of boulders. Big empty, darkness out of all windows.

Am I still on the right track? I must be.

But look – there are no signposts marking anybody’s land out of the windows, and the acres I’m driving past must have been divided and sold.

I mean, they weren’t even going to stick a SOLD sign on my spot? No satellite coordinates, no sign, and of course, no address?

Which scrap of this desert is mine?

Beep beep beep.

Be quiet, you’re fine.

Just sign the title deed, and then cool, you’re on your own?

Over more chunks of boulder. The road turns back into washboard ribs.

I truck onward, weighing options. Rattle & rumble.

Beep beep. Maybe I could camp anywhere and search by daylight.

Beep beep. Maybe I should turn back. No, come too far.

Beep beep. SHUT UP, TRUCK! LET ME THINK!

Off in the distance, two green signs. Like street signs.

Wait a minute.

If that’s an intersection, it will tell me exactly where I am on the map.

Please be what I need you to be.

I get closer to the two reflective green rectangles visible through the cloud of red desert dust.

Yes, here in the dirt roads, desert, and mountains, one intersection is marked.

I find the intersection on the laminated paper map. The map shows eight quarter-mile by quarter-mile squares lying next to the road in between my current location and my parcel.

I could backtrack. Spitball two miles of distance without markers. Get close enough for a camping spot.

I turn the truck around.

Rumble nice and slow, trying to do distance arithmetic in my head.

To cover two miles at fifteen miles an hour, I’d need to drive how many minutes – ?

Wait. A second sign. It’s black characters written on a triangular chunk of red rock.

But it’s got a number on it. The number of the parcel next to mine.

A quarter mile farther. There’s a little branch on the ground. Invisible when driving from the opposite direction. But there’s a wooden board with the numbers of my parcel burnt into it.

I leap out of the truck. It’s still running. I kiss the wooden sign. Dust on my lips. Arms up to the clean, clear night sky.

“Rhodie, we’re home!”

Beep, beep, beep.

Pull onto the parcel.

Kill the engine.

Deep quiet.

Ancient quiet.

Quiet like they had two hundred years ago. Four hundred years ago. Farther back than that, too.

Alone in the ancient quiet under the Arizona sky.

The temperature dropped like a rock in a pond.

Cold, stiff fingers grab lantern & tent.

Lantern on.

Big wash of light on the grey-green thistles and red rocks.

Kicking rocks away for a little soft ground under my tent.

Watching for rattlesnakes & scorpions.

Miles from help alone in the ancient quiet.

Where is the wind? Not even wind is here to make the place feel alive.

Snort. Rustle.

Whip around and glance back.

Animal eye glint across the road. Chest height. Something big.

Panther? Coyote?

Maglite on. It’s a cow. Just a cow.

Back to the tent. Poking poles into their polyester sleeves and metal rings. Clipping plastic hooks.

Rainfly over. Chuck my sleeping bag & pad into the assembled tent.

Pull on sweats, hoodie, hat, gloves, sleeping bag liner, sleeping bag.

I am now a big nylon caterpillar slip-sliding inside a polyester tent.

Cozy enough.

The temperature will be below freezing in four hours.

Headlamp off.

Goodnight.

To be continued

No Service

AZ Sunset

Enjoy this free story & grab my book here. None of these free stories are in the book.

I pull my truck into the little town of off-gridders & cowboys in Arizona.

Lasso-lined wooden signs. Wooden board buildings.

Red desert with pine-green gin junipers for the landscape.

Mountain peaks make purple shapes against the red sky.

I own land with my friend out there in that distance.

This town consists of one diner, one restaurant, and three auto shops.

That’s it.

That big sunset means it will be dark soon.

My tire’s rubber intestine is completely distended.

I roll into the first of the three auto body shops.

“That is the biggest bubble in a tire I have ever seen,” says a mechanic there.

He’s in a trucker cap, long beard, flannel hoodie, & jeans. Sipping a Coke on his break.

I tell him I’ll buy a replacement for cash right now if he’s got it.

He says he doesn’t have it.

Time to drive to auto shop number two.

I pull up to a fenced-in auto shop number two with a closed gate. Big flapping flags advertising their services.

The guys who work there are pounding beers inside the shop.

“Closed on Sunday,” one calls.

I call back that I’ll pay a little extra if they sell me a replacement tire today.

One brings his beer can over. Looks at the tire. I tell him the size.

He doesn’t have it.

Auto shop three, save me.

Gingerly, slowly, I pull the truck to auto shop three.

Same story. They say no.

Back at the town’s one restaurant, I call the guy who helped me fix up the truck.

He recommends asking for a tire that’s a little bigger but with the same rim size.

Auto shops one and two say they don’t have that size either.

It’s 45 minutes to the nearest Walmart. I won’t make it on this bubble. It’s taken me as far as it will go.

I pull back up to auto shop three and ask for the new size.

They can do it.

The one restaurant in town closes soon.

The truck is being jacked up.

I pull my bike out of the truck bed and ride maybe ten minutes back to the restaurant.

Order a bacon blue cheeseburger & beer.

After dinner, the new tire is ready.

I bike back to auto shop three in the dark.

Pay cash. Bike in bed. Grab my map out to the land.

New tire in place, it’s time to truck out to the land.

Fire up the engine.

But the truck starts beeping like crazy.

No matter. I’ve ignored it all cross-country journey.

Shame the beep is back right now, though. Now in the last of last legs.

Time to drive out to my land.

Out where there is no service.

To be continued