January 8, 2006 — February 23, 2006
“Besides, he thought, everything kills everything else in some way. Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive.”
-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man And The Sea
January 8th: Morning. Lydia and I pack up the Subaru before work even begins, guitars, bags, clothes, music, laptops, lanterns. Dingo stops me on the way out, I’m on my way to go start the real world, he wishes me the best. We turn onto I-10 and drive west through Mississippi into Louisiana, through Baton Rouge and Whiskey Bay where I make a CD mix named after Whiskey Bay that includes 55 patient seconds of static during The Dream Of Evan And Chan by The Postal Service, and we drive on through billboard panoply of Lake Charles throughways, past the oil havens of Port Arthur and into the access road flatlands of eastern Texas. I buy a firetruck red Stuckey’s trucker hat in Colorado County while filling up gas. I call two friends, one of whom is Suzanne, who I won’t start briefly dating for another two and a half months, and Billy Beckett, Team Termite liaison. Billy Beckett calls back, and he is living with Sarah outside of Austin in a new apartment and would just loooove if we stopped by for a bit. We buck up Route 183 from the 10, skirt the beltway and strike into the Western lakes. Billy and Sarah greet us, and although I’m worried because Lydia has never been too close with them, things are all fine when Billy and I go upstairs to hit a neighbor’s bowl and watch Chappelle’s Show DVDs. I get T.H.-tired, retreat downstairs, and pass out on the floor.
January 9th: Lydia and I bum around Sarah’s gated community, and use Internet. An e-mail from 39 year-old Kelli, who confides in me her xenophobia in San Francisco, except replace xeno- equals “foreigner” to xeno- equals “anyone is a foreigner that hasn’t dealt with the shit, hasn’t seen the shit.” The return hurts everyone, and I may meet up with her in San Francisco although I’m more excited about seeing Blair again. The upstairs neighbors watch a boat for an oil tycoon, so Billy, Lyds, and I go out with her to the lake, sit on the deck of a multi-million dollar plaything, and drink. Billy talks about Rohde, about Dingo, talks angrily and I listen. We make dinner together that night, smoke American Spirits, and Lyds and I get to bed early for the long drive to the next day.
January 10th: We leave early, before light, and set off west out of Austin on Route 290, through dawn and slow to rise road stores and truck stops. I make my second mix of the trip, and call it 290 West. Transatlanticism drifts slowly in one window, through one breath and out the other as we meet back up with the Interstate at the base of the Blue Mountains. I watch the dead grass beneath the winter sun fly past, watching the mountains come and go in the distance and sometimes closer but mostly far away like a painting. We follow the road, and I pull out my laptop and write “The Pyrrhic Reality of Mold Remediation.” Lydia gets pulled over in Ozona, Texas and handles it surprisingly well because she’s hardy. We continue on through the larger and larger counties and spaces between exits. Noon comes and I want another mix, so I script up the third of the trip and call it Fort Stockton as we pass through Fort Stockton. I think about the story I wrote long ago, about Bette Davis Eyes and all the girls, all the empty eyes, and laugh to the wind. Then I think of Blair and I wonder.
We drive straight through on that lonely Texas road, through the mudhouse civilization of El Paso, and cross into New Mexico mid-afternoon. We take I-25 north from Las Cruces, and stop for burritos in Derry, New Mexico, a small town west of America’s nuclear graveyard. I take a picture of the sun setting behind a Phillips 66 sign and above red rocks, we continue on to Santa Fe and arrive at Lydia’s uncle’s ranch in the northern hills. We have a pleasant dinner with the family, take a night walk, and get to sleep in the den.
January 11th: Santa Fe for the day, Santa Fe where the city ordinance says no buildings over two stories. As a result it’s a desert sprawl of sunbrick and ranch path. We resolve early on to stay another night so that Lyds doesn’t seem rude. Becca Rich calls, and wants us to meet her and her friends at a hot spring resort in Villa Grove, Colorado for 10 dollars a night per bunk. We make reservations, and I spend the afternoon at Lydia’s cousin’s middle school basketball game, sitting with her other cousin. Lydia’s aunt is her uncle’s second marriage. They were both Trustafarians in her words, which meant they were older, had trust funds, and could consequently live life with a little more leeway for Romanticism. That night we meet up with Allegra Love and Mike August at a pub in town, and I enjoy their company. Allegra is an elementary school teacher, while Mike studies rocks for a geology firm or something. We return home and fall asleep watching The Neverending Story as I sneak sips from a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English.
January 12th: I make my fourth mix of the trip this morning and call it Goodbye, Santa Fe. This one is particularly exciting to me as I’ve managed to successfully rip the first track on Jane’s mold mix to my computer and burn it onto this CD. I have no idea what song it is, but I love it (I later find out it’s “Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth” by a band named Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.) I also do some research on the resort, and discover it’s a naturist, clothing optional place. We’re resilient. We change the oil and drive north on Route 285, heading toward Colorado.
We arrive at the resort before Becca, check-in, and grab bunk space. The Valley Springs resort is beautiful, positioned on a land grant in a low valley between the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range and the Cochetopa Hills. There are old, naked people everywhere, but I just keep to myself, make friendly conversation, read my books, and teach myself guitar. There are numerous cabins on the property, but as ours was the low-end of low, we didn’t have many bunkmates. The majority of the attendees seem to be activist types relishing in the wonder of their haven; they also could afford or had reason to afford the more expensive private cabins. Becca and her two friends arrived, we make dinner in our cabin, drink wine, and sit around a campfire behind the property. Becca and Lydia start scheming that night without my input, and next thing I’ve heard that Air Force Alan, Air Force Ozuna, and Rohde are on their way to the resort via a 23-hour drive from Biloxi. I have mixed feelings, considering the extreme dysfunction of Jeffrey Rohde and Lydia Smith, but I consider it a given. I befriend an older Hawaiian that gives me a much needed piece of Nicorette, and I go to bed early.
January 13th-14th: The next days blur together. Another day of dodging naked hippies. Becca, Lydia, and I go on a hike, except they’re in much better shape than I so I get left behind. I accidentally get off trail in the low-lands, free climb a shaky cliff face, scale the top, and am face to face with a family of antelope. I stand quietly as they look at me, and then prance off down the steep hill and into another part of the valley. My wildlife encounter takes a thirty second respite until I hear a rattlesnake creeping toward me, jump on a rock, and wait another five minutes until it disappears in one direction. I find a path down the hill back down to the trail, walk back to camp, and so another day continues of me chopping wood and playing guitar in the bosom of the mountains.
Finally my three friends have arrived around 8 o’clock time. As Bex, Lyds, and I walked toward the gate and see the three men standing there, I reflect on the slight absurdity of this situation. Becca hadn’t told them about the naturist aspect of Valley View, neither her Air Force boyfriend that despite his soft, gentle interior looks like an El Camino thug nor Air Force Alan, innocently huge 21-year-old virgin from Illinois who almost made up for his worldly naïveté with his huge goofy grin, nor finally Jeffrey Rohde, Elliot Smith strumming depressant ten years past grunge Seattle but still looking the part. The three of them stand as we approach. After the hugs and greetings, I break it to them.
“So, there’s something about this place Becca didn’t mention,” I tell Oz and Rohde as Alan and Lydia go into the check-in lodge. Rohde takes a drag from his Red and surveys the hillside.
“It’s a nudist colony, isn’t it?” he asks without looking at me.
“Yeah, yeah it is. Naturist. But yeah, pretty much.” Oz (pronounced “OHZ”) starts laughing to himself. Rohde looks down and then back up at the mountain road.
“I can deal with that.” Another drag. “That’s fine.”
We get them checked in and drive up the hill. The night is uneventful. Oz and Bex cuddle like they mean it, which is nice for once, seeing the people I love loving themselves. I play Euchre with Alan, commiserate outside with a naked couple in their 60s about our lack of pot, and fall asleep on the couch in the common room of our bunk cabin.
The next day the Seahawks are playing the Redskins in the playoffs, so the boys make a trip into Saguache, a small Colorado town at the intersection of 285 and 114, and settle into a perfect bar with a perfect pool table and a perfect television. The Redskins lose, as usual— one of these days we’ll get past the second round. I was there in ’99, and I was there in spirit in ’06, it’ll happen soon. We’re drunk, and good thing Alan is so straight-edge so he can drive us home the twenty miles back to camp. We roll back jamming out to Immortal Technique and Ozuna’s Nasty Girl Mix, come home, skinny dip in a hot spring with a bag of Franzia floating among us. I wander to a sauna and, content with my drunken nudity and my friends having all left to go make out, sit talking with some other naked people there. I meet some guy that seems really nice and wants me to come to his cabin to drink bourbon and smoke marijuana, which I’m about to do until his friend comes and starts yelling at him for talking to me, then they start getting close and comfortable in the sauna and I realize what I’ve almost walked into and make a quick exit from the homosexual ménage a trios they are envisioning. I trip outside, cut open my forehead on the stair railing, and crawl back to the cabin to pass out with crusted blood on my face.
January 15th—January 17th: Any day that starts with the crack of a Natty Ice at 9 a.m. while road-tripping will be inauspicious— if Confucius or Socrates had known of the terrible wonder of bottom-shelf 18-packs I’m sure they’d readily agree. I leave camp with the boys, and we haven’t even left the 4-mile access road before Rohde rips open the case of beer and begins drinking. Alan is driving and we make it a contest then and there; Oz and I start drinking beers. I’ve burned my fifth mix at this point, an ode to my youth called “Alan Petz Loves the 90s,” so Blink 182 screams into our long, old years with the windows open and I dare the Rockies to hail in my eyes while screaming that I’ve been here for too long to face it on my own, says the first in the backseat of Air Force Tim’s car. We skirt and scale mountains, madness in our ears, smiling and screaming and feeling big songs in the estrogen-free viscera of our poor, broken souls. We piss at a rest stop in the Rockies, and then when we finally descend into Colorado Springs we are out of beer. Rohde wins with 11, I pull a close second at 10, and Oz leans his head against the window with a glazy bronze 9.
I demand that Alan take us to the Olympic Training Center. There’s a picture from my youth hanging in my home of my sister and brother and I in front of the rings there, and on the spur of the moment I commanded a return to this place, this place thrust in the faces of my siblings by a blindly active maternity in my household of youth. We’re allowed in on a Sunday because Alan has an Air Force I.D., even though the center is filled with Winter Olympians readying themselves for the trip to Turin. I find the United States Swimming sign, and get a picture with O and Rohde drinking beers in front of it. We march into the visitor’s center, and with as much drunken disrespect as possible take obscene pictures with the mannequin bobsledders, peruse the gift shop, box with the Judo man, and after the entertainment wanes, depart.
We head next to meet Lydia and Becca in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and then to the home of one of Oz and Alan’s commanders. The Bears lose, Rohde passes out on the floor of a living room the whole time, and I kick a soccer ball around with a two-year old. It’s a good life, I muse, as the afternoon passes into evening and we leave that house to our final stop, the home of some of Becca’s friends from Colorado College.
We spend the next two days bumming around this house in Colorado Springs, writing, playing video games, watching movies, being quasi-useless and feeling a bit guilty about the hospitality of Becca’s friends (who of course were awesome, they’re friends with Becca.) We visit the Valley of the Gods and some coffee shop that sells some fake organic version of coffee that Lyds loves. I am texting with Blair occasionally, and start thinking more about hanging out with her in San Francisco. I convince Rohde to go to the hardware store with me, where we get a pressure apparatus and fix the screen door. There’s not much more notable about this. On our last night, to commemorate my last farewell to my Air Force friends, Alan and Oz make us salmon steak. The next morning, Lydia and I take off from Colorado Springs and head north.
January 18th: We drive north to Cheyenne, turn west on the Interstate through Wyoming and a snowstorm and arrive at a resort south of Salt Lake City where Lyds has an old friend that works Ski Patrol. We’re stuck on the mountain until 9 a.m. the next day, in the Utah snow, until the cannons go off to cause the avalanche that will then be cleared and we can go. We have a dinner on the house, I talk to Blair on the phone and tell her I’ll be in San Francisco tomorrow, then I fall asleep early at the Lodge.