W aking up at eighty miles per hour, Burque, Tucumcari, San Juan,
can’t move, can’t sleep. The huge man on my side has
started to drool on himself as he falls sideways onto my shoulder
and snores in my ear. I’m counting the hours until my next
transfer, 3:40 a.m., Amarillo.
Dirty puke-green-yellow floors, the river of
cigarette butts flowing below the unnecessarily large Texas flag
outside the bus station, a cloud of smoke bellows from the designated
cage outside. No one makes eye contact or smiles or waves—we
are all here alone.
I walk outside into the deserted street, slump
against a wall, and watch through the window as a small decrepit
black man in full camo presses his face up against the glass, looks
around suspiciously and upon deciding that nothing is there, licks
the window, and returns to twitching in his corner chair. After
a few minutes, I’m joined by two guys, eighteen and sixteen.
They offer me a cigarette and we start the discussion of our past
prison/juvi experiences. One of them just got out of juvi for being
on coke and streaking through a mall in Omaha. The other had six
months in prison for possession. “Hi, my name is Clive and
I’m still paying my fine for getting caught riding a kayak
on a car through Silverton.”
A less crowded bus, double seat to myself,
an extra foot and a half of heaven, maybe I can sleep now.
The sun comes up within hours and we’re
stopped again. The voice comes through the intercom, “Good
morning, we will be arriving in Oklahoma City in five minutes. Those
continuing on to Muskogee, Little Rock, Memphis, you have to change
buses. Go to Gate Four.” I have heard that same voice on the
intercom every hour throughout the night.
In the window I can see my eyes glowing red,
bloodshot from a night without sleep. Wait in line, claw and chew
my way to the front so that I’m not one of the many who are
left behind. Transfer buses, a whole new group of stereotypes to
There is no comfort here. I’ll see beauty
in it eventually.
A woman screams and it takes me a while to
realize that it is only the music on my headphones. Okemah, Henrietta,
Muskogee, Sallisaw, Ft. Smith, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville,
cornfield after cornfield, going on twenty-two hours now, I am genuinely
sick of the bus. Only thirteen hours left.
The sun gleams on the horizon, burning a bright
red hole in the darkening sky, the reddest I’ve seen. Crows
and magpies chase each other through the flames, over telephone
wires, under tractors. The day ends and all goes dark.
I am sucked back into my box and forced to
pay attention to the girl sitting next to me who has not stopped
talking for two hours: “And guess what. You won’t believe
this! Okay, ready?! So, I have the SpongeBob CD player, SpongeBob
pajamas, SpongeBob cell phone, SpongeBob shoes, SpongeBob mirror,
SpongeBob watch, SpongeBob ....” I fear I will never see the
light of day again. Reaching down into my bag, I shuffle around
until I find the little blue packets of Tylenol PM, my only salvation.
I throw a few into my mouth and swallow them dry. Coma patients
don’t sleep this well.
“Good morning, we will shortly be arriving
in Nashville, Tennessee. The time is 1:50 a.m.” I despise
the guy on the intercom. He is evil, relentless, as though he’s
watching me, just waiting for me to fall asleep so that he can wake
me up again. I open my eyes to the swaying darkness of the bus.
My head hurts, I can’t see straight. I want to sleep so bad,
but I have to diligently wait for an hour in the Nashville bus station.
One thought at a time, get inside, wait, get in line, find your
ticket, get on another bus. I run it over in my mind, making sure
I don’t forget anything.
Why is it raining? Thick drops of caramel-colored
water well up in the luggage compartment above the whole left side
of the bus and start dripping down on the unsuspecting mass of truck
drivers, door-to-door salesmen, convicts, and myself. As though
a bomb went off, screams, and curses fill the air. (Did you know
that for only $11.95 at Target, you can buy a flexible, painfully
fluorescent orange, supposedly watertight cooler?) Standing up,
I cautiously reach for my cooler, trying to appear as aloof as possible.
It takes a couple minutes to fish the soaked blob out of the overhead
compartment and as soon as I grab it, both of the handle straps
break off and the cooler falls to the ground with a loud “Splat.”
I kick the cooler under my seat but remain
standing. I feel like I need to make a statement, as now everyone
on the bus is glaring at me, sharpening their knives, cracking their
knuckles. “Uh, he he.” Apparently the Tylenol affects
the ability to make good apologetic speeches. “Sorry about
that,” I continue. The bus stops at the station and I hop
out as fast as possible, avoiding my large, scary, purple-haired,
female bus driver.
Nashville to Knoxville to Asheville. I climb
off the bus at long last to smiling friends and pancakes. Never
again will I step foot on another bus, I lie to myself (I’ll
worry about the return trip later). Ten days in the wet, green,
beautiful city of Asheville will be worth all the pain.
Evan Belknap is a seventeen-year-old Placitan
who likes outdoor adventure, playing the bass, and time off.
Slow down, you move too fast
These are difficult times for people like me. I love to drive. Nothing
soothes me more than a long, empty stretch of road and a full tank
of gas and no known destination. I love the rumble of the road,
spotting a café in a town, stopping for pie and coffee and
listening to locals talk about the price of cattle. I love hearing
meadowlarks as I rattle by their perches on fence posts. I like
to roll down my window and moo at the standing cattle and wonder
if this urge is an affliction that will someday produce its own
special medication. I love driving into a thunderstorm and listening
to the rhythm of my wipers.
I know I can’t begin to justify my addiction, but there
it is, for all of you eco-purists out there, who want to call me
I am guilty as charged.
With the price of gasoline stuck in the vicinity of $3, and knowing
that to wish the price would fall runs counter to my broader view
of energy conservation, I had to do something.
First, I gave up my beloved 1986 GMC pickup which sports 226,000
miles on the odometer and which has faithfully conveyed me for more
than a decade, but slurps up gasoline faster than an elephant eats
peanuts. It might get 15 mpg on a good day, moving mostly downhill.
It’s now fired up only to keep the battery charged and the
fluids circulating and to use only when absolutely necessary. I
rely on my 1999 Subaru Forester on a daily basis, and although I’ve
never really developed the personal bond with this vehicle that
I’ve experienced with other cars in my automotive past, I
can say nothing but good things about her performance and efficiency.
It always starts, and even at above-freeway speeds manages to get
30 miles per gallon.
But I knew the Subaru and I could do better, and I knew it would
require a sacrifice. My motto used to be: "Stay with the traffic
flow or get out of the way." I could move from tranquility
to road rage faster than you can say, "slow-moving Winnebago.”
Some of my friends suggested counseling.
Instead, I slowed down.
If you’re under 40, you probably don’t remember that
in 1973, President Nixon ordered a reduction in speed limits on
all federal highways to 55 mph to conserve energy. For a country
accustomed to speed, the double-nickel limit shocked the motoring
public. Imagine driving across the desert from Green River to Grand
Junction, Colo., at 55 mph—it was excruciating. It had never
occurred to most Americans that driving at a slower speed had anything
to do with fuel economy. I was skeptical and decided to put his
proposal to the test. So I drove from Louisville to Cincinnati one
weekend to visit my parents and scrupulously monitored my speed
both ways. I became a believer when my gas mileage improved by 15
Still, the national speed limit was opposed by many Americans,
particularly the trucking industry. In 1987, lobbyists convinced
Congress to raise the speed limit on rural interstate freeways to
65 mph, but it wasn’t until 1995, 21 years after its inception,
that the 55 mph speed limit was finally abolished by Congress.
Well, I have imposed my own national speed limit upon myself.
I keep my speed under 60 on two-lane roads and under 65 mph on interstates.
I try not to make a nuisance of myself by creating logjams for faster
moving vehicles. If there’s no opportunity for cars and trucks
to pass, I’ll pull over and let them go by, but if timid drivers
who lack passing skills miss clear opportunities to get by me, they’re
going to save fuel whether they like it or not.
Keep in mind that I live in the rural West and don’t fight
heavy freeway traffic on a daily basis, where trying to drive at
55 is a suicidal gesture. But out here, when the road is relatively
empty, I’ve begun riding for free. Did you know that northbound
between Monticello, Utah, and Moab, you can coast for nine miles?
The bottom line for all my energy-saving efforts has been an increase
in my fuel economy from 30 mpg to 36 mpg -- or a 20 percent improvement.
On a 15 gallon tank, that means I travel 90 miles farther than I
Beyond that, I feel calmer. With some notable exceptions (those
mega-motorhomes!), my road rage has gone into hibernation. Life
seems easier now that I’ve removed myself from the fast lane.
I've never been happier. I almost feel like a damn patriot.
Jim Stiles is a contributor to Writers on the
Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org).
He is the publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr in Moab, Utah.
Heard Around the West
On a Web site called Gizmodo, which caters to computer gearheads
and other gadget collectors, we found a controversial offering a
few months ago from Argentinean artist Judi Werthein. She has designed
running shoes for illegal immigrants that feature a built-in compass
and flashlight, a pocket inside the shoe’s tongue for aspirin
or money, and a map of “popular routes going from Tijuana
to San Diego on the insole.” The shoes are called Brincos,
a play on the Spanish verb brincar, which means to jump, as in jump
the border, and they’re a flashy red, white and green with
an Aztec eagle on the heel. Brincos are not cheap: “So-called
hip stores in San Diego were spotted selling them for $215.”
But Werthein has given them out free to would-be migrants in Tijuana.
Writing in western Colorado’s Mountain Valley News, Steve
Widner confesses that for him, the fun in farming is all about violence—and
he doesn’t think he’s alone. “In the blood of
every farmer runs the yearning for power, noise, and if you get
right down to it, destructiveness,” he says. Farmers aren’t
that different from racecar drivers, he adds; they like nothing
better than firing up a tractor in the early morning, then hearing
it roar and belch smelly black smoke. One farmer, he says, gets
such a kick out of pulverizing entire cedar trees into chips and
mulch with his brush-hog that he calls it “addictive.”
Beauty doesn’t always win the prize. Capital Press says the
gorgeous Red Delicious apple — so perfectly shaped, so intense
a shade of red—eventually bombed with both growers and consumers
because the redder it got, the more it tasted like sawdust. The
“downfall” of the Red Delicious came in 1998, said orchard
economist Tom Schotzko, when a huge crop went on the market after
an unusually hot summer. The apple was of inferior quality, he said,
but what was worse, the crop “hung around until well into
1999.” These days, hardly anybody plants Red Delicious. Schotzko
said he looks for Gala and Honeycrisp in the fall and buys Cameo
and Fuji later.
Talk about a really big job: Mark Connolly is the only archaeology
cop employed by Utah, and his beat encompasses 45,000 lonely acres.
He watches over Range Creek Canyon, 150 miles from Salt Lake City.
In 2002, rancher Waldo Wilcox gave this area, which is rich in Fremont
Indian artifacts, to the public. As part of the deal, Connolly,
a former game warden, was hired to thwart looters, reports The Wall
Street Journal. He has been doing that not by firepower, though
he’s well armed, but by his constant presence. He loves the
job, and when he leaves the canyon, he says, he always stops at
a pass “to thank the canyon for the experience.”
What’s in a name? Perhaps nothing, but it is curious that
the Colorado Department of Revenue ordered a recent auction at a
failed restaurant in Boulder, of everything from a refrigerator
to a bun warmer. The restaurant was called “Fiasco’s
Codes of the West keep proliferating as more and more urbanites
head for the hills. All too often, county commissioners find that
newcomers arrive clueless about irrigation practices and rights,
the tendency of cute wildlife to eat flowers, shrubs and trees,
and the fact that it just might be unpleasant to live cheek by jowl
with smelly cows or farmers working with loud machines. In Wyoming,
Teton County is considering adopting a code of conduct because new
residents expect services the county can’t afford to provide,
such as plowing remote roads. The county’s booklet harks back
to an idealized Old West, where people were “bound by an unwritten
code of conduct” guided by “integrity and self-reliance.”
The hope, apparently, is that newcomers will follow in these footsteps
— however imaginary. As Teton County Commissioner Roger Hoopes
told the Post-Register in Idaho, “As more people come in,
there’s more of an opportunity to have people disappointed
that the services are not here.” Newcomers come with similar
expectations in the southern Oregon county of Jackson, where land
development around Medford is booming, reports the Oregonian. A
28-page newcomer’s guide, prepared by the Jackson County Soil
and Water Conservation District, is meant to prepare people for
the vagaries of rural life. There’s a lot to learn, said a
conservation district member; the newest newcomers “don’t
even know what questions to ask a seller or a Realtor.”
Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range,
a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (email@example.com).
Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared
in the column, Heard around the West.