Reservations

Reservations
"I hear the phone ring but cannot make it work"

The desert surrounding Tucson seems tropical in the late winter rain. Washes and riverbeds actually feature water, though most closely resemble thick, ocher-colored pudding. Tucson's suburbs seem to stretch forty or more miles into the northernmost reaches of the vast Sonoran desert, Saguaro stately standing along steep rocky mountainsides. The road, two-lane blacktop. The excursion seems backward through time. From the gated sprawl into many centuries ago, the road passes out of these United States into sovereign native lands administered by tribal counsels: reservations. Apache, Comanche, Navaho, and Ute own much of what we refer to as the state of Arizona, a vast and apparently barren country, dusty and strange. Reservations.

The road bucks like an unbroken mustang. I simply cannot maintain the speed limit, a condition for which I feel enormously grateful.
If I'd wanted "improved" road, I could have taken the damned freeway up through Phoenix to Flag, a bumper-to-bumper exercise in extreme denial, the sole purpose of which seems to be to dispatch this unsettling country just as quickly as possible, and often even faster than that. I intend to toodle. The more foolhardy drivers quickly pass me, leaving me with the persistent illusion that I'm the only one on the road. This road goes nowhere, and slowly. Some roads must go nowhere and drivers like me seem especially attracted to these, though I'm heading somewhere. I'm headed home. I'm always headed home. The GPS only wants to direct me to the shortest, fastest route, so it continually misdirects me. I want the round-about route, the one less traveled, the one with few roadside attractions beyond mysterious and wild open space.

I left without reservations, figuring to just show up. The radio wants to save me but I have no interest in salvation beyond a day of sublime isolation. Each mile brings nothing familiar, none of whatever I might have long ago grown immune to. Each turn might surprise and delight me. Nothing seems the same. This world remained undiscovered before I entered it. It remains essentially undiscovered after I pass, for this space seems altogether too eternal for anyone to take full possession of it. The land seems to own the people inhabiting it instead, sovereign ground long ago deemed useless for commercial development and so shunted off on the so-called savages. It's sacred ground; apparently worthless. A stop at a roadside gas station reveals a culture more than foreign to me. A Navaho gentleman sitting on a bench out front announces that he's selling watches. I wish that I needed a watch. The cashier calls her customers by name. People seem genial in this hostile country.

Mysterious red rock pillars and solitary peaks emerge from my horizons. Billowing thunderheads reach almost to the ground and spit sleet and occasional raindrops. Still dusty side roads disappear into every near distance. I swear that I can see a hundred miles in every direction. I might at that very moment be incubating my case of the novel virus, unaccustomed to and unaware of its presence. My forehead still feels cool to my touch. I try the radio again only to find someone much more interested in my eternal soul than I seem to be. I'll take my eternity in these moments, thank you very much. I will not make future reservations while my present still seems to embrace me. My insignificance reassures me. The empty road ennobles me. The great mystery extends no further than to where I might spend the night, and I've made no reservations there, either.

I needed a day where I could just drop in. A day where I would have to become my own best friend. A day finding magic in designated worthless country, a time away from the concerns of any day. The news will keep. I try to find a Navaho Mutton Stew supper, but the recommended cafe seems to have already closed down for the night. I had no reservations there, either. I stumble into what turns out to be a generic Mexican restaurant, a fortune of the draw decision offering only old familiars. I could be anywhere there. My anonymous hotel room shares the same uncomfortable chairs with a hundred thousand other rooms, needing pillows to complete even an unconvincing illusion of sitting. I sleep in total anonymity. The Muse says she'll call later and I hear the phone ring but cannot make it work in my sleep.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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