I left Phoenix at about 3:00 pm after seeing the airplane come lumbering down the runway and suddenly pivot and
bolt into the air on what seemed like a 45 degree angle. The passengers must have had some white knuckles on that one, I thought, and, with a twinge of guilt, I hoped that my recent traveling partner had a good taste of fear; she
told me that she hated to fly.
She never would have been on the plane except for the violent argument that we had after leaving the Grand Canyon. An argument that she started and one that ended with her demanding to leave our cross-country trip and fly home.
I made no attempt to stop her; she had annoyed me intolerably with second guessing and back seat driving during the four days that we were at the canyon and she had me ready to dump her at the nearest exit anyway.
I left the airport and headed south, sputtering like a fool to myself about never getting involved again with a woman. She had been so kind and agreeable the whole trip until we
reached the canyon. She seemed to suddenly change. She started a relentless pointing of the finger and telling me where to park and where to drive. All the way south out of the canyon and through Sedona she continued telling me how to drive and as we neared Phoenix we had a shouting match that culminated in her impromptu three o'clock flight back to Albany.
It started when I met her at a truck stop east of Schenectady.
I had stopped for coffee on my way west and she saw my mountain bike slung on the back of the RV and asked if I was biking the Erie Barge Canal.
"Parts of it," I said, "But I am heading for Utah and Moab's Slickrock Bike Trail."
Her jaw kind of dropped and she got a faraway look in her eyes. "Wow," she said, "That sounds like fun,"
We talked a little and before long we made plans to
bike the Erie Barge Canal at a section nearby. She was a
local, she said, and she could show me the good trails.
We made arrangements to meet that afternoon at one of the canal bike trails in Niskayuna, and right on time, she biked up the paved trail to meet me.
Soon we were biking through New York State farm country beside the Mohawk River section of the Erie Canal with her pointing out various places of interest.
Turns out she was a divorce with plenty of money and plenty of time on her hands and she hinted that she would like to accompany me on my trip to Moab. Since I was recently divorced as well, with two months of free time, I invited her along. I was on a limited budget and figured she might help with the gas. She wasn't a bad looker either.
After our bike trip, I booked a campsite at a park near the canal and the next day she biked in to the site to meet me, explaining that she didn't want to chance having her ex husband see me pick her up at her house; she feared him she said.
We loaded her bike on the rack beside mine, put her small case on her bunk, up over the cab, and soon we were off
on a two-week road trip to Moab Utah. We planned to then visit the Grand Canyon and take another week to return: in all, a little over three weeks.
She was charming as we wound our way on Route 90 West through farm country and forest, city and village; her enthusiasm for travel was boundless and she kept up a steady commentary about the history and attractions of the various regions as she consulted the maps and guides that we picked up at the rest area tourist stops.
One curious note was that she did not want me to listen to the CB radio as we drove, something that I had been looking forward to doing on the long, cross-country trip. She said that her former husband owned a trucking company and that the sound of long-haul truckers is something she had constantly heard at home and that it made her uncomfortable. That was a simple enough request, so I didn't monitor CB traffic. Other than that, she was a perfect traveling companion. Except, that is, when we reached the Grand Canyon.
Oh, there were a few other odd things that happened, but I didn't make too much of them. These could happen to anyone I thought.
She came out of the bank at Niagara Falls with anguish in her eyes and nearly in tears; the ATM machine had eaten her card. She said she had put in a call and would be able to get a new card in a few days at a bank of the same chain in Cleveland. "No problem," She said, "I have plastic."
A day later she came out of another bank in Ohio and again she was in near tears, "My husband has put a blocker on my credit cards and frozen the funds in my ATM account." She said
"No problem," I said, half lying to impress her, "I have enough cash to see us to Moab, you will have squared things away by then"
Not much more was said about the matter as we closed in on Chicago for a day-long visit, one that would eat into my budget,now shared by two, in a serious way. But we had fun and her enthusiasm for exotic food and lively music was infectious; and she sure could belt down the Mojitos.
The night on the town in Chicago had her a little tipsy and when she started to lean on me and cling a bit I thought romance might flower but she managed to keep her distance, explaining the she still hurt from her divorce and needed some time to heal. I didn't push it though I was
finding her attractive and thought that before long, we would be bunking together.
The states sped by and Lydia continually impressed me with her love of travel and knowledge of all the interesting sights and historic places along the way. Although she said she had never driven cross country before, it was incredible how informed she was about each state and its sights, all the time reading to me the interesting anecdotes about places as we passed.
As the fifth day ended we neared Grand Junction and would reach Moab in the morning where we would spend four days sightseeing and biking.
The four days in Moab sped by and I was continually impressed by her skill and knowledge about camping. Although she said she had never camped or traveled in an RV before, she took to the tight quarters like a pro.
The one down note was that she still couldn't access her ATM or credit cards. I lent her some more cash and she spent the third day in Moab Village shopping.
From Moab we headed south through Monument Valley with her telling me about the life of the Navajos and then we reached the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I t was there that everything changed.
From the airport, I took Route 10 south out of Phoenix, a road
that gives you time to think. I took stock of events. I lent
her considerable cash, I booked her flight back to Albany including her bike and it nearly maxxed out my credit card, and I hadn't gotten her into my bunk. I didn't even know where she lived.
She did make the trip interesting and fun, however, until the last
four days, that is. I couldn't figure what had caused her to change so drastically. I was comforted at least by the fact that she said she would send the money that I lent her and the airline ticket price to my home in Maine. Otherwise I was at a loss for an explanation and Route 10 south
out of Phoenix offered no answers.
I pulled over and took out my map. I put string over the US and found the straightest line from Phoenix to Winslow, Maine,: Route 40 out of Flagstaff to Route 44 in St Louis. I made a U-turn and headed north to Flagstaff and the shortest route
back to the east coast. Although my plan had been to visit Tucson, I didn't have enough cash left to continue south.
With tires humming along on one of the main east west truck routes and Lydia by now back in Albany, I was finally able to put on the CB to listen to the chatter of the long-haul truckers who criss cross the country hauling fruit, and steel, flat panel TVs and frozen chickens to every dooryard in the US.
The road teaches you to take the days as they come, one at a time; so simple yet so profound. I hadn't made a road trip since before I was married and I had forgotten about how to put the destination at the back of my mind and to think of just the next few miles ahead. If I thought about the 2500 miles of travel ahead of me, I would surely go into a depression.
I tried to think of only the next few hours and the miles they would bring, the vistas, the new sights, the colorful characters, and the display of nature's grandeur.
Lightning flashed on the horizon as dusk fell. The vast desert came alive for a split second and I could see mountains fifty miles distant. The night closed in again and it was just me and my metal cocoon hugging a thin strip of blackness in a desert of blackness.
I found myself missing Lydia, her constant chatter about the places that we passed had brought life to a lifeless landscape that to me now was just names on a sheet of paper with blue and red lines squiggling in all directions.
I passed a sign for Winslow, a place no different than any other place, it just happened to be where I was at that moment. The next day I would be in another place, different but really the same. The smell of diesel from idling trucks at the rest stop would be the same, the coffee the same, the muffins the same. The scenery might be different and the twang in the voices of the waitresses different, but their hopes and dreams would all be the same, From Winslow Maine to Winslow, Arizona they would all seem the same without Lydia's lively commentary.
The CB crackled and I was hoping that the chatter of truckers might fill in, a little, the pangs that I felt for the sound of Lydia's voice.
Truck drivers are an interesting group these cowboys of the modern era, herding their stock to market. Theirs is a harsh life of long days and nights with whatever sleep they can grab. They chatter away on their CB radio like fighter pilots in a World War Two battle, the enemy being the Highway Patrol, or, "Full grown bear," as the drivers call them.
The drivers group up in an unofficial convoy of six to eight trucks and move along together while chatting on the CB radio. It is like a bubble of life, a mini culture, a closed society moving along the nation's blood stream.
Within the bubble they warn about the, "Bear taking pictures at mile 42," talk about past runs, demonstrate effusive politeness, "Thank you buddy, you have yourself a safe trip,"and talk about the loves of their lives and their one-night stands.
The camaraderie is forced on them by that thin strip of black that their twenty tons of speeding metal shares with six other twenty ton hunks of speeding metal that, just for the moment, separated by inches, and held together by CB chatter, hurtles along as a 70 MPH, undulating bubble of radio glue.
I listened for hours as truckers greeted each other and as they said goodbye. This one peeling off at the exit for Albuquerque, that one pulling in to a Flying J for fuel, a new one joining as he entered the turnpike on his way east. Annuities, retirement, grand kids and above all, Bear occupied their talk.
I heard the word Schenectady and my ears perked up; I had been there two weeks earlier. It was a west bounder jawing to another west bounder about an incident in Schenectady. With them going 70 miles an hour west and me going near 70 east, the signal came and went quickly as we passed each other at 140 miles per hour.
A trucker in the east bound group ahead of me picked up on the Schenectady incident, "Ya, I had a strange experience there six months ago," he said to anyone listening.
The signal faded as the group of trucks well ahead of me now, moved under a bridge. I couldn't keep up; as hard as I tried, my old camper just wouldn't match the powerful diesel pushing those Peterbuilts.
I grabbed my mike and keyed the send, "What happened in Schenectady" I asked, but no answer came. My non-trucker voice and manner put a chill on the radio chatter. Signals faded and for the next hour I heard little radio traffic. I finally had to pull in to a rest stop for the night. It was four in the morning and I had driven nearly 14 hours.
She had been so sweet back in upstate New York more than two weeks earlier that I had started to fall for her.
I was full of confusion as I left the Phoenix Airport but I was relieved to be free of her as I headed towards Tucson. I felt dazed by the sun, limp from the heat, and stunned by the events; I was feeling like I had just gone through another divorce. I couldn't help but run it over and over in my mind. What had gone wrong?