Be curious, be skeptical, be rational. Observe. Quiet the mind and listen for your knowing. Truth often comes as a whisper, not a shout.Aubrey Marcus
I knew I was shit out of luck the moment my engine abruptly shook to a halt. After a quick scan of my rearview mirror, I shut off cruise control and frantically pulled over to the gravel edge of Highway 285. The check engine light was illuminated, and so was the battery light. What exactly this meant–aside from the onset of a full-blown panic attack–I wasn’t yet sure.
The impulse to pick up my life, pack it into a suitcase and leave whatever didn’t fit behind, was born long before I even owned anything valuable enough to put into an 8 x 10 storage unit. In fact, I can trace the very impulse to do so back to a few seeds of doubt that took hold within the depths of my heart about four years before my car broke down outside of Santa Fe.
See, at 25, I was one tough call away from settling down with the first man I fell in love with. He had dreams, he had plans and he had a whole lot of promises that were sweet enough to make the thought of settling not seem so bad. I put most of my own dreams on the shelf for the sake of that relationship, but still, there was a quiet stir in the back of my mind that whispered, “this isn’t it.”
The inclination to hit the road and head west had been heavy on my mind ever since college. After finishing a marathon at the age of 27, came the possibility and realization that perhaps I finally did have enough guts (and enough pennies) to turn those pipe dreams and silly dispositions, into a reality. The more I watched my friends and their friends announce engagements, babies and homeownership, the more I felt like I needed to uproot. I wanted all of those things too, but it felt like there was still so much I hadn’t done, I hadn’t learned, I hadn’t seen.
It’s been two and a half months since I left Minnesota, and what I’ve learned so far is that there’s something about life on the road that feels nostalgic and familiar.
After living in nine different neighborhoods and attending seven different schools by the time I turned 18, I had gotten used to this pattern of packing up our things and making a new house a home every couple of years. The only sure thing about us was that we were nomads of the new millennium and the concept of staying in one place long enough to blend in with the natives was something I didn’t know anything about. The road was a more permanent place for me than any one of those nine addresses had been.
For 18 years my mom, dad, little brother and I made up the traveling team and so it goes, I’ve still got a gypsy soul to blame.
Stop one: Wyndham Fort Smith City Center – Fort Smith, Arkansas
Arkansas was as spectacular as you’d think. By that, I mean it wasn’t–or well, the parts of it we saw at least. Aside from a short stretch of hills along a town called Ozark, it didn’t seem like there was anything in Arkansas to write home about. Similarly, there wasn’t much to see in the town of Fort Smith, so after a quick walk down main street we (and by “we,” make no mistake, I am referring to my dog and I) returned to the hotel.
I bellied up to the bar for a drink and some dinner, and, like the mature adult I am, ordered a Corona with lime and some chicken tenders. I overheard a tall man at the end of the bar tell the two ladies sitting next to him that he hailed from Minnesota, “I’m from a small town north of Duluth,” he said.
One of the ladies responded, practically beaming, “I grew up in the Twin Cities!”
…”Me three,” I chimed in with a wave and a smile.
What the heck are the odds, I thought.
I continued getting to know Tracy and Jessie as I waited for my chicken tenders. They were neighbors back in Mustang, Oklahoma. Tracy worked as a nurse, Jessie was retired and the two were visiting Fort Smith because they needed a “girls weekend” away. If a “girls weekend” at the Wyndham Hotel in Fort Smith, Arkansas, isn’t the most endearing thing you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.
I introduced them to Arlo, we exchanged numbers, shared a few more laughs and then said our goodbyes. Tracy said she’d keep me in her prayers.
They’ve both checked in on me every day, since.
In the morning, Arlo and I headed to our next destination. Yee-haw!
Stop two: Extended Stay America – Amarillo, Texas
A fun thing about Amarillo, Texas is whatever you do, don’t stay at the Extended Stay America the next time you’re in Amarillo, Texas. I knew it would be a downgrade from the previous night, but I did not know I’d feel the need to bring my can of Counter Assault in with my overnight bag, just in case.
Sorry grandma, but luckily I lived to tell the tale and we can chalk it up as character-building.
After dropping off Arlo and my overnights, I made my way to what has got to be the best place in town for Spanish tapas. Another fun thing about Amarillo, Texas is whatever you do, make sure you stop in for a Smoked Old Fashioned at Savór next time you’re in Amarillo, Texas.
The bartender, Ash (again–the odds??), was bright, charming and skilled in the art of smoking cocktails. We talked about how he had just moved back to Amarillo, where he grew up, after spending several years in Austin. He reminded me of an old quote,
“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”– George Moore
The ring on his finger told me he had.
Stop three: Highway 285 Lamy, New Mexico
My car broke down at 11:32 AM about 20 miles south of Santa Fe. It was Sunday, so everything, of course, was conveniently closed. Allstate couldn’t locate a tow for me. The two Firestone’s within a 30-mile radius were booked solid. And the world’s best mobile mechanic, Leo, was on a three-hour job and didn’t have a physical shop. Still, from my amateur explanation and a photo of the engine, he guessed it was the timing belt or the fuel pump that failed.
Two hours later a short, handsome, Spanish man and his big yellow truck came to our rescue. In broken English, he told me to shift my car to neutral and to crack my windows so the dog in the backseat could breathe. I watched him hoist my car onto the back of his truck and hoisted myself up into his passenger seat.
For most of the drive, we rode in silence.
When we arrived at the auto shop, he unloaded my car and got into the driver’s seat. He went to start the engine and looked at me with sorry eyes, “fuel pump,” he said with guesstimated certainty.
Stop four: Yvette’s Place – Santa Fe, New Mexico
At 2pm Arlo and I arrived at the casita, which resembled something out of a southwestern dream. I walked up to the market to pick up a week’s worth of essentials, a much-needed bottle of wine and returned home to settle in. I discovered the Airbnb’s Direct TV package included the Paramount Network. The realization that I could watch the two-hour premiere of Yellowstone that night while sipping on a chilled glass of Chateau Ste Michelle’s Dry Reisling was enough to melt the rest of the day’s worries away.
Although our week in Santa Fe didn’t go as planned, we were able to make the most of it on foot. Our hikes through the hills of Frank S Ortiz, a little old lady named Maria, the pink and purple sunsets, the clay homes and the small-town charm made for a week, and a story, I will never forget.
Assuming my car lives to see another day and I get to pick her up at the shop tomorrow, we’ll be off to Arizona first thing Saturday morning.
Wish me luck.