Bentzman returns

March 28, 2011

Bruce is heading homewards. He writes:

We left Oakland on Saturday and drove south. Ms Keogh could not bear another cold, wet day, which seems to be what we would have encountered if went to Seattle, then took a northern route home. We went south instead, but we did try for a different southerly route.

575 miles later, we found ourselves in Needles, California again. We had stopped there on the way west for lunch and now it was on our way east. The waitress at Denny’s who had served us lunch the last time was there to serve us a late dinner this time, and she remembered us. I’m not surprised. I had asked her many questions about the community and her life. She appeared thrilled to have us again and we asked more questions.

We spent the night in a Best Western Needles because there were no Hampton Inns to be found, nor were there any further down the road in the direction we were going. It was more expensive and not quite as nice, but it served. I stayed up until four in the morning working on my next essay for SNAKESKIN, so I didn’t have much sleep. (It will be about San Francisco.) We were up early and back on the road Sunday morning.

498 miles later and we are in the familiar surroundings of a Hampton Inn in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Ms Keogh is already asleep and I will join her shortly.

En route here we stopped at Phoenix because I wanted to see it. Approaching Phoenix was for me a disturbing experience, which is not to say there is anything wrong with the region. The problem rests entirely with me. We came out of the mountains and the land grew so flat that the horizon vanished. We came in on Route 60 which became Grand Avenue. We entered a town named Surprise. The name alone sufficed to launch me into a Twilight Zone nightmare. All that was visible from the roadway were the immediate rooftops beyond which was endless sky. I felt panic. This was not the planet I belonged to.

The world fell away too quickly and all that seemed to exist was the immediate suburbia and malls. Comfort only came if I peered behind me or caught a glimpse to either side of a distant mountain, but nothing was to be seen in the panorama that spread before me. The horizon was too near and then just disappeared, nothing distant reaching above it to invite me to approach. Such a vision would make sense in a dream. It was a view you could expect at sea, but this was an ocean of ranch-style homes and suburban malls.

For Ms Keogh it was a blessing. All she cared about was the heat and light. We had finally escaped the cold damp and frequent rains we’ve endured for a week. Here was 72 degree weather and bright sun.

Phoenix itself was dead. Like many other cities we’ve passed through in the south, their downtowns were deserted on Sunday afternoons.

As silly as it must sound, I became especially excited at the sight of saguaro cacti in the context of its natural environment. The plant is an icon of the American desert. Outside of botanical gardens, I knew it only from cartoons and westerns. Here it was for real.

Later, even though it wasn’t late, we found ourselves alone on Route 70 in New Mexico. It is a narrow road with few signs or markers, certainly no street lights, and I saw the stars. It probably wasn’t even a good night or a good location, yet I pulled off the road and shut off the car. I was seeing more stars than I recall ever having seen before, except in a planetarium. New stars so crowded familiar constellations I couldn’t recognize the few I knew, with the exception of Orion’s belt. For the first time in memory, I saw the Milky Way. Was the night sky in Houlton, Maine not as bespeckled as this? If it was, I don’t remember it.

Okay, time for bed. We want to make Dallas sometime tomorrow.

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