I found myself behind the wheel somewhere east of Albuquerque during what turned out to be naptime for the other four members of the family on our long drive from the Grand Canyon to our home in East Texas.
There isn’t much east of Albuquerque. In fact, you are lucky to have cell reception. And forget data. There’s no checking Facebook or sending emails or anything that you are used to being able to do with your smart phone. (Most of that was discovered while not driving, btw. For the most part, I avoid my phone while driving.)
Radio stations are hard to come by as well. At one point, scanning through all the FM stations presented me with three different static-filled choices. And that’s it. No music.
I even got desperate enough to try the AM band and stumbled across some people talking about the plane that had disappeared just before we descended into the canyon. I stayed, hoping to get caught up, but they soon turned to politics and it became clear that the host and his two “experts” were cut from the same cloth and no meaningful examination of the issues from all sides would happen, so I returned to FM to try again for some music.
I finally hit pay dirt, when Lorde’s “Royals” came through. Yes! I thought. I’ll take top 40 pop. I was a bit surprised when The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” played next. And then I couldn’t help but laugh when one of my favorite classic rock hits “Turn The Page” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band was next on the playlist. I guess when you are the only radio station around, you have to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
At one point, I asked my Shazam app on my phone to identify a song for me. It churned and churned and churned and eventually responded with:
I’m sorry. I don’t know if you realize this, but you are in the middle of nowhere and I can’t contact the mother ship to get an answer for you. I’ve saved the recording on your device and you can try to send it again when you’ve returned to civilization. Thank you.
Or, something like that.
My husband had told me that he thought we’d have enough gas to get to Amarillo but thought I should keep an eye on it. Judging by the road signs, Tucumcari was going to be my best intermediate choice, should I decide we couldn’t make it. As I drove through Tucumcari, though, we still had four bars on the gas gauge and everyone was still asleep. There was another town big enough to be given distance on the signs so I figured I’d check again there.
San Jon, as it turns out, is more of a village than a town. As I approached the first exit, I looked down at our mileage and the two bars on the gas gauge. I wasn’t sure we could make the remaining 85 miles to Amarillo, even driving a Prius. When I looked up, however, the town was fading behind me. It only has one exit.
I decided to wake my husband to get his opinion and as I did so, the gas gauge dropped to one bar. The next exit claimed a town name that didn’t even show up on our Google Map and there was nothing but fields as far as the eye can see. Still, I took the exit and returned to the sprawling metropolis of San Jon.
San Jon offered two choices for gas: a Valero and an un-branded truck stop that claimed to offer fine Indian Cuisine (dots, not feathers, as Good Will Hunting would say). We chose the Valero and as I pulled into the parking lot, my husband exclaimed, “Is that a dead dog?!”
I looked over, and sure enough, there was a dead dog lying behind two parked trucks.
“Okaaaayyyy…” I said. “I think I’ll take this far pump, away from the dead dog.”
My husband got out to pump gas and I approached the building to use the bathroom. I steered wide of the dog but tried to look for signs of injury. I found none. How had it died? I thought. And why is no one doing anything about it? And how did those two trucks manage to park there without running over it? Or did it die there after they parked? How long have they been parked there?!
I walked into the station and looked around. I thought about asking someone about the dog but it all felt so surreal that I just went quietly to the bathroom. On my return, I resolved to watch the dog closely for signs of breathing. Maybe it wasn’t dead.
I stared at it through the glass doors and kept staring as I walked out of the building. The chest was not rising and falling. Common sense and analysis of the situation had told me that the only logical conclusion was that the dog was not, indeed, dead, so I kept walking toward it. I walked between the two trucks and when I was almost to the beds of the trucks, it slowly lifted a lazy eyelid. The skin sagged and showed the red flesh around the eye. The dog did not lift its head, nor twitch any muscle in its body. The only thing that moved was that one eyelid. The dog then dismissed me and closed its eye.
I exhaled the air I had been holding in my lungs and rushed to the car.
“The dog isn’t dead,” I told my husband. “But it’s still kind of creepy.”
When he returned from the building after buying snacks, he told me that an old man had walked out and the dog looked up before jumping to its feet. The man said, “Come on, old girl” and the dog jumped into the back of one of the trucks.
How small of a town do you have to be in for a dog to be able to just lay in the middle of the parking lot without getting run over? And exactly how old does the dog have to be to lay that still?