They always come in twos, and sometimes they have cute matching names. These are the underbelly. Two names that ask you what you’re really feeling. On hour six of driving, pick one.
But we’re looking with love. Even on the nights we can’t feel our toes or find a haven to reheat potatoes and pitch our tent. Even on the long stretches of billboards with smarmy lawyers sporting hair plugs and white, white teeth. Whenever we pass one, I think briefly on how I hope we don’t break down here, of all places. To mix despair and disgust, trapped under the sharp-shooter fingers of an injury lawyer, waiting for triple-A or else some pickup truck vigilante to stop and insist on helping us. No lawyer for that kind of injury.
In the halo of light, they circle one another like a gambler’s game. Only two options, more than you get to choose from on most menus. A lesson in alternatives, in making up other options. Maybe we can combine in some creative way, supplement with what we’ve got. We’re becoming experts at that on the road. Maybe we can live in the “and” instead and run on, avoiding those two evil stepsisters. I think we’ve sidestepped them so far.
In Roswell, we learn that every circle is a sphere in another dimension. To look past despair and disgust, which lurk in every abandoned storefront, every confederate flag stubbornly waving as we zoom by, what’s the dimension we’re missing? Not a question of sympathy, but of magnitude. Maybe despair and disgust are the dying breaths of some bigger orb. We keep seeing reminders, at every park and monument, of how young we really are. And by “we,” I mean all of us. Every living thing.
Disgust and despair are human. They walk and breathe and die in us, like the air we can barely breathe up here. They can die on an exhalation. Remember that.
Bloodshot eyes. I’ve seen a lot of bloodshot eyes. Skin browned and reddened by the sun with hair so white it’s yellow bouncing off my eyes. Hair like the glowing white sands in the distance. We might not be able to get there in time if they’re testing missiles, if the lights are blinking. We might be delayed an hour. We are delayed every time we taken in natural beauty – what makes a National Park? What makes a National Monument? What drives tourism?
I don’t know how to feel about tourism – on the one hand we drive past signs repeatedly reminding us not to take pictures of religious, cultural ceremonies – on the other there are people everywhere selling a culture or a type of craft.
We seem to get sad smiles and vacant eyes when people figure out we’re tourists – “I wonder what tipped me off” they say “Where you girls from” they say “Be careful out there” he says. We will never see it all. We won’t understand.
Why are they sad for our tourism?
I don’t particularly feel like a tourist – maybe because this is the country I was born in. Maybe the sadness is their own – we are the tourist and not them. We are the Kerouac, the Steinbeck – shirking all responsibility and being taken where the wind blows us. Should I tell them that’s not the way I feel? I don’t feel like a tourist. And we can’t go anywhere. Not when we have to think about whether to keep knives in our tent and everyone seems more concerned for our fragile safety than we are.
It seems ominous every time someone tells us to ‘stay safe!’ I feel like they are wishing strange encounters on us. Or at least in its repeated utterance it seems more and more likely. Like one of these well wishers wants to make sure we know they could’ve harmed us – if they’d wanted to.