Blue, Steel and Ponies


I’d only met her days ago, a wandering woman of a girl living in this small town’s hostel, cell phoneless, with seemingly nothing more in the way of possessions than the leather pack that hang round her waste and a black and pink bicycle, but she’d taken a shine to my son and offered me a ride into the nearest town this scorching little number of a day. They stood in the waning afternoon shadows still clinging to the Amtrak station’s railside porch–she in her short skirt, long boots and disheveled hair, he in as dirty a white sleeveless t-shirt as a boy can muster–waiting until the last moment to send me off. We shared a Coca Cola out of a glass and laughed at random musings as the two of them played games of guessing while I smoked away the anticipation of the coming train. They waited until the last moment, baking under that desert sun a sendoff and I watched them as she drove the boy home to his mother who would, with the young woman’s help no doubt, fulfill the full and fun responsibilities of parentdom for the next half month.

The train took it’s time, as it always does, I seated next to an older blonde fellow Pennsylvanian woman all too willing to impart her life’s story on my half-listening ears. Woe was her, a hard life of too strict parents, car accidents, abusive spouses, and prescription drug addictions. Her first husband, a good man by her account, had been a rodeo cowboy, they and their two children once traveled Wyoming through Arizona the rodeo circuit, until a car accident killed him and their daughter, forcing the woman to return East with her son. She nearly cried, 20 years later, as she told me how he was the love of her life, how they’d expected to travel and live together forever. Most recently, a stroke had left her unable to ride her cherished motorcycle and she now hobbled on a cain, massive pillbox in one hand, defeat in her eyes. I listened to every story, all 45 years or so of her life. She was an exaggerator, not quite a liar except for those she’d concocted to deal with her own addictions. We fell asleep in our chairs and I was gone before the morning could wake her.

There are few more satisfying situations in life than stepping off a train in the Austin, Texas early morning, a tent and a few spare clothes strapped to your back and the sound of the lighter as it sparks the tobacco rolled into your lips. I had no hotels lined up, and very little communication with friends in the area, the insecurity, uncertainty of it all as exhilarating as any acid trip. But without the hippie freakouts, of course.

Weekends of six packs with new acquaintances, dinners with oldest or dearest friends, cigarettes shared over late night conversations about everything but religion and politics or easy casual dinners about nothing but the two would ensue. After long months on the road, after meeting and exploring and readjusting, it’s immensely desirable to kick up your boots in the comfort of very easy conversation, familiarity the warm summer rain, the hot cup of cocoa on Christmas Eve.

This morning I climb 10,000 feet or so in the belly of a massive metal bird, bound for Denver where I’ll sleep under the Rocky Mountain stars and begin a thousand mile trip to my desert home on the back of a baby blue vintage scooter. This will seemingly be the end of an era for me and mine as we’ve decided to settle down the rambling on in favor of a simple life under the Texas wilderness sun. There’s an overshadowing sadness about that, but nostalgia–like it’s sister, longing– is best served in small doses and so I’ll do my best to make a motion of the moment as we hover over these clouds, into those mountains. Movement is natural, in our family’s blood, so to wish for it to come is as ridiculous as a tornado wishing it could spin or the clouds wishing they could rain.