Sunday, August 6, 2017

Diners, Dangers, and Deserts (Part One)

Those early days, the survival plan was all about diners and tourist traps. A pretty girl and a skilled line cook could land anywhere and have money in their pockets. Mrs. Weaver and I fit the bill. Where possible, I waited tables as well. I hate the grease. Unfortunately, many establishments had an ovarian requirement of their wait staff, so it was a good thing I had other talents.

Before corporatism took over the restaurant business, the family diner dominated the landscape of a country that traveled on it's stomach. Anywhere there was an exit ramp, this gastronomic icon of Americana thrived. Diners were both home and hearth to the fellowship of the road. Customers drift in, Employees drift through, nobody asks many questions beyond “Can you work weekends?” or “Can you cook eggs?”.

Watching all those episodes of “Alice” back in the 70's and 80's paid off. We had a real sitcom theme going for a while. Even our names, our earliest pseudonyms: Rob and Laura, were borrowed from The Dick Van Dyke Show.

We fit right in. Actually we were a bit clean cut and naïve in comparison. It all worked in our favor. We played the part of the hard working young couple, seeking their fortune in the big wide world. Our employers ate that shit up.

Mrs. Weaver (Laura) grew to hate it. Waitresses can get ugly, especially when you pocket more than they do. Real ugly. Its also very hard work with little reward. The upside is, wherever you land, there was a diner job waiting, and cash in your pocket that night. You never went hungry.

Casteneda said Don Juan taught him the lesson of losing his self importance by sending him to work at a diner under the guise of Jose Cordoba: Illegal Alien Dishwasher (and wife). Don Juan claimed that the most difficult adversary a man could encounter is that of the “Petty Tyrant”. I located what I believed to be Jose Cordoba's diner, and engaged his petty tyrant.

It was one of those periods when Laura had enough of the situation, and split to the Keys for a few months Her latest gig was waitressing at a diner called “The South Forty”. It was situated outside of Tucson, on the other side of the mountains, right at the base of Big Cat Mountain. I made pizza a half mile further out.

Before she left, we were living at a run down trailer park on the Benson Highway. A strip of 1950's Asphalt Americana dotted with motor lodges. It had seen better days. The kitsch was still visible beneath the dust. The motels had names like “The Lariat”, “The Desert Edge”, and “Sunbeam”. There was a ubiquitous “Wagon Wheel Tavern” where membership in the Sunday Bloody Mary Club earned you dollar drinks and a punch card for the tenth one free.

Our trailer was behind “The Acadia”. It was tucked into the corner of the lot behind the motel. Our nearest neighbors were a biker couple. He was rarely there, and she wore perpetual bikini and a dog collar with a leash that was just long enough to reach the clothesline that connected our trailers. I never knew her name. She wasn't allowed to speak.

They filmed some scenes for “Tin Cup” at a closed motel up the street, but it was a much more David Lynch-like atmosphere.

I had to sell the Plymouth to get Laura to the tropics and that meant I had to find a place to live closer to work. Her boss owned an empty four room motor court next to the restaurant that had never opened. Laura persuaded him to rent me a room, based on her promise to return and work for him. The place had no air conditioning, heat, or ventilation of any kind. The windows would not even open.

Did I mention it was early June in the Desert? And this was my first summer. As the temperature climbed over 110, I needed some respite. The box fan I put in the doorway helped little. I purchased a wading pool and moved the bed against the wall to make room.

I worked the dinner shift at the Italian joint. It was a half mile walk north through some of the most beautiful desert there is. Tucson was east, on the other side of the Mountains. A half mile south was the old Ajo highway and a small market. To the west lay open desert, nearly to California. North was Saguaro National Monument, Old Tucson Movie Studios, and the Sonoran Desert Museum. All three were easily reached by foot or bicycle. I passed my days climbing the mountains, wandering the desert, exploring old mine sites and visiting with the wildlife.

I saw my first mountain lion and my first bobcat. The lion did not worry me, but the bobcat stalked me. (I've posted those stories earlier). The scariest hike I had occurred on a well traveled highway. It was late at night, after work, and I walked down to the all night market on Ajo for a soda. There was no moon, just the light from the stars. I passed dozens of dead juvenile snakes, squashed in the road. Some were partially mashed on the blacktop and writhing. I was in the middle of them before I noticed the extent. Bending down with my lighter as my only illumination, I saw they were baby Diamondbacks. I had wandered into a minefield of poisonous reptiles. I was lucky to not have cut off trail through the desert as I usually did when the moon was out.

I climbed all the peaks from Big Cat Mountain to Star Pass. The northernmost, and one of the highest, is Called San Francisco mountain, not to be confused with San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. It would turn out to be my last stupid scary free climb.

I approached from the southeast, and had an easy hike up the lower talus to the shelves and ledges that would take me near the top. There was a higher talus slope, made up of gravel the size you would see in a driveway, that I had to cross before making the final ascent of a hundred yards or so. From the desert below, I had misjudged the angle of the incline making up this bed of stone, and when I reached it, it appeared uncrossable. It was only a couple of dozen yards across, but at nearly a vertical pitch. Even crawling across it created enough force to slide me down several yards in a small avalanche. I lay sprawled, arms and legs wide, clinging to the loose rock. Even lifting my head caused a shift in pressure that threatened to take me down and over the edge.

I stayed there, motionless for a long time. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours. I was clean in the middle of the gravel and about twenty feet from skidding down and over a five hundred foot drop. I slithered, ever so slowly, like a GI Joe action figure. With each movement, I dropped a few inches. I was shaking and slick with sweat and thinking I finally met my match and not so surprised at all.

I made it across to solid ground, but wasn't out of the woods yet. There really wasn't anywhere to go. I had cliffs dropping off on three sides and the gravel to my rear. I sat and caught my breath and smoked a few one hits to gather my wits and figure out how to get down. The weed helped me realize that there was no way down, my only hope was to go up and over and find another way.

Up was a hundred yards vertical, with crevices, but no steps or ledges. Over was a mystery, I didn't know what the back of the mountain looked like. Mentally, I picked out a route where, wedging my arms in the cracks, I should theoretically be able to walk up the face of the rock. I learned that trick years before, and used it once or twice, but my confidence was shaken and that's not a good way to go into a free climb.

I smoked the rest of my weed and ate my lunch. I drank as much of my water as I could and poured the rest out to lighten my pack and reconcile my center of gravity. Up and over I went. My forearms were bloody and abraded. The view was completely spectacular. I am sure that damn few people have been stupid enough to see it. The backside proved as difficult as the front. There were two places where I had to hang and drop a few feet onto unproven ledges. In the end, I was faced with another talus slope, but this one was slightly larger stone and ended not in a cliff but on the glorious, flat, safety of the desert floor.

I knew how to handle this. A friend and I developed a technique up in Colorado, and sought out such slopes for the thrill. I leaped into the scree, causing a small avalanche that began carrying down the side of the mountain. After a few feet, the sliding rock threatened to overwhelm so I jumped up and to the side, out of the path of the slide I created and beginning another one. By repeating this move, its possible to “ski” down a dry desert mountain. It's both important not to let your feet get covered by the stones, and to jump wide enough from the slide so as to not increase it to something too large to control. It's all in the timing.

I made it down, with just minor scrapes, and stuck to the lowlands for a while.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Accidental Mexico and the Mothership (a nice outing)

Mrs. Weaver and I used to do a lot of rock hounding when we lived in Tucson. It was a great way to explore our new state, and provided both recreation and economic opportunities. One of our favorite spots was just a few miles from the Mexican border. Our first visit, on the way home, we saw an unidentified object in the sky. We had to follow it. We'd had grand adventures already that day, but we could not have expected what awaited us.
I bought a bundle of old west tourist booklets at the swap meet, and included among the mandatory “Death Valley Scotty” and “Lost Dutchman Mine” tracts was a book of Arizona Rock and Mineral sites from 1954. People would tell me these places had been picked clean years ago, but a generation later, erosion and percolation would present new material. We also found a lot of good rock exploring near well known areas. We failed to locate either of our targets for the day, but found so much more than if we had.

The page from the map book read “Patagonia Area” and showed two promising sites. One was an Agate collecting area, and the other was an old mining town that no longer existed. Pavement ran out before we were through Patagonia, but the road was very good until our turnoff to the Agates. The side road only traveled about ten feet before it dropped into a creek. We continued south toward the Ghost Town, hoping to find another, more viable side road but nope. That was the one.
I watched the odometer, guessing where this old mining town was, but at the proper mileage, we saw nothing to report. Another half mile and we came to a crossroads, but there were no signs or evidence of tailings or anything so we just kept driving. We were out of the desert now, into some big trees and lush vegetation. We passed moving water twice.

I loved driving the dirt roads. As a fugitive, any time I was behind the wheel was a nervous time for me. If I should get pulled over for anything, it could be my last day as a free man. I didn't sweat it on the dirt. It was my land. It was freedom. I was toking a lefty and just idling through the forest on a two rut track without a care in the world when we passed a small sign, square, just inches across. I backed up to read it.

“U.S. National Border”.

Shit. My illegal ass just snuck into Mexico.

And back.

I'd like to say I had the sense to stop right there and let Mrs. Weaver drive, but I didn't. They had to be watching the fucking border, right? This was a trick wasn't it? DEA Guerrillas in the trees (!) and facial recognition software and oh fuck just look natural and turn this car the hell around. Act natural. Pretend like the doobie is a cigarette. Don't look in the mirror! don't look in the mirror! don'tlookinthe mirror!

There were no Guerrillas in the trees. No Stool Pigeons. No Rats. It was fine. The paranoia passed. We doubled back to the road that dropped in the creek and I got out to breathe and look for dust clouds behind us. No Guerrillas.

The creek flowed north to south, and disappeared around a bend to the west after about a hundred feet. The creek bottom was solid rock, not gravel or sand, and the water was barely over my ankles. I sold the idea to Mrs. Weaver and downstream we drove through the creek, around the corner, and the road popped up on the other side of a low hill after about 150 yards. There was a 70 foot mud cliff where we exited, and I thought I saw something sparkling in the face of it. We got barely another mile, and the road took to a hill that was too much for our sedan to climb. It was made up of big goonie rocks like basketballs. I turned the car around and went to check out that sparkling cliff.

Still no Guerrillas.

Mrs. Weaver set up the picnic, and I set across to check out the geology. The sparkles in the cliff were Selenite crystals. Nice ones; nearly a foot long and clear with globular inclusions of the same clay that made up the cliff. (In years to come I would do well carving these and selling them as wands and athames in the new age shops on fourth avenue). It was a nice afternoon. I've returned to this spot many times. We even brought our daughter as an infant. I considered filing a mining claim there at one point. I still haven't ruled it out.

About two in the afternoon, we loaded up for the return trip. There were some spots at the base of the Santa Ritas I wanted to check out. This time, Mrs. Weaver drove, for legality's sake. North to Patagonia and then northeast to Sonoita. There was a gas station there with the best Broasted chicken, but we didn't know that yet and got a bag of chips and sodas for the ride home. I waited in the car while Mrs. Weaver shopped. That's when I saw it.

At first I thought it was a cloud, but there were a few other sparse clouds and they were moving in unison. This one just hung there. I thought it might be the moon for a minute, but the shape was wrong. Besides, the moon was over there. I forgot all about Guerillas. What the fuck was this? When Mrs. Weaver returned, I ran back through that train of thought and she was as bewildered as I.

It was obviously a mothership and we needed to follow it. Mrs. Weaver took back the wheel, and I commenced to navigating and rolling the stash. If I was going to be an emissary to otherworldly creatures, I was going to vibrate at the right frequency. Also it would be a good way to ditch the evidence before the Guerrillas show up, be they DEA or X-Files. Things were about to get stranger than we expected.

We took the 83 south of Sonoita until it turned to dirt, then just followed the mother ship.
Turning on one dirt road after another headed steadily southeast. This was scrub desert for a while; Creosote bush, Prickly Pear, Cholla. We dropped into a valley and suddenly thought we were on private property. It was an old Spanish Mission, with church, ranch house, and outbuildings. It was populated by little brown people in great striped shirts who stared at us as we idled through. I wondered for a minute if we'd crossed into Mexico again, but we'd gone much farther east than south at this point.

More scrub desert forever, then around a corner and there were Teepees! I was about to warn Mrs. Weaver that we were in Injun Country, when I saw the chuck wagon and about twenty cowboys on horseback riding toward us. We'd wondered into a roundup! They stared us down less friendly than the brown people back the way, so we idled down and waited for them to pass.

Another mile or two and a corner and we dropped down into a lush riperian area and an old covered bridge. Mrs. Weaver stopped on the bridge, and I asked what the problem was. She pointed out that the bridge only went halfway. The roof was all there, as were two I beams spanning the water. But the floor of the bridge only went about fifteen feet across then stopped. I got out to take a look.

The important part of the bridge was made up of two by tens laying across the I beams. After about three feet in front of the car, they stopped. I had an idea, but I thought it was going to be harder selling it to Mrs. Weaver than it was. She was a trooper, and let me move planks from the back of the car to the front as she inched her way across. I was very proud of her that night, she obviously understood the import of chasing spaceships in the Sonoran Desert. The local flora prevented us seeing the sky for a while. It was maybe another five miles before we could see the “mothership” and shortly after that we hit a roadblock.

The road ended at the base of some mountains in a wooden barricade. The barricade was facing the other way, so we couldn't read it. I got out and climbed the fence to read it. It said “Government Property: No Trespassing”. We were on the wrong side! How did this happen? What about the cowboys and little brown people? They didn't look like Feds? Fuck! Now we had to go across that goddamned bridge again! Guerrillas! Guerillas!

Still no Guerrillas. But the mothership was right above us. I scanned the perimeter one more time for Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, or Spielberg, then we headed back. We crossed the bridge in record time (#MrsWeaverisatrooper) and didn't stop until we caught up with the last straggling cowpoke. Exasperated, I implored him for an explanation, which he was happy to give a couple of Hoosier greenhorns like us.

The “mothership” was a spy balloon, one of several watching the border, and monitored by an army base just north of us. Turns out the Guerrillas were watching us. They were just much higher than the trees.

So was I.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Killer Haberdashery at the Mesa Jail

The Officer I turned myself in to eventually came to the holding cell and told me the Chandler jail was full and he was going to have to take me somewhere else. Since I seemed like a nice fella, he said he was going to take me to Mesa instead of Phoenix, because it would be more comfortable. I thanked him, and on the way to Mesa he cautioned me on how to behave when I got there. 

He said they were lazy in Mesa, and shipped people off to the Phoenix Matrix at the drop of a hat if they thought there might be hassles. He said if I had a cold or back ache or broken limb, just to keep it to myself because any malady was reason to send people into the Matrix. He told me to keep my eyes down and not speak unless spoken to. He didn't even cuff me until he was taking me out of the car in Mesa.

Once inside, he handed me over to some police academy dropouts and they deposited me in the drunk tank without ceremony or anal probe. The room was ten feet deep and twenty feet long with a full length window along the front. It was uninhabited except for a bread sack with an orange peel in it on the concrete bench along the back wall. I sat, presumably waiting to be processed into the general population. I was hungry and tired. There was no water or toilet, so I hoped not to be there long.

An eternity or an hour later, I heard voices down the hall and wondered if they were finally booking me in. by smashing the right side of my face against the glass, I thought I could see movement in the next room. Soon after, they brought in another prisoner. It was the doctor who had operated on my arm at St Luke's. Small world. He had beaten his wife.

There must've been a crime wave, because ten minutes later they brought in a couple of young Mexican guys and we could hear them yelling at another prisoner, just out of sight. Then we heard the unmistakable sound of said prisoner getting his ass kicked. It got quiet for a minute, then a guard unlocked our cage and stepped in, threatening to mace us if we didn't move to the far corner. He stepped back out and two others threw the beaten man in and slammed the door. He was a chubby little guy and his appearance didn't seem to warrant the ruckus we had been eavesdropping on. He sat on the bench and behaved. We all did.

There was another interminable wait. The smell of the orange rind had my stomach growling. I figured once their lunch rush was over, they would come process me in. There hadn't been a sound from the guard room, save an episode of the Jerry Springer Show on their black and white T.V. Before I could hear what was on next they came and got the other four and told them the wagon was there to take them to the Matrix. As the guard started to shut the cell, I sneezed and he told me I'd better come too.

They lined us up along a tall counter and frisked us, afterward conducting interviews about our general health. They handcuffed the chubby little guy to a stool in the back of the room. I was standing next to one of the Mexican kids. He was pretty fancy. He was wearing shiny pointy toed boots, a huge belt buckle, and a shirt with silver tips on the collar and about thirty pearl buttons down the front.

While the interviews were going on, a flunky walked behind us and dropped manacles, cuffs, and chains at our feet. Once he did that, he went behind the counter and got a pair of scissors and returned, obviously waiting for something. The guy sitting behind the bar called my name and told me to lift my shirt up to my chest and look away. The flunky came over, stuck four fingers of his left hand down the front of my pants and cut the button off. Then he sealed it in an evidence bag and gave it to his superior. He returned the scissors to their drawer, without mutilating anybody else's haberdashery.

How the fuck was I supposed to keep my pants up? They already took my belt in Chandler.

I remembered I wasn't supposed to ask questions, but I assumed my hay fever had already condemned me to Phoenix, if not Devil's Island. While holding my shorts up with one hand, I posited the natural query: “What was that for”? The pimply flatfoot just looked at me like I was stupid and told me my button could be fashioned into a weapon. He said if I got to the Matrix with that button I would be arrested for smuggling a deadly weapon into a penal institution. Then he turned to the set to catch the next segment of Maury Povich.

I told the Mexican guy with the fancy shirt that he was probably going to get ten years for that shit. He either didn't speak English, or had no sense of humor. It was pretty much a humorless bunch on both sides of the law in Mesa. Jails bad enough. Why not make the best of a bad situation?

The flunky ran chain under my armpits and around my chest and cuffed my hands to it. Then he manacled my ankles. Once he had done this to all but the chubby guy (Bryan), he returned us to the cell (except for Bryan) to wait for our driver to finish doing paperwork or taking a shit or whatever was holding him up.

I had to frog walk back to the cell to keep my pants from falling down, and once there, the orange smell made me hungry all over again. But it gave me an idea. I dumped the orange peels out and set about tying my front belt loops together to keep my britches on. This was harder than it sounded. My hands were trussed up to my chest like a tyrannosaurus, and I could only get within eight inches of my waist.

I had to twist the bag up as tight as I could and thread it through the loops at a distance. It was nearly impossible, and led to more than a few side cramps. Once it was through both loops, I still had to tie it tight. How the hell could I do that from eight inches away? I nearly gave up, then realized with a slipknot I could tie it within reach then pull it tight. The other criminals heckled me through this whole contortionist ordeal, warning me that I was probably going to be arrested. I reckoned I'd rather be arrested than pantless in a crowded jail cell. I hid my wonderbread belt with my shirt tail.

The flunky returned an eternity or two later and added waist chains in his bid for a B&D merit badge, linking us together with about a foot and a half of length between. Then he marched us, Cool Hand Luke style, out to our Paddy Wagon. He opened the back and we saw Bryan was already loaded up into his own private cage toward the front. They had some kind of fencing mask on him, I guess they didn't want him making faces and disrupting class.

The next acrobatic trick they had us perform was getting into the back of the truck. The first step was about a foot and a half high and we only had a foot of chain between our feet. So we had to turn and kind of hop sideways to get up there. If that sounds hard, remember I was also chained to jailbirds both in front and behind. One bad move and we were all going down in a heap. The guy in front of me started to go down and I shouldered him up and in and dove behind him onto my belly, dragging the guy behind me along for the ride. He wasn't happy, but he was all trussed up and couldn't do anything about it. At least I kept my pants on.

The ride wasn't so bad. It took forever. We stopped at several other jails and even the woman’s prison before reaching the Matrix. Everybody else was bitching about the wait, but I figured where I was going, I wasn't going to get any car rides for a couple of decades or so, so I made the best of it.

I'm a creative guy, but still haven't figured out how to make a deadly weapon from the button on a pair of cargo shorts. I just wasn't cut out for prison.