Going home, Day 3, 8/15/12: The wrong toins at Albuquoique

Hmmm … this don’t look like a decent motel!

Oct. 27, 2012

Here’s the third day of my epic move home from Fresno to Connecticut, accompanied by the lovely and talented and wonderful Alexis.

For Going Home, the prequel: Loose Ends, click here.

For Going Home, Day 1, 8/13/12: Leaving Fresno. Not., click here.

For Going Home, Day 2, 8/14/12: Sharing Needles, or not even out of California yet, click here.

I set the cellphone alarm for 1 a.m. That would give us four hours’ sleep. Neither of us wanted to stay in Needles any longer than we had to. And especially in our bedbug-infested room at the Best Motel. But we needed some rest. But I also needed to get us on the road, and if I could make up for lost time from the first day and the load-in day — ease into a routine where we left earlier and retired earlier — then I wanted to do that.

Besides, we still had a long way to go. One day down — it was now Wednesday morning — and we were still in California, even if we were just across the Colorado River from Arizona. But Alexis brought along an old Rand McNally road atlas, with both a map of the U.S. and larger maps of the individual states in alphabetical order. And I would look over the map at different stops.

Rather than be daunted by the long stretch of road ahead, as I looked at the national map, I viewed it with joy. I mentally tried to figure out just how far we could get from day to day, how much of a chunk we could take out of the map,  and how soon we’d get back to Connecticut. The road might get boring at times, but the payout come the weekend would be well worth it. I hoped.

Flagstaff, Arizona, and don’t forget Winona …

The alarm went off and I turned on The Weather Channel. At 1 a.m., it was still 99 degrees in Needles. And this in a desert climate. As I came to learn, this was pretty extreme, even for a desert. Tell me again about how global warming doesn’t exist …

We showered up — no creepy things in the bathroom — and were ready to get the

Dueling cameras in Needles, 2 a.m.

hell out of there by 2:30.

This day would be a test of how well I passed as my female Frannie self. I was driving in a T-shirt (Dave Alvin, from his 2006 Ashgrove tour) and gym shorts. I did my face, of course, but I was gonna dress much more appropriately for desert heat, fashion be damned. But there’s a reason I don’t usually wear T-shirts anymore except when riding my bicycle or going to bed: They’re not a flattering look on me. At all. I still look like a boy, especially with my excess stomach. I usually wear much looser-fitting — and much more flattering — tops and tunics and dresses.

Whatever. Comfort comes first.

She dropped off the key, we took some photos of each other, then fired up the truck. But first, one last visit to Westside Chevron for a sugar rush to hold us ’til breakfast. I picked up a tub of Sierra Mist soda, the only pit stop on the whole trip where I didn’t buy unsweetened iced tea, and also bolstered my growing Mentos habit. Alexis bought a couple bottles of Route 66 root beer. Mostly, she bought them for

Alexis shooting me shooting her. Near the end of the day, she wanted to shoot me. Well, not with a camera …

the souvenir value, but she opened a bottle, and it was very good root beer. And no high-fructose corn syrup, either.

After some small-talk with the young guy behind the counter, who was pretty friendly, we took off. I gingerly made the turn back onto Needles Highway and then back onto I-40.

Alexis settled in best she could; she had bought an inflatable horse collar for the flight west, and it came in handy in the truck as well. But she’s so thin that the belts on the truck’s bench seat didn’t fit her; depending on the position she sat in or the belt in question, she was a candidate for decapitation or being severed at the waist. She did a lot of contortion work the whole week, wrestling with the belts, trying to make herself as comfortable as possible.

Anyway, just before 3, as she was already settling into a return to sleep, I was on the bridge spanning the Colorado River.

My final thoughts as I left California for the final time as a resident? I mean, how do you condense eight years into one bridge crossing? And I wasn’t dying, so my life didn’t flash before my eyes.

So in the darkness, as the truck headed across the state line and into Arizona, I thought of two people who had been champions of mine in my years of change: Miriam, my favorite bartender, who had told me of a couple instances where she had discussions with much more conservative customers about me and defended me to them; and Heather, my closest friend in Fresno, who can be as fierce a defender as anyone — the one who told people at Revue and around the Tower District as I was coming out, “If you have a problem with Frannie, then you have a problem with me.”

And then, just a quickly, California was in my sideviews. Not that I could see it in the darkness, but that chapter of my life was now officially closed. And ahead was all of Arizona — maybe a goodly chunk of New Mexico as well — and, eventually, southern New England.

Sunrise along the highway

The thing that I saw right off the bat that would bother me for about half the trip: My first “Speed Limit 75” sign. Here I am, driving across the country, and I could travel 80, 85 without arousing the suspicions of a cop — and I’m in a truck I’m not supposed to push past 55.

And even then, I had to worry about keeping the damn thing on the road, because as I wrote in the last installment, driving this thing was like trying to walk across a frozen pond in flats. And anything — a dip in the pavement, a change in the pavement, a pothole, a variance in the pitch — could send the truck veering off to the right and off the road.

God, that sucks.

We were making some good time, though. Until I looked at a Google map much later, I had no idea where we had been driving. Those first couple of hours or so, in the total darkness, my focus was on the road and the taillights ahead of me. Alexis drifted off, but I didn’t have that luxury. We made the dip south from Needles, then a sharp turn northward as we headed between mountains into Kingman, then back east again.

(And in retrospect, it was a good thing we stopped in Needles. Kingman, the next city, was just under an hour away, by the speed we were forced to travel, and neither of us would’ve lasted that long.)

I can’t tell you exactly where I stopped — just somewhere in western north-central Arizona; it all was starting to become a blur — but a little after 5, maybe quarter after, I pulled off on the side of the highway. That side of the country is a totally

Sunrise from the side of I-40 somewhere in Arizona.

different planet from the eastern half — say, from Texas eastward — in that regard; I-40 through the desert is so lightly traveled, and the exits are often far enough between, that it’s not uncommon for truckers and car drivers alike to just pull off. Better that than someone falling asleep at the wheel.

So I eased the truck off on a flat stretch, onto the ample shoulder, and shut off the truck. And it wasn’t a long sleep. I’d say it was about an hour. And part of it was just trying to sleep upright on a damned bench seat in general, the other part a complication I hadn’t foreseen but was truly feeling.

I don’t know whether to curse the International folks for not making comfortable seats for these monster cargo trucks or Penske for not insisting on them for their vehicles, many of which were on one-way routes — and I was starting to notice a lot of those familiar yellow trucks heading in the opposite direction on I-40.

But the upshot was I felt my tailbone was gonna burst through the bottom of my back at any given bump. And we were only into the second day of the trip. Any time I shifted my body, which was a necessity, I felt the pain shoot up from below. On top of that, I had a cyst removed from near the end of my tailbone half a lifetime ago — the only time I’ve ever been in a hospital bed outside of my birth — so that didn’t help matters.

So given those factors, I wasn’t gonna get much rest. I needed to get something at some point, just anything that would make my ride at least a shade more comfy.

But the lack of solid sleep did allow us to enjoy a gorgeous sunrise around quarter after 6, the sun beginning its climb between two distant mountains. And we did step out of the truck and stretch our legs in what was slightly — and pleasantly — chilly air. We were heading into the mountains gradually, and most certainly had put some distance between ourselves and Needles. Little things. very rewarding.

Flagstaff, Arizona, and don’t forget Winona …

I got in a solid two hours more of driving. We planned to stop for breakfast in the next big city, Flagstaff — provided, of course, I could find a parking space.

It was around 8:30 when descended a mountain — or was it just a huge hill? — into the city. The food sign (as in Food Gas Lodging) said there was a Cracker Barrel at this exit, and, well, it is was time for breakfast … and for looking at something besides a road for a while. Provided, of course, I could find a big-enough parking spot where I could turn around.

We turned off and I kept my eyes open for lane changes and wide turns. Flagstaff is a pleasant-looking, progressive-seeming place — home to Northern Arizona University and the Arizona Cardinals’ training camp, it has a laid-back campus feel. The place is among the greenest in Arizona, with lots of trees, manicured landscapes and clean skies. There are lots of bicycle riders in and around campus, and there are plenty of wide, well-planned streets, dedicated bike lanes and signs warning motorists that cyclists share the road.

We ended up going around a loop or two before I found the Cracker Barrel, next to an Outback and a motel on the other side of the fence parallel to I-40. There was plenty of parking on the shoulder, but on the other side of the street, alongside the highway, so I had to take another go-round and double back. Did I tell you yet how I was starting to hate trying to park a 26-foot trick with a car in tow?

It was good to ease the truck into a spot with plenty of room to maneuver in and out. We then walked down the block a couple hundred feet to the Cracker Barrel.

I had never been in one before, even though there’s one back in Connecticut, in Milford. I’m allergic to faux-folksy schmaltz, and this just screamed “tourist.” It just seemed like right-wing cracker hell.

And, in just T-shirt and shorts and a mildly done-up face, it would be a test of how well Frannie 2.0 passed in the everyday world, especially in red-state ‘Murrica. And Arizona, with its madwoman governor and its nutjob sheriffs and its crusade against immigrants, sure as hell qualifies as blood red.

The thing that most non-trans people don’t know or realize about our world is how important it is for me to pass as my better self in the day-to-day world. In a familiar place — say, the Tower District I left behind in Fresno — it’s no big deal if I’m just a little off. But in an unfamiliar place, especially one that’s right-wing, passing isn’t just something to make me feel good inside — it’s a defense mechanism. It keeps me safe from the ignorant and hateful in the world who would do us harm.

Granted, I’m a big girl, and someone would need to think twice before fucking with me. But still, I walk into places with a little apprehension. Even if it is a Cracker Barrel I’ll never eat in again, in a city I’ll probably never visit again. I have to make sure I look okay, even if I’m casual. I have to own it. On to breakfast.

I didn’t realize Cracker Barrel is as much a general store as an eatery. We got lost in the place for about 10 minutes before we went inside the restaurant. The big selling point: nostalgic candy along the back wall and the wall leading toward the cashier. Bonomo Turkish Taffy, Necco Wafers, Mary Janes, jawbreakers, Adams gum (Clove and Black Jack varieties — now if they had Wild Berry from my middle school days, I would’ve flipped). And a lot more. As if I needed candy. But one shouldn’t buy junk food on an empty stomach — or most times, really.

We were seated by a waiter who seemed to be in the midst of a shift change — and because of that, so were we. Hellooooo? Anyone home? A waitress eventually came over and took care of us after the snafu. We weren’t in a terrible rush — I just needed coffee and to not focus on a highway for a while. I brought my laptop in with me, but nope — no wifi at Cracker Barrel.

Alexis, who’s very thin, was smart enough to order the fruit cup, as she would do most of the trip. Me? I realized how tempting — and not very good — it would be to order cheeseburgers and all that crap on a long, sedentary drive. But I did want a good breakfast. This first real breakfast on the road would be three eggs  over easy, turkey sausage and — since this is a Southern-themed eatery — grits. And did I say coffee?

Well, I wasn’t gonna put on weight with Cracker Barrel eggs — I think they use robin eggs, or at least quail. After a trip to the girls’ room (always a point of concern for all but the most passable transpeople, but no problem here), it was back to the general store. I couldn’t not get something, but I didn’t want to go nuts.

The nostalgia candy included Neapolitan coconut strips like the ones I used to buy at the penny store at Harveys Lake on my childhood trips to Pennsylvania, only larger. I bought a couple (they lasted two days), and that was it. Alexis bought a couple of truck-stop-variety oldies CDs. Back to the truck, and after a little more R&R — not quite shuteye, but rest and disconnect — I started the drive again.

Looking at the road atlas — which Alexis had turned to the Arizona page, a ritual she would repeat for each state we entered — I was gonna see how far we could push into New Mexico. If we could get to Albuquerque by evening and stop and rest, that would be huge.

Come to think about it — Oops! I did forget Winona! Move along; nothing to see here …

Alexis is my co-pilot

You should know about the gift I had sitting alongside me this trip.

I met her one summer evening in 1997; she and her husband, Matt, were at a party our friends Jen and Mike were throwing in Fairfield. We sat out on the back patio for a while as it got dark. She’s a gorgeous redhead with deep blue eyes and a mind that’s constantly working. We hit it off well. I would run into them at parties

A study in patience and a model of calm and a dictionary photo of a good friend.

and occasionally at the sushi bar at my favorite sushi restaurant, Daiko in West Haven.

I think we hit it off because, like a lot of people in our circles, she’s not a conventional sort. She, like I, grew up working-class Catholic (I’m an estranged Catholic but still believe in a God, whatever it is; she’s an atheist). We both went through our share of harassment and taunts growing up in goober hick towns (her in Wallingford, me in Prospect).

She also rocks both ends of the gender spectrum in her own way, though her way is more stealth. She’s one of the most attractive and most styling girls I know — and also one of the toughest. She’s a self-professed tomboy who drives an ’06 Mustang GT, works as a volunteer EMT and has no trouble getting down and dirty in the blood and gore when she has to; I’m sure if someone asked her to curate the Mutter Museum, she would do it in a heartbeat.

And she’s a breast cancer survivor. She went through her trauma — the surgeries, the chemo and the ensuing hair loss — eight years ago, about the time I moved away, and is still here to talk about it. (And she loathes the “pink parade” that now comes every October, because of the crass and rampant feel-good commercialization of the whole breast cancer thang.)

Anyway, she was one of the people working behind the scenes back home after I came out to my friends in Connecticut in 2009-10 — and I didn’t even know it.

The last time I was home, two years ago, I went to Daiko the night before New Year’s Eve, and, as I had done a couple other times since coming out, sat at a far table rather than the sushi bar. I hadn’t told Jerry-San, the owner/sushi chef, about the transition, and I didn’t want to just trick-or-treat the people I knew with the new Frannie. Anyway, this night, the waitress came back with my credit card — and a bottle of sake in a brown paper bag. On the bag was written, in marker: “Happy and healthy New Year Fred!!!” Well, close enough, as he hadn’t seen me much since I moved away, but of course, that said volumes.

I stopped back in a little over a week later for one last bit of sushi — this time sitting at the sushi bar — before flying back to Fresno and after sending out four resumes that day (all for naught, I might add). It was getting late, and Jerry and I got to catching up as the other customers went home. He told me that he had known about me — Alexis told him during one of her Saturday nights there with Matt. And, of course, he was perfectly fine with me, as many of the people in my life have been since I came out.

Back in the spring, she invited me to join a private Facebook group — some girls I knew, a lot I didn’t, from both the States and England — where we could talk girl talk and bounce questions and ideas and vent and bitch and cry and rejoice with each other. That was huge; many of my girlfriends have welcomed me into the fold with open arms, which has been wonderful, but something about a private group drives the one-of-the-girls acceptance home a little bit more. And as I mentioned in the first post about the trip, when she and Matt came out to Monterey to visit his brother back in May, she offered to fly out west and drive back with me.

She turned out to be a most capable co-pilot. In general, we were pretty simpatico for most of the trip — as much as two people in close quarters for a week could be. At times, I would focus on the road as she texted friends or Facebook friends. At other times, we would talk — small talk, heavy-duty talk, girl talk. No forced conversations. And, save for one slight of strain this evening, we enjoyed each others’ company.

The only thing I felt guilty about is this: Somewhere along the line this day, she told me, “You know, I can take over for you.” And that was the plan when we started plotting this out. She even signed the forms with Penske and sent them back to Fresno ahead of time so that she could drive when the time came. But this truck was so hard to handle that I was leery about anyone else, short of an Andretti, taking the wheel. “I trust you with my life,” I told her. “I’d ride in the death seat in your Mustang any day. But this — I don’t even trust myself. This thing’s sliding all over the place, and it doesn’t take much for it to go off the road.”

She didn’t argue the point. Besides, she was proving every bit as useful on her side of the bench seat — she’d change the music before it got stale (I let her choose all the tunes out of my CD case — which, if you know me, deejay and onetime music journalist, is huge), she’d grab the Mentos out of my purse and peel the wrappers so I wouldn’t get too distracted, and her just plain talking with me helped distract me in the good way. In fact, for the most part, just conversing with her kept me awake. The conversation would ebb at times, but it never went stale.

And she would be a voice of reason. At least a couple times during the trip, I expressed my deepest fear about going home — that I would come home and not only wouldn’t I be able to find a job, but everyone would forget about me. And I couldn’t just turn around and move away again. There was a finality to the decision I made to move home, and if it failed, I would be totally fucked. And run out of the rest of my reasons to want to live.

“Tell me I’m doing the right thing, going home,” I said. “You are. You’ll be fine,” she said. More than once.

And as we made our way across the Mojave the day before, I flat-out asked her: “What made you want to come out and take the trip back with me in the first place?”

“I thought it would be too dangerous for you to drive it alone,” she said.

And she’s right, of course. If not for the perceived threat of rednecks — lessened by the presence of another woman — then for keeping me awake and alert as much as humanly possible.

I need to win the lottery or get a job asap so I can treat her and Matt to the biggest sushi boat Jerry makes. Maybe two, even. And bottomless top-shelf sake, to boot.

In Navajo Nation

We made our way through the eastern half of Arizona as morning turned to afternoon — more desert, just as desolate as the Mojave, except it didn’t seem quite as endless as California.

The little things get you excited sometimes. A short drive east of Flagstaff, in what has been alternately known through the decades as Diablo Canyon and Two Guns, I spotted an old tourist site out Alexis’ window that I recognized from years of thumbing through Route 66 books (including one I got as a Christmas gift about 20 years ago). It came up so quickly I couldn’t get her to point and shoot with her

Arizona skies from my windshield.

phone fast enough; had I not glanced off to the side of the road for a split second, I would’ve missed it. It was the ruins of the mountain lion cages, once a roadside attraction that drew a great many people. Probably because photos warp one’s sense of perspective, especially cropped, I was shocked by small it actually was in real life — just the front of a stone edifice with MOUNTAIN LIONS painted across the top.

We passed by Winslow, but we didn’t stop, let alone stand on any corners. It just reminded me for a few seconds about my most negative memory of Fresno — my douchebag supreme of an ex-housemate, Dr. Liberal, who would tell anyone and everyone, when in his merlot, how The Eagles were the greatest band in the world. Well, fuck him and fuck The Eagles. I was heading home.

And we apparently passed the Petrified Forest out the starboard window, but it was probably set too far off the highway to notice. But here, more than halfway through Arizona — the second of the three biggest states we had to cross, all in a row — there was the sense that we were slowly making progress.

One thing that was regressing, though, was the condition of my tailbone. Had I known that rental truck bench seats were such shite, I would’ve bought one of those lumbar-support cushions, or whatever cabbies use to keep from melting into their seats.

We came up on a Navajo-run Shell station and decided on a pit stop. It was larger than the usual gas station — a quasi truck stop with a general store, sandwich counter and ice cream counter. And I was looking for a cushion. Instead, I found a falsa blanket — very rustic-looking, with indigenous and/or Mexican patterns, in white, with purple and black. It cost $16. I figured it could double as a cushion for my aching tail and a blanket if I had to pull over at night and get some shuteye, especially in the desert. I figured it would be worth the cost, and besides, better here than some other truck stop, as it would help out one of the poorest communities in the country.

What surprised me when I got to the checkout counter up front was that there were three newspapers in the racks, all serving the local Navajo community. The whole newspaper business in the everyday, white-majority world I left behind is just plain fucked. It’s a world of maximum profits and pleasing stockholders, even at the cost of discarding talented reporters and editors (and I’d rather use that term, “discarding,” since “laying off” sounds too genteel for what the suits have done) and cheapening and diminishing their “product” to the point of irrelevance.

And here, you have the Navajo Nation — as mentioned, one of the poorest communities in the country — and it can support three newspapers when most cities, with more income and larger populations, can only support one. WTF? Granted, I doubt many people on the reservation can afford computers, and I doubt even more that there’s wifi out there, so newspapers still perform a vital duty. But as much as it warmed my heart — it rammed home the importance of newspapers in keeping citizens informed — it enraged me at the same time, as I was traipsing 3,000 miles across the country in the August desert heat because I lost my newspaper job (for the second time) for no other reason than sheer corporate beancounter greed.

Back to the truck. Let’s get out of here.

Almost Galluping to a halt

The blanket was helping a little bit in the comfort department, but not as much as I had hoped.I still would find myself bracing my left arm on the door handle or the wheel, my right hand on the wheel, as I lifted my ass from the seat and felt the anticipated shooting pain as I readjusted myself.

Alexis turned the road atlas to the New Mexico map somewhere around 3; time starts to meld together after a few hundred miles on the road. The Land of

An Alexis-eye view of New Mexico.

Enchantment’s segment of I-40 is 373 miles from Arizona to Texas. From there, the distances shortened and the number of states crossed would increase quickly. Which would be great, as New Mexico was just the third of a dozen states on the agenda.

And maybe it was me, but Ma Nature seemed to flip a switch once we hit New Mexico. The skies looked bluer and cleaner, the clouds much more defined and awe-inspiring, and the landscape transformed from flat-out desert into one majestic scene of multi-strata mesas after another as the interstate snaked between them. At the risk of sounding like an ancient cliche, you get a true sense of how small you are and how large this country really is — even more so than standing among Manhattan skyscrapers — when you travel through this wide-open panorama.

Gallup was but 16 miles across the border, and we needed to stop. And it was with a great deal of apprehension that I pulled off and headed into Love’s. Which is where I encountered something I didn’t think about — my Chase credit card was rejected. Guess it’s standard procedure for the credit card folks to do this to customers to prevent fraud or theft. (Of course, with the way Jamie Demon’s company jacked up all of our interest rates during the Recession-That’s-Really-Been-A-Depression, it’s Chase that’s been doing the thieving here. But that’s another story.) I had to call to assure them that I was moving home to Connecticut and ensure this didn’t happen again on the trip.

Anyway, a construction zone began shortly before our exit; the eastbound bridge was being rebuilt, meaning one lane of traffic in each direction on the westbound bridge, so

More of the majesty of New Mexico.

conveniently, just before the exit, and then back onto the highway where, not only did I have to make a sharp turn into traffic, I had no merge lane — I would have to enter the highway from a full stop.

Oh, great. We. Are going. To die.

Just how the hell am I gonna get back on the damn highway from there?

It’s amazing how more patient I am in day-to-day matters (after 3 1/2 years, I have NO patience left on the job front, though) with more estrogen and less testosterone coursing through my body. It’s certainly helped my poker game, and in every day life, it helps me to take a moment to pause before making a decision.

It probably saved our lives.

I stopped at the stop sign at the end of the on-ramp, waiting for the long line of vehicles to pass on I-40 before getting on again. It must have been a couple minutes, but finally, there was a gap to pull in.

Most of the truckers I encountered on the road this trip were courteous. It could have been face-to-face, such as the guy who helped me readjust my car on the dolly the previous morning in Tulare. Or guys in general who let me in when I needed to make a lane change. One thing I learned by instant osmosis, by observation, is that courtesy is a huge thing on the road. It’s not just the decent thing to do, but sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.

Most of the traffic going through the construction zone was going slower than the speed limit, so judging by that, and the space I had before the next rig came by, I hit the gas.

He hit his, too. The fucker sped up and laid on the horn.

Split-second decision. Hit the brakes and stop before we get into the roadway, or don’t stop and be pulverized.

I chose life. I wanted to get us home, but not that badly where we wouldn’t be getting home at all. We were safe by about two or three feet.

I took a deep breath. The boy in me would’ve been in a rage. “Let it go,” the girl behind the wheel said.

The rat bastard sped by, never to be seen again. I waited for a much larger gap, then, a minute later, accelerated onto the roadway, then back off and onto the eastbound lanes as the construction zone ended, with two quick turns and pavement changes, afraid of my car swinging off the back.

No blood, no foul. I took a deep breath again. There might not have been rage, but the adrenaline was coursing pretty nicely. Alexis seemed calm; if she was nervous about it, she didn’t show it.

Back to the beautiful scenery. About a half-hour past Gallup, we crossed the Continental Divide. For the uninitiated, it’s not the east-west center of North America, as the name might imply — it’s the geographic line between where rivers flow east toward the Atlantic and west into the Pacific. Nothing illustrious, scenic or earth-shattering about the crossing point; we wouldn’t have known if not for the sign.

We were at 7,225 feet at that point. Mount Taylor up ahead, one of the highest spots in the state, soared another 4,000 feet. Hadn’t been up at that altitude in a long while. As my old Celica deteriorated in Fresno (it was totaled last October), I didn’t trust the clutch enough to get me up to Shaver Lake (elev. 6,600 feet) or Huntington Lake (8,200), so I stayed on flat ground in the Valley, where the elevation was just under 300 feet. The difference between New Mexico’s mountains/mesas and the Sierra, besides the contrasting stripes of the strata, was that you could actually see the mountains. No smog hiding them.

Another night, another fleabag

The sun started to set by the time we made Albuquerque, a couple hours later. It was probably around 6:30, quarter to 7 when we descended the mountains into the state’s largest city.

Alexis needed a pit stop. Actually, we both did — to pee, maybe to eat, and most definitely catch up on sleep.

As always, I scanned the Food/Gas/Lodging signs ahead of the exits, looking for possible stopping places. I wanted to find something on the outskirts, before we got to downtown, as I figured the chances of finding a parking lot big enough for my beast would be better in a less populated part of town. (Damn this fucking truck already!)

Unser Boulevard (named for the city’s most famous native sons, one of the great families of auto racing) fit the bill, but no motels. The next exit, Coors Boulevard, had a few motel suggestions southbound, as well as some restaurants, and I figured we’d be able to park the truck at the motel, take a short walk to get a bite, then sack out.

Well, I drove for over a mile, and the chain motels I did see had pretty small parking lots. This was gonna be an adventure when we really needed not to have one.

Oh well, time to loop around. I took a left on Central Avenue, and from the looks of things, with all the stores and lesser commercial strips — later confirmed by looking at a map — this was the old 66. We looped off that and found our way back to Coors Boulevard going back to the highway. We crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande — a wide, modern span in red clay-and-turquoise, with a red truss bridge built outside the westbound lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. A very cool bit of highway architecture — only appreciated later, but in the moment, with us in dire needs of bathrooms and  places to sack out.

From there, the memory gets loopy, as we were getting near delirium. As I remember it, I got off just past downtown, took a turn north onto a main drag, realized I ventured into a residential area, made a right turn and then looped around a few miles, somehow ended up in Old Town, then crossing the Central Avenue bridge over the Rio Grande, ended up going back over the I-40 bridge to Westside, back to Coors Boulevard, turned north this time, ended up going a couple miles or so into another residential area, made a right turn in the hopes of looping back around to the boulevard and back to the highway.

Except I couldn’t find a way back to the boulevard. Instead, I ended up on Alamogordo Drive, a winding road in a residential area of what seemed to be mostly sketchy apartments … and it wasn’t bad enough that the road narrowed from four lanes to two — it narrowed to two lanes and I had to navigate a tight rotary. Well, I managed almost perfectly, except that the right rear of my car ran up and over the curb. It survived, though. And I eventually found a cross street that headed back to Coors.

From there, back to I-40, and I was gonna find a place on the other side of the river, maybe even out of town. And by this time, Alexis was ready to strangle me — “I really need a bathroom,” she said, and I sensed the obvious annoyance. I couldn’t get mad — I mean, I totally understood — and she realized I wasn’t just screwing around, that I was making every effort to find a damn place.

I drove to the far east end of town and turned off at Tramway Boulevard, too a right and ended up on Central Avenue. There had to be some motels on the old 66. The Econo Lodge had skimpy parking. The Budget Host Inn had even less. The Comfort Inn had plenty of parking, provided you were a car with a tight turn radius. Same with America’s Best. I found one with plenty of parking and big enough for a truck.

Sold. Sight unseen. After an hour of taking the unscenic scenic route, we were stopping, no matter what.

Welcome to the Deluxe Inn.

Welcome to our second night of hell.

I parked the truck on the far side of a narrow center island — hoping the truck could make the turn around it in the morning — and we headed into the office.

There, as the TV blared, I was greeted by what seemed to be the Indian version of Andy Kaufman’s Latka from Taxi — pudgy, unruly hair, stare-straight-ahead eyes. Except he wasn’t funny. And by Indian, I don’t mean indigenous Americans; I mean the western Asian country with a billion people.

And he said to me, in a stoic, loud, seemingly angry voice and thick accent, “Can I help you, sir?”

Yes. He called me “sir.”

I’m not sure whether it’s just stereotypical Indian culture to call everyone “sir,” or whether it was his own personal prejudice against transpeople. I actually experienced this twice before with the same Indian man on two separate occasions — in San Francisco, of all places; he was a Muni cop, looking for fare-beaters at the Van Ness station, checking people’s tickets and transfers. I had the pleasure of dealing with him twice; the second time, I did get in his face and ask, “What did you call me?”

“I’m not ‘sir’!” I snapped back at Latka. I did not need to hear this shit after a long drive. This was not going to be a wonderful experience.

It was $44 for the night. I pulled out my credit card, and he asked, “Can I see your license, sir?”

He fucking called me sir again!

I’m not a sir!” I said to him, very angry at this point. “What don’t you understand?

“I’m sorry, miss,” he said, again stoically. Not really sorry at all. If he was sorry for anything, he was probably sorry he came to this country and ended up working at a dump of a motel that had clearly seen its better days sometime before 1980. And as I viewed my surroundings, everything about the place, in my mind’s eye, said “sketchy.” As in party rooms, drunks and druggies and parolees. As in “Make sure your Clubs are locked on both your steering wheels.”

He gave me the card keys, which I promptly gave to Alexis so she could hit the room and hit the loo at long last. I went back to the trunk of my car and got my stuff.

The room was dingy and yellow, with frayed wallpaper and a faint hint of smoke. I walked in and Alexis, who was thinking of taking a shower, told me we had no hot water. Great! Fucking great! I tried it — the bathtub faucet was one of those annoying all-in-one handles where you have to turn it a certain amount to get hot water.

I angrily stalked back down to the office. As if I really wanted to deal with Latka again.

“We have no hot water!” I said in a measured, barely contained voice.

Latka came back to the room with me to check it out. Turns out the plumbing was backwards — the main knob that usually regulates temperature was for the water pressure, and a small lever regulated the temperature.

How the hell were we supposed to know?

We exchanged glares as he left the room.

It was about 8:30. Alexis was hungry and she was going to the Waffle House we passed up the street. I was going nowhere but to bed. The only tension of our whole trip — and it wasn’t even anger and it was nowhere near yelling; just frustration — was over this futile, lengthy search for a motel with truck parking in the largest city in New Mexico as my co-pilot’s bladder was about to burst. I felt badly that she had to suffer, but I was truly doing my damndest to find a place, as I wasn’t having much fun, either. The only thing to do at that point was get some rest and we could start fresh the next morning.

Too bad. I think I really would’ve enjoyed Albuquerque. I was hoping we could settle early in the evening in what seemed to be a beautiful city, get a leisurely dinner and get a refreshing sleep. Instead, another war story. Remind me never to lose my job and have to move 3,000 miles cross-country in a rental truck again.


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2 Responses to “Going home, Day 3, 8/15/12: The wrong toins at Albuquoique”

  1. Alexis Says:

    It all worked out! We’ll have to do it again sometime in a Mustang. (Which would only cost a little bit more in gas money ;-D)

  2. Jay Parks Says:

    Fran – just want to let you know how much some of us back on the left coast are enjoying this detailed account of your move. It almost makes me feel like you’re still here!

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