Driving to Maine: Day 11

It's 9:30 PM here in Salida, Colorado, and it's still a little light out. For some reason I find that remarkable. The wind is making whistling noises under the door, and I can smell smoke from the far-away-but-huge Ute fire I traveled to the east of all day.

I'm little upset with myself for staying at a hotel again, but I got here late after spending part of the day in Taos. And you know what? Fuck it. I'm on vacation for the first time in, let's see, 9 years. So yeah, I'm not beating myself up too much. There was a cool spot to camp that I missed, though.

What's allowing me to take this leisurely trip across the country is the bit of dough I stashed while working feverishly for 5 months back at a high-end Ford Mustang suspension engineering and manufacturing place in San Luis Obispo, California. It's not much, but I'm thrifty and I don't need a lot. I finished the job on May 29, so phew! I'm so grateful to my friend there, the owner, for hiring me (again) to organize the welding shop where the guys put together all the custom parts the company's famous for. I'd been working for them as a contractor for 5 years off and on, updating their main catalog and creating a new one, writing instructions for the guys in Assembly on how to package products for customers, taking product photos for the web site, doing the monthly newsletter, and editing and writing tons of other stuff.

The welding shop was, shall we say, a challenge. I love to organize, though, and I love fast cars and working with men, so it was a natural fit. I won't go into a ton of detail here about the project, because that in itself was a huge adventure, but I will say that when I first looked at the shop on January 12, random, often unlabeled parts lay jumbled on shelves, in buckets, and in industrial barrels. There was a lot of frustration among the welders because they couldn't find things they needed to fill an order, and a deep sense of hopeless cast a dark, wet blanket over the whole operation. But here's what I did, and now it's a happier place. Coding with colored dots, smiley faces, and gold stars made everything easy to find, and I was very pleased with the results.

 Anyway, I was just feeling grateful for that project and for all the guys there who I came to like so much. It was a very cool place to work.

Anyway, I was just feeling grateful for that project and for all the guys there who I came to like so much. It was a very cool place to work.

I had a terrific few hours in Taos after checking out of the Taos Inn. In fact, I'm still listening to their fabulous radio station, KNCE 93.5FM, which somebody runs out of an 1970s-vintage Airstream trailer near town. In the space of 5 minutes, for instance, they played these two catastrophically different and equally wonderful songs: Love Letters in the Sand by Pat Boone and Ohmerica by Claypool Lennon Delirium, which I'd never heard of and which is now officially my favorite band for the time being.

Somehow, in a terrific little shop called Guerrilla Graphix, I found for sale an unusual portrait of John Coltrane, the legendary jazz sax player who's my son's all-time hero. It was the last one, and it was only five bucks. Effing sold. I took it next door to the Taos Post Office to send it to Cisco, and waited in a small line while the post master patiently listened to a young man in obviously dire straights who was relating how the law had come and "shattered" his ankle last night where he was camping. He stomped the affected foot on the ground to prove he was telling the truth. He went on to say as how the government is all messed up and how aliens and angels and all manner of creatures are just righteously fighting right now against evil and also if anyone had seen his girlfriend, who he himself had last seen behind Albertson's, would someone please let him know, because she was also in super-bad shape after the cops had beaten them both up. The post master finally gently mentioned that'd he'd better get back to work, seeing as there was a line now, and the young man slowly walked backwards toward the door, talking the whole time until finally he let the door close, but was still talking through a little, mouth-wide crack that he kept open for this purpose.

The next customer got up to the counter and announced tiredly, "I just need a stamp, man," to which the long-pony-tailed postmaster, who was really a perfect cross between The Dude and Tommy Chong, replied, "Hey, man, look, that's fine." Then it was my turn, and I handed over the poster. "I just want to send this to California, please." He smiled and said, "Well, I think we can do that! And it's really cheap! And it'll get there Thursday! Isn't that awesome!" We laughed and I knew Cisco's poster was in excellent hands. The young man was now grandly opening the door for postal patrons, sweeping his hand down to his knees and bowing as people entered and left. He ushered me out as well, and I stepped out into the bright sun of Taos's main street.

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I stopped in at Re-Threads, known as the best thrift store for many miles, and found a beautiful little pile of colorful duds. Did I mention I'd bought a few plain black dresses and shorts for the trip, thinking they'd be chic and easy? Yeah. Well, I hate them. I feel like a goddamn funeral director. So I was delighted to find this neato little shop, and left wearing stripes and colors. And that's all I need! Just these stripes and those colors. And that hat, and that's all I need.

I wanted to go see the Harwood Museum I mentioned yesterday and sit in the presence of Agnes Martin's mastery, but the place is closed on Mondays, dammit. Wha. I moped for a minute. But then I headed out of town, suddenly ready to be gone. I wanted to see the Earthship community that I'd heard so much about. There's a video about this radically innovative place that was a big inspiration for me to go through Taos. They're out there in the New Mexico desert making completely self-sustaining homes, with gardens watered by rain (?) collected off the pool liner roofs, and recycling their poop into compost, and all manner of forward- (and ancient-) thinking things.

Despite the taciturn young man at the visitor center who announced upon my arrival that he was SO tired of doing this spiel and he'd only been here two hours and had two whole more hours to go (I was like, really? Yeah, man, this is rough work!), I got all checked in as responsible for my own safety and started the little DIY walking tour.

I have to say, the vibe of this place isn't happy. Perhaps this is because most of the people building "earthships" out there are convinced they're preparing for an imminent apocalyptic event. There was a swarm of residents working on the roof of a new project house off in the distance, and the atmosphere felt kind of...grim. I mean, I guess you'd feel pretty intense if you thought you were working to try to survive the Sun exploding, or the next war the US starts. Maybe they're right. There's a certain whimsical quality to the creations, though, which adds a sort of Mad Max-ish fantasy element to the whole thing.

earthship1.jpg
 All the round things are glass bottle bottoms and aluminum cans. Isn't it gorgeous?

All the round things are glass bottle bottoms and aluminum cans. Isn't it gorgeous?

 They use tires to build stuff. A LOT of tires. They pack them full of adobe dirt.

They use tires to build stuff. A LOT of tires. They pack them full of adobe dirt.

 It's really quite ingenious. The local temps range from 100F+ to -20F, and their gardens happily grow all year long.

It's really quite ingenious. The local temps range from 100F+ to -20F, and their gardens happily grow all year long.

The place was started by Mike Reynolds, also known as the Garbage Warrior. He's a total mad scientist, rebel, iconoclast, and master disrupter. He fought like hell to get his idea for a truly sustainable community pushed through the maze of corrupt, short-sighted permitting agencies, and says it nearly killed him. Here's my favorite quote of Mike's:

 Thanks, Mike.

Thanks, Mike.

Around 2:30 I started driving again, aiming at Salida. It's pronounced "Sal-AY-da," btw. I crossed through some beautiful land, listening another great radio station. I can't remember the name of it now, but they're famous for playing "over a hundred minutes of music every hour!" My trusty Mini had taken me steadily up over the last 3+ hours on Route 285 until we reached Pancha Pass at 9,010 feet. Then the road sloped down steeply and I turned onto Route 50 and uptown Salida. I love Google Maps, even if it does spy on me constantly and send my exact whereabouts to marketers and other nefarious villains all over the globe.

Tomorrow I get to see my ex-sister-in-law and current dear friend Mel Hickman, who along with her family built their own cabin in the woods somewhere around here up in the mountains. They too left California behind.