People are infinitely entertaining.
We have met so many memorable characters on this year’s travels, some who have become friends, some who just add color to the array of human behavior.
At the laundry in Barstow, there’s the long, sloped man who mistook me for a co-worker so we began a wash-n-dry-long conversation about his work tracking and measuring the health of desert tortoises. He has studied the same communities for years now, and has a true fondness for the individual personalities and tortoise-speed dramas. As he waxed eloquent about his charismatic friends, I watched eyelids blink slowly above his heavily-bagged eyes, and his chin jutted forward on a long neck, moving slowly right or left as he spoke in slow, rounded words. He was a tortoise, clear as day. He shared digital photos of the two little bird nests he’d found among cactus that day, precisely filled with speckled eggs, a shot taken with a mirror inside a tortoise burrow, and a close-up of a lizard that must have sat there like stone for him.
By the pool in Las Vegas, there’s the stunning 20-year-old dominatrix from Minneapolis in a disco-ball shimmery red bikini, who eagerly introduced her Serena-Williams-looking self, proud to announce her profession. She explained that she travels a lot too, for business, and intends to go international soon, because “if you’re going to do anything, do it world class, girl!”. Her boyfriend looked a little perplexed at this statement. He was in over his head. She came back to hug me before leaving, twice.
Bee wrangler Michael and Luna and the two magic sand kids appeared in the dunes one day and provided a boost of true connection for us all. The stunt photographer from Trent’s hometown we met in a lava tube hot spring in the middle of a cattle pasture in Utah. The kind family from L.A. who offered us their home-smoked chicken for dinner in return for helping them dig a bit out of the sand. The Germans who shared their wine (this would be three different German groups – fun people). Pete and Phyllis who are testing out their full-time adventuring wings in a pop-up and who we definitely count among our long-distance friends. We remember Twentynine Palms’ artist and dancer who showed us around the eclectic property he’s created from the motel property his grandparents had tended along Route 66 in the early days of motoring. If 29 Palms had public recycle bins – if we hadn’t been cruising to find someone to drop our recycling with (“He looks cool. I bet he recycles.”) – we never would have suddenly ended up in his wonderland one hot afternoon.
And the young family from the Netherlands who were traveling for six weeks with their little five year old girl Isis (and who point out how incredibly cheap it is to travel here and how shocking most recycling efforts are) – the kids peppered Isis with art and regifted toys, and she offered them Goldilocks and The Three Bears in Dutch (“Goudlokje en de drie beren”) which we have endless fun interpreting in our best Hogan’s Heroes / Swedish Cook Muppet modgepodge accent. “Oei! Dei matras is veel te zacht!”
Let’s not forget, hidden back in the bayous, Cap’n Lawrence and his buddy who juggled four things: the electric fillet knife, his lit cigarette, an oxygen tank tubed to his nose, and a fish he was trying to fillet. There’s the ex-FBI official waiting for his granddaughter at a playground, who proudly showed us his afro-mutton-chopped ID from his days on Haight Ashbury in the 60s. (Yes, you might say, I know some people who hung out on Haight Ashbury then too! But wait —) He explained that he had been there as an undercover narc and described some heroin bust he made on a famous musician. And in the stark Chihuahuan desert we ran into Terlingua’s Liberation Front who welcomed us into their campfire circle / debate / political rap satire / drum circle / barbecue. The most informed and intelligent, if partially wrong, group of town partiers I’ve ever been around and hope to be again.
In the woods of Oregon, we found Max who showed the kids how bread is baked in a cob oven, and who provides a space of stability and joy around him. And Ankur who, as the height of coolness, gave me food for thought.
In the bayous of Louisiana is a bright woman who loves her job as an interpretive ranger at a fascinating little station in Lake Fousse Pointe State Park that she has filled with pelts, bones, prints, posters, slides, models and her enthusiasm.
One day in the sand dunes, the kids sat midway up the 700′ mountain of sand, resting and snacking for their last hard slog to the top. A completely normal, middle-America 50-60s couple passed and made it a couple of hundred yards farther up the hill, at which point the man took all his clothes off and immediately blended into the flesh-colored dunes, then began running stark naked, cutting S-curve tracks in the sand with his arms flapping, the woman’s camera snapping away to record his precious freedom. Then he brushed himself off, put his clothes back on, and they made their way back down past us again, with polite Hellos at the ready. The kids were not a bit fazed. Who wouldn’t want to run around naked in sand?
We remember a collage of artists and creators from festivals (Cello Joe, performing in his speedo and shining smile, or the dredded dude on Santa Monica pier who sang Argentinian funk with his mouth popping up and down like a muppet), artisan natural builders and healers, growers and bakers at farmers’ markets, countless young families, competent guides who share their wisdom, and chatty clerks who just happen to intuitively offer up a coincidence in conversation. (“Oh! You must be camping! Where? Oh really, I grew up right out there under the trees before it was a national park – did you see the old mining equipment out there? That was my dads’ lifelong tinkering project! He had an invention. You’re camping near the salt cedar trees? Yeah, you must be right about on top of our old house!”) We remember all the homeschooled kids and parents who offer comradery, all the educators who cheered on our roadschooling, and the nice Billings, Montana family we just met who will probably be doing this same thing in a few years. In fact, judging from the looks on the faces of many young mothers we’ve run into, I bet more than a few will be making nontraditional choices for their families in the coming years.
We remember the huge variety of odd characters who were cracked open at one point in their lives, only to have the Light come pouring out through their cracks and fissures now, in their own unique spectrum.
If you sit too close, you’ll get some rainbow on you.
My life is richer just for witnessing a slice of it all.