Needles, California, 110 degrees. It’s August, what do you expect. I am realizing that I am mostly water and the desert ahead is mostly a dry sponge that will suck the moisture from my dying body. Worry begins to rise up in me with the early morning sun. My head is hot under my shoulder length straight hair. (It’s 1978 Bloghessatva.) My brain is tired. I’m losing track of time. The Pope died twice on my trip. Was that a sign for me? I was in Tennessee two days ago, I think. I crossed the Mississippi River back there, didn’t I?
I stayed just beyond the gas station with the soda machine in sight as I put my thumb up again. Heck, I was finally in California. What is one state ahead of me when I have crossed eight behind me? Wrong question. The right one would be this: What is one charcoal grill tunnel ahead of me? Forget what’s behind. This was deadly, and I had been forewarned by mysterious desert dwellers on my way to the Magic City of L.A…. “Whatever you do, son, don’t linger in the desert.” I imagined a long blackened finger of a dead uranium miner, click, click, clicking in the washed out, sun baked road shimmering in front of me (I told you earlier that I tend to be overdramatic.) croaking like a roasted gecko, “Do not linger here, son.”
A younger guy in a pick up truck stopped for me. His windows were down. Uh-oh, no A/C. On the bench seat between us he had sodas on ice in a cooler. ‘Awesome! Here we go’, I thought. As we got up to speed, I noticed that 110 degree heat at 70 miles an hour is painful on your skin. I felt like I had my face stuck in a hair dryer. Still, this hair dryer was barrelling on west toward the Pacific Ocean and my lithe, tan girl friend. Bring it on! I could be a mere hours away from holding her and ending this wild hare adventure. The driver offered me a soda. I drank it down and had that same feeling that there was a hole in my foot where the cool liquid drained out as fast as I consumed it. Man! Only a fool would get out and walk in the desert like I had last night. Was it last night or the night before last? I really couldn’t say. My brain was a tuna noodle casserole speed baking at 250*.
On we drove, hard, loud, rushing, hot. We had to yell over the wind tunnel to converse. He gave me another soda. I realized that he was a seasoned salty desert dweller, someone who planned ahead. He would die happily hydrated one day. I knew that he had checked his oil and tires and radiator before challenging the unforgiving desert elements. I comforted myself with this thought of how brilliant he was. He was my savior at the moment, saving me from the ocean of my own stupidity. The best thing was that he was not Charles Manson. More like a Nelson Mandela. (I may have started to hallucinate as heat stroke and dehydration vied for my death certificate’s cause of death.) We sped on toward Barstow. No cops, no other cars, no people or signs of life. I slept with my windburned eyes wide open, trying to contain all body liquids. I would not have to pee for a week, maybe never again. I tried not to open my mouth for fear of dehydrating my tongue and having a tongue heat stroke. What would I say if help did arrive in time? “Ahh hant hay hany hing. Hah hung his huck.” My lips would dry up like oyster shells and peel and flake off into the dry wind. At the autopsy they’d notice, “His bladder is dry as old leather, Grissom. And his kidneys haven’t done anything in days.”
Barstow, yes. I must have come back to consciousness as my new best friend, savior, hero, Willie Nelson Mandela told me, “L.A. is that way. I’m going north. Take care, buddy. Keep cool.”