East

My time in Kingman ends in the coffee shop where it began.  In the morning, I meet a friendly woman named Barb.  I tell her that I’m probably heading in the direction of Flagstaff, and she mentions that she’ll be there tonight as well.  When she leaves the café, she gives me a slip of paper with her number and email address—I should call her if I make it; she might be able to give me a place to stay.

I eat lunch before I hit the road.  I’ve worked out a cold-weather system: my car now has both a refrigerator and a microwave.  The back seat and the trunk keep food and drinks cold.  The microwave is the dashboard, where I place the chicken sandwich from the gas station.  The sun coming through the windshield creates a greenhouse effect that reheats the food.  So, lunch is a hot chicken sandwich.

40 East, on to my next stop: Ash Fork.  Probably one of my least favorite places in the world.  I see the signs for the exit, and I peel off down a long off ramp.  I turn right, cross the cattle guard, and park in front of the gas station/gift shop.  This is the exact spot where Sarah and Geneviève dropped me off.  We all got out of the car to say goodbye; they each gave me a long hug and they left me with plastic bags full of food.  My spirits were high as I watched them drive away.

Then I walked back out towards the highway, crossing the cattle guard on foot (which actually takes a surprising amount of focus) and finding a spot in the blazing sun beside the on ramp.  I then proceeded to wait.  I sat in a patch of dying sunflowers, holding up my thumb to every single car that entered the highway, and having absolutely zero luck.  Three long, hot hours went by, and it was then that I realized I was screwed.  With sunburns on both arms, I retreated to the shade of the gift shop to sit and wait and smile and make eye contact and hope and wait and ask people for help and wait and wait and wonder how the hell I would get myself out of this one. Finally, after six hours stranded in Ash Fork, I finagled my way into a Flagstaff-bound car full of businessmen and women who were in the middle of a philosophical discussion about the life and times of Kerouac.

I pause briefly in this town to commemorate the memory, and then I continue on towards Flagstaff.  Old snowdrifts begin to pile up alongside the highway as I climb to the 7335 foot Arizona Divide.  I emerge from a valley and soar through a vast open snowfield as sunset bursts through the trees behind me, white mountain peak in front of me stained marigold and burgundy.  Flat expanse of snowy field, the farmhouse, a wooden fence, the sun glints in my mirrors and the whole sky is a poem, and then I slip back into a shadowed valley.

When I arrive in Flagstaff, I call Barb and I head to Macy’s Coffee House.  Unfortunately the place to stay does not work out, but when she gets in to Flagstaff a few hours later, she actually comes and finds me at Macy’s and insists on giving me $40 for a hotel room.  Yet again, I am blown away by the generosity people continue to show me.

Later, I head out in search of food.  A few days earlier, Amanda had raised the good point that my goals of eating healthy and eating free seemed to be at odds with one another.  I excitedly call her after I walk out of a gas station with an armful of free, ripe bananas.

Driving through Flagstaff, munching a banana and heading nowhere: then, flashing red and blue lights in my rearview.  Damn!  What did I do???  If the police are supposed to protect us, why do interactions with them always trigger so much fear?

I Velcro myself to a gas station curb, and the cop trains a blinding light on me and then approaches, gripping a flashlight, looking ready for battle.  “Good evening, sir, how you doing tonight?”

“Excellent, officer.  And yourself?”

“Not too bad, not too bad.  I pulled you over because you have a headlight out.”

“Ah.”

I hand over my license and registration, which he stares at for an extended period of time.

“Wow!  Is that really you?”

“It’s from when I was like twelve.  Long before I grew this mane.”

“It doesn’t look anything like you.”

“You should see me try to go through airport security.”  This is what I say basically every time I get carded for anything.

He chuckles.  “Ha.  Airport security.  Ok, give me one second, sir.  Let me just write you up a repair order.  Do you have any questions?”

“Yeah.  What’s a repair order?”

“It means you have to get it fixed within five days.”

“Ok.”

I sit drumming my fingers on the wheel until he comes back.

“So what made you decide to grow your hair like that?”  He asks as he hands me my documents.

“Well…in a sense, I decided that I wanted to start expressing my alternative life perspective through an alternative outward appearance.”

“So…something changed in your mindset?”

“Well, I have long been discontented with our society and many of the values we collectively embrace.  For some time now, I have loved traveling and meeting people who are different from me in an effort to expand my perspective and deepen my understanding of the world and my place in it.”

He is still listening, so I keep talking.  I discuss dreadlocks as an external symbol of inner peace, as a commitment to love and respect, and the growing of locks as a spiritual journey.

“Wow.  You can’t argue with that, man.  In what way has it been a spiritual journey?”

So I sit there for fifteen minutes having a conversation about dreadlocks and spirituality with this police officer.

“Don’t worry about the repair order,” he says at the end.  “I mean, you should get it fixed, but don’t worry.  They don’t ever check it, so you’ll be fine.”

He walks back to his car, I pull into the gas station to fill up, and he waves as he drives away.

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4 Responses to East

  1. Emily Cohen says:

    I wanted to “like” this, but wordpress doesn’t have the same features as facebook. This might be the first story I’ve heard of dreadlocks making a cop more compassionate. Just another way dreadlocks translate whats inside to the outside.

  2. drea says:

    “So I sit there for fifteen minutes having a conversation about dreadlocks and spirituality with this police officer.”
    im definitely quoting you on that sometime in the future. it also makes me realize for all the time i admired your gorgeous locks, i never had that conversation you shared with a cop… someday. perhaps ill have some good stories of my own by then

  3. Lauren says:

    I agree with Emily. My first thought was “Oh. I like.”

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