strange places
Friday, 5pm. 30 miles south of Blythe,CA. 94 degrees Fahrenheit. My eleven-years-old GMC-truck
is going about ten mph on a desert track somewhere in the middle of nothing. Dry creeks, dry plants,
dry rocks. No birds, nothing that moves. Not even clouds. The track vanishing every few minutes between
black stones the shape of eggs or in scrubs armed with thorns scraping the sides of the GMC. From time
to time, the horizon's gone when I'm passing something that could be a wash - in better times. I have to be
careful by passing those dips, the clearance of the GMC not forgiving straight driving. And there we go -
I bump my rear axle in a creek - a very unpleasant sound - some stones flying to the side.
I get up the dip - and there they are standing - behind a
four feet high bush - two pink buses. Like large dried
animals stopped in the middle of the move. Their bodies
hanging heavy just above the ground, no air in the tyres
for centuries, colours faded away by the sun that burst
their windscreens. The chrome-plated foreheads frozen
in the search of gasoline smell. Whatever happened here,
it happened a long time ago. If there would be wind, it
would be groaning and making strange noises as it passes
broken windshields and roam the empty seat rows. But -
nothing moves. No sound. I get out of my car, walk to the
driver's door of the nearest bus, pull the handle - the door
opens with a sound of many years' rust in the joints - and
I look at the broken controls covered with sand, no more
dreaming of the black ribbon leading to the horizon.
What happened? Why are they here? And, after all, who or what left them standing here by their own,
unable to move, dissolving of drought in a place nobody can forget because nobody ever remembered it ?
Whose desperate mind undertook all this hassle driving them all the way to this place in the desert nobody
can survive? I saw this man. He was about thirty-five, five-foot-eight tall, long hair, face small and dry, long
nose and small brown eyes hidden from the sun by eyebrows that looked burned like these brushes at the
wash. 69', as they send him home from Vietnam, he was OK. Not wounded, not ill. The people in Elgin,IL
gave him a job at a grocery store, but it was a lousy job, he switched for a liquor store, then for a garage,
but the garage was mainly working for guys in Chicago, whom he never saw, and who were mostly after
new ID numbers for their cars, that had to be stamped into the frame and behind the windshield. So he left.
There was nothing anybody expected from him and nothing he could do about it.
So he bought the two 58' buses from a Greyhound depot and
went to California. The people in Blythe were OK, they said
he can go 30 miles south, take the Mill Wash road, and
nobody will ever ask. So he did, then got back to Illinois by
hitchhiking and drove the second bus and parked it next to
the first one. Not that it would be a nice place by any means,
but at least, the people in Blythe were right - nobody ever
came to ask. So he just sat there and watched his army-bucks
going less and less with every bottle of Jim Beam.
One evening he decided to call all the guys he's been with in
the 173rd Airborne 50 miles up the Mekong River.
They would have a party, all the old guys, all on him. They would sit
and watch the sun going down behind the Chocolate Mountains,
the sun heading for places like Malibu and Santa Monica, places
everybody wants to be in. The next day he went to Palo Verde,
called them all and bought twelve sixpacks Bud. The next Friday
would be the night.
So he sat and waited. Watched the desert, the ever dusty colours, the brown mountains, the starter of the
pink bus. The fuel gauge read zero. He turned the key and no sound came up. The first sixpack was gone.
So he got out of the bus and just walked. Nobody stopped him. I looked around and got back to my GMC.
I had ways to go, anyway. Looked at the other bus and somehow it seemed to smile. It tried to tell me,
maybe there was another story.
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