Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Inked memories

EL PASO, TEXAS - JULY 22 -- I felt like a lion taking shelter from the heat as Brian and I lay underneath a tree that belonged in the Serengeti. A girl waved to us in the distance and approached us.

‘Do you guys like art?’ was her opening line.

‘Yeah,’ we replied. Kyra thumbed through her weathered folder of sketches and pulled out a few sheets. The drawings and situation reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite, but I tried being polite.

‘These are really good. I could never do anything like this,’ I said.

From her family’s campsite 20 feet away, her little sister shouted, ‘SHOW OFF!’

‘I thought I’d come over and talk to you guys since you looked bored just talking to each other.’ the 18-year-old said.

After 63 straight days together, it's very possible Brian and I might have been discussing our favorite flavor of Ramen noodle. But we happened to be in the middle of one of the best conversations we’ve had on the entire trip, talking about the growth we've had as individuals without the ability to pinpoint the moment it happened. We talked about how it's similar to knowing when it's time to get a haircut without being able to feel the hair growing from day-to-day.

She continued, ‘All the boys in Abilene have girlfriends. None of them are single. They don’t wave at me when I wave at them either.’

Awkward silence.

‘That’s a problem,’ Brian said as part of a conversation that grew more awkward by the second.

‘Do ya’ll have girlfriends?’

‘Yup,’ Brian responded, answering for me without blinking.

‘How long have you been together?’ Kyra asked Brian.

‘What is it…July?'


'Nine months then.’ Brian said. His acting performance made Ben Affleck seem tolerable.

We tried to look around for an out, but only saw Kyra's family lingering in the near horizon.

Then came the line of the day -

‘Ya, my dad probably thinks I’m trying to have sex with you.'

'I hope not,' Brian said.

'It’s hard, ya know. There’s no single boys in Abilene and that’s why I go to Maine every summer. For boys and fishin'.’

‘You guys look muscular,’ she continued.

We informed her it was time for us to leave (a minor fib since we did have a ride coming at any second).

‘Well, can I at least get a birthday hug from you guys? I turn 19 next week,’ Kyra ended with.

We both gave her a hug and walked off. It would have been easy to dismiss her as just plain weird, but Kyra was a lonely girl more than anything. 


Brian was writing a new post in the lobby of the Super 8 motel when I struck up a conversation with Tina, the woman behind the front counter. We chatted for a little bit about how long she had been in Abilene (12 years) and why she moved from California (earthquake). On my way back from grabbing Brian and I a sandwich from subway, I handed Tina a bottle of green tea. I didn’t make a big deal of it and hadn’t thought about whether or not I should get it for her in the gas station. I just thought she’d enjoy it. Before this trip I would have never thought to do something like that, no matter how simple.

Tina dropped us off after work at a free camping spot. I’m pretty sure she was unaware of what goes on at that location because shortly after we parted ways, a man named Gary stopped his bright yellow car beside us and asked if we were okay with things getting ‘wild’ later on.

‘Wild?’ We asked. I thought he was talking about young kids out drinking beer or partying loud. Soon I would find out this was far from the circumstance.

Gary said, ‘Ya, people come around here and go cruisin'. I just thought I’d warn you that these parts can be wild at times. I go cruisin' at times around here and didn’t know if you guys were into that stuff.’

Still puzzled, we finally asked, ‘What do you mean by cruisin' and wild?’

He responded subtly but quickly, ‘Gays.’

Gary could sense we were oblivious to the fact our chosen campsite was a place for single men to meet after dark, so he drove us down the road a few miles to a spot we could be undisturbed - the place where we would meet Kyra.


Tina told us that her ex-husband, Benny, had offered Brian and I his backyard to pitch our tent in and was having a little BBQ we could be a part of. She informed us that people think he's a scary guy, but that he is actually really nice.

'Why do people think that?' Brian asked.

'Because he looks scary,' she said as we drove toward Benny's house.

We liked Benny right away.

He had a mix of Spanish and country music playing when we shook hands while his children swam in the pool and lit firecrackers leftover from the 4th of July.

Brian and I inhaled the meat, tortillas, corn, and asparagus Benny had made for his three kids and us, as he told tales of his walking trip from Mexico to California 25 years ago. He told Brian and I that even if we lose all of our notes, we'll remember our adventure forever. this made us feel good. He was 19 at the time of his trek and he talked about it like it happened yesterday.

‘One time, the four of us were offered mountain oysters. I didn't think they raised oysters in the mountains, but they were delicious. Then, as we were eating, everybody was laughing at us and we didn't know why. They finally told us what mountain oysters are….. bull’s balls!’

Benny had six tattoos. Two of them had been done by Benny himself with nothing more than a sharpened wire coat hanger and some ink. He said it seemed more like carving his body than getting a tattoo. He wasn't trying to be tough about it. 'Man it hurt!' he laughed. The one of his grandmother's name across his neck was the only tattoo done professionally. He said it was a breeze compared to the others. 

We lie on top of the soft backyard grass that night, thinking a cozy night's sleep was in store for us. Instead, the neighborhood dogs cried out in the night. Brian and I, unable to fall asleep, laughed as we tried to outdo each other with jokes of what the dogs might be saying to us.

'What's been the most difficult part of your journey so far?'

'Is that tent a Kelte?'

We managed to fall asleep at some point and woke to Benny offering to give us a ride to a high-traffic gas station along the Interstate on his way to work. We helped him move heavy slabs of granite to his neighbors house and loaded up our bags, not knowing where the road might lead that day.

Like Benny's tattoos, the stories of hiking with his three buddies across Mexico will be with him forever. His memories will forever remain a memory for us as well.


Scott Thomas said...

I've been cruisin since I was 16.....but I am thinking twice about crusin in Texas....

Carrie Marie said...

Yeah... Cruisin' means something totally different in Iowa. Or at least, in my part of the QC! That was just driving up & down 23rd Ave., talking to ppl & seeing the sites! : ) (And we were only allowed to cruise because it was the fastest way btwn Silvis & Rock Island, where two of my friends lived. Legitimate reason to disobey the "no unnecessary repetitive driving" sign - it WAS necessary! : ) )

Glad you guys stayed safe!

Erin Bernstein said...

To the majority of this post: HAHAHAHA

To the part about Benny and Tina: :)

Lauren said...


That's all I have to say.