Tuesday, August 10, 2004

desert journey

10:06PM, days inn, south tucson, arizona

day one of our trip to texas. we covered 600 miles, much of it bright dusty desert.

we spent the first five hours of our drive navigating southern california highways, finding our way south and east to the edge of the state. summer in southern california means hazy skies and heat. the traffic in the LA area is year-round. by mid-morning, the temperature climbed into triple digits and the sun reflected brightly off the highway, making it gleam from black to silver.

almost immediately after we crossed the state line into arizona, the skies lost their layer of brown haze and became blue. sparse clouds floated along the skies casting dark shadow spots that crawled over the mountains. unlike those in the los angeles area, hidden behind a thick layer of smog the mountains in with their peaks, plateaus, and picachos stand abruptly against the sky. the cacti along the side of the road stand straight as soldiers with arms reaching toward the sky.

the arizona I-10 is pure desert – striking, beautiful, but brutally hot. as we arrived in tucson, the time is 6:30PM and it is still 106 degrees outside. nevertheless there are dark clouds hovering over the mountains in the distant and lightning flashing in the distance as the sky dims to purple. every year we have made this trip, it's as if it wants to rain over tucson.

the end of the day finds me and my mom at denny's for dinner. the windows reveal a brilliant view of the sunset over the mountains west, the storm to the north. i quickly gulp two glasses of ice water and she nurses a cup of decaf. our eyes are both bloodshot and we are too tired to speak.

two more days.

Monday, August 09, 2004

ya me voy, muy lejos del pueblo

i've been waking up at 6:30AM for the past few mornings. this is uncharacteristic. my thoughts won't let me sleep. i think about all that i need to pack, everything that i need to get done in preparation for this trip, this move to back to texas. and then i think about everything that awaits me there - job applications, writing my dissertation, teaching ...

i feel anxious and mildly depressed. i don't want to go. this is one of my mantras. i don't want to go. when leaving austin, i didn't want to go. when leaving la feria, i didn't want to go. when leaving santa barbara, i didn't want to go. it occurs to me that it's not that i don't want to "go" to the next place; it's more that i don't want to leave the current place, the place i've made my home.

my mom and her family were migrant farm workers. every summer they would pack their things into boxes, taking only what they needed, and go to work in new mexico, arizona, and california.

it seems like a strange legacy. to be a migrant. packing my things into boxes at the end of every year. selling my belongings, taking only what i need, moving to the next place to study and teach.

in a way, it's a luxury - the freedom that i have to move from place to place; the amazing people that i meet; the beautiful things i get to see.

in another way, it's exhausting. i wish that i could stand still for a while. long enough to grow roots.

Saturday, August 07, 2004


i escaped the hazy skies of bakersfield on thursday afternoon finally accepting an invitation to visit my best friend in the mountain town of tehachapi.

olivia is now in her fifth month of pregnancy but somehow i'm still not accustomed to seeing her tiny frame beseiged with a big belly. it's amazing and terrifying and miraculous all at once. i was flipping through one of her baby books that afternoon and found one that gave a day by day account of the baby's growth. that day it was growing eyebrows.

after a late afternoon pastry, we hit the grocery store and then drove to her house to start dinner. their house is at the end of a gravel-y road nestled in the mountains on five acres of wooded land with a view of pine trees and the town below. after unwinding a bit, she showed me to the garden in the backyard where she picked the fresh jalapeno peppers i would use to make the guacamole. in the fall, she tells me, they'll have pumpkins.

we start dinner, slicing and chopping, crying over onions and i'm drinking the glass of white wine mike has served me. mike's sister and her family soon join us in the kitchen and soon we are seated outside, pouring over tacos and rice, guacamole and salsas, as the sun sets almost imperceptibly through the trees. they tell stories about growing up in tehachapi, the pranks they played as kids, snow stories (foreign to me and olivia, who have grown up in a desert), plans for their homes, their own children.

after dinner, in order to battle our full stomachs and the cold air that has begun to set in, we hike up to where mike's sister and her husband are building their house. the day's light disappears quickly and we are walking shadows among silhouettes of trees. the kids run ahead and hide in the bushes to scare us when we pass. my heart beats quickly and i'm a bit breathless as we arrive at the future site of nancy's home. she takes on a virtual tour of her new home. this is where the hallway will be. the porch will wrap around the house here. and here the french doors. i marvel at her vision.

back at home, we talk a little longer into the night, cozily under quilts but with the windows open.

i literally wake to the sound of a rooster right as the sun is rising, slowly lighting the early grey sky. we eat egg beaters and bacon along with slices of fresh melon for breakfast and talk superficially about politics. mike leaves for work, taking colton, his son, to his scheduled morning activity as well. olivia and i linger only a bit longer before heading our separate ways, she to work and me to begin preparations for texas.

as i drive down the mountain, i think think about her house with its garden and view of the mountains, her nightly hikes with her husband, clanging around the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, the serene town where she has found community. it's absolutely normal and there are probably thousands of people in the united states who lead similar lives. nevertheless, i'm jealous.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


i lost my most faithful companion this afternoon.

my parents ran an ad to sell my old car earlier in the week. last night, a couple of women rang our doorbell wanting to see the car. within ten minutes they made my dad an offer for the car. it was reasonable. so i took my old car out this morning to run errands. picked its pink slip up from our safety deposit box; hit a coffeeshop; got a haircut; had the car smogged. i felt myself becoming irrationally sad thinking that i was driving my car for the last time.

my new car is wonderful. it rides smoothly. it starts every time. it has a six CD changer! it is a safe, reliable new car. but my old car has history. my history. i drove that car around in high school. my friends and i would leave campus in it for "donut runs" in the morning, deli sandwiches at lunch. drama festivals, debate tournaments, friends' houses.

i took that car to stanford my sophomore year. it learned my favorite haunts on the peninsula. the girls i mentored in east palo alto marveled over its sunroof, calling it a "sick" car, which actually turned out to be a good thing. :) i left the bay in that car.

i drove it nearly two thousand miles to texas where we battled it out with enormous trucks on I-35 in austin. my car was an accomplice for a halloween prank that went very awry; fortunately, my friends and i escaped prosecution!

this car helped me to explore the texas/mexico border, where my mom was born and raised. transported me from south padre island to la feria, to mcallen countless times for field work and fun. i remember playing tic-tac-toe one humid evening on the inner sunroof of that car with a boy i kind of loved.

i drove it all around santa barbara last year, where it paled in comparison to newer model cars, but transported me to all the beautiful spots around town nonetheless.

i cleaned it out this afternoon. i tried to peal the stanford sticker off the back window, which i attached - crooked - almost ten years ago. the once red letters outlined in black have now faded so that only the outline of the word "stanford" remains. the sticker wouldn't budge.

though the sticker hung on, i emptied the car's compartments of maintenance receipts, a couple of water bottles, hair clips, some old mix tapes, an almanac. none of these remaining items were remarkable.

but the stories were.