Dec. 3, Las Cruces, N.M. – This morning, Becky at the wheel, we traversed the desert wasteland along Interstate 10 east from Willcox, Ariz., where we holed up last night at a TA truck stop.
We left the verdant landscape of the Sonora Desert behind and are now traveling through the desolate Chihuahuan Desert. Not much to see here save miles and miles of creosote, mesquite and the
lechuguilla agave soap yucca, whose forlorn stalks stretch several feet above their sharp base of leaves. Colloquially they call those leaves “shin daggers.”
The only other visual breaks are provided by a legion of billboards advertising old west-type trinket emporiums. Turquoise jewelry, Indian blankets and the lot.
We stop for a bathroom break on the western fringe of Las Cruces. I open the camper door, and it swings back so hard it nearly blows off. Or at least I’m worried it might happen. It’s windy out here, for god’s sake. It’s blowing in an easterly direction, and with a vengeance.
Must’ve been something during the Dust Bowl.
I stand dumbly outside the camper, and look up to see a weathered traveler in a black leather jacket walk by with a scraggly mutt.
We exchange hellos. He addresses me as sir, which makes me uncomfortable. I hope he’s at least as old as me. Or, vainly speaking, I hope I don’t look quite as old as he does. I should be calling him sir.
They walk to the fringe of the access road before he turns and walks back toward his bike which parked near the front door. Buddy stops to lift a left leg and relieves himself on the adobe building.
“Buddy, come on,” the weary traveler says.
His name is Mac McKnight, and he’s a 51-year-old wanderer. He and Buddy are veteran road warriors. Mac says they have put 23,000 miles on his Honda Rebel, and they put 45,000 on the one they rode before this one.
They’ve been everywhere, man. This is the fifth bike they’ve shared. Mac, of course, sits up front and drives the motorcycle. Buddy, 12, has been riding the open road all his life. He sits in back in an old milk crate lined with blankets for comfort and lets the wind blow through his fur. At night they pitch their tent wherever they stop, and Buddy has his own bed.
I’m pretty sure Buddy’s a big drawing card, and Mac gets lots of requests for photos. He asks if I’d like to take a picture of Buddy. I do, but I’m more interested in him.
They’ve just come from Southern California, much like us.
Mac worked five years in a clothing factory in Allentown, before they shut all the factories down. He grew up outside Fort Worth, and that’s where they’re heading to spend Christmas with his aunt in Colleyville. And most recently he’s spent time around Mobile, Ala.
I ask if Buddy ever jumps out of his crate. It looks a little precarious to have your loved one in a milk crate behind you while you’re cruising down the interstate at 75.
“I hit a bump once and everything fell out of the crate,” Mac says. “That’s why I got him the helmet. He hurt his head and was crying.”
Mac’s an Army veteran, 82nd Airborne. Says he was in after Vietnam and prior to all the belligerent madness that erupted in the wake of 9-11. Still, he seems a tad troubled.
For one, his review of Southern California is a trifle, well, xenophobic.
“I didn’t like it,” he says. “Hardly any Americans out there. Nobody even speaks English out there. Even the store clerks. You say, ‘you got the best coffee in town?’ And they say, ‘yeah, we got coffee.’
‘They just know a few words. They didn’t really know what I was talking about.”
His favorite place?
“Alabama, probably,” he says.
That sounds like a bit of a stretch, but then he talks a bit about Mobile Bay. Well, my friend Lauri and I once took a ferry across Mobile Bay, and it was without a doubt charming.
Mobile Bay’s OK by me.
I keep bugging Mac with questions, and finally he gets up the nerve to ask for some money. He says his gas gauge is getting perilously low, and without gas, he and Buddy will never make it to Colleyville for Christmas.
I walk back to the camper and ask Becky for all her dollar bills. They add up to three, which won’t even get him a gallon, even at the low, low price of $3.15 per.
God I’m such a horrible miser. A regular Scrooge. I feel a bit shamed now.
Yet he thanks me for the little I’ve given him, and after he offered me a vignette of his life. I return his openness with three bucks.
Safe travels, and Merry Christmas.