“Am lying in the back of the Datsun (blue ’72 hatchback,) the smallest mobile home on the road, which now looks like a tenement, towels strung over the windows. Typing on my pillow, (on a salmon pink portable typewriter) braced on elbows, undercarriage dangerously close to Les’ stomach.”
Cameras can nail an image but word pictures let the reader into the smell-sound-feel of a place. These snapshots of the United States have been buried at the back of my closet for 40 years. Two 23-year old women, we were our way to Mexico, to make our fortunes as a journalist and a photographer.
“Met Fred from New York State, who gave us homemade apple pie and fuel for our Coleman stove… Trying to figure out what is going on in the Arab-Israeli war. A man heard us asking where to buy an Indiana newspaper and gave us his.” Then:
“It was dusk. A half-ton pickup played leapfrog with us on the highway. We turned off to visit nature, found ourselves driving down a lonely road in the bush. Suddenly there was the half-ton behind us. Scared shitless. Turned into a small side road, truck turned in too. ‘Could this really be the end?’ A small cluster of houses appeared. Turned into a driveway. Truck drove on by. Was it a coincidence, was he going home for dinner, or was he following us? We will never know.”
“Everyone says the Ozarks is hillbilly country, that you’ll never get out alive, but the friendliness is overwhelming. Bought corn cob pipes, heard Spiro Agnew resigned.“
We were staying off the “completely sterile” interstate highways,“trying to get a feel” for this country. “Most of our knowledge of the U.S. comes through tv, movies and songs, but where does truth end and exaggeration begin?”
In a Tuckerman diner, an Arkansas state trooper invited us to sleep in his station’s parking lot. Gratitude, joy, relief! Could there be a safer place to spend the night?
The next night, in Beebe, Arkansas, another scary man followed us, but:
“As long as we stay on the road we are all right. It’s late and we’re tired, but I can drive forever if I have to.” By the time we reached Jacksonville, it was 10:30 pm:
“We find the cop shop downtown, where there is a display of dope pipes in a glass case that also contains tools used by abortionists, and heroin needles, heavy drugs and other artifacts. Find a cop heavily laden with gun, whistle, and other goods. He was scared of us!” He did, however, let us sleep in his parking lot.
Revisiting these word pictures I feel 23 again. Thrilled and appalled. Would I do it again, knowing what I do now? In a heartbeat.
Thanks for visiting. Next time, (February 21) food, Texas, and a borderless border in The Mexico Papers – Part 2. You can make sure not to miss it by clicking the email button below.