The birding in South Texas was excellent. But when I left Pecos three days ago in my supposedly fixed car, I had one goal: Get the hell out of Texas. Twelve miles shy of the New Mexico border a head gasket blew. At least there’s this: El Paso beats Pecos as a place to be stranded.
Oddly enough, I have Edel to thank for not breaking down on I-10. I was impressed with Edel’s radar detector in his monster truck on our high-speed radiator odyssey. So I had my eye out for a Best Buy to get me one before I left El Paso. I was getting off the freeway for that purpose when the engine blew in a cloud of white smoke – at a near-perfect spot, if there is such a thing for a break down in Texas. Four miles from Rudolph Honda (“El Paso’s only Honda Presidential Award dealer”).
Back in Pecos, after Gary had met me waiting at his fence gate 8:00 Monday morning, he explained that he had gotten another new radiator, installed it, charged up the A/C and all appeared fine. We had settled up and I asked him how things were going with Emlyn. Not so good, it seemed. She was bored and missing her family. And, I learned, Emlyn had never been taught any domestic skills, including cooking or cleaning. Gary was slowly teaching her the basics, like cracking an egg, dusting, running a vacuum. While he and Emlyn had been getting acquainted via their Web cam, he had often seen her pushing a vacuum and being domestic. She finally confessed that it was just an act: “You never heard the vacuum running, did you?” Gary, however, was genuinely OK with all that. His real complaint: “She won’t talk to me about her feelings. Even if I can’t fix things, I can at least comfort her and sympathize. Like when I have a bad day at work.” I told Gary he was one smart guy.
We had talked for about an hour when Edel showed up and we changed the subject. Edel told us about how many jack rabbits he had hit with his truck in the past week (four or five every day). Gary asked Edel if he had ever seen one of the big ones with antlers. We thought Gary was kidding and I made some crack about “jackalopes.” He became indignant and said that three times they had come right by the shop. “With horns?” Edel asked. “No, not horns – antlers,” Gary fumed. He promised to get a picture next time and email it to me. And off I drove to my next interruption 220 miles later here in El Paso.
Rick, the service manager at Rudolph Honda, is working hard to get me out of here. “But you couldn’t have picked a worse week since we’ve got a spring break overload,” he told me. “Rick, I know you didn’t mean it that way but of course I didn’t ‘pick’ anything here,” I replied. It’s clear that Rick feels my pain. When Rick told me he was sharing the story of my pig plight with his wife, I knew he was for real. Imagine that. Genuine empathy from a car guy. Of course, Rick is fixing cars, not selling them.
Rick is an average-looking family man, 40ish, glasses, still with most of his own hair, including a short goatee and mustache. One afternoon he pointed to this gorgeous black and chrome Harley Davidson next to the shop. “That’s my wife’s,” he said. “Only has 200 miles on it so I rode it to work to use up the gas before it goes bad. I have a fat boy.”
I told him about my first trip to Texas in 1968 riding a Harley. Looking for a place to camp I buried the bike in a giant mud hole. Hours later, covered in water and mud, I escaped by piling branches in the mud and inching the 450-pound motorcycle out by flopping it from side to side in the water. Later, it broke down completely in Meridian, Mississippi, and I hitchhiked home to get a trailer to haul it back. That Texas mud hole may have been where I got the hernia that helped keep me out of Viet Nam, but that’s another story.
Even Rick with all his empathy can’t control the pace of the machine shop, which is where my engine heads went today for machining flat the warped surfaces from being overheated. Rick’s hoping to get me out of here by Friday but I’m not real optimistic.
Monday I dealt with the insurance company and that is not a pretty picture. I faxed them eight pages of make-shift receipts of my costs to date ($828.41, not counting motels and rental cars).
I’ve seen a fair bit of El Paso now. I’ve met Border Patrol guys, park rangers, car guys, museum staff and Tony. Yesterday I watched nesting peregrines on a cliff where I hiked high in the nearby Franklin Mountains. That’s where I met Tony, dressed in desert camo, and carrying a lot of water in his pack. Young Tony was an expert, having just come back from Iraq where 140 degrees is common. “The gear adds another 20 degrees,” he told me. Tony was with infantry kicking in doors and shooting bad guys, a challenging definition, I would think. Drinking water nearly non-stop was what you did, he said.
Tony told me about the huge camel spiders that they would catch in Iraq. He spread out a hand to show its size. Then the other hand came up as he described the spider fights they would orchestrate. Like cock fights. But with giant arachnids. Tony was climbing the mountain at a brisk pace, day one of his personal training regime before going to Army Ranger school. Tony had been stationed in upstate New York so we traded stories about our respective experiences there. “Small world,” he said when I told him I had been engaged to a girl in Watertown, where he had lived.
Tony loves his work (and, it seemed to me, his life). He had foregone a $75,000/year job offer in Houston oil to stay in the Army. He wanted to go back to Iraq. He was envisioning a possible future with military contractors, like Blackwater. I told him that having a job that you love, especially at his age, is rare. “If you get up in the morning and you don’t hate the thought of going to work, you are real lucky. Don’t give that up,” I told him.
I took Tony’s picture on our shared mountain ridge, got his email address and promised to send him a copy. Now, sitting here in the lovely little Chihuahuan desert garden on the University of Texas El Paso campus, I’m doing my best not to let that damned pig get me down again. After all, I could be watching spider fights in Iraq.
Tomorrow: "Part 4. The Cost Per Bird"
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