On Trouble, Like Dust
It was late October. I pulled up to the hotel sun-tired and road-weary, thirsty for the booze I needed to put at least a hundred more miles between me and that bricked two-lane out of Lubbock. Inside, I found an envelope with my name on it taped to the glass office door. A welcome, a phone number, and a key. The only guest. Years later, that downtown building would be renovated, fancied, called “Historic.” But that night, it was a hiding place three hundred miles from where I didn’t want to be. I took the stairs as if boarding a train. Unlocked the door, disappeared. On the nightstand, a pair of yellow earplugs and a placard: “For the train.” I steadied myself at the window, saw the station across the street, wondered when the next one would thunder through town. I’d driven straight through, straight down. Four and a half hours. Back then I worried if I interrupted the distance I hadn’t gone. Anywhere. I crawled across the double bed in surrender. Woke to the dusk. After a bottle and a quick shower, I headed out of the hotel and into the south Texas night. The empty street offered no direction. Some dusty man in pointed-toe boots stepped out of the dark and told me where to find the nearest bar. The next morning, I’d drive. Deeper into Texas, deeper into distance, deeper into the trouble I was dragging through the desert like a carcass.
I have empty streets inside me. Streets that have built cities, maps of trouble. With the slightest turn of direction, I can be back on any one of them. Their coordinates fixed and sure, a grid of who I once was, who I thought myself to be, who I tried to outrun.
A downtown block in Creede.
That slowed-down curve on the way out of Minturn.
The high desert trail in Truth or Consequences.
The dust on a washboard road in Big Bend.
A staggering spiral down to Leadville.
One narrow bricked two-lane in Lubbock.
The road I keep trying to lose is in South Fork, Colorado, where I once stood in front of a house willing the man I had known there—the one who had long ago moved away—to step out to the front porch and bring back an afternoon that ended in sudden thunder. I’ve never been able to find a trace of his name anywhere I look.
We had been camping, flannel and woodsmoke, shivering in sleeping bags while the fire waned to smolder. The next morning, as we drove into town on Saw Mill Road, he told me he hadn’t slept, and I pretended not to know this, pretended I hadn’t heard his boots pacing the limestone floor of the canyon, that I hadn’t watched his shadow trouble the laccoliths all night. I stayed quiet, let him think he alone carried empty streets. He was a cowboy in a lonesome duel, always counting off the paces and turning around only to draw against himself. I understood that, understood that driving hard down one dust-soaked road after another will never make a difference. You can go as far you want. It’s like trying to outrun the thunder when you sit inside it.