By the time the guys returned to the truck I was itching to go. The idea of Roswell had amused me but the reality was depressing. We loaded up and headed west on Main Street. As we neared the end of the main run things opened up and turned into a more traditional new American town. The old storefronts gave way to strip malls and Aliens lost out to Applebees and Dunkin Donuts. We passed Roswell High School. How odd it must be to grow up in a place that attracts UFO tourists. I was a little surprised by the scope of the sprawl. Roswell was a much bigger town than I realized. Soon we saw a Starbucks and I didn’t need to be told, but pulled in and parked.
The Starbucks fixation was a funny thing. Stephane and Darius were hung up on authenticity and local, unique experiences. Yet when it came to coffee they were happy to embrace a homogenized national chain like this. When I teased them about it Darius curtly replied that they made good coffee. I could tell he was philosophically uncomfortable with his coffee choice, so of course I continued mentioning it every so often. Kar Wai couldn’t care less; he was a tea man all the way. He never had a Starbucks tea, but instead purchased cups of hot water that he used to brew his own. He carried a briefcase neatly organized with dozens of different teas, each with its own purpose. One extremely hung-over morning he prepared a special brew that he insisted I drink. It tasted like tree bark and left me with the intensely irritating sensation of having my throat coated with dirt. If the thought was to make me miserable enough otherwise to distract from the hangover then mission: accomplished.
Waiting in line for coffee I had one a weird, transportive moment. As usual, it involved a woman – a young woman, a very cute blonde who had one of those smiles that just blinds you with its happiness. She was with friends, laughing sweetly, and never even noticed me. I got lost in that smile. Saw myself approaching her, politely interrupting and saying hello. From there we chatted, she showed me around, and the conversation never stopped. I discovered her world and told her all about mine. Her family had some of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and I wound up going to work for her father. The job was good and we saved for our marriage, kids and house. It was that sweet of a smile that I could see all of this reflected in it. So many different possible lives out there to be led. As sweet as the vision was, I wasn’t nearly ready to get off the road yet. I took my coffee to go and left a little piece of myself behind.
We banged down the road west-southwest. The land started to get really lovely, and I loved the rhythm of the town names. Ruidoso just rolls off the tongue, as does Mescalero, Alomogordo, La Luz. It wasn’t my scene, but the natural beauty around here was so great that I could see the attraction I suppose. We made good time on the largely empty back roads, Kar Wai going into another of his wordless reveries. Seeing that White Sands National Monument was just within striking distance I made it my mission to get there while some daylight was left. I quietly pushed it pretty hard. As usual Kar Wai and Darius were too lost in their own heads to notice but Stephane caught on. Catching my eye, he silently looked at the speedometer and back at me while raising an eyebrow. I smiled, looked away, and pushed a little harder topping 95 mph. The truck was well built and cooperated without so much as a rattle or shimmy.
The sun was low in the sky when we reached the entrance to White Sands. The blissful ignorance of my companions which had so frustrated me initially had reached the point of absurd comedy, as manifested in Darius response to arriving at the Monument.
“Oh, hey, White Sands. We should look around.”
That right there is the trip in a nutshell. Hours ago I had noticed White Sands on a map and decided to check it out. I had set course and navigated there without help from my three passengers, nearly doubling the speed limit most of the way. I resisted a few stops the others had suggested making in order to arrive in time. Now that we were actually pulling past the ranger station Darius noticed the sign and decided we should have a look. Thanks for the suggestion, pal, we’re already here. As Mr. McManus says, I used to be disgusted; now I’m just amused.
One other car passed us on the way out as we went in. Otherwise the place was empty. We climbed up on the most beautiful dunes I’ve seen outside of St. Bart’s and watched as the sun made its descent. Darius and I simultaneously pulled out bottles of whiskey and we passed them amongst us as we watched. It was an almost holy moment, it was so beautiful. Maybe I should appreciate New Mexico a little more. No matter what you have been through, a sunset as lovely as this will put a lot of pain behind you. Taking a long belt Darius turned and addressed us.
“My friends, we began this journey as four strangers. We have been through so much together now, this can never be taken away from us. We have a bond. For the rest of our lives we shall share these memories. We are brothers now, brothers of the road.”
Okay, fine, maybe I teared up a little. It was such a beautiful and unexpected statement. We stood in the dunes and silently sipped whiskey as the sun kissed us goodbye for the night.