Let me preface this by saying, I am a road trip veteran. As a child, I dreamed of wild adventures and admired the likes of Carmen Sandiego, Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, and Harriet the Spy. Flights were few-and-far-between, but road trips were my primary method of travel growing up. Every year, my grandparents would make the drive from Texas to Florida to visit old friends and relatives from Jamaica. Every few months we ended up hauling my mother’s youngest sister from one state to another, as she was the family nomad.
When I finally was able to drive, I took off like a bat out of hell. Driving anywhere and everywhere, I could think of in my rickety Honda Civic. Naturally, when I decided to head from Texas to Salvation Mountain in California, I wasn’t worried about the drive. I had a new car and it was the perfect excuse to break it in. I called my trusty road trip partner (hey, mom!) and after some persuasive words and promises to be back in time, I devised a quick plan to drive to California and back in three days. I am the first to admit that I am an Olympic level procrastinator and since I am a self-described road trip veteran, driving to Cali would be a sneeze. Clearly, I played myself *DJ Khaled voice*. I could not predict the series of events that would greet us on the way back home.
I took a quick nap after work that Friday, headed North that evening to scoop my mom, and then headed west. Everything went perfectly! We saw Salvation Mountain and even had time to sneak in the quick drive to Las Vegas to see the 7 Magic Mountains Installation. That same night in Vegas we were able to club crawl and have a great time.
After a detour to pass the Hoover Dam, we were right on schedule to make it back to Texas by day 3 that is until we made it to New Mexico. This trip took place in June, so to say it was sweltering was an understatement. It was hotter than Satan’s you-know-what, but we pressed on. About 20 miles outside of Albuquerque was where it all went to crap. Now since we chose my new vehicle as our adventure vessel, it was only right that I did 90 percent of the driving. I finally relented after an oncoming bout of “the itis” and asked my mother to drive. Not more than 10 minutes after she pulled onto the highway did I receive a nudge and a semi-panicked, “Ashley your car is making a weird noise!” I drowsily replied, “Pull over” and immediately saw the neon orange “Check Engine” light illuminated. The car must be overheated. I remained cool on the outside, but I was seriously freaked out. This is by far the worst-case scenario. To add insult to injury my ego was definitely bruised considering this is the first car I’d purchased on my own, and I was feeling pretty certain that I came with a quality vehicle for a fair price. We cranked it and nothing happened. A second crank–and still nothing. After a third crank, the engine of my car sang it’s sweet, off-key swan song and unceremoniously croaked.
And there we sat–windows down, doors open in the middle of the New Mexico heat in a dead Ford on the side of the highway. I called my insurance to inquire about my coverage because naturally, I knew nothing. We called a tow truck, but there was just one minor problem. Most people were not open as it was a Sunday, and we didn’t exactly know where we were. Did I mention my phone was about to die? The trifecta of road trip fuckery continued. And here dear reader is where I offer you a road trip tip: do as I say, not as I do ☺ PAY ATTENTION TO THE MILE MARKERS. While on hold with the third tow truck company, I began to march my way down the shoulder making a path between high dead grass and a makeshift fence until I spotted a mile marker. $200 and one hour later, Frida, my car, and my mother and I, were being scooped up by a rotund, bearded man and dropped off at the nearest mechanic’s station in the mountains of New Mexico in a village called Tijeras. At the top of the hill sat the garage and the band of mechanics that greeted us left my mother and me a little on edge. Each man was covered in a hodgepodge of tattoos, grease, and dirt. We all looked at each other, clearly wondering what twist of faith allowed us to cross paths.
By now, the sun was setting and we were scrambling to figure out what was wrong with the car. More importantly, where are we going to sleep? After some back and forth regarding the car, the shop owner’s wife offered us a ride into town. We stepped into the old Land Cruiser that smelled of tobacco, was littered with an assortment of snack bags and crumbs, and rode the 20 minutes to the edge of Albuquerque to the local budget motels. After the day’s ordeal, the cheap polyester comforters never seemed more inviting. For two nights, we sat around in the dingy motel, only stepping out to search for food and to stretch our legs. After two days, I received a call from Jake, our mechanic, stating a faulty wire was the culprit and my car would be fixed by that Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday morning came and we were scooped up by another mechanic in an old Honda coupe. His ruddy complexion was enhanced by the colorful tattoos that adorned his forearms and he was surprisingly pleasant for so early in the morning. You don’t normally associate Southern Hospitality with New Mexico but we definitely experienced it. We spent an hour or so in the shop chatting with the owner and the mechanics that were not working on my car. We learned more about their passion for restoring old cars and how they all came to work there.
I must admit that I definitely judged them when I first arrived. The open-mindedness and eagerness to learn about the people that I encountered when traveling out of the country took a back seat to my notion that I knew exactly what these men were like, assuming this because they are American. I can definitely say I was more than pleasantly surprised and thanked everyone for their time, and headed back east to Texas. I’d say with the current state of affairs in our country and the stress that many POCs deal with in their day-to-day life, it was very refreshing to know there are still people willing to help you. Danger is out there but for the most part people are good. The garage staff certainly did not have to take their personal time to drive us there and back, or help us get set up in a motel. They could have severely overcharged us, but they did not. I’ve taken many road trips in my short life, but this is by far the most memorable.