Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012

Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012
Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas at Luche Libre Taco Shop in San Diego, March 2012

Friday, October 25, 2013

Meanwhile...In A Schoolbus/Motorhome Near Tuba City

The story is told of a man who spent two years living nearly alone in the desert of the American Southwest. He had driven an old school bus into an area near the western edge of the Navajo nation, about 40 miles from the nearest town, parked for what he intended to be a few nights, and then ended up staying for two full years.

At first he lived off the supplies he brought with him, which consisted of a few cases of bottled water, a few bags of beef jerky, and a large box of oranges he had picked up in Tuba City.

However, during the course of his third day of wandering about the area where he had parked the bus, he chanced upon a natural spring and, being thirsty, decided to drink from it. The water was cool, and tasted better than any water he had ever sampled before. He decided that this was the water he wanted to drink for the rest of his life.

It was also on the third day of wandering that he discovered a farm run by a Navajo family. Where he had parked his bus was on property that was part of the farm. He met the owners of the farm that day - they had a few hundred acres of corn in the ground, and the matriarch of the family, a small, frail woman closer to 80 than 70, agreed to allow him to stay and provide him with food and other necessities in exchange for doing odd jobs on the farm.

For that he was grateful, as he was nearly down to his last in terms of gas, food, and monetary resources. He had left the great city of Chicago, the only place he had ever called home, after his wife of 22 years had left him for a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman (to everyone who asked about it, he always deadpanned, "It sucked").

After selling everything the court had left him, he bid his only child goodbye and drove off in the school bus he had purchased at a city surplus auction. He left behind a job working at the same tire shop for nearly 15 years, his bewildered parents, several friends who thought he had completely flipped his lid, and the aforementioned 19-year old son who was happy that his Dad was finally doing something other than sitting in a tiny apartment sinking into a deeper and deeper depression.

His drive west had been both eyeopening and harrowing. Having never left the teeming metropolis of Chicago except for a short honeymoon on Saginaw Island, Michigan 22 years ago, the landscapes that opened up before him were a constant glorious visual overload. Even the seemingly endless cornfields of Nebraska had excited him - he reveled in the new and exciting world each day's travels exposed him to.

The harrowing aspect of the trip was learning how to maneuver the school bus. He had never driven any vehicle large than the 1977 Ford Thunderbird he had bought with the money he saved up his senior year of high school, and the bus was at least three times as long as that.

Truck stops quickly became his rest stop of choice. At first he had to fend off approaches by truckers who assumed anyone driving a yellow school bus with the name of the school district it had belonged to blacked out must be selling drugs or sex, but by the third night of his trip word had apparently spread through the trucker grapevine that he was just a guy driving a bus across the country and hardly anyone approached after his forth stay in a truck stop parking lot.

He picked up a few hitchhikers here and there, almost to a man (and one woman), headed for Vegas, and a few of them had even contributed to gas. When he had pulled off the road in Arizona however, he was alone, and all he wanted to do was rest a few days before heading out to California to see the ocean.

The morning he woke up in the middle of the Painted Desert, his eyes astounded by the colors that the sunrise washed the vast open high plateau of the northeastern corner of Arizona with, he knew he would be parked there for awhile. For him it was a deeply spiritual experience, and right then and there he decided he needed to stay for a few more sunrises.

And somehow through two fairly mild winters but also two hellish summers, stay he did. Despite the blatant racist hatred from some of the area Native Americans, harassment from tribal police, and even being stalked by a lecherous homosexual Hopi who understood every English word except "no", he stayed and enjoyed over 700 sunrises in the Painted Desert. 

Each and everyone of them was magnificent, each and everyone of them was a masterpiece of mother nature's. And each and everyone of them helped to dull the pain of what had happened in his 22nd and last year of marriage until he no longer felt any pain, or anything for that matter, at all.

That was when he knew he was ready for L.A., and for the west coast. That was when he knew it was time to finally dip his toes in the cold dark blue water of the Pacific Ocean. 

On the morning of the last sunrise he was to witness in Arizona, he packed all of his belongings up except for a few small items that he wanted to give to the few friends he had made during his two years parked on the high plateau. He walked to the farm and visited the small houses that surrounded the large barn/garage where the men met nearly every day, and gave five people five small tokens of his friendship and appreciation. Each gift was an item he had carefully and painstakingly created himself over the course of the past two months.

For Tony, the young man who had taught him the vulgariest words in the Navajo language, he had made a thin book, complete with crude illustrations, that told the story of the night they got drunk on cheap wine and avoided a fight with a couple of even drunker Paiute's.

For Lori, the woman who let him rent a small corner of her space at the Flea Market in order to sell his books, he had made a notebook with a leather binding so that she could keep track of her inventory using the system he had shown her.

For CoCo, Lori's eight-year old son, he had made a chessboard and hand-carved chess pieces. The boy was quick and intelligent, picking up the game and developing good strategies within weeks of having been taught the basics. 

For Seena, the woman he had meet one morning during one of his wandering walks, and who eventually became his lover, he had made a simple quilt, but each panel was material from one of the old concert shirts he always wore that she liked so much.

And for Arabella, the old woman who had allowed him to stay on the families land in exchange for his services as a handyman, he had made a large and elaborate tombstone. She had passed away a month before, and it was with a heavy heart that he and Tony placed the stone above her grave.

After he had distributed his gifts and said his goodbyes, he climbed into the bus, started it up, and drove off...into the still rising sun.

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