I’m in the process of rebuilding my instagram after deleting it a couple months back. In doing so, I decided to share some pictures and stories from my first solo road trip across the states. Though I completed the trip a year ago, I hadn’t shared any of these stories because they didn’t have any context. There was no deep rooted wisdom, no elevated vantage point to reflect from, and arguably there still isn’t, but I’m not going to focus on everything I don’t yet understand. I recently found a journal from that time and and discovered how formative the trip was. Unaware of what the future held, I prophesied where I’d be now. Sometimes your gut knows something long before your mind is ready to process it. Here’s the story in many parts.
“I told yo ass, just keep drinkin’ water, keep drinkin’ tea you gonna outlive that motherfucker. Just keep drinking that, boy.” A coal-colored man with his knees spread open barks and the rest of us passengers remain silent as scolded children, red-cheeked and sniffing with chins buried in scarves. We jolt and stumble, bumping shoulders when the train turns too quickly. This is mid-January in Chicago, pink line train to the loop. In my bulky forest green down parka, I sit squeezed between two half-asleep women and eye a row of snow-caked boots with little puddles widening beneath them. So many kinds of boots. Outside, the sky hangs low overhead and brick buildings appear and disappear behind a heavy fog. My second winter in the second city, I wonder, will I outlive this motherfucker? Having fought off a bout of bronchitis, I still feel sick, claustrophobic in my coat, in my coach house apartment and in my relationship. After sharing a bed for a year and a half, I feel like half a person. Longing for something expansive and unfamiliar, I plan a road trip to Santa Fe. I choose Santa Fe after getting high one night and painting a landscape of criss-crossed blues and fuchsias. Mountains, canyons. Instinct tells me it must be Santa Fe. Maybe I have ancestors there. I book an Airbnb, fill my gas tank, kiss my man, and turn the Moana soundtrack way the heck up.
Checking the visitor’s guide, if I stick around Emporia, I can catch the Flint Hills League basketball tournament or Bob Ross paint night at the public library but I won’t. This is a rest stop. It’s midnight at the edge of Kansas in a city of 25,000 smack in the middle of all major metros. Budget Host Inn sits in still fluorescents off the turnpike, a squat yellow structure hovering like a spaceship between black earth and sky. My car smells like Hardee’s chicken tenders and I roll toward the motel reluctantly, fearing it’s fugitive-infested.
A slender silver-toothed mom and her preteen daughter check me in. Es seguro este lugar? I ask. The preteen snorts, Yes, it's safe. While I’m handing over my ID, a fat baby squawks and waddles out. The mother, swift and birdlike, swoops her up and rests her on her hip just so, bouncing her up and down. It’s a sight unbearably tender.
My room is fine, heat works and the shower’s piping hot and gushing. It sends me back three years to when my friend Grace and I scrounged up four quarters to share a shower at the Salton Sea. Two girls browned by sunlight scrubbing off sweat and dirt in the desert. I envy that version of me, of us. Before we got older, we gave no shits and had no foresight. As the current thumps against my back, I start to loosen, relishing this crude refuge of mine 630 miles from home.
It was college that brought Julie to Santa Fe 45 years ago, a liberal arts program she opted out of completing. She got married and built these three adobe structures folded into Santa Fe’s foothills with her ex-husband. By then, she couldn’t have known that 40 years later, over 365 Airbnbers would show up at her door in search of a cozy retreat.
Julie’s home smells like jasmine and freshly washed hair. It’s much warmer than outside where bone-chilling winds stir dirt and brush below a moonless sky. Walking in, this bohemian place opens to a greenhouse, a sunroom with a party of large leafy plants huddled together by a wall-consuming window.
Come on in, she leads the way across a floor of terra cotta tiles to the living room, her clothes floating behind her. She’s tall with fiery orange hair. Besides being an acupuncturist and hypnotherapist who takes African dance lessons, Julie’s a grandmother, evidenced by a fridge full of baby-teeth smiles and crayoned cards. Her walls are filled with art: bright arcing brushstrokes caged in thick wooden frames. The place is complete with a piano and a classic southwestern kiva fireplace. This is home for the next two nights.
I move in quickly, storing groceries in the fridge, popping a burrito in the toaster oven and pouring myself a mug of red wine. I call my boyfriend and we talk for a while. When I finally fall asleep, I take up the whole bed.