Encircling the Sea of Cortez...

The Peace of
Forty Days
(La Paz de Cuarentas Dias)

By Stik Mann

Chapter Two:

My Brush with Yumanism

RV parks and trailer courts line the freeway that heads east out of Yuma. This is the realm of the Snowbirds -- retired couples who migrate south when icy winds blow and snow covers their northern habitats. Mom and Dick winter in the farthest reaches of this clan, in the Foothills development, a few miles from the base of the Gila Mountains, about fifteen miles from the city.

There is little traffic on the freeway. Dick gives me the lowdown on recent family gossip, who's died and who's about to, etc., and has somehow segued into the plentiful design flaws in their new SUV. It is still very dark. Ahead, in the distance, faintly glowing outlines of the Gila Mountains portend the rising sun.

We pull off of the interstate and navigate through a forest of portable homes, pre-fab garden sheds, garish wind chimes, and little clay statuettes of stereotyped Mexicans with comically large sombreros in a siesta-like repose. Dick slows to point out the different makes of the multitude of motor homes -- the positive and negative qualities of each, their prices and values, anecdotes about people and their relationships to each particular model. We eventually turn into Mom and Dick's lot.

They share a space with my Aunt Jackie and her husband, Roger. Between their motor homes they have built a nice patio area, deck chairs, barbecue, all quite comfortable. There is a small metal storage area at the rear of the lot, equipped with washer and dryer and a toilet -- the Arizona outhouse. Fan palms and Century plants and assorted cacti grow in sm all circular gardens about the predominately-graveled area. A waist-high, reddish-brown brick fence separates this from the hundreds of other lots in the Foothills development.

Dick explains that a few years ago, a local businessman started buying up hundreds of acres of the barren desert. The locals, of course, attributed this to too much sand in his skull. Today, the 65' by 110' unimproved lots, containing only sagebrush and sand, electric/sewer/undrinkable water hook-ups, sell for up to $30,000 apiece.

South of the development is the untamed Yuma desert, mostly flat as a tortilla, stretching out for as far as you can see. If so inclined, one could actually walk twenty miles or so into Mexico. \par \par Mom pokes her head out of the motor home door. "You're really here," she says. "I can't believe it." We hug and she immediately goes back in and starts to make me something to eat. "Can you believe how cold it is?" she says. I estimate that it is probably 50 degrees, maybe more. I've barely set my pack down and there is an eclectic feast spread out before me on the tiny kitchen table: canned fish, sliced meat and cheese, homemade salsa, salad, hot coffee. "I could cook you a steak, if you like," says Mom.

We chat for awhile as I eat, then Mom and Dick go back to bed. I am very tired from the forty hours of on-and-off-and-on-and-off of Greyhound, but I am too excited to sleep. I step out onto the porch and breathe the desert air, peppered with hints of gasoline, cigar smoke, and poodle crap. For just a moment, the wisps of clouds creeping over the Gila Mountains turn fire-red, then back to white as the sun make its first appearance and shines directly in my face.

I close my eyes. When I open them again the sun is high and Mom and Dick are in my face. "Are you okay?" asks Mom. "Ah, he's alright," says Dick. "I hear his stomach rumbling. Wake up ya little bastard, there's work to do."

Mom has to go to work at the grocery store. I spend most of the day helping Dick "work" , which consists of sitting under the awning of the motor home, drinking Bloody Marys, and listening to him talk about old-timers he's known, ancient mining practices, the cars and women he's had, the Arizona weather.

I ask Dick how he plans to prepare for the coming Y2K crisis, and he looks at me as if I spoke in Swahili. Before he can launch into a diatribe on my foolishness, his attention is drawn elsewhere. He points and waves. "Mornin', old fart, " he shouts.

I turn. It is old Slim, from across the street. Slim, who I'd met on my last trip here, is seventyish, 6'2" , and thin as a rail. He is wearing a straw hat and a scraggly, pointed beard. He steps with a lumbering gait like Jed Clampett and has a drawl to match. "Who's the hippie drinkin' all your booze?" he asks. I rise and shake his hand. Within minutes I am updated on motor home sewage systems, local sidewinder snake spottings, and the proper way to break the bank at Indian casinos.

Dick tells Slim that I am going into Mexico alone, and the conversation quickly turns to horror stories of Americans who went south and whose horribly tortured bodies were later found with missing appendages and notes saying, "Gringo go home, " stuffed up their ass.

"Hey!" someone shouts from out by the front gate, and we all turn. It is a large man in a T-shirt holding a ridiculously tiny dog that looks like a shaved Guinea pig. "How'd you get that up there, Slim?" he asks. The man points to the roof of Slim's trailer.

Slim and I wander over to the street to investigate. At the very corner of the roof is a tiny statue of a roadrunner, similar to the others that sit atop Slim's and a thousand other people's brick fence. Slim counts the birds on his fence, then looks down the street to see if anyone else's birds are missing.

Suddenly, the bird on the roof moves and ruffles its wings. We gasp. "Well dip me in sheep shit," says Slim. "It's real." He asks if I brought my camera. I run over and retrieve it from my pack. When I return, four more people and two more dogs have joined the group. I snap a few photos. Another elderly couple shows up, then another, and another.

"What's the commotion?" someone asks.

"A roadrunner," someone else answers.

Who put that up there?"

The roadrunner eventually flies away. There is a collective "Ooooo" from the crowd, which has grown to no less than twenty folks and half as many yapping dogs. I fear that the mob will become hopelessly entangled in leashes so I walk back to join Dick.

I mix myself another Bloody Mary. Dick resumes the conversation where he left off, but soon nods off in mid-sentence. The street crowd breaks up. Soon, it is very quiet, only the hum of a distant plane, a few birds chirping, someone tinkering with their car.

A siren from an ambulance wails in the distance. Dick wakes briefly and exhales deeply, stretches out his legs and leans back in his chair. "Well," he says. "Another lot for sale."

Next month: Chapter Three
"First Encounter with the Trickster"