by Alexander T. Stadie
|Friday, 5pm. 30 miles south of Blythe,CA. 94 degrees Fahrenheit. My eleven-years-old
GMC-truck is going about ten mph on a desert track somewhere in the middle
of nothing. Dry creeks, dry plants, dry rocks. No birds, nothing that moves.
Not even clouds. The track vanishing every few minutes between black stones
the shape of eggs or in scrubs armed with thorns scraping the sides of the
GMC. From time to time, the horizon's gone when I'm passing something that
could be a wash - in better times. I have to be careful by passing those
dips, the clearance of the GMC not forgiving straight driving. And there
we go - I bump my rear axle in a creek - a very unpleasant sound - some
stones flying to the side.
|I get up the dip - and there they are standing - behind
a four feet high bush - two pink buses. Like large dried animals stopped
in the middle of the move. Their bodies hanging heavy just above the
ground, no air in the tyres for centuries, colours faded away by the
sun that burst their windscreens. The chrome-plated foreheads frozen
in the search of gasoline smell. Whatever happened here, it happened
a long time ago. If there would be wind, it would be groaning and
making strange noises as it passes broken windshields and roam the
empty seat rows. But - nothing moves. No sound. I get out of my car,
walk to the driver's door of the nearest bus, pull the handle - the
door opens with a sound of many years' rust in the joints - and I
look at the broken controls covered with sand, no more dreaming of
the black ribbon leading to the horizon.
| What happened? Why are they here? And, after all, who or what left them
standing here by their own, unable to move, dissolving of drought in a place
nobody can forget because nobody ever remembered it ? Whose desperate mind
undertook all this hassle driving them all the way to this place in the
desert nobody can survive? I saw this man. He was about thirty-five, five-foot-eight
tall, long hair, face small and dry, long nose and small brown eyes hidden
from the sun by eyebrows that looked burned like these brushes at the wash.
69', as they send him home from Vietnam, he was OK. Not wounded, not ill.
The people in Elgin,IL gave him a job at a grocery store, but it was a lousy
job, he switched for a liquor store, then for a garage, but the garage was
mainly working for guys in Chicago, whom he never saw, and who were mostly
after new ID numbers for their cars, that had to be stamped into the frame
and behind the windshield. So he left. There was nothing anybody expected
from him and nothing he could do about it.
|| So he bought the two 58' buses from a Greyhound depot
and went to California. The people in Blythe were OK, they said he
can go 30 miles south, take the Mill Wash road, and nobody will ever
ask. So he did, then got back to Illinois by hitchhiking and drove
the second bus and parked it next to the first one. Not that it would
be a nice place by any means, but at least, the people in Blythe were
right - nobody ever came to ask. So he just sat there and watched
his army-bucks going less and less with every bottle of Jim Beam.
One evening he decided to call all the guys he's been with in the
173rd Airborne 50 miles up the Mekong River.
|They would have a party, all the old guys, all on him.
They would sit and watch the sun going down behind the Chocolate Mountains,
the sun heading for places like Malibu and Santa Monica, places everybody
wants to be in. The next day he went to Palo Verde, called them all
and bought twelve sixpacks Bud. The next Friday would be the night.
|So he sat and waited. Watched the desert, the ever dusty colours, the
brown mountains, the starter of the pink bus. The fuel gauge read zero.
He turned the key and no sound came up. The first sixpack was gone. So he
got out of the bus and just walked. Nobody stopped him. I looked around
and got back to my GMC. I had ways to go, anyway. Looked at the other bus
and somehow it seemed to smile. It tried to tell me, maybe there was another
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