I had been singing to myself – my usual sad and soulful travel fare: "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford, "Ring of Fire" as sung by Johnnie Cash, some Doc Watson standards, and, just to mess with the old boys, Melissa Etheridge – when on about the third refrain of "Come to my Window" when the smell hit me.
This time, I was on my way home from New Mexico, north of Globe when the steam began rising from the hood. I was hoping to make it home to Tucson before the water pump gave up the ghost, but no such luck.
These trips have been a "between time," time when I fall out of my routine and consider my life's trajectory. I suspend habits and head out somewhere -- a canyon like Cibique, where waterfalls carve deep pools in the dark between canyon walls, or the open meadows of the White Mountains. On the way, I reflect on questions like Where am I going? What am I doing with my life? How far is it to the espresso bar?
This time was no different and just because I had stopped did not end the questions. But reality is more immediate when the show-as-planned comes to a halt. A strange and terrifying thing happens as I slip back to the here and now that has become the betwixt and between, as in the middle of nowhere, between edges of somewhere.
My stomach was raw with the coffee I had been drinking. I did not have any food, but did find a nice juniper to hide myself when I followed the radiator's example.
I also took stock: water? check (one liter); food? negatory; air? great; sky? superb; brain? re-engaging.
He did have a phone and a couple of bars of service. He dialed the number of a Globe tow truck and then passed the phone over to me. I gave the dispatcher the particulars, mile marker 282, south of the Salt River Canyon, north of Globe about twenty miles.
A pick-up traveling the other direction noticed me scrunching up my face at these conundrums, and took pity on me, slowed, did a U-turn and pulled up beside me, in four wheel drive, jauntily tipped by the slope of the ditch between us.
I saw his face relax a bit. Good, I could hear him saying to himself, this guy is not yet gone too far into the between. He is still social, is shaved, has not gone too far into the wild world of nothing and nowhere. He had been there too I could see, but did not stay long.
Yeah, I think to myself. Who knows what might happen? Exactly. Obviously. Too-close-for-comfortly.
As he pulled off, made his turn and continued on his way, I sat with this mildly terrifying gift of time I had been given, and kept writing.
Hallelujah! I am in the gap, the interstice, the living, fully-charged nowhere between things. What potential!"