Life in the Real Desert: Death is a Red Car

Red Volkswagen sans heavy set woman driver
While the urge to apologize is almost overwhelming, I will post this Life in the Real Desert sans soppy sorries and jump straight in. Death, I have learned, is a red car. A Volkswagen Beetle, current model and the driver is a middle aged woman of Mexican lineage, or possible Native American, and the portly lady wears glasses that are coke bottle thick. Were it not for sheer luck and the later warnings of two lorry drivers on break, my life would have ended a three weeks ago.

On my daily pilgrimage back from the local town, I was on the long straight stretch of road that runs between a pest control warehouse and the “Super 8” hotel. Both sides of the road are covered in aggregate, sand and rock. In the evening, around 6 or 7 o’clock, there are not many drivers out and about and it is usually this spot where I stop for my first gulp of water and where, if it is hot enough, I take off my shirt for the remainder of the ride home.

The night that I met death, and defeated it, it was not too hot, but it was uncomfortable enough to warrant removing my vest, aka T-Shirt. Coasting on the edge of the paved road, I pulled off onto the aggregate just as a red Beetle passed through the space on the road that a scant second previously I, and my trusty Schwinn, had occupied.

Practically falling off the bike, I stared at the vehicle, which was moving so slowly that I could have caught up to the driver by walking quickly. As I watched, the car crept forward and swung out to the right as it began a long leisurely about-face in the road ahead. When the car was facing my way again, it pulled over onto the aggregate shoulder and sat idling.

The driver, as mentioned above, was a heavy set female, black hair with grey shot-through and thick glasses. The lenses distorted her eyes, making them look insectile and huge. I froze and waited to see if I could be quick enough to get out of this mad woman’s way when she headed back to town. After a moment she took off, hugging the shoulder on her side of the road.

I stood watching the spotless red Volkswagen move slowly towards the truck stop and the entrance to the highway. When she drove out of sight, I turned and shakily got back on my bike. The thoughts running through my head had to do with luck and timing saving the day. I was so rattled that the T-Shirt stayed on and I continued on toward the hotel.

Two men, lorry drivers, stood outside the back of the building next to the road. They were drinking either Red Bull or some local equivalent. As I approached the two chaps they turned toward me staring. I checked to make sure I had my pepper spray handy, as a precautionary measure since it was getting dark, and one leaned toward me.

“You want to move man, she’s not looking,” he said. His companion repeated the warning, “Yeah, get off the road man, she is not looking at all.” The alarm in his voice got me onto the aggregate once again and just as before, the red Volkswagen Beetle passed the space that I had just vacated by nano seconds.

One of the drivers muttered something about the driver and I said, “That’s the second time she almost got me.” I never stopped the bike and kept pedaling, attempting to put as much distance between me and death as possible. Around 10 minutes later, I heard a car coming up behind me. With my heart in my throat I zoomed off the road and onto the shoulder.

It was not the red death car but a truck. While this driver did not give up too much space on the road, he did not get close enough to run me down either.

Later, as I sat sweating in the night heat, I reflected on the way the woman had driven and then sat looking at me with those huge eyes magnified by glasses so thick that they did not look real.

I got the shakes. The way you do when surviving a close call and having the gravity of situation hit all at once.

In my mind I could see myself not leaving the road the first time. The bug-eyed woman would have driven slowly over me and my own red vehicle. I would be knocked down and under those Beetle wheels, which would roll over my bones crushing them as I screamed in agony. This vision was so real and disturbing that for the next two weeks, if I heard a car coming up behind me on the road, I would scramble off and on the shoulder, heart racing and blood rushing to my head.

Finally, I have calmed down enough that I do not see that heavy woman and her red instrument of death sitting on the side of the road and looking myopically in my direction, in my mind’s eye. I have racked my brain wondering who I may have upset enough to try to run me down, in slow motion, not once but twice, turning around and having another go but missing each time.

Who ever it was has left me with a phobia about red Volkswagens, not to mention one’s driven by visually challenged heavy set Latino women who do not go faster than a crawl. All the better to drive quietly and sneak up behind someone to run them down.

Life in the Real Desert: The Stacy Keach Lookalike or Who WAS That?

Stacy Keach at film festival
Stacy…Was that you?

Life in the Real Desert continues to be amusing, challenging, frustrating and, sometimes, really odd. A perfect example of the “odd” occurred this morning when a Stacy Keach “lookalike” had a right old go at me outside the Burger King where I write most days. It may even have been Keach, Quartzsite is very close to the California border and I have seem people who look a bit like celebs pass through this little burg. If it was Stacy? Lay off the cocaine matey, it’s not good for you and makes you act like a grade A prick. Remember London Heathrow?

The details of my little “almost” altercation with Stacy Keach or his lookalike, began with my arriving and seeing that two well built (as in spending a bit of time on the old weights) chaps were sitting in “my spot.” (I normally sit in this booth because of the electrical sockets and it allows me to see my bike, it has been tampered with.) I had a chat with my mate and then got changed.

Coming out I noticed that the two fellers were still there. I decide to put my white box back on my Schwinn and then call my mum to tell her I’d heard from my daughter Meg. As I’m waiting for the phone to ring her end, I see this “Keach-looking” chap glaring bloody murder at me through the window.

I point to my chest and mouth, “Is there a problem?” Like a red flag to a bull, my gesture and question galvanized this man and he came charging out of the Burger King, I am still on the phone with it pressed to my ear. “Are you all right mate?” I ask, “Is there some sort of problem?”

Pointing a big “muscly” finger at me as he approached, very aggressively, he growled and said, “If you take another picture of me…” I pull the phone from my ear, “I’m not taking any pictures, I’m talking on the bloody phone.” My mother is on the other end asking what is going on and he then says “Stop taking pictures.”

I move the phone away from my face, “I’m on the phone to my mum mate. I’m not taking any pictures. Now you need to back off before I call the police, yeah?” (My inner London gangster type obviously comes out when threatened.) He replied that I could do just that but he then turned tail and went back into Burger King rather quickly. His mate came out as he went in and said, rather inexplicably, “The air conditioner is on inside.”

The whole incident lasted perhaps 10 seconds. “Stacy Keach” went back in the eatery and stormed up and down for a bit, apparently ranting about the issue. In the meantime a highway patrol vehicle drove up and went through the Drive-thru window. “Stacy” comes out and struts up and down outside Burger King, ignoring me, and then after making a big show of looking around the corners of the building got back into his car, shooting me a sideways look as he closed the passenger door.

It threw the man when I was not aggressive, but matter-of-fact. I did not threaten violence, although my hand was on the pepper spray and I was ready to use it. It must have sunk through that self important brain that I was not taking pictures of any type but he still felt the need to posture and act tough.

When he was storming up and down the walk outside, I actually pulled out my spray and opened my back pack to where my old prison baton was. Had he approached too closely again, he would have been sprayed and then thumped. Luckily for him, he will soon forget the old chappy with the MikesFilmTalk.com t-shirt who almost beat the devil out of him with an old prison baton.

The next time he may not be so lucky. Whether he is someone “important” or famous or really is Stacy Keach, he needs to curb that aggression. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it can get you hurt, or even worse, it can cause someone else to be hurt. I did not say it to you chum, but I had no idea who you were, or who you even think you are. Although after our little “altercation” it is apparent that he may think he is Kanye West…

Get a grip mate.

And if that was Stacy Keach? You just lost a long time fan mate. I do not think it was Keach, the man is 74 and I just watched his performance in the teen “weepy” If I Stay. The man who almost physically accosted me, just looked like Keach but younger, like the man did around his Mike Hammer days. Even when this cat realized that no one was taking his picture, there was no apology or explanation. A real gent…not.

One last word on the subject, during his entire stay at the local eatery, his car contained a dog in the back seat. There were no windows rolled down, that I could see, and this is the desert…in summer… Yeah, a real “tool” this chap, had I realized I would have called the police for the dog.

Life in the Real Desert: A Moment in Time

Picture of green meteorite
Taking time to sort my site out for inclusion into more places on the Internet, such as Alltop.com which is a pretty good place to find websites that specialize in certain things, and trying to fix a backend problem, which is actually a whole lot less personal than it sounds, my blog portion of my site has suffered. Add to that a big dollop of “I feel sorry for myself” along with fighting the ever increasing heat and I’ve been focussing on movies, television and the odd celebrity news instead of my more personal views of the world.

All of this kerfuffle is taking place among the amazing “real” life in the Arizona desert and two nights ago a “moment in time” caught my attention and fired up my imagination; bringing out my inner child for a frozen space of time. Reminding me that all of life is made up of moments in time, some more beautiful than others.

For a week, after the sun has gone down, the mercury has not. Temperatures stay at over 100 degrees and the wind that blows from the south is hot, arid and around 11 to 12 miles per hour, if not into the 20s. Riding back the night before last, my eyes were streaming tears non-stop as it felt like I had a hair dryer blowing directly into my exposed sockets all the way home.

Getting into the house after the ride, my eyes were sore, gritty and hot. I pondered getting some goggles to replace my glasses, that were lost in Las Vegas and fell asleep seconds after setting down.

The next night, the temperature dropped to below 100, around 97 and the weather site stated that it felt like 93. (Every time I think of the temperature I hear Pvt. Hudson from Aliens in my head stating with forced, and fake, jocularity “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat!”) Wind speed was only around 9 miles per hour and did not feel like it was being sent from the gates of Hell. With my shirt off it was a pretty pleasant ride back home on my trusty Schwinn.

At the midpoint, around three miles from home, I stopped for my congratulatory drink of water. Silence surrounded me broken only by my permanent tinnitus and I looked around at a desert lit by the small sliver of moon and one very bright star.

Off to my left stands the deserted house that I’ve yet to visit and take pictures of and as I peered through the night in that direction, I saw it.

A meteorite that could only have been a quarter of a mile, or less, away was streaking down diagonally to the desert floor and only about 50 feet from the ground. It was large enough that as it burned bright green and red it lit up that portion of the hardpan. At the exact moment I spied this visitor from space even my tinnitus fell silent. The entire incident took place in muffled quiet and time spun out making this tiny incident feel much longer than the few seconds it really encompassed.

Standing there in awe I pondered that if I had not been there in that exact spot, where I stop every night on the way home, this marvel would have been missed. I also had an epiphany of sorts. Life, I decided is a series of moments in time, each insignificant on their own but when added up equal an importance of earth shattering magnitude.

I got back on my bike and peddled into the faint warm wind and, looking nervously at the sky over my head, also realized that luckily, I was over on this section of the desert when the thing from space plummeted to the ground. At the speed that thing travelled, had I been “over there” I’d never have known what had hit me…

Life in the Real Desert: Living with Nature

Cartoon SpiderI know that the whole living with nature thing has sort of gone to my head. All the animals, lizards, insects and unidentifiable creatures which make up life in the real desert have gotten my attention. Sometimes these four, and more, legged denizens have increased my blood pressure and adrenaline levels.

Over the past three or four days there have been some visitors to my new abode that were less welcome than others. A three inch long scorpion who had a definite fascination with my right foot was one that startled me into my Michael Flatley impression a la River Dancing, or as they say in this country Clog Dancing. While I may have had trainers (sneakers) on my feet, I was still stamping away with frantic enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, I have no idea whether my trainer clad foot killed the desert denizen with the stinging tail or not. One last stomp and smear, you know what I mean the old down and drag movement, left only a rusty orange smear on the porch and when checked the sole of my trainer held no remnants of Mr. or Mrs. Scorpion. This means there may be a good-sized vicious creature out there hunting for a balding older chap with black trainers. I probably should warn my neighbors…all three of them.

Scorpion King action figure

There have been some fairly largish spiders as well, one was in the side room which was attacked with a spindly plastic flyswatter at first. This arachnid fell to the floor and quicker than The Flash, made off to a spot in the room behind my desk and disappeared. A few days later it appeared on the ceiling again and this time a flip-flop sent it to spider heaven.

Last night, while standing on the porch for a little night air, a monstrous eight-legged spider moved along the ceiling of the metal roofed porch (What is it with spiders and ceilings?) and then, as I stood transfixed, started moving slowly down the front door. As it reached face level, mine not his or hers, off came the leather flip-flop and bang!

Before feeling too much sympathy for this giant creature, bear in mind that, including legs, it was the size of my hand. Not a tarantula, not furry enough, but a similar size. Now here is the shivery part, once its body thudded to the porch floor, the flip-flop went back on my foot and I stomped the merry hell out of the apparently lifeless corpse. (Spiders can and do “play dead.”) Despite my approximate weight of 186 pounds, the body never “mushed” up.

I then took this very solid body and swept it into the dust pan and chucked it off the porch. Then, after allowing the goosebumps to subside, I went back into the house to find another, smaller, spider on the ceiling of the side room again. Scratch one more trespassing bit of nature.

I am not afraid of spiders. When working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service I noticed that these murderers, car thieves, drug dealers, rapists et al were all terrified of spiders. Being in the countryside large grass spiders used to come in all the time. While these tough guys screamed, cried and leapt on their single beds, we would pick the creatures up and toss them out the window. The sight of the lads practically passing out was worth it.

I do, however, have real issues with the larger arachnids sharing my bed or crawling over my face while in the Land of Nod. All of the other creatures I’ve encountered are cute and lovely to look at. They are also animals; ground squirrels, prairie dogs, jack rabbits with long brown tails who walk, or trot, like a dog and deer. I like coming across all of these.

As for that spider I count myself lucky that it did not make the floor. If we had been on even footing our altercation might have ended very differently and I could have been the one chucked off the porch.

Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

Cloudy sky in Quartzsite, AZThe real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.

I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.

Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)

Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.

I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.

It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.

Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.

Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith