Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

A few years ago I signed up for a drawing and documentary class. One of the pre-class assignments was to sketch our experiences and adventures. I took my pad and pencils to a conference in New Mexico. After exhausting most of Albuquerque's weekend and after hour offerings co-worker/friend C and I decided to play hooky and we took the Greyhound to Santa Fe.

It was magical. At a roadside grill I ate a tamale that changed my life. We tried to spot Oprah's mansion while touring rich neighborhoods and art galleries from the back of an open-air bus. We witnessed a parade celebrating the Virgin Mary and revelers held huge plastic kitty litter buckets filled with flowers that they threw into the street as they marched past us. We ate at the rooftop pizza place I'd read about and stuffed ourselves on the lobster pesto pies knowing we couldn't take leftovers home with us. We shared a bottle of Prosecco and breathed deep as the sun began to wane. The taxi driver brought us to the bus station and told us about his son dying in Iraq. His story made me feel guilty for my uneasiness in the rundown neighborhood where he dropped us.

We waited for the bus and only got a little nervous when an hour passed. Nerves turned to panic when the station manager told us the bus was canceled and the next route to Albuquerque wouldn't arrive until morning.

I'd been watching another would-be passenger while we waited. She was suspicious, for certain, with her crazy lady sun hat and flowing garments. She spent much time keeping her unmatched bags from tipping. Her name was Maria. She told us we were welcome to come back with her to the place she stayed on the weekends. We could sleep on the floor and come back with her in the morning for the bus back to Albuquerque. C and I assessed our situation. Sleep in the parking lot next to the bus station, where we heard intermittent bursts of bullets from an unknown and terrifying source? Not a great option. Sleep on the floor of a stranger's weekend apartment? Not a great option. Seeing our concern, our new friend offered a different solution. "I'll call my friends who own a car and see if they will drive us back to Albuquerque." Not a great option, but we were desperate.

C scrawled her name and social security number across her arm using a permanent marker we purchased at the convenience store next to the bus station (In a soft whisper she told me, "I saw this movie where a girl etched the license plate of her abductors in her arm so that when they found her body in the dessert the police knew who killed her."). We were expecting a heterosexual couple in a Buick. Instead, we got elderly lesbians in a sensible Ford Focus.

The road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is beautiful. Endless desert and sky hint at the smallness of humanity. Our relief at being saved by lesbian angels Shirley and Reggie was short lived. As we drove Maria told us endless stories of how she researched the best way to kill her husband and how to dispose of bodies. And our desert leg of the trip was only the beginning. Shirley and Reggie dropped us at the Cracker Barrel, and there we waited for Maria's brother who was to take us the final miles to our hotel.

Maria's brother drove up in the kind of car you imagine serial killers own. It was the size of a boat, and stuffed so full of kitty litter boxes and other cat oddities (I see a pattern here) that C and I had to squeeze together in the front seat next to the brother, who was suffering from several ailments all of which should have sent him to the hospital but Maria told us he didn't have insurance. Maria made sure he took his proper medications and she worried he hadn't taken them while she worked her weekend job in Santa Fe. We worried also. 

C and I stifled our desire to kiss the ground as Maria and her brother deposited us at our hotel. Instead, we sat at the bar until our nerves calmed and we drank in the normalcy of big screen televisions screaming the day's headlines which surprisingly did not include a story about two Minnesotans who played hooky from work and were found dead in the desert.

I've always lived in the moment. Until I started this blog rarely did I pick up a camera to record any part of my life. Revisiting the fading (and rather primitive) penciled sheets brings me back unlike photography ever could. The investment put into each page forced me deep into the experience, while I find that photography takes me out of it. Looking at these old drawings reminds me that angels come into our lives in many different shapes, desperation forces us to look past prejudice, and Santa Fe is magical.


Mrs. L said...

OMG! I never would have survived, I would have slept in the parking lot and who knows what would have happened! As a scrapbooker I sometimes wish I journaled more, as a photo can tell a story but the words tell the life.

patrice said...

We did feel quite cocky later when we retold the story to our horrified coworkers! But at the time we were completely panicked.