Wednesday, July 11, 2007

DISPATCHES FROM THE ROAD:
Of Navajo Girls and the Great White Wannabes, Sixty Acres in Paradise, I-40's Culinary Treasures, and Other Things

PINE HILL, RAMAH NAVAJO RESERVATION, NM (ZP) -- It took me a few seconds to figure out who, exactly, was yelling at me, a few seconds longer to figure out why they were yelling in the first place.

A young Navajo woman, a Ramah Band local, wanted to know if I had an extra cigarette. As I sat on the hood of my mother's jeep, waiting for my father to return from the inside of the reservation market (yes, a regular ol' quickie market, smack dab in the middle of one of the most independent states in the Navajo Nation), the woman waved me over to what was apparently her older brother's pickup.

At the window, she said that Big Brother didn't mind her smoking, but, well, he didn't like her talking to Anglo boys.

And she didn't want just a cigarette - she wanted information. I was a strange, white face in a land reserved, in theory, for her people - she just wanted to know if I was new to the area, if I was looking for things to do...

Besides, she added, I somehow looked cool, in cowboy boots, Levi's, and my white tee shirt, almost like a character from Grease - Grease, as in the John Travolta film, her favorite movie...

...And she wanted to know what the hell I was doing in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, on a tiny little reservation, far from anything remotely cool.

I bummed her a fresh Marlboro, lit the tobacco for her, and asked her what she did for fun, what local folks her age (we're talking high school kid here) did during the summer, while school was out and the New Mexico sun burned holes into the asphalt.

Just hang out, She said. We, ya know, watch movies, play video games, go to parties, drive to Gallup (70 miles away, the closest town of more than 20,000 people)...

Before she could finish, the sound of Brad Paisley's hit song, "Ticks," bellowed from inside her shirt. She politely excused herself, reached down the front of her white tank top, and pulled a mobile phone from between her breasts.

The sucker was held in place by the tautness of cotton stretched across boobs - an ancient Navajo trick.

God. It's _____. I don't want to talk to him right now. He's, oh my God, such a hick...

The Ramah Navajo teenager hit the End button on her mobile, sending the caller, poor Hick Boy, plummeting towards Voicemail Oblivion.

Another ancient Navajo trick.

The woman thanked me for the tobacco, wished me well on the rest of my trip, and politely excused herself once again, this time to call some female friend and to tell her that, yes, the Hick Boy had just called her and left a voicemail...

And, yes, some Navajo teenagers have cell phones, just like their non-Navajo counterparts.

* * * *

I returned to my perch on the jeep, watching as others, mostly tourists like myself, entered and exited the mini-mart.

An older white woman, clad in a monstrosity of a Easter-style hat, climbed out of an SUV with a Kokopelli bumper sticker in the back glass. A sandal-clad, bearded gentleman strolled the parking lot on WASPish white legs, truckstop turquoise dangling from his neck, along with one of those "Made in China" medicine bags, the kind more likely to be found in a Head Shop than around the neck of an actual shaman.

I even spotted one of those notorious Fake Indians, a regular Ward Churchill type, sunburned lobster pink, obviously dyed black hair, reading some guide to Navajo spirituality.

The bumper sticker on the back of his sedan? Yep. Another Kokopelli, this one blowing its flute next to a marijuana leaf and "tribal" artwork, inscribed with the phrase Rocking Primitive. And beside it? An Ivy League window decal.

Fascinating, this Native American magic.

A whole group of white people, through some sort of sorcery, turned into Indians - just like the ones they'd seen in the movies, the ones played by all of those Italian and Greek actors in all of those John Ford westerns, like ol' Sicilian-American Iron Eyes Cody, the famed "Crying Indian" anti-litter pitchman.

I'll bet dollars to donuts that I was the only Anglo tourist to talk to an honest-to-God, bona fide American Indian at that mini-mart that day, to ask about things more substantial than Do you have any organic cornmeal? or Do you know where I can get buy real Navajo blankets? or Do you sell magic crystals like they do out in Sedona?, to simply have a conversation with a actual Ramah Navajo teenager about nothing in particular.

The mysticism just doesn't seem to work on me. I was just glad to see a Navajo-owned business thriving, to see a rural teen with access to mobile technology and being, well, a teenager and not some Hollywood stereotype.


I dunno. Maybe I've just known too many Indians, good people from all sorts of tribal backgrounds.

Nothing in the United States screams Culture War quite like a trip to an Indian Reservation.

- MORE -

NEAR EL MALPAIS NATIONAL MONUMENT, NM (ZP) -- I flew into Albuquerque on the Fourth of July, at my parents' request, to visit their piece of paradise.

My father picked me up that afternoon, and we traveled long and hard across New Mexico, drove for three hours, down Interstate 40, down winding state highways, down red dust county roads, across cattle guards and over ancient, tire-shredding lava flows.

All so I could see sixty acres of land, sixty acres of paradise that my parents recently purchased, sixty acres that I may one day inherit.

Sixty below endless Western sky, land enveloped by fire ants and high desert fauna, bright red dust everywhere, nothing but the pines and afternoon thunderstorms to keep you entertained in the evening. Sixty below the stars and loaded with antelope and elk, home to a reclusive badger and a pair of wild horses.

And that sixty acres is, indeed, paradise.

- MORE -

SELIGMAN, Ariz. (ZP) -- Westside Lilo's Cafe is one of those hidden treasures of the Not-So-Old West, a throwback to the days when getting from almost anywhere in America to Los Angeles meant a trip down old U.S. Route 66.

A German-American diner in the middle of goddamn nowhere Arizona, in a town of less than 500 people, a place where even the BLT sandwiches surpass most urban five-star restaurants in terms of excellence.

I've stopped in every time I've passed through
Seligman - I've sucked down gallons of coffee there, put down at least a farm's worth of bacon-and-egg breakfasts, and savored every bite of their authentic, homemade German potato salad. The roadside diner has probably taken years off of my life, simply by offering delicious, artery-clogging fare.

For some reason, Lilo's makes just about any trip down I-40 bearable, more homey and hospitable.

And it's strange, too, the number of folks I've met in my life, from all parts of the country, who've savored the pancakes, who've chowed down on the biscuits and gravy or the bratwurst.

There's a secret society of us out there, the Lilo's Faithful, folks who'd rather drop a few extra dollars in a tiny, rural town than wait for the whizzbang discounts offered by the fast-food chains in cities like Kingman or Flagstaff. And there's a rival group out there, somewhere, tourist regulars of the cross-the-road competition - the original, almost infamous Roadkill Cafe.

One day, we'll have to rumble, old school, right in the middle of o' Route 66, getting our kicks in below the belt and above the knees, once-a-year road trippers and senior citizen RVers, truckers and bus passengers and occasional celebrities. It'll be a ferocious battle, I'm sure, a western Arizona version of West Side Story...

There's a reason folks are willing to pull off a desolate stretch of interstate and wait, at times, as long as 20 minutes for a table.

And I think it has something to do with what the folks at Lilo's (and, yes, the Roadkill folks, too) put into the food, their secret, addictive preservative -

Love.

- MORE... LATER... -


8 comments:

coyotemike said...

There really is nothing quite like northern New Mexico. I went camping there a few years ago, just as the Aspens were changing colors.

I've got a Kokopelli artwork-thingie, but I just thought it looked cool :p

Someday, there will be someone who is faking my personal style of mysticicm. Bunches of people with uncombed hair, blank t-shirts, and worn-out cowboy boots that have never seen a stirrup, who take delight in confusing people and telling odd stories from the laundromat. It's a religious experience!

The ZenFo Pro said...

Mike:
Lord, it's beautiful up there.

Lol, yeah. I'm waiting for my New Age cult myself. Maybe we should write a self-help book, rent warehouse space in the suburbs somewhere for our compound...err... retreat center, hand out some kool-aid.

:)

coyotemike said...

Screw the kool-aide. The cyanide always ruins the flavor. We shall teach our well-paying alcolytes the joys of drinking real beer instead of domestic horse-piss.

xboxgirl said...

Yeah, New Mexico is the prettiest of the deserty places {that I know of}.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Mike:
Lol. I'll go for tequila. Maybe Dewar's. Just no Jim Beam. Makes me wanna move to Ruby Ridge, build a compound, and watch for New World Order Black Ops helicopters...

Xbox:
Lol, I think I could get used to it :)

EsotericWombat said...

I would pay good money to see that rumble.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Wombat:
Heh. Sure, but you just no singing. Truck drivers and tourists probably shouldn't perform musical numbers.

Blogger said...

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