By the time we left Rankin Ranch we’d been on the road a week and we still hadn’t really done any bad ass things related to living on the road. We hadn’t “boondocked” in a WalMart lot for free. We hadn’t used a dumping station, or unfurled our RV umbilical, or cruised into a pull through spot. We hadn’t stumbled upon any brothers and sisters of the road who asked, “How long ya been out?” We had parked on that hill in San Francisco, then stayed in a cabin on the ranch. Neither of which counted in RV world.
But today we were crossing the mightyish Mojave, desert of my youth. Even though my family lived in a tragic suburb, my dad was a desert rat at heart, dragging my mom and me out here to gaze at the wonders of Calico ghost town, and stand around watching while he shot tin cans with his pistol. It was the site of the Great Pillow Toss where, once when we were coming back from another road trip to somewhere in Arizona that featured Hopi Ruins (my dad was a devotee of Hopi Ruins), I threw the pillows my mom had brought along so that I would be more comfortable in my brain-rotting boredom, out the window. My mom, who otherwise had no aptitude for anything remotely mechanical, managed to grab the Super 8 camera and film the pillows, first one, then the other, bouncing behind the car along the highway behind us.
The Mojave is poor man’s O’Keeffe territory. It’s not bright and otherworldly, but the sky is big and the flat, beige sand blankets the earth is all directions. All day I practiced my long gaze. I practiced having some affection for the middle-of-nowhereness that is Hwy 40 between Barstow and Needles, which we drove straight through, even though it was 5:00 and we were determined to stop now for the day, and thus show ourselves that were people capable of learning our lesson.
We crossed into Arizona, thinking we’d stop in Bullhead City, or maybe hop over the state line to Laughlin, Nevada. We were no longer on Hwy 40 going east, but on some other Hwy going north, parallel to the place where the pointy tip of Nevada elbows itself between the eastern border of California and the western border of Arizona.
In this part of Arizona there are theme strip malls. Old Person Strip Mall has a physical therapist, orthopedic shoe store, eye doctor and hair dresser. Felon in Training Strip Mall has Guns, Bankruptcy Attorney, DUI Attorney, and Probation Department.
We drove until we came upon a sign that said Davis Park Camp. It was on the water in Arizona, across from Laughlin, Nevada. Here, the Colorado is only a little wider than the average Malibu swimming pool. It was 6:30, and the camp office was already closed. There was an “honor” box, and a sunburned guy with greasy hair and missing front teeth sitting beside it. He was tipped back in a dining room chair, watching an ancient black and white TV. He stood up as we pulled in, took our fifteen bucks and fed it into the slot. Clearly the brothers and sisters of the road liked to camp here without paying; thus the presence of Toothless Joe.
Our spot was right on the water. It was magic hour. The casinos on the other side of the river twinkled in the distance. We’d stopped at the Safeway for some Bombay Gin, tonic and limes. Gin and tonics on the Colorado River with our brothers and sisters of the road! We were dry camping next to a Hispanic family, their picnic table covered with huge bags of chips and snacks. Nearby sat a dust-covered toy stroller, dust-covered plastic lawn chairs set out on a dust-covered bamboo mat. The younger kids played tag; the older kids listened to their iPods.
After we parked, I went back to the fridge, opened the freezer. It was empty, except for a package of frozen taquitos we’d sprung for at Safeway, and a pair of empty blue ice trays. I remembered seeing a sign for ice up by the entrance and walked Lolita Gordita back up the road. I put my face against the glass door of the closed office. No ice machine. I was forced to walk around the building, where Toothless Joe was posted and where, just behind him, I saw two big white freezers with the thick red lettering: ICE.
“Don’t get excited, mama,” he said, “I can’t sell you any ice”.
“But the machine’s right there,” I said.
“They don’t pay me enough,” he said.
Back at our spot overlooking the river, Jerrod was on his hands and knees in the dust beside the RV. One of the panels was open and he was peering inside. The generator was dead. Which meant no electricity. Which meant no taquitos, no ice for the gin and tonics, and no living room or bedroom, since we needed electricity to work the sliders. Jerrod stood up and dusted off his knees.
“Let’s have a drink and discuss our options,” he said.
“No ice,” I said.
“What about — ”
“He’s not paid enough,” I said.
“To open the — ”
“Nope, not paid enough,” I said.
“No one is!” yelled one of the Hispanic guys in the spot next to us. I looked over at him, straddling the picnic table bearing the giant bags of snacks. He toasted me with a Cheeto.