The first words I heard issue from Steve Amaya’s mouth did nothing to
reassure me about the lunacy of motoring into the depths of the Mojave
Desert with a complete stranger.
I was just
finishing loading up the Cruiser – water, shovel, rope, toilet paper
(you can never be too prepared, ya know) – as he pulled up. I walked
out to the street to greet him. A tallish guy got out of the car. I
recognized him – sort of – from his picture on Archipelago,
but either that was an old picture or Steve had had a harrowing drive
over, because he looked several years older in person. He looked nice
enough, though, normal enough. Then he spoke.
a thumb towards his trunk: "I brought an axe."
He’d read my journal
entry of the night before. He knew what my mother had said about
him maybe being an axe murderer. He was making a funny. Maybe. Axe murderers
are a notoriously unreadable breed; maybe he wasn’t making a funny,
maybe he really did have an axe in the trunk and knew how to use it,
intended to use it. Okayfine. I smiled. I had an axe, too, but I wasn’t
Steve inside to meet the wife. He rose a notch in my estimation then,
proved his mettle. Beth
had just gotten out of bed, was still in ratty nightshirt, still had
mattress hair, still had pillow face, still had dragon breath. I’ve
lived with her and woken up to this for about five years now and it
still scares me sometimes. Steve never flinched, though, he just stuck
out his hand and said "Pleased ta meetcha." Ah, I thought, so he’s got
backbone. I felt better about trekking into the bush with him. But a
few minutes later, he worried me again.
"Yer husband shore has a purty mouth," he said. Making a funny. Maybe.
Perverts are a notoriously unreadable breed; maybe he wasn’t making
a funny, maybe he really did think I had a purty mouth and knew how
to use it, intended to use it. Okayfine. I smiled. I had an axe.
now 8:30, half an hour past our target departure time. We were burning
daylight. We loaded his gear into the truck and climbed in. Two strangers
trapped in a metal box for the next several hours, on a fool’s mission
to hang up a phone 240 miles away. It felt good. It felt right.
up the Cruiser and we headed out.