There are a little more than 1300 miles between here and Santa Fe depending on which route you take. You can either go down through the bottom of Illinois, across Missouri and Oklahoma, through the never-ending dust plain of Amarillo, Texas into the mountains of New Mexico, or you can drive straight across from Chicago through Iowa and Nebraska, hang a left around Denver, Colorado (you’ll know you’ve gone too far if you wind up in Cheyenne, Wyoming) and then take I-25 South straight down through Albuquerque, past Bernalillo and the big Indian casino, and exit on Cerrillos Road by the old Villa Linda Mall. Either way it takes about 20 hours, which sounds long but will pass in a blur of rolled down window songs, joint after hazy joint, burger wrappers and eat-them-later fries, chocolate bars and gas station fill ups.
If you are like me, and you have chosen to go to college in a place that you have to constantly remind the geography-challenged is not Mexico but New Mexico, which is still very much a part of the United States of America, thank you very much, and no everybody there doesn’t speak Spanish, geez – then the first time you make this trip will be with your older sister, and she will get on your nerves after awhile. It won’t be her fault, mind you – she will only do what people do to fill the monotonous hours of mile after passing mile, which is ruminate on her life and talk incessantly about herself. In the mid-point Oklahoma hotel your mother has reserved for you and your sister to rest, it will occur to you – as she pulls off her pants and says, “Look at my thighs. Does it look like I’m losing weight? “– that she always does this, in fact the two of you do it to each other, and it isn’t her fault that her voice is needles in your mind, but if she paid any damn attention at all she might notice that you want to be left alone to wrap your mind around the fact that you’re moving a two-day drive away from home, not chatter about shit that don’t mean shit in the grand scheme of things.
The next day, crossing into New Mexico will take your breath away. Nothing but mountains and sky and more mountains and more sky and bright white cotton-ball clouds close enough to touch. In hushed tones, you and your sister will wonder how many unsolved mysteries are buried out there in the rolling abyss, how many unseen eyes are watching from Mama Nature’s endless tucks and folds. And then you will both breathe Thank-you-Jesus that you thought to fill the tank before you crossed out of Texas, because ain’t nothing out here except the two of you in your tiny Corolla chugging up the side of God’s magically uncertain glory, where a gas station all of a sudden seems like a ludicrous citified dream.
Later that night, after checking into an adobe hotel beneath a pink-streaked sunset, you will be even more ready for her to go. You will be anxious to move into your dorm, anxious to meet people and get on with your life, anxious to stop being the new kid with the belly flutters and nervous poots. You will be so anxious that you won’t pay attention as you head out of the hotel parking lot toward the McDonalds across the street, and you will drive your car over a concrete stopper. You will try to back up but the stopper will be too tall and you will sit there dumbfounded at your foolishness, blinking back an idiot’s load of tears. Sitting beside you, your sister will be perfectly calm. Without a word she will get out and squat in front of the bumper, smile at you through the windshield, tell you to shift into reverse. As the wheels move back she will lift with all her might and suddenly the car will roll free. When she gets back in (cool as a fan after picking up your goddamned car) you will be a puddle of gratitude, a grown-up little sister in perpetual awe, and you will wonder how in the world you ever thought you could live without her.