Dispatch from the Edge

By Peter Anderson
Dear Griz,

Old Route 66. The Mother Road on the eastern edge of Flagstaff. Near the Great Wall Chinese Buffet, Bubba’s Real Texas Barbecue, and Purple Sage Motel (American owned), we are sitting in the customer lounge of the Econolube. An oil change is rarely just an oil change for this old Dodge, with a big fender dent, a wandering right headlight, and 140 G’s on the odometer. “All four tires are cuppin’ real bad,” says Calamity Jane, the service manager. “You’re a blowout waiting to happen.”

For the Navajo family waiting with us in the lounge – grandmother, mother, father, uncle, boy about five, girl about two, all of whom rode to town in a late model Silverado – the news isn’t quite as dire – only a frayed belt. “Oh, you may make it back to Kayenta,” says Calamity, “but it’ll shred before summer.” The Navajo Father knows that when the belt goes, so does the AC. And there will be many family rides to Flag during the long hot summer on the rez. He gives Jane the nod. So do I. And we all enter into Econolube limbo.

Now the mom watches over their little boy, who rolls a red rubber ball across the floor, while her little girl empties a Tupperware bowl of plastic cowboys and Indians. The grandma watches a French chef on a wall-mounted TV whipping up egg whites for a dessert called Charlotte Mousse, which features a ring of brandy-soaked ladyfingers. “Mmmnn,” she says. The uncle is working on a giant slurpee from 7-Eleven. My daughter, Rosalea, reads Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Dad and I satisfy ourselves with back issues of Field and Stream. For me, it’s a quick skim. As you know, I’m just not a hook-and-bullet kind of guy.

The little boy’s ball rolls my way again. I catch it, smile, and roll it back. The little girl tells her mom that the cowboys have won again. All her Indians lie in a heap around a plastic totem pole. The little boy rolls the ball and this time it rolls out the door and into the parking lot. The Father puts down his Field and Stream and goes out to retrieve him. And when they return, the father brushes the dirt of the little boy’s bare feet. “You’re startin’ to look like one of them Blackfoot Induns,” he says. And yes, it’s a long way between our home ground and the rez (even though we live only a few miles north of Tsisnaasjini – Dawn or White Shell Mountain, the one we call Blanca, which is the sacred mountain of the East for the Navajo), but today we are all laughing together.

Wishing you a good laugh on your mother road.

Best, Sweetwater.