The truck was sideways, and I was doing my best to get it back into a straight line, back in the lane, but the road surface was that perfect product of a sudden downpour after a long dry spell: greasy and ill-defined, ruts holding water to conduit the hydroplane of my poor-man slicks, tread baked off in thousands of miles. The car in front of us braked hard and veered right, which didn't help but he must have seen the side of the truck in his rear view mirror and, well, that's not a normal sight on a highway. Two lanes of less traveled sitting just west of I-10, desert to the left, cattle pens to the right. No traffic, the storm had come up from the south which is always bad news in those parts, so most everybody was home. Homes in these parts either thousand year old adobe or fifteen minute old single wide, they all glowed fiercely in the gloomy twilight beyond the headlights. Which had gone into a strange stabbing angle into the cloud as the truck left the road. It was then mud, fence, mud, fence, mud, fence, mud.
Dude by the name of James had been doing his thing quietly in a little town called Anthony. Anthony is both New Mexico and Texas, it sits on the line and they never could decide which way to sway, so they stayed in both, and got the worst of both. A bizarre little town that housed cow workers...guys that worked the feed lots that line I-10 in that region...agricultural workers, various bosses, and retirees. James had been supplying the bulk of them with various drugs for a while. Mostly weed, he wasn't a chemist. He would sometimes find one, though, and they'd do science in the garage and magic in the living room, as he liked to say...he sold everything in the living room of a 1950's ranch house that his grandmother had left him. The house was really very nice, and well maintained. James was a handy man, had worked construction, and had worked in everything from landscaping to managing a construction company on his way to "retirement." He was the best supply of weed in the area, but that area was rapidly shrinking as gangs in the neighboring big cities closed in. One quiet sparkling Sunday morning, some mother fucker had put a dozen holes in James' grandmother's detached garage, consequently putting a dozen holes in her old Lincoln which had been parked, covered, on blocks, waiting to appreciate in value. The cops showed, the few neighbors (the closest were next to the school a mile away) gawked and the local free shopper / news sheet showed. It was a big deal. That night, James called and told me he needed to get moving. He'd already been talking to his sister about it. He was going to head to Deming, then who knows. Well, I know, but that's a whole other story.
Two weeks had passed since the shooting. My truck was packed with boxes and bags, covered with a tarp. When you own a truck, people ask you to move them. It was a decent way to get some cigarette and beer money. My truck, a 1968 F-100, was mechanically sound, a beautifully maintained piece of agricultural utility: no A/C, no stereo, vinyl interior, bench seat, 300 cubic inch straight six with 300hp and 300 pounds of torque. Tall skinny tires. Wide mirrors to see around towed loads. A heavy duty oil-cooled 3 speed with an overdrive. It sang along the highway, engine all well-oiled tappets and valves, sewing machine perfect. The day had been rain and rain and rain, and the latest storm was a branch of a hurricane that had wiped out parts of Mexico that would never be rebuilt. It was an angry black rolling mess of a storm, but here in the trough between waves of rain, the mist and the steady air was like a held breath between symphonic notes. Of course the window was down and the air, supercooled by clouds that reached outer space, smelled of ozone and clean creosote, the mist holding the cow smells down. I was idly driving, two fingers on the massive steering wheel, cigarette lazily hanging from the left hand, the quarter-windows opened, interior filled with icy wet air. Then the goddamn crow. Big fucker. Looked like a small monkey. Or a big monkey. Hunched shoulders, poking at a road kill the size of a water buffalo, it decided that right then was the perfect time to walk into the road and ask me to stop. Not paying attention when it popped into my path, I panicked, brain muttering "bird, not child, bird!" but too late. I lost control so fast that I didn't have time to not lose control. Feathers and roadkill, no impact because it was just a three foot tall bird, still pretty light. The truck started sliding sideways, though, and no driving out of it. I was rapidly approaching the only other car on the road, who braked and veered and fishtailed to a stop feet away from my sliding chassis. When I finally found traction it was perpendicular to my intended direction, and I nearly rolled. Then crashing, water, mud, and the rest. But the very best part was, I was loaded with a ten year collection of drug paraphernalia, among other things, all of it now upended in the ditch that my truck gurgled restlessly in.
The other car drove off, driver yelling vicious slanders in Spanish against generations of my family. I walked, shaken, smoking, terrified, to a nearby truckstop in Vado, and used the one greasy payphone to call two roommates and one sheriff deputy. The latter, I won't mention too much about right now. There's plenty of time another day. The former helped me drag the truck back onto the road using ropes, chains, and a jeep. The deputy helped me with the local law, who'd rolled up to the truck while I was gone. The less said about any of that, the better, but suffice it to say that I spent some money and stayed out of the local lockup, minus half of the goods I was carrying. When I finally got to the James household and stammered an apology and explanation for the lost glassware and other expensive bits, he told me "Man, sometimes you don't have to sweat the small stuff. That whole scene should have killed you and it didn't. You know why?
'Cause you're lucky, man. You're real fucking lucky."
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