I had been driving for three days, 10 or more hours a day, in my lime green 1975 Ford F-150, the night I rolled into Santa Rosa. I was incredibly tired. I was fearful of running out of money, so I looked for a cheap motel, away from the highway. I had driven further and further west that day, through herds of longhorn cattle in West Texas, and into New Mexico, and in both places, there were not nearly enough dwellings, traffic, or human beings to meet my definition of “civilized.” It was barren and desolate.
On each night of my journey from Michigan to California, I always parked with the back of the pickup near the door of the room where I would be sleeping, and this night was no different. I wanted to be able to hear someone if they tried to tamper with my truck, especially the camper top or tailgate. I had pretty much everything I owned, organized and stacked to the camper top in the truck.
This motel was cheap, all right. I don’t remember how much the rate was, but it was less than $20.00. Even in 1980, it was a bargain. When I got inside, I could see why it was so inexpensive. It smelled bad, like old car deodorizers, the kind people hang from the rear-view mirror. The little table and chair had crumbs all over. The wastebasket had not been emptied. I was uncertain of the sheets, so I decided to sleep clothed, with just the blanket and bedspread over me.
While I was trying to lock the door, I found out the door did not fully lock. The lock was loose, and the bolt lock above it had a loose bolt. I stuffed it full of safety pins to tighten it up a bit. Then I realized the single pane glass windows were not high enough to keep someone from coming in through the window. I made another scary discovery: Not only wasn’t the window locked, there WAS no lock.
I was so very tired that I had to sleep, so I stayed for about four hours and then got up and left. It was far colder than I ever imagined New Mexico being. If I remember correctly, it was about 19 degrees that night. I shivered, once back in the truck, because my car heater was not really working. I got back out to the highway and realized I would need gas soon.
I pulled off the freeway at the next gas station, on the near side of a hill that blocked my view of what might have been on the other side of it. I was terrified of continuing on the highway and running out of gas, so I decided to stay there, even though the gas station was closed. I had no idea how far the next gas station might be. I had about three hours to wait before the station would be open. I had a blanket and a pillow, but neither kept me very warm. I shivered and perhaps dozed until 6 in the morning.
“You been waiting all night?” the attendant asked. “There’s a 24 hour gas station on the other side of the hill.” He shook his head, like I should have known that.
I was a stranger in a strange land, full of unfamiliar terrain. It may as well have been the moon. How could I have known? I felt foolish then, but now I don’t. I was really just glad to have survived the night and not have lost my life or my goods. I have not felt good about New Mexico ever since then. I have to say I wouldn’t offer a nickel for the whole state if it were for sale. Furthermore, moving across country, alone and almost broke, is not for the faint of heart.