I got stuck in the sand the first time I came to this place. August, Mohave Desert, a liter of water, beyond cell service. Bad idea. I got out of my truck. Ford150 tires buried halfway. I looked at the sky and said the word that rhymes with the man I was about to meet.
The silence of the desert disturbed by the sound of a motor. I looked to where the sound came from. A yellow hood emerged from behind a hill. Then, when it was in full view, I saw a man with long gray hair driving a tractor. A mirage or Howard Hughes?
The man said nothing. His old eyes squinted in the relentless sunlight. He pulled a lever. The claws of the tractor grabbed the truck’s front end. The man pulled a crank. The tractor went backward pulling the truck out of the pit.
I walked up to the tractor, reached up and stuck out my hand. I thanked him.
“Name’s Chuck,” were the first words he said.
“I think I’m your new neighbor,” I told him as I pointed to the desert cabin I had purchased.
Chuck let out a hoot and slapped his knee.
“Well, iff’n I knew I was going to meet my neighbor today, I would have put in my choppers!” He laughed open-mouthed. I could see what he meant.
Chuck’s land had been in his family. He’d been coming to his cabin since he was a kid. He was now in his eighties. He’d made money in life providing classic cars for movie sets like La Bamba. But he grew sour on the whole city slicker crap (as he put it) in his middle age. So, he came here with his cars to a desert valley floor several miles from any store, so he could do, to borrow his own words, do as he damn well pleased.
That was over a decade ago. Chuck’s dead now. My other neighbor told me they found him in his cabin naked except his boots face down on the floor. He’d made it well into his nineties living out here.
I think of him as I drive down the desert road that leads me back home. I left for a while, fell in love, saw the world, grew up. I feel the bumps in the road as my terrier sticks his face out the window. Our graying hair blowing in the wind as we return to the desert, a place where I’m stuck and better for it.