DECEMBER: ON THE ROAD STILL
A state police truck drove behind me, lights flashing. I pulled off the road, reached for insurance card, and opened a window. Nelson sat up, curious as ever. He stuck his nose against the windscreen to peer through the snow. The officer drove past us and stopped at the gas station. I followed, still wondering what was going on. The lights died as the officer climbed out, stretching, and smiled at me. He pointed inside and mouthed he needed coffee. Damn, sounds good. I parked in the sunshine and cracked the windows for the pup. Nelson sighed and lay down again. It’s a hard life being my dog.
The gas station smelt of coffee and burritos; there was a café hidden in the back room. The counter was crowded with locals mostly was my guess, all chatting and laughing, huddled in layers of coats, hats, and scarves. The officer stood among them, sipping on a steaming cup of coffee. He grinned at me.
“Hope I didn’t worry you too much, hon, I just needed to warm up. My heater broke this morning, it’s throwing out cold air and I can’t turn the thing off. My hands are freezing. Officer Jaime Ramirez, at your service by the way. And you?”
I reached out a hand, pulling off the leather gloves with a smile of relief, “Jennifer, nice to meet you, in here that is. Can I scoot past and get a burrito? Thanks.”
The rest of the guys made a space, laughing loudly and talking to the officer about road conditions. The breakfast burrito with green chile was wrapped in aluminum and passed across to me. Only $3.75. Unbelievable. I stood at the window and stared at the snow, a whiteout, I’d been driving at twenty or so miles an hour for so long that my hands had cramped. Nelson had snored as he slept innocently at my side.
I’d not expected this storm, that’s for sure. A week exploring the northern roads, the mountainous border of New Mexico and Colorado, had brought us to Raton. The interstate could take me either north to Denver or back towards Santa Fe. I was stuck with indecision. I finished the burrito and ordered one with steak for my boy. I sipped at a huge coffee as I waited.
“Where are you headed, Jennifer?” Officer Ramirez leaned against the tabletop and glanced at the storm raging outside. He’d taken off the hat and sunglasses and his eyes showed the stress of a long night’s driving duty.
“I don’t know to be honest. What do you recommend?”
With a laugh, he suggested anywhere but here. “Are you staying in the area? If not, I’d say go south, Las Cruces, or something. Ever been to Roswell? Anywhere down there? That’s where I wish I was right now.”
We both sat down at the table and drank in companionable silence. Officer Ramirez had short gray hair, with dark amber eyes, heavy lidded, and laughter lines etched into his weathered face. He was a handsome man in his late fifties, and I relaxed into his easy presence. I told him briefly of my travels through Farmington, then into the Apache reservation, and getting lost in San Juan Mountains for a few days after that, followed by the various campsite closures near Pagosa and how I’d found a creek in the mountains near Williams Reservoir to camp next to.
“It’s a strange time to tent it up here, you know?” He grinned and put his coffee down. “If you’d come a few months ago, I’d say go see Sugarite Canyon but it’s snowed under right now. Like I said, go south.”
The snow faded out and the sky suddenly cleared above Raton. The chatter behind us dropped off as folks fumbled for coats, paid checks, and quickly hit the road. I warmed my hands on Nelson’s burrito. The café cleared out.
“I know. I know. None of this was planned. But, hey, it’s beautiful. Anyway, I reckon you’re right. I can’t camp in my truck in this. Well…how far is it to get to Roswell? I’ve not been there yet. Four or five hours?”
“More like six or seven from here, more if the interstate is snowed under. You could stay in Albuquerque and break it up I guess. There’s a great old town neighborhood worth exploring, diners and motels near by, and that kind of thing for the tourists. Anyway, Miss; it’s been nice to chat for a moment. I hope I didn’t worry you too much when we both pulled up here.” He stood, and passed me a card with his number at the local office. “In case you need help ever, call me, okay? There’s always someone rooting for you.” He smiled as he dropped ten dollars on the counter and left.
I filled the gas tank and cleaned out the front seats. I put trash into the stations’ cans, and wiped down the windshield inside and out. With our home now clean, the pup fed, and another coffee propped on the dash, I settled in. Grabbing the coffee, I put it between my legs for warmth and we hit the road again.
I was tired, deeply tired. I couldn’t stop driving though. I couldn’t settle. I hurt too much. I remembered too much.