high desert survival

The sky was at the in-between of night and day. Pinkish-blue bruised clouds freckled the wide expanse of the West Texas sky.  We were looking out for animals hunting a morning meal. Lil’bit would yell, “Hey! hay!” when she saw bales lined up in a field. We were talking about oil fields and tearing down eastbound I-10 at about 83mph at 6:30 am on Sunday morning, the fifth of July. We had just finished an amazing weekend of high desert exploration and swimming in deep natural springs.  We’d left early because as heart-wrenchingly beautiful as was the remoteness of West Texas, it was time to be home.

We had not passed a car in at least five minutes. I checked my speed and lowered to 83mph just as I heard “BOOM!” My breath stop and sucked in simultaneously. Debris smashed into my side mirror, the car dropped and I focused on not overcorrecting anything.

“Mama? What was that?,” asked Lil’bit from the back seat.

“Oh baby, we just blew a tire. Everything is fine,” I said, hoping the false calm of my voice would carryover to her.  We pulled across from the left to right lane of the interstate and took about 1/4 of a mile to coast to a stop.  I got out of the car and checked for damage.  The driver’s front tire had not blown.  It had exploded and taken the entire front fender wheel-well area with it.  I called my insurance company and requested a tow truck.  I tried to explain our location and they asked for the name of a town closer to me than Ft. Stockton – 22 miles away. After some time on hold, they found a wrecker that could make it out to us. “They’ll be there in about thirty minutes.”

Lil’bit was softly sobbing. “I know this is scary, but we are safe and help is on the way.”

“But, Blueberry is hurt and she looks terrible. I’m embarrassed.”

“Oh sweetie, climb up here.” She burrowed into my lap and I cooed to her. “It is an accident and everything will be fine.  Yes, she looks bad, but it’ll be fixed, better than new.  How about we go see if we can moop up any of the parts that came off?”

She wiped her face and smiled, “Yeah, maybe I can make a collage!”

Ahhh … resilience.  We walked along the highway ditch and located some of the car.  As we walked back, it had been about 20 minutes since I finished talking to the insurance company, one 18-wheeler and two trucks had passed by. Finally, a local stopped to check on us.  We chatted and he said he’d stay til the wrecker arrived. He had been a firefighter and worked in the oil fields now.  He said he’s “seen lots of bad things on this stretch of road” so situated his truck behind my car so as to create a barrier. Lil’bit was no longer worried that our car looked terrible and I finally checked my phone.  It had been a bit over an hour and I no longer had cell coverage.  Good Samaritan let me use his phone and I located the wrecker.

“Yup. Tiss Johnny.”

“Hi.  I believe you were dispatched to pick me & my daughter up.  We had a tire blow-out on I-10 out between Blamorhea and Ft. Stockton.”

“I’s been trying to call you. I’m where they said and you ain’t here. I’s only contracted to come out this far.  I cain’t just be driving to find people!”

{“You know, I LOVE giving people the wrong location so I can sit on the edge of the highway with my daughter and wonder if an 18-wheeler might plow us down.  In fact, I blew my tire JUST to inconvenience you & stress myself out!,” is what went through my head, but I took a breath.}

“Well, I understand that, but my phone coverage cut out and I really don’t know where we are.  I looked at the map and guessed we are at mile marker 241, but it looks like we are close to a picnic area.”

“I’m several miles away from that. I ain’t getting paid to get that far.”

Feeling anger and dismay surface, I took a breath, “I’ll call the insurance company and I am sure they will get you paid for the extra miles.  I am here with my daughter and we are stuck.  A Good Samaritan stopped, but he can’t get our car to Ft. Stockton.  I really need you to just come out a bit further.”

“Dis ree-diculous, people need to know where they are. Fine.  I’ll be there, but you call your insurance. I better get paid.”


The wrecker, Johnny, arrived.  Our Good Samaritan departed. I put on my best smile and shook Johnny’s hand.  We had to get through the next hour safely and this hornet was our ride into town. I dug deep into my grabbag of Texas sweetness and poured it on thick, “Why, I am just so impressed by wreckers.  Y’all really do have such a hard job and must just see all sorts out here.”  Lil’bit looked at me like I had been taking over by an alien, but kept her mouth shut (I was SO proud of her).  We got the car on the wrecker and climbed into the cab.  She had excitedly clambered up the steps and into the middle seat, but as she saw Johnny climb in with his sweaty red plaid shirt, unbuttoned to reveal the top crease of his beer belly, “Oh I need the window, mama,” and practically lept over me. As he started the engine he asked, referring to the good samaritan, “Wu’dat guy ok?  Didn’t try nothin’ did he?”

“Oh no, he was very kind.  Just wanted to make sure we got safely on the road.”

“Well, you never can be too safe out here.  I’ve seen things.  Girls gone disappeared after they think a good samaritan will just drive ’em into town. Came up on a blowout with three fellas tryin’ to a the young girl to just drive off with them.  She musta been, maybe, 21.  Had her mama on the phone. She took my license number!”

“Well, I would be very cautious. Thank you.”  On my other side, Lil’bit is asking what he’s talking about. “Oh just people not being as helpful as they seem to be, baby.”

“So, where you ladies comin’ from?,” He asked, leaning his oversized, sunblasted face toward us.

“We are headed back to Austin from Balmorhea — also visited Ft. Davis.”

“Well, I sure hope I don’t have to tow you to Austin! You know, I went an hour an a half in twelve miles on that damn I-35,” a large, gnarled index finger, black along the nail edge, jabbing the air for emphasis,

“Oh yes, we do have some traffic.”

“Ft. Davis, hmm? You get some ladies trying for some action there?”  I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly, so asked, “What did you say?”

“T’em Les-Be-ans.  You know Ft. Davis ain’t nothing but Lesbians, but Marfa is nothing but Queers. I don’t know how they find each other, but they done take over those towns.  Used to be you could go dancing in Ft. Davis, but now I best not … I’d likely get beat up by a she-he who got upset I asked her filly to dance.”

“Mama, what’s he talking about?”

“Dancing baby.”

“I guess it’s best you don’t go, then.  Good thinking,” I replied as I wrapped my arm around Lil’bit and hoping nothing worse came out of his mouth.

“You know what’s not good thinking? Buying a Ford Explorer – them’s killers. I’ve seen those in plenty wrecks out here.  Something ’bout t’em cars. ‘Specially the white ones.  Yes’sir.  Saw a family jus’bout wiped out.  Mom was driving.  Dad was an FBI agent.  Four kids.  She lost a tire, flipped the car and everybody, but that dad and one kid – they’s was sleepin’ – all DEAD. Another,  one knocked out the driver. Yup, them’s Explorers are no good.”

“Mama, is he talking about wrecks.”

“Yes, baby, just telling stories about long ago.”

“Long ago … you get to the Fort with her?”

“Ft. Davis historical site? Yes, we did.  An amazing place.”

“Yup.  You know they had a whole calvary out there, nothin’ but Blacks. T’em boys didn’t do half bad. Hm. Nothin but Blacks!”

“Yes, the Buffalo Soldiers.  That was an important moment in history.”

“Yeah, well it’s nothing out there now.  So, you got her daddy?”

“Excuse me?” I was too flabbergasted to even consider where he might next take our conversation.

“You with her daddy or got another daddy to help you?  Cuz’ you should get out to a junk yard and get yourself a full size spare.”

“I’m just fine, thank you.  I will get a full-size spare, though I really need a proper jack as well.  The manufacturer’s jack failed us today.”  In so many ways, I thought to myself.

“Well, you ain’t got no daddy? You know, I just bought me a place in Junction.  On the river.  I got a gaggle of 5 to 8 year old gran’babies.  Wanna daddy? You and that sweet lil one of yours would love being on the river” Then he laughed and ran his weathered hands through his tangle of gray-white hair.

I saw a sign “Ft. Stockton – 5 miles”

We finally got to the garage that had opened on Sunday morning due to three cars have tire blow-outs within an hour.  A benefit of small towns, everyone is local and local businesses look out for each other.  We piled out of the cab. I called the insurance company and told them the wrecker drove an extra twenty miles roundtrip for us.


“Thank you. We’ve already updated that information. He called us before picking you up.” Of course he did.

Johnny got the car off his rig and came on over to me with his card.

“Now here’s my card.  You got it if you’re ever in Ft. Stockton.”

“Should my tire ever blow-out in this area I will have your card, thank you.”

He grinned, “You just call me if you’re here again. ya’hear!”

I gave him one more smile and an Oscar-winning so-charmed laugh. He swaggered on back to his truck and moved on down the road. Lil’bit looked up at me, “Did he ask us to go to the river?”

“Yes, baby. Yes he did.”

“We aren’t going to, are we?,” she asked with an edge of concern.

“Absolutely not.”

“Good,” she said with a huge sigh.

I wrapped my arm around her and watched the sun begin to heat the high desert horizon.  “We’re safe now.  We’re safe.”

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