Tucumcari, New Mexico is named after the mountain that sits nearby. It’s a town of about 6,000 people, on old Route 66. I stay at the Flying J truck stop for free in the parking lot. I don’t even unhitch.
I make sure everything’s okay with Sadie, then settle into a Formica booth in the Drivers Lounge. I listen to Spanish (the staff) and English (the truckers), send some emails and check Facebook, let my laptop recharge.
I’m the only woman amid a stream of men drifting in and out with duffle bags and Bluetooth earphones and thermoses. They use the paid showers, or sit in the TV room and watch episode after episode of Law & Order: SVU. No one takes advantage of the too-bright game room’s NASCAR and Big Buck Safari video games, but the electronic map by the door sees some action. Two men use a giant trackball to search for their next Flying J and its features – Wi-Fi, restaurant, fax.
It’s twilight, and I look out the window to see a janitor standing stock-still staring at me. He startles when I meet his look, then moves on with his rolling trash can. Twenty minutes later I look out the window and a different man, probably someone waiting while his tank fills, is talking on a cell phone and staring at me. Am I television? Then a youngish man hangs around my booth, seeming like he wants to start a conversation. I don’t look up.
I brush my teeth in the lounge bathroom and retreat to my pod. I savor a glass of Malbec and bite-size Baby Ruth and listen to the sound of trucks idling, then climbing the grade to I-40. I’m in the cars and RVs parking section, which is separated from the trucks section by islands of gas pumps. It’s like being stuck at the kid’s table at Thanksgiving.
I wake up off and on all night, thinking it’s dawn because of the fiercely glowing parking lot lights. Smooth jazz wafts from the loudspeakers by the pumps, but then an idling RV next to me drowns it out. I get back to sleep despite the noise, but bolt upright when Sadie’s heater kicks on next to my head. Means it dropped below 50, and as my pulse slows I tell myself, Good. Now I know the heater works.
Finally it’s actual dawn, so I run my fingers through my hair and crawl out the door. The idling RV is replaced by a correctional facility bus, the kind that transports prisoners.
I try to peek in the windows but they’re dark. I lock Sadie’s door and walk to Denny’s for eggs and hash browns.