On the Hook


One Plus One Equals Three:
Whip It! in the Mojave Desert

by Ponyboy GirlieToolshed

Whip It! never made it to Amboy, but I did. It was a deceptively breezy Monday. The sun beating down in a sneaky November way made my brow furrow and my throat go dry.

I was full, bloated, stuffed with the sight of Whip It!, a 1962 Chevy Biscayne covered in 120 of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream & Other Delights album covers, which in this case became a desert cloak of green and brown camouflage bumping down 30 miles of dirt road from the High Mojave to Highway 40 on the southern end. Between the tire grooves sage brush dropped from Whip It's! behind, each one a pristine bowel of desert brush painting our center line. Her underbelly is tall and easily cleared the rising center of deeply worn ruts likely from other, more appropriate desert travellers.

The late model Honda pod in which I followed did not have the tall underbelly blessing and its driver was gritting teeth in the absence of pavement. We still had quite a long road ahead and did not want to become disabled here where we were utterly untouchable. Jumping rocks and rough sand were wreaking havoc underneath as if in my gut, making their mark at our audacity to travel here. I was beginning to think it somewhat audacious myself. I imagined my own prone body floating slightly over this landscape, felt my scratched belly and began to navigate the ill-suited passenger car as if it were my body, my length, my own fragility over that of the desert's. I found myself answering a question about changing the cassette tape, in light of which I abruptly returned to the front seat. I had to take stock for a moment: me in a Honda in a desert, following behind an art car. Okay then, sure, let's change the tape.

Whip It! appeared to be in her natural state, as was her driver. Grit, open sky, evident glee and joy in movement through this vast space of reliquary nothingness; this was the viscosity through which we travelled that afternoon and it was significantly more than beautiful.

In the flux of desert darkness the previous night, we followed the Biscayne beauty closely down many miles of dirt road in earnest approach to the phone booth, which was the quest du jour. Honda pod's headlights flooded Whip It! from behind at a distance no greater than three feet as she mischeviously invited us to follow her big Herb Alpert hoop skirt deep into the dark just to make a few phone calls from Nowhere. Come hither, she whispered as the terrain sent one side of her high into the air and then drug her bottom through a suspicious ditch.

And so, after opening our freezing eyelids to a rip-snortin and welcome sunrise, we did as we came to do. We made calls. While our bodies warmed under the increasing sun, our eyes ate from the All of Nothing sorrounding us. Such vistas do not come easily, such vastness not without a frying pan variety daunt. "You're puny," it seemed to say, which actually comforted me a great deal.

Joshua Trees tingling with frost, a frozen frisbee of a washcloth, a dead and down Aiken Cinder Mine sign which Deuce respectfully left alone...these were some of the tools of our impending mischief. Nearby lay a large pile of quartz on which I felt obliged to lay. We each had things to do; there were calls to make, items to bury, markers to construct, shadows to watch, photographs to capture, messages to scrawl, broken glass to collect. We spent two or three hours merry-making in this fantastic place, conjuring and manifesting the particular magic of complete amusement which Disney spends millions to offer. Here, we found it naturally and without pretense -- a few folks in love with the land and the irony of its human occupation.

Art cars travel to places unblessed, perhaps even unknown; they enliven the blankness for a moment in which the relationship between the thing and the place becomes like a wash of well-fitting Truth. It is just a moment, a tiny space where my eyes and hands finally make sense together. Whatever it is that lies between a thing most loved and a space most sought after, here joins together in a way that I can understand, for a moment, the prickly-pearness of such a nature.

There is a completely self-contained, yet childlike enthusiasm and a par- ticular quality of joy which is cultivated in the dry, yet fertile ground of simplicity and necessity. The desert became my blood this day. The deepness of this experience and the red glowing coalness of it in my head, a freedom. This tiny moment framed by utter goofiness and pure enjoyment. This day, my heart flexed and pumped inside my chest to the beauty of kicking up the dust around a deserted town on old Route 66 in the Mojave Desert - Amboy, California. This and this and this and that. Yes. One plus one equals three.

Waiting for Deuce and Daniel to return with a borrowed gas can, I walked along the railroad tracks in Amboy, attempted a break-in at the church in order to see the massive, painted mural of Moses parting the Red Sea, and peed in the middle of someone's front yard. Finally, while sitting in the remains of the church fountain, I spotted a deflated rubber ball on which a proud young boy had fiercely scribbled his three-part name. I kicked the ball across old Route 66 and felt wildly satisfied to hear it thunk on the other side. A dog barked, the sun was hot and I sucked down a root beer while waving off a passing trucker. For an afternoon, I was a rootless drifter hanging around with nothing to do but think about locating the best place to sit, determining what to see, and figuring out from which direction that dog bark was coming - a meandering consciousness which means little outside the moment. Not at all concerned about time or the faint spot of breakfast on my already dirty and worn t-shirt, complete satisfaction settled on my chest. When Daniel returned to collect me, I felt unfortunately interrupted, unwillingly taken back into a supported world where I was, in fact, not alone, not aimless, not really drifting. For a short period I had managed to slip through the matrix of hours and expectations. It was quite lovely in its measure.

Apparently needing more than gas, Whip It! was not doing so well. As the sun readied to tuck itself under cover, wounded Whip It! began to pale and I found great consolation in the renewed company of my travelling companions. We donned blankets and gathered around a highway call box only slightly powered by a tired solar body. We waited on hold with the insurance company, the tow company and the police. The box lost its charge again, and again, so we made our way each time down the long line of highway call box soldiers.

It was disheartening to see the fabulous and daring Whip It! in such condition, her hood up, her big 1950's engine choking, her hoop skirt trunk off kilter and unable to close, Deuce's keen smile slightly flattened. As the tow truck lifted the wounded Whip It! up off all four wheels, I pet Deuce's head and said all that this day had taught me to say, knowing no answers and likewise needing none, "I'm sorry."

Ponyboy GirlieToolshed
November, 1997