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Thursday, 30 July 2020

An old and dusty story

They were rattling along on a trail in some forgotten part of the country in a pickup truck without air conditioning. It was dry and hot. Desolate and dusty. Before turning off the tarmac they had driven for hours on straight roads, where the few lorries they encountered appeared as flying mirages in the distance and the low hills created the impression the road had melted and curled up slightly .  The distances were something else too: That mirage could easily be ten miles away. It took a long time for landmarks to drift past.  His companions called the tarmac “ Black top”.  The black top was extremely wide, about the size of a major motorway at home.  Four wide lanes to nowhere. No median barrier. If you wanted to make a u-turn, you just did it. If you felt like a stop, you just stopped.  They called it a “farm road”, but it could take a landing Jumbo jet without stopping traffic. Once in a while they saw a farmhouse.  Nothing much else. Cruising along at 75 the old truck rocked  softly. Every driver in an oncoming vehicle waved. The heat made him drowsy, but he kept looking out through the cracked and dusty windscreen. Here they called it a wind “ shield”. To some the landscape might seem boring, but he found it mesmerizing. 
At first they had seen large whitewashed silo's. Landmarks in the distance. They'd passed a silo about every half hour for a while, with a few houses clustered around it. The silos were mostly empty and the houses abandoned. Now they saw no silo's. Just a plain dry valley hemmed in by far away mountains.  Distorting all sense of distance.  What looked like tufts of grass were actually shrubby trees in the distance. No more houses.  
Willie was driving the old truck. Willie  was a wiry little guy wearing a big old black hat and a brushy short beard. He even wore black cowboy boots and a big shiny belt buckle.  The buckle had come free with some cheap beer, but it looked convincing. It even had a bottle opener attached.  Willie never used it though.  His plastic spring water bottle had a red screw top.
The track was not bad. Someone had made a good job of grading it fairly recently, so there was not so much washboarding. Just enough to make the rear axle tramp away slightly. Willie had told them he'd found this place in the desert filled with old cars. Willie 'd said there were some interesting cars amongst the usual Chevies and Fords.  Even the Fords would be interesting though. Willie liked Fords. The truck they were in now was a Ford too. Willie knew all about them.
He was wedged in between Willie and Mo. Mo was big and dirty looking with his tattoos and black Mohawk hair, but actually he was a sensitive guy. Mo didn't like Fords and he was always complaining about Willies truck. His mum always called him Mortimer. But Mo thought the name Mortimer sounded too prissy.  Willie thought Mo was a prissy anyway, but still they were old friends. Mo liked Jeeps and said they were stupid to go out here in Willie's  two wheel drive Ford with that dumb “Twin Traction Beam” excuse for an independent front suspension.  They should have taken Mo's four wheel drive Jeep truck with proper solid axles and thirty-five inch high clearance tires! But Mo's truck hadn't run for a while  as Mo couldn't get the new carburettor to work.  Willie and Mo were always bickering about their trucks, but they were fast friends and Willie even helped Mo fixing his truck. Even Willie couldn't get that carb fixed. Mo didn' t really need the truck anyway as he drove a Prius to work. Willie  always drove his Ford. The Jeep just stood in Mo's drive and every day when Mo saw it he was proud to own such a glorious chunk of American steel! 
It was noon when they arrived at the gate. There was a big sign “No trespassing”  but Willie said he knew the owner, so they'd be all right.  The sign was accentuated with bullet holes. Willie said the holes were old as the owner never came to the place anyway so they got out of the car and opened the gate.  There was a chain on the gate, but the chain had rusted through. 
Just as they were walking through the gate they heard a truck drive down the track, so they waited. To see who was coming. When the dust cleared they saw an old dodge D100 lumbering up to them.  
There was a rifle poking from the passenger window and they could clearly see two more guns in a rack in the cab. They just waited as a tall man wearing a green John Deere cap exited the cab and slowly walked up to them. A strong smell of cherry flavored candy reached them first. Although he casually waved a long rifle in their general direction he didn't seem too threatening. He was actually beaming a bright pinkish smile at them. “ You boys lost now?” 
A shot rang out from the cab and the three  “Boys” did their best not to flinch or run. When they saw no one hurt and the tall guy still smiling, Willie said: “Nope.”
“ That' s good” Tall guy said: “ Me and my son are just out here to shoot some squirrels. We hate those animals. They' re just bummin' around and that just annoys me”. He spat out something ugly :  “We saw your dust and we thought we'd see who's there. No one hardly comes up here except spotter guys looking for old car wrecks. You city boys take care now!” Tall guy walked back to his truck and left them in a cloud of hot dust. 
It took a while for them to find the wrecks as most of them were overgrown by tough mesquite and fuzzy Cholla cactus. But when they finally saw them it looked like a strange museum of large rusty dinosaurs. “ Here's a La Salle. I'd like to take that one home” Willie said. “ I bet it would start with some new fuel and oil”. Mo found a Willys Wagon and was thinking how he could lift it and cruise to the drive-in with a 360V8 stuffed under the hood. 
The sun was beating on his thinning hair and he was sweating, but the dry heat evaporated his sweat immediately, just leaving white stains on his shirt. He was glad he wore  sturdy hiking boots.  He didn't get Mo who trekked the desert in flip flops and shorts. He had to walk right through a patch of Prickly Pear to get to the shape that had caught his attention.  This car looked different from all the other vehicles strewn around the desert floor. “ Hey guys, look at this” he called. Willie walked over and looked at the flat looking thing.” What's that? It looks weird man!”. “ Yeah” Mo said sauntering over:” A short nose and tiny boot. Must be some foreign compact. Is it Japanese? Let s' trample it if it is!” Willie just stood there and thought about it: “ No it's not Japanese. It looks like something else. there’s a badge on the trunk. “Austin” it says”. So it's an Austin? What kind of a name is that for a foreign car? Austin' s in Texas, man!
He adjusted his cap and wiped some dust from his face “Yes”, he said. “At home we call it an Austin 1800, a Landcrab.”
In the distance the call of an eagle pierced the shimmering hot air.

Chris  Linford