Finding my Way – Animas, NM

“I grew up a-dreamin’
of bein’ a cowboy,
Lovin’ the cowboy ways…” Billy’s voice rasped softly above his guitar, out across the desert scrub.

“Pursuin’ the life of my high-ridin’ heroes,
I burned up my childhood days…”

Billy had finally found me.

Billy Ottis

This was a welcome change. For once it wasn’t me looking for the way.

People often ask me in an assertive tone “How’re you finding your way across America?”. They assume a great amount of planning and poring over road maps went into this journey.

It has, actually.

But it’s other people’s planning. America’s been finding me, showing me the way. People in bars and cars and parking lots. People like Billy Ottis.

Woody and Maggie were tied to the Shur Sav “Handicapped Parking” sign as I was loading rice and split peas and oatmeal and olive oil into the buggy. “Where ya goin’” Billy had asked me in his scratchy blues singer’s voice.

“Oh, I reckon down I-10” I chirped guiltily. I’m not a fan of Interstate riding but the map I was using, the one I’d found in an old Airstream trailer, didn’t have the details I needed.

“Naw” Billy replied “come over to my house and we’ll figure you a better way.”

While Woody and Maggie grazed on his front lawn he explained. “I own a pilot business. We run our over-sized trucks down all the back roads. I can get you clear across Arizona that way. You eaten yet?”

“Nope” I grinned and so over baked beans, white bread and milk, he showed me back routes to thrill my dirt road inclinations.

With my head filled with blue lines and dashed black (single-lanes and dirt roads respectively) I took my leave. “See you later tonight” Billy said as I piloted Woody and Maggie toward the desert, away from the din of Interstate 8.

I promptly took a wrong turn. It took Billy until the next evening to track me down.

But here we were, sharing a tailgate between a rusty stock tank and my tipi. As the falling sun shattered to purple and orange, he tugged on his guitar strings and sang.

“I learned all the rules of the modern-day drifter,
Don’t you hold on to nothin’ too long…” the words talked their way across the painted landscape.

The day was done now, and the song almost too.

“Old worn-out saddles, an ‘old worn-out memories,
With no one and no place to stay…” he sang and closed with the refrain.

“My heroes have always been cowboys.
And they still are, it seems.
Sadly, in search of, but one step in back of,
Themselves and their slow-movin’ dreams.”

That’s how America found me.


(Thanks Billy and Myra, for finding us! Thanks also to Willie Nelson and Sharon Vaughn for that fine song.)


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