Thursday, April 29, 2010

Devil's Highway

For his last birthday in Southern California, a place he had spent 4 years feeling something like the sad kid at the carnival, his friend slipped a Taurus .38 snob nose into his hand. "Take this with you, for the road" his friend said, as though it was some talisman of protection. "I'll eat it before I make the state line" and he left it behind with a shiver, knowing he would do just that. His friend meant well but couldn't see the terrain he was crossing, even now before setting out - nobody could, not even him. He drove in a daze, hardly blinking, through the night until crosswinds blew his VW bus across the double yellow lines repeatedly and all at once the sky opened up sounding like it meant to press the roof down and crush him, blinding him and overrunning the windshield wipers instantly. Lightning lit up the empty world like a strobe illuminating the huge and horrible stone monoliths of Monument Valley, but he could not see the road and soon left it completely, rolling to a stop in this the place where his bottom was about to fall out - Highway 666.

The rain pounded down with a supernatural force so fierce he could not hear his own screaming as he punched the dashboard, the stearing wheel, the windshield, and he was terrified in the small child way, crying out for God to save him. Afraid of himself now, he stumbled from the van into the desert darkness, out among the lightning forking in all directions across the sky, striking down at the rock formations, and both feared and hoped it would swallow him whole. He ran at first, and then walked as the rain slowed and suddenly stopped, thunder still rumbling and strobe lightning disorienting him further until he sat on the ground. The immense space reduced him to less than what he felt like and stared at him with malice until dawn. Light came slowly, proof that some of him was still here - he was almost glad, in a hollow way, for not bringing the gun - and he walked back to the highway, and the van stood there very still, undamaged, alien and terrible.

 "You going out on to The Nation?"
Hearing the attendant speak startled him, he didn't want to see people but needed the gas and wanted coffee, "Yeah".
"Better not, there's been trouble.. just yesterday..some killin'. Ain't safe for a white man on the Navajo Nation now."

He was back on the road headed north on 666 oblivious to the warning, now almost invisible to the staring desert, under the glare of the mid-day sun. After maybe an hour, he passed a boy on his right on horseback facing the highway with a sign on the ground in front of him that said PICTURE $5.
After more hot miles, passed by occasional pickup trucks overloaded with Indians, he saw a sign for Shiprock and RODEO and turned in off the highway.

He didn't know it then, but Shiprock is the capital of the Navajo Nation. He parked outside the fairgrounds and got out of the van, and if his center wasn't missing, he would have felt a twinge of fear or at least a heavy dose of anticipation. There was a lot of activity and a big crowd roaming the grounds, but it was relatively quiet and noticeably free of Whites. He walked up to a food stand and ordered a Navajo taco with beans and chili on frybread and a cold Coke. He walked and ate and watched and listened, and not one person looked at him in the face or took any notice of his presence. "I am a ghost", he thought after awhile, taking a seat in the bleachers to watch a brave Indian dressed as a cowboy ride a brave bull, and for the first time in months, he relaxed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Three More Fairbanks Taxi Sketches

Andy is another who stands out clearly more than 15 years after I saw him last. He was this hulking, sweet-natured Viking with shoulder length yellow-blonde hair, soft facial features, a gentle voice, and a very even temper that I'm pretty sure he has never lost. Andy lived with his Native wife from Fort Yukon in a trailer off the highway outside North Pole, her eyes and hair were jet black and she had that same gentle, smiling nature. Andy wasn't damaged or crazy, at least not so I could see, and he was both very funny and very smart. He didn't really figure as a cab driver, and he certainly had the brains to make a life for himself anywhere he felt like. They say only two kinds of people choose to live in Fairbanks: those who wouldn't live anywhere else and those who couldn't live anywhere else - Andy was one of the former.
The Bad: Right Hand Man, Jughead and Klan
When America's Most Wanted first came on the air, word has it there was some radical shifting in Fairbanks demographics. Right Hand Man was a one-armed cab driver who was about as slippery an individual as I ever met. His preferred clientelle were cut from the same stained cloth, and his girlfriend, Marla, was known far and wide as capital-T trouble. Jughead was an idiot who carried a big gun wherever he went and still seemed to always find himself in some kind of confrontation. Klan is the name I assigned this guy who rarley spoke and just radiated hatred and violence like some prison gang Nazi . In the cab, he was always armed with more than one weapon and frequently found himself having to "protect himself" from someone non-white, drunk and near helpless.Fairbanks is the city at the northern terminus of the highway, and it's got more than it's share of people who go only by a nickname for good reason.
The Ugly: Catfish

Catfish, I named him, because I never asked him his name and never wanted to know. He smelled bad, his clothes were food-stained, and if he happened to eat in front of you, you'd never want to eat again. Catfish, like one of those horrifying, giant catfish brought up from the muddy depths of the Mississippi or the Mekong, big enough to swallow a full size human. He was a bottom feeder, a scavenger, a predator - he took advantage - that was his niche in the food chain. Once, at close to 40 below zero, he charged me $35 for a jump when he was driving right by me anyway, and I was capable of defending myself. Catfish, because he never gave his name, most likely because it -along with his face - was on certain registries of the dangerous and unwholesome in the Lower 48.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fairbanks Taxi - three installments.

Fairbanks Taxi

Cab drivers are a tough bunch to pin down. Sure, they're hustlers, but that has more to do with getting by than getting rich. There's something about driving through ice fog with a multitude of strangers - most of them altered by drink, drugs or madness - for twelve hours a night that reveals portions of one's character. But I was just starting out - a Cheechako, a rookie - and a good bit closer to innocent than I am now. The winter to come would prove the cure for all three conditions. My fellow drivers - gypsies, pirates, comedians, outlaws, predators, ladies and gentlemen - would be my spiritual guides through seven darker circles of cold.

The Good: Wild Bill

The dispatcher on the radio my first night went by the name of Wild Bill. He was a great big bearded old-time Alaskan, probably in his mid-60s, still sharp eyed, quick witted and strong as an ox. A former navy man and merchant marine, he wore a captain's cap all the time, just like the Skipper on Gilligan's Island. Wild Bill, (there's one in every crowd, right?) - they all said he'd earned his moniker the hard way working boats, bars, The Pipeline, prospecting, trap lines, card playing - he was tough and able and pretty damn good at just about everything he tried his hand at - except marriage. It was my good fortune that Wild Bill was also a natural and patient teacher, even though that wasn't part of his job description, frequently sending me to an alternate radio frequency to walk me through a call, explain complicated driving directions and warn me of impending trouble. I learned the city and surrounding geography by driving it and, in exchange for a slightly discounted fare, asking my customers for directions to their destinations, but I started to develop my feel for the place by listening to Wild Bill.

The Good: Fargo, Tim and Nancy

I remember these three as a single entity because they had the look of a crew of middle-aged grifters. Fargo was their leader, a tall and stern transplanted Okie, about six foot three, who looked a lot like a mean Abraham Lincoln or Gregory Peck. Tim was the sidekick by stature - a five foot three chain-smoking, hard drinking, ready-with-a-laugh gambler who painted houses in the summer if he felt like it. You might be fooled into thinking Nancy, with her Anjelica Huston looks, was just the garnish on the plate. She was probably twenty five years older than me and sexy in a cool, silently intimidating sort of way - guys got quiet when she came around. These three were the top shelf among night drivers - celebrities - and I was a little star struck right away.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Three today


Here in New England we leapt straight from a wintery rainy season into today's close to 90 degree sunshine only tapping one toe on the lilly pad of Spring as we flew over. Of course, there might well be a blizzard still out there waiting for me to relax and drop my guard. Just like in other places, the sun here brings out beautiful women in large numbers very suddenly - a lot like mosquitoes, now that I think about it. That's New England, for each seasonal plague there is a tonic. It won't cure you, but it might be just enough to keep you interested. In a moment, I'll take a stroll through the courtyard - squinting, pale as a grub, grinning.

Fairbanks Taxi

I arrived on the train in late September, which was already winter, and the 40 below zero temperatures were close at hand. I had about two grand saved from working in the salmon processing plant, so I rented a room by the week in the linked-up trailers that formed Noah's Rainbow Inn and went down to City Hall and bought myself a chauffer's license for a hundred bucks. The clerk there tried to get me to apply for the local police instead. Inside of a week I was driving 12 hour night shifts for Fairbanks Taxi - 6 pm to 6 am. It was dark most of the time and the bars almost never closed. Fairbanks, even under the Northern Lights, can be a mighty lonely, dangerous place for a clean-shaven white man from nowhere suddenly showing up in the thick of it.


You find yourself right in the thick of it whether you want to know about it or not. I just wanted to pay the lease and gas and hopefully go home with a hundred in the morning. The preferred mode of transit for both sides of the cocaine trade was the 24-7 fleet of cabs, and certain high traffic addresses started to stand out to me. It began in the form of probing jokes, "what are you, FBI or something?" But cocaine and paranoia careen along hand in hand, and the most active imaginations among them couldn't explain a young guy living in a rooming house, driving a cab in a town in the middle of nowhere at 40 below. White man's got to be a narc, there's no other explanation, and that fixed belief very nearly cost me my life.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

As The Crow Flies

1.  Crows are whirling way up there in the thermals. A scout is posted nearby eavesdropping. It's that girl with the beautiful hair dancing her peculiar-to-crack-cocaine-pantomime. The headlights hit her - head snaps back, eyes and tongue roll -like she can feel the light. Her wild senses are aware of me and zero in eventhough her conciousness is off in some momentary Limbo. Her feet are planted in a fighting stance, but ruin twists and climbs her like a vine.

2.   Don't look so smug, Crow, as you pen another entry into my catalog of shame - it was the fourth time I'd seen the kid in 48 hours. He's 22 years old and languishing for something like two years in a homeless shelter, stealing and drinking cold medicine everyday - dextromethorphan (DXM). His brain is probably as Swiss cheesey as Sponge Bob at this point, and he looks at you blankly again when you ask him what the hell he's doing back here at 4 am on Easter morning while my kids are waiting for the Easter bunny to come. He hits you up for train fare and asks what kind of sandwiches they have here. Yes, Bird, I called him "shithead" right there in front of the entertained ER staff and the invisible, newly risen Christ. Did you think I missed it?

3.   The raven is Crow's Northern cousin. In Bethel, Alaska - a Yupi'k tundra town where I saw human expressions on the faces of dogs, where fish fled from my impatience and gave themselves to the gentle, smiling old women, and where people who had every reason to hate me taught me how to laugh - I took a walk with Raven. We walked together out of town: me in the road and Raven on the light poles and electric wire. He showed me in an hour the connections - the relations - between people and animals, spirits and wind, grass and sky. Raven told me that all things living and nonliving are held by, and bound to, the Earth (even me). And for a moment, with spirits rushing through the tundra grass all around me, I knew it. I still feel a hole in myself where the spirit of that place once blew through.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

This piece was featured by 6 Sentences on Easter.

Something Holy

by Glen Green

We had dinner in an Italian restaurant last night, and I was waiting for my 4-year-old outside the restroom door. There were a few coats hanging along the wall in the dimly lit passageway. A young girl of maybe 8 emerged from the ladies' room. As she passed through the hall, she kissed her hand and administered a kiss to each individual coat. The quickness of her delivery made me think that this behavior was routine for her. She became aware of my presence as she touched the last coat in the row, and I pretended not to have seen.


Glen Green is trying to begin. His writing has been published in the Lowel Pearl and The 6S Review, Issue 2.

Visitor Map