We left El Paso at sunup. My wife, guitarist Thad Beckman, and “Poppi,” my father-in-law. Poppi doesn’t speak English, except for the phrase: “F*** You, cowboy.” We were hoping he wouldn’t employ it in the wrong situation. We rolled down Highway 9 into the desert and Columbus, New Mexico, where Pancho Villa attacked the U.S. in 1916. Black Jack Pershing, with George Patton in toe, was sent after Pancho –never caught him. On through Hachita and Animas; past the monument where Geronimo surrendered; ate crackers and cut meat near Skull Valley; arrived in Douglas, Arizona. I showed them the Gadsden Hotel lobby, where Villa rode his horse up the stairway. There’s a stuffed puma, a cowboy watering hole – The Saddle and Spur Bar - and an old café. Next stop Bisbee. Show for Bill Carter, who wrote fine books on salmon fishing in Alaska and the war in Bosnia. On to Sahuarita: a church with a giant cross made of saguaro ribs and copper wire. Ross Knox, the last cowboy-muleteer, was in attendance. Ross is “the man who rode the mule around the world.” True west.
On to Flagstaff and the Orpheum theater. Snow on the road going out. A night off in Scottsdale. Visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert retreat. Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O’Keefe, Fritz Scholder, Ross Knox, and Geronimo color the true, raw West. Outsiders. Aboriginals. I bought a pawn shop Kachina in Scottsdale and wondered about its journey. Hawked for five dollars by a Navajo in 1969? Monday night show at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix. Then we gave Poppi the Western ride of his life – across the middle of Arizona and New Mexico. Through towns like Payson, Show Low, and Pie Town; stopped for the obligatory slice of Apple, Blueberry, and Boysenberry. One codger, around 90, ate a cafe dinner of cream of mushroom soup with two dozen crackers crushed inside; for bulk. He was “western” to the beard and bone.
After seven hours we hit old Magdalena and the adobe home of Steve Bodio and his wife Libby. In the front room were seven Russian coursing hounds, called “Tazi’s” from the old Turkin territory, and one Peregrine Falcon, which Steven fed from his hand. Frozen quail. Steve has many fine books out, including one on hunting with Eagles in Mongolia: Eagle Dreams. We ate Libby’s homemade posole and drank Mongol vodka; imbibing in a few bottles of God’s grape juice. Bukowski once wrote me: the Greeks didn’t call wine the blood of the gods for no reason at all. In the morning we drove home down the Jornado del Muerto, the long “journey of death” the Spanish rode five hundred years back.
There is still a west. It exists on desert back roads and in odd, fragmented glimpses: Saguaros against Sonoran sunsets; pawn shop Kachinas; crosses made of Saguaro ribs and copper; the lingo of the muleteer, a blueberry pie slice in Pie Town; frozen quail on the hand of the Falconer. God’s footnotes.