Blue Highways

I’m reading a book I wish I’d read thirty years ago: Blue Highways.
I love the blue ones, and last time I drove to Louisville, I took the blue highways most of the way back to Arizona. Slower, to be sure, but beautiful, and remnants of a time gone by.
I wish I’d read the book thirty years ago because I would like to have driven the same route as William Least Heat Moon.
In fact, I’ve driven many of the roads in his book. I’m just now half way through the book and am astounded at the towns he drive through that I, too, have driven through. I even have taken some back roads he missed.
One town that jumped out at me as I was reading was Scooba, Mississippi. Two years ago, I drove through Scooba. That’s the town I stopped in and bought the Very Best Barbecue Ever. “J’s BBQ, best in town,” says the sign. Heck. Best in the nation.
The big difference between Least Heat Moon’s drive and mine is the thirty year difference. Many of his blue highways no longer exist. He talked about the highway through Scooba being a road, a blue line on a map. When I drove it, it was a four-lane divided highway. Wish I’d seen it the other way, but then, of course, J’s BBQ wouldn’t have been along the side of the road. It’s not likely any black man’s food stand would have been along the side of the road.
Another difference is the food. The author spoke of searching for six-calendar diners. His theory is the more calendars there are on the walls of a diner, the more authentic it is. The problem is today there are few diners. Whenever I run into one, I stop, even if I’m not hungry. I just get food to go.
Evert time I go into a place because it looks cute, it’s a mistake. The food, if I’m lucky, is average. It’s the little diners, the ones lined with locals’ trucks, that are always the best.
One of my best meals ever (besides J’s BBQ) was in rural Oklahoma on a blue highway about thirty-five years ago. I was on my way to the Chicago area, staying off the interstates. I stopped somewhere west of Oklahoma City. My car steered herself right into the parking lot. I no longer remember what it is I ate there, but I recall telling people about it for many months to come.
Even in Kino, I prefer the little stands or the restaurants that cover open air patios with tarps when they’re closed. Sometimes the food is average, but more often than not, it’s excellent – and half the price of the “nice” restaurants. Some of the best places in Kino don’t even have menus. You just tell the waitress/waiter, often a child, what you want or ask what they’ve got. I go for the first thing they mention.
One of my best meals on the whole Baja trip was in a tiny restaurant in which the owner, an elderly man, was cook, waiter, busboy and dishwasher. Oh, that chicken mole! (MOW-lay, not mole, the animal)
Least Heat Moon talked, too, about his time in Selma, and though I was there probably the same year he was, my experience was completely different. He met white folks with resentments over things changed. The shop owner I spoke with seemed to have appreciated the march and the changes it created. Of course, perhaps she was being polite to the Yankees who dropped into her store, but maybe, I hope, she was being honest with us.
One thing I don’t do and couldn’t have done then is enter the little bars with the ease Least Heat Moon did. A strange woman walking into a bar in rural towns wasn’t appropriate, and sometimes still isn’t. In rural Mexico, there are ladies’ bars. They’re a little more upscale than the raunchy bars local men hang in, and the name implies they’re safe for women. The closest thing to a lady’s bar in the US might be a modest bar attached to a hotel. In one-bar towns, unless I see women walking in alone or in small groups, I’d stay out.
The last big difference is a difference of the times. Least Heat Moon picked up several hitchhikers. I used to in the 70s and early 80s, but no longer. Around home I do, often because I recognize the person or couple, but on the road, alone, no more.
Ah, the blue highways. I’m ready to get on the road.

Return to Kino

Riding down to Bahia Kino with Pam, our clothes, books, and food in the back of her truck, wedged in with a washing machine.

Past Imuris and Magdalena, across the low Sonoran desert and into Hermosillow. Past the carnecerias on Soledad and to Santander, the bank where we are charged no fee to withdraw pesos with our ATM cards. Past the town called Calle Doce and finally, we can see Isla Alcatrz in the distance. That’s when we know we’re home.

Nuestra casita - our little house

We pull into Bahia Kino and then to Islanda where our trailers are. Pam pulls up to my little trailer, the one I share with two others, and there is the sea. I smile, jump from the truck, and wham! Bobitos!

I’m assaulted by swarms of the no-see-ums that thrive along this coastal area in springtime. Except you can actually see bobitos, so I suppose they don’t technically qualify as a no-see-um. And thankfully, unlike their cousins that come out in Bisbee during rainy season, bobitos don’t bite. But they are everywhere, and on this day, they were the worst I’d ever seen.

In my eyes, up my nose, and in my ears. And of course, because I have to keep opening the door to carry my things into the trailer, soon my trailer is abuzz with bobitos too.

A friend here has a room that is mostly screened. She also uses a mosquito coil and keeps a ceiling fan going, and with all of these in her favor, there are few bobitos and she can sit outside. My patio is open, and though a nice breeze moves through it, it’s not enough to keep the pests at bay.

Day two. I rise early, watch the light spilling over the sea. I take my morning walk with a few friends, stopping for coffee at our favorite little restaurant where the proprietor greets me with a hug, welcoming me home, telling me it’s been way too long since I was here. We sit with our coffee in his open air restaurant, thankful that the bobitos aren’t out this early.
Strangely, when we get back to Islandia, the swarms of the nasty bugs aren’t around.

There are a few, and they remain all day, but it is actually okay to sit outside in the evening to drink a beer with friends. There are bobitos, but not many.

Where did they all disappear to in one day? Is it the end of their season? Is it my presence that struck fear into their evil little hearts and made them leave? Whatever the reason, I’m delighted to know I can roam the beach, sit on my patio with coffee, and attend tonight’s pizza party without fear of the swarms.

That’s right, pizza party tonight! I was here last fall when the autumn party was held, and the spring fiesta is tonight. Fresh pizza, handmade dough, a perfect assortment of toppings, and the pie baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven. To celebrate, I’ll make up a big batch of guacamole and bring along a Negra Modelo.

A perfect ending to a perfect Kino day.