Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., Dec. 12
I will tell you what happened at Anza Borrego Desert State Park last month, but please don’t repeat it. I, a 20-something woman, caused a little mischief with some car crazies who invaded my favorite campsite, and now they are looking for me. If they hear about this story and read it—assuming they can read—they will track me down. Before the sun sets I will be as dead as the coyote they ran over.
The mischief happened after a stupid workweek at my stupid gas station job. A woman with a perplexed look held up the nozzle and shouted: “Where does this go?” I put down my book, looked at her, then her car full of kids, then the nozzle, and said something like “You’ll figure it out.” Then a guy insisted that the pump had charged him $20.25 when he had wanted to stop at $20.00. I told him that life wasn’t fair and there was another gas station down the street. Good thing the booth was locked. And good thing my dad owns this station or I would have been fired years ago.
However, the job did give me time to read, and I read a lot. I had been reading volumes about the history of The Anza-Borrego Desert State—De Anza’s expeditions, Mormon soldiers, Butterfield Stage routes—and now my head and my heart were in the desert. Then I found my dream job. The Desert Interpretive Center in Borrego Springs was hiring tour guides. All my reading would pay off, but to prepare my spirit I decided to spend the night before the interview at Bow Willow Campground, my favorite resort for solace and a clear view of the universe.
When I arrived Friday evening I had the campground to myself. After filling the fire ring with pine, pitching my tent, setting up the camp stove, and eating corn and burger by the crackling, yellow fire, I snuggled into my sleeping bag. With shooting stars, hoot owls, and the warm smell of colitas I slipped into untroubled sleep.
Slept well, too, until Armageddon. Or was it an attack from Mars? Or De Anza and his wagons traipsing through the campground? When I poked my head out the tent I realized the end of the world was three pick up trucks equipped with high-powered stereos, oversized knobby tires and suspensions as high as mechanically possible, invading my favorite campground at three o’clock in the morning.
One was missing a headlight. Two pulled dune buggies on trailers. The third had a road-kill coyote wired to its front grill. Car crazies, obviously victims of tormented childhoods, had arrived in my sanctuary.
Doors opened, releasing empty beer cans and the extra-loud version of Hotel California. The drivers gathered in the center of their headlights.
“I say we keep going. We’ll make the dunes by morning.”
“Who put you in charge, Dickhead?” The challenger had a squeaky voice and gave the orders. He also wore an eye patch and his was the pick up missing a headlight. I named him One Eye.
“Nobody. It was just an idea.”
“You can check out anytime you like, Dickhead, but you can never leave,” said the leader in Dickhead’s face.
“Yeah, Dickhead,” added the third driver. “Anyone who forgets his dune buggy doesn’t have good ideas.”
“Shut up, Butthole,” snapped Dickhead. “I hit the coyote when you couldn’t.”
There was a shoving match. Grunts and shuffling feet.
And that exhausted their vocabulary and hence ended their dialogue.
“Unpack!” ordered One Eye.
A young woman alone should not confront three besotted car crazies in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night. Fortunately, they had not paid any notice of my campsite, and it would be best to keep it that way. I lay and listened.
First came the beer coolers, then wooden palettes, then white gas and an earth-scorching fire. Followed by a lantern, a generator, a boom box, a deck of cards, and bags of potato chips. Someone started the generator and the Eagles concert resumed.
A crazy was going to throw fireworks on the fire, but the leader said no. “Save ‘em for tomorrow, Jackass!”
Another crazy set an empty cooler on the edge of the fire ring, and after they fell asleep—around 4:30 a.m.—it melted and dripped onto the coals, smoldering oily smoke. Chemical fumes formed a cloud over Bow Willow Campground.
I couldn’t sleep--The Eagles were too loud--and I could hardly breath. So much for solace and preparation. I decided to pack and drive to Borrego Springs. I’d find a café and drink coffee until my 9:00 a.m. interview.
But first…………….some sort of retaliation seemed appropriate.
After I loaded my car, I left the motor running and the driver’s door opened—in case a quick get away was necessary—and toured their campsite.
The generator ran on and so did the Eagles concert. The lantern on the picnic table was aglow. The site was littered with wrappers and cans and broken boards. Firecrackers covered the center of the table. Lines of ants crossed from potato chips to empty beer cans. The car crazies, still booted and capped, lay passed out atop their sleeping bags next to their beloved pick ups. All had tattoos up to their chins. Two had nose rings. One had a stench so putrid it was hard to tell if he was breathing through his mouth or his anus.
I returned to my car for some household items.
I poured a box of sugar in the generator’s gas tank. I drizzled honey from the sleeping bags to the ant lines. I opened the cooler lids but closed the drain valves so the sweet rolls, bacon, hamburger meat and buns would soak as the water melted. I swept the fireworks into a cardboard box, which I placed atop the smoldering fire. Then I had my last brilliant idea. With safety pins and dental floss I gingerly attached one crazy’s nose ring to another’s, pleased their awakening would be a shared event.
As the generator began to choke in the sugar/gasoline mixture, the Eagles stuttered and stop. The coals burned through the cardboard to the fuses. When the fireworks began—crack, bang, boom—I heard screams and the word “nose” mixed with creative vulgarity.
No need to be quiet now. I slammed my car into Drive and sped out of Bow Willow Campground to Highway S2, where I turned north.
This was obviously not the car crazies’ first car chase. They knew what to do. The pick up with the coyote on the grill quickly cut across a wash to block a southerly escape. One Eye, with dune buggy and trailer attached, headed northward straight across the desert to the highway. The third driver unhitched his dune buggy and retraced my route. When the driver with the coyote realized I had turned north he joined the chase. By the time we passed the Vallecito Stagecoach Station there were two-and-a-half pairs of headlights behind me.
Our chase progressed northward on S2, following the route of the Butterfield Stage Line. Because we all had to slow down at the sharp turns I was able to maintain distance between us. But the dune buggy driver thought of a short cut, and he soon went off road to the right. I could see his antenna light blinking above the creosote bushes, soon disappearing into Box Canyon.
Box Canyon got its name for a good reason, as some folks have found out the hard way. The canyon was once so confined that only a horseman could pass through. For covered wagons and stagecoaches the canyon was a foot too narrow. Then the wagons of the 1847 Mormon Battalion, en route to San Diego, became stuck. Using only axes, the soldiers widened the canyon for prairie schooners and coaches. But, alas, not for dune buggies.
Halfway into Box Canyon the dune buggy’s rear axle reached its wall width and stopped instantly, throwing the driver up canyon.
So ended his participation in our car chase.
Up ahead in the distance my headlights shimmered off the ghost-like forms of bighorn sheep. A thick herd was crossing the highway. Moving at a crawl I wedged my way through, like a diver through a school of fish. When I exited the herd I stepped on the gas. And when I reached the Scissors Crossing Intersection I pulled over and turned off headlights and engine.
Three minutes later I saw a single headlight approaching. I slid down in my seat and crossed my fingers. A pick up with dune buggy and trailer zoomed by. It was One Eye. He turned north towards Ranchita, thinking I had gone that way.
I turned east, towards Yaqui Pass, where the glory of a desert dawn was getting under way. I felt compelled to pull over. The Salton Sea was to my right. Borrego Valley in front of me. Montezuma Grade to my left.
Montezuma Grade, between Ranchita and Borrego Springs, is the steepest section of road in San Diego County. Its hairpins and precipitous edges are not for the weak of heart or, as it turned out, for the weak of bladder.
I watched a single headlight descending Montezuma Grade, and in the incipient dawn I could see a pick up pulling a dune buggy. Old One Eye!
Court documents later stated that the driver, his bladder full of beer, and frantic to relieve himself, had neglected to put the transmission in Park or to set the safety brake. (But he did leave the door open so he could hear the Eagles.) As he stood on the edge of the cliff and peed, eyes closed in ecstasy, and imagining his urine raining over the desert, his pick up and dune buggy slithered over the edge into a silent nosedive and dusty pirouette, followed by a bounce, buckle, flip, spiral, jackknife, twist and twitch, reaching the desert floor a mere mangle. The racket must have been stupendous.
Feeling momentarily safe, I momentarily dozed off. I was awakened by crunching gravel. My rearview mirror was filled with a coyote on a grill. The driver left his door opened and his Eagles blaring and walked to my car. I feigned sleep. He tried my locked doors, and returned to his pick up to pull something from behind the seat—a murder weapon?
When I opened my eyes he had a can of beer bottom-up to his lips. You can imagine the confusion on his face when my engine roared to life. The beer can fell from his hand. He jumped in the cab and slammed the door—but slammed it so hard the windshield shattered and the airbag went off.
The chase was back on. Well, sort of. He had to cut away the air bag and brush the glass off the seat. I had a head start.
From Yaqui Pass I descended to the Borrego Valley floor and to Christmas Circle, where I parked and locked my car, and walked to nearby Desert Flower Café. I took a seat in a window booth. There was a highway patrolman at the counter eating pancakes.
The windshield-less pick up with the coyote wired to the grill stopped aside my car. After peering in the windows, the driver got back in his cab and circled Christmas Circle incessantly, no doubt waiting for my return.
He looked pretty odd, circling with the missing windshield and the dead coyote. The highway patrolman thought so, too.
“Let’s see what’s going on.”
Fifteen minutes later the patrol car drove by the café with a passenger in the back seat. It was the pick up driver, and when he saw me, sipping coffee in a window booth, smiling at him, he flipped me a bird. I flipped one back.
Driving while intoxicated was the charge for all three. The dune buggy driver was also cited for trespassing in Box Canyon. One Eye was slapped with littering, and the coyote killer got additional time for hunting without a license.
Me? I got the job.
All three soon will be out of jail and then this inbred posse of tormented childhoods, foul odors and poor judgments could reorganize and track me down and come into my neighborhood and scowl at my neighbors, key my car, toilet-paper my house and probably have sex with my pets.
So please don’t tell anyone what I just told you. Okay? Thanks.