Saliva and a Swiss Army Knife

On a brief trip from Albuquerque south to the Mexican border in southern Arizona, in an instance without a trailer in tow, we opted for a mountain shortcut. Eschewing I-25 south to the normal cut-off at Hatch, NM, to Deming, NM, (SR 26), on the spur of the moment opted for a mountain pass from Caballo to Silver City (SR 152).   From the valley floor of the Rio Grande River, the elevation rises 1.5 miles over the Emory Pass in the Mimbres Mountains.

Emory Pass, 8828 feet

Elderly posers, ‘happy’ and ‘chilly’, enjoying the thin mountain air.

Temperature dropping from 72 F. to 46 F. in the first half hour, we realized that this detour, although equal in distance to our usual path, would add several hours. Isn’t it often true that a trip of a thousand miles on interstate cannot equal a two lane highway into the next zip code ? We were not to be disappointed. Barely thirty miles in, we encountered Kingston, pop.25, home to the Kingston Spit and Whittle Club, a local organization that also serves as the sentry for disposed highway litter. A slave to the unusual sign, dating back to the Burma Shave campaign, how could I resist this photo op ?

You what ? And what ?

Images come to mind of a major league baseball dugout, 25 strong, expectorating in unison, as the players carve trinkets out of broken bats.   Two hours later we reach the eclectic, historic, Silver City, NM, the launch pad for the hot springs of the Gila national forest. The area and the cliff dwellings deserve a separate essay, another day.

We point ourselves southwesterly on SR 90, downhill all the way to Lordsburg, NM, arguably one of the most destitute and depressing towns in the rural west. Bypassed by I-10, the ‘main drag’ is five miles of closed businesses and boarded buildings. A metal cutout of a bellhop welcoming guests to an abandoned motel, faded in the desert sun, flashes a sardonic smile at the antics of our dog, Jack.

A ghost town in waiting

Mayor of a ghost town-in-waiting.

New Mexico has a charming and affable governor, Bill Richardson. But if Bill really believes this is the Land of Enchantment, I’ll buy him dinner in Lordsburg.

“Beer Can” Bob

Travel is not about different places, it is who you meet and embrace in those places. A cheery welcome then to the world of rural legend, Beer Can Bob of Patagonia, Arizona, an eighty + year old, the illiterate husband of a mentally retarded and severely diabetic wife.


The Engaging Smile


To avoid welfare and buy needed medicines, Bob rises each day to scour the alleys, trash barrels, and highway for aluminum cans. Once he accumulates a measurable quantity, a nephew, owner of a pick-up truck, transports them to a Nogales, Az. recycle buyer. Bob’s car, a beat up, aging 4 cylinder Subaru, running on only three, is endangered in normal traffic. His vision only marginal, Bob is no match for Mexican truck drivers.

Too, he often cannot afford to buy gas, so he does his collecting with a small, pull-behind grocery cart.To complete the picture, imagine an elderly man, clad in filthy Liberty bib overalls, shuffling past your house. Because he has ankylosing spondylitis, he appears to be a slow moving comma, his greying beard exhibiting an unusual yellowing around his mouth.



 The SooBarOo

At first glance you might assume him to be another of the burgeoning population of the homeless, our disgraceful national epidemic, but two years ago Bob made the news. You see, Bob would often pillage the recycling bins behind our Post Office. Never mind that the trash was being transported to a Tucson recycler for governmental profit, his presence made several local residents uneasy.

‘It doesn’t look good for the town to have an elderly man dumpster diving’, they railed in anonimity.

So the sheriff was dispatched and sent into action.  Then the Marshal (this was the Wild West) issued him a warning ticket and Bob deferred for several days.  However, the lure of the aluminum was overwhelming ( some A/S owners relate to this impulse ), he returned, caught red-handed, and issued a second warning. Finally, after the third episode, he was arrested, ticketed, and ordered to appear in court.

Word spread like a Brittney rumor. By the day Beer Can Bob was to appear in the magistrates’ court for his hearing, the town hall filled with more than a hundred remonstrators. A prominent criminal attorney arrived to defend Bob, pro bono. Without a plea agreement, all the charges were dropped, and it was ordered that trash barrels be placed around town dedicated for Bob’s aluminum can collection.


Lynn and Jack at the barrels


The courtroom burst into applause. Bob shuffled to the front and signed the document as asked. It was a large X. I stop and visit with him often. My dog, Jack, and I have become disciples and most days we retrieve several pounds of cans on our walks. It is very humbling to be in the delicate presence of someone who asks for nothing, who is driven to support his ailing wife; unconditional love.