From May 8th to May 22nd, I went with 27 students and 3 professors to New Mexico and Arizona to visit the Navajo on their reservation. The adventure there was unorthodox, to say the least, since our “schedules” were loose and subject to change at the last minute without warning. We also had no electricity, no cell phones, and we very rarely had running water. Communicating with the outside world in any way was discouraged, and we would spend hours isolated in the 3 vans we packed for the trip with nothing but each other for company. However, what we got out of this trip—new sights, new people, and a new culture—was worth all the risks.
So on the first day…
I had spent the night at the Common Good, which is Bowling Green’s local experimental living community, and I was awoken at dawn by the sound of people walking in to wait on the white vans to take us to New Mexico.
For about an hour, I rushed to get my crap together, then went out to the vans to figure out where the other kids in my van were. We were packing ourselves in, doing a headcount to see if everyone was there, when someone said, “Wait…where’s Chris?”
Chris was the name of one of the boys that had signed up to go on this trip with us. We all had different descriptions of him, though I’m fairly sure mine was the most honest: “tall, gangly, blonde hair and weird bushy eyebrows.”
Jamie, one of the drivers for our van (the drivers would rotate in shifts on the drive to New Mexico) got the papers and permission forms he filled out pre-trip, and started trying to call him. It was 7 am.
We were suppose to be on the road at 7 am. And we weren’t.
One of the vans, driven by Gordon Ricketts (one of the professors on this trip) zipped out of there in a hurry. Phil’s van (Phil being the British Professor who taught—surprise, surprise—American Literature) waited with us, though the other students in his van were getting impatient.
The students in my van—Lauren, Laura, Rachel, Andrew Peet (sometimes known as “Peety”), Madga, Natasha, and myself—were talking while Jamie was calling Chris’s number. Rachel remembered how Chris, during one of our pre-trip meetings late last month, was asking what kinds of electronics he could bring with him. He had a GPS, laptop, some kind of high-powered telescope…but the rule on this trip was no electronics, so he couldn’t bring any of that.
Jamie looked at us, hung up her cell phone, and said, “Guys…the number he gave was a Canadian number.”
“What?” we asked.
“Seriously! I looked it up on my phone–” she had a Blackberry that connected to the Internet, “–and the area code was for Toronto!”
Chris never told us he was from Canada.
So Jamie hops into a car with Gary, one of the guy in charge of the Common Good, and they drive off to the address Chris gave as his home address. Thankfully, it was in Bowling Green. Not thankfully, they came back and said, “His house number doesn’t exist.”
“What?” we asked again.
“Seriously! He says his house number on this street–” she points at the permission form in her hand that he signed, “–is 1123. When we looked, the houses jump in number from 1119 to 1200.”
We were all unsure of what to do at this point. It was 7:30 am—we were half an hour behind schedule—and we were still missing someone in our van that we didn’t know how to contact. Phil’s van and his students drove off and waved at us while we panicked a little.
“You know something,” someone, I can’t remember who, said. “I bet Chris is a Canadian Russian Spy.”
At the time, it made sense. Asking what electronic gizmos he could bring, giving us false phone numbers and addresses, and his bushy eyebrows had us fairly convinced that he was, in fact, a Canadian Russian spy whose real name was Boris.
We called Bill Thompson, who was another professor on this trip and was already in New Mexico because he took a plane and wasn’t able to drive anymore. He said to wait until 8 am, and if Chris (Boris) still didn’t show up, we could leave without him.
So we wait until 8 am. No Chris/Boris.
We drove off.
We were told this was the first no-show student this trip had ever experienced.
I was in the passenger’s seat, navigating for Natasha since she was the first driver of the trip. While I was sitting up there, we passed the exit to Wapakineta, Ohio at around 9:30 am, and I hear a half-asleep Jamie, woken from her nap, say, “Hello?”
She was speaking on her phone. It was Chris on the other end.
He said he slept in, and was walking over to the Common Good right at the moment to go on the trip. Jamie replied with, “Don’t bother. We’re down by Wapakineta, we can’t turn around.”
There was some more talking, and then she hung up the phone.
Of course, when we heard it was Chris on the phone, everyone was awake from their morning car naps, and looking over at Jamie. “Why was he late?” someone asked.
Jamie said, “The only excuse he gave was ‘I fucked up.’”
“Seriously?” Laura asked.
We were rather disappointed in this. We were hoping that he was talking to his Russian operatives to figure out how to infiltrate our society.
Despite the anti-climax, he became an almost running joke to the rest of us. Two days later, when we were hiking on a trail to see cave drawings in New Mexico, we would see graffiti left behind by tourists from years past, and I went nuts when I saw that one of the tourists left behind his name on one of the rocks:
“Chris!” I shouted, pointing at the name carved to be immortalized in one of the rock faces at the ruins.
Lauren jumped. “What the hell?”
“No wonder he didn’t join us in the van! He was here in New Mexico before us!”
Thus ends today’s story time. Next time, I will share the events of the second day on the trip (with photos) in which we get to Chaco Culture Canyon.