On the road again, out of Denver, south along Route 85 or is it 87, but this time with a pretty passenger. Heading to Colorado Springs, the Lambretta behaving well as always. We would be encountering some hills, but what was lost on the uphill, could, as least partially be regained on downward slopes and our rate of travel would allow for enjoyment. An added bonus this morning was the closeness of Stella and the partial protection from cool breezes her presence offered. That and the welcome touch of one hand, then the other, and sometimes both hands on my rib cage or back. Oh Lordy, this was one sweet morning. One new hand signal we agreed to was a scissoring motion of the index and middle fingers to indicate that a break was needed. We could use voice communication, but it was a bit of a strain and really not a conversational thing.
We were traveling along that in-between area, between the Rockies on our right and grasslands on our left. It was mixed terrain, and various bumps on the earth’s surface had names like Rattlesnake Mountain, Bald Mountain, True Mountain, each with its own little bit of history. There were scattered patches of evergreen forest, probably juniper and pinòn, and some agricultural fields. We had gorgeous sunshine and a hint of warmth coming into the air. I signaled a break with the scissors imitation and pulled into a café parking lot on the northern outskirts of Colorado Springs. We had driven almost two hours and covered 50 miles. Removing my helmet and glasses I told Stella, we would almost never travel that long without a break. Was she OK so far? She leaned into my face and said “Delighted, perfectly content.” Reaching into my jacket, “Cookie?” So we ate a few cookies each while we talked. I mentioned that when we hit a café, we should always use the restroom, sometimes twice … maybe once before we sit down and order, and always just before we leave. Would she like to have a small meal or just coffee or … “just some coffee, sir.” In that case, I won’t lock the helmets to the scooter and all that. We’ll just carry them. Went in and sat at the counter and she said “Just two black coffees, please.” And as we sipped coffee, I explained that Colorado Springs was an upscale town … there were many high salary people living there. I wanted her to see the Garden of the Gods, which I had seen on the way up to Denver. On the west edge of town. We could spend as much time as she liked noodling around there, after we finished our coffee and used the restroom. We are never in a hurry, I emphasized. At the scooter, we saddled up, she gave me a big hug and said loudly ‘Onward to the Garden of the Gods, O White Knight.’ And we started on our way. But damn, those hugs felt so fine. So very fine.
Continuing south, not long afterward, we were in the northern parts of Colorado Springs. Turning right, we headed west until the red rock formations became prominent, which meant we were in the Garden of the Gods. I had explained that this was not just a little compact park. It was a sprawling area, with vehicle roads, paved footpaths, dirt footpaths, and lots of red sandstone formations. Whenever a stop was called for, Stella should signal me. We stopped three or four times to look at particular formations. A moderate number of people were doing the same … some looked dressed for long hikes, others in everyday clothing. I pointed out Pikes Peak and she asked how far away, it seemed so close. Ten or twelve miles. Her favorites were the formations called Cathedral Spires and the Three Graces. My suggestion was that we keep the scooter in sight but that we walk around a little more, since one’s legs are nearly immobile while riding a scooter. Gentle exercise would be good for her leg which she still favored a bit from time to time. We talked of the spirituality of this area. It reminded me a bit of Sedona back in Arizona – also a spiritual center of some significance. She asked if I felt anything religious here in the Garden. My answer was a waffle … no, not religious like the western man’s churches, but I could see how various Indian tribes which encountered this area would feel attached to this and genuinely feel a spiritual attachment. Me, I just appreciate the incredible geology and I guess that, in a way, is more like the Indians’ regard for this place than the white man’s. These rocks are 200 or 300 million years old. Imagine. In comparison, our religions are nothing but freckles on a flea’s ass. She got a blast out of that remark. Oh, what a beautiful sight when she laughed. That’s what I call sight-seeing at its best.
Hey Beautiful Princess, are you hungry? It’s approximately lunchtime. She asked if we had any cookies left? Ma, certo! Now, I’ve got you hooked on cookies. Now I can do whatever I want with you. Let’s have a few cookies and we’ll head down to Pueblo, about two hours from here. I know a place where the food is wholesome, tasty, and just unbeatable. If Enrico is there, we’ll have the best meal attainable in all of Colorado. Got the water bag from the scooter, the cookies were in my jacket, all we needed was a friendly rock to sit on. As we nibbled cookies and took sips of water, she asked why I wasn’t fat since I liked cookies so much. I explained that good Italian cookies did not add to the weight of a person, that they fed the soul and everyone knows the soul doesn’t have any weight. Any lesser cookie, of course, is fattening. She thought that was a perfect explanation and chuckling, just shook her head while I was saying “What? What?” How I loved making this girl smile.
Now making our way out of Colorado Springs and southward, retracing the trip back to Pueblo. Fountain Creek was on our left and the Rocky Mountains were on our right and all was well with the world. The scenery seemed particularly splendid this fine day. On some upgrades, I had to drop to a lower gear for a distance, but I thought we’d pretty much done the steep grade stuff. After about an hour of buzzing along, I gave the scissors signal, indicating a break, and finding a likely place near some greenery, pulled off the road.
“We should have stopped for coffee before we left Colorado Springs. Time to wee-wee now.” She said, “Good idea.” “Urgent?” I asked. She said no. So I walked into the brush and took a leak. On returning, she asked the procedure. I took out a small handful of café paper napkins. “First, find a loose stone of decent size. You can use it for leaning on without putting your hand in the dirt. Then, after you pee, tend to your tush with these and then put the used ones under that stone. They’ll decompose very quickly. Pooping is more involved. I’ll explain that later. Right now, I’d like to have a smoke.” She said, “I’ll join you.” As we talked and smoked, I asked her how she liked the day so far. She said “Absolutely magical. It seems I’ve seen more today than in the rest of my life.” I explained, on the other side of the road was Fountain Creek which empties into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. We’ll camp alongside this creek tonight, if that’s OK with you. She said I was the trail boss.
Back to our roadway and a few hugs from behind me. Then a bit of a shoulder rub. Then a little tug on each earlobe. Time seemed to fly as we drove across the bridge spanning the Arkansas, she for the first time, me for about the fourth time. Pointing down river, I said, “Tomorrow, we’ll begin to follow it … for a day or two.” Now, down through Pueblo, past the hardware store where I had bought the tarp. Soon we pulled into Enrico’s.
Removing helmets, stretching, shaking our hair out, locking helmets to the scooter, we made our way into that extraordinary, ordinary-looking café. Mid-afternoon, a few customers there and we took a booth. Enrico himself soon appeared from the kitchen, paused for a moment, and almost shouted, “Unbelievable! Unbelievable! I have thought about you five hundred times since you left. Enrico seemed to be dancing. Who’s this?” Leaning toward Stella, he said, “I’m Enrico.” She said, “My name is Stella.” She extended her hand and he took hers, gave it a little kiss and said, “What a perfect name for such a beautiful young woman! Oh, you two are a picture!” So I pipe in and say, “Let me introduce you”… and they both laugh. Enrico said, “I thought I’d never see you again. What are you doing back here?” I explained that Stella needed a ride to New Orleans and I couldn’t refuse such good-looking girl, could I? He said, “New Orleans! New Orleans? You’re some wonderful kind of crazy. I thought you’d be in Chicago by now.” I said, “How could I go to Chicago without having some more of your food. Do you remember what you fed me?” He said, “But of course …” Stella said quietly, “Ma, certo.” Enrico looked at Stella, “You speak Italian? I wish I could.” And he went on without pause … “Yes, yes, you had chicken and red peppers, Swiss chard on the side and some bread and coffee.” I looked at Stella, “Sound OK to you?” She smiled and nodded yes. Enrico had this sad look on his face. “Oh, what a shame,” he said, “I don’t have chicken and red peppers” and then immediately, a big smile, “I have chicken with asparagus and roasted green peppers instead of red … and … I have Swiss chard, too. Is that OK?” “Enrico, that’s sounds perfect, will you join us for lunch or supper, whichever it is?” He said, “How about I join you for coffee like the last time?” I said, “It would be my honor.”
Enrico served our meal and we slowly enjoyed every bit of it. He finally came over with coffee and an extra cup for himself. He cleared a few dishes, and Stella got up and helped him. Then he came over with the coffee pot and an extra cup and sat down with us. “The food was OK?” he asked. “Enrico, it was delightful and it was needed. I’m happy I was able to get back here.” He asked, “You’re really headed to New Orleans?” I nodded yes and said we planned to reach it in two or three weeks and just enjoy the whole experience. We talked for an hour or more. He had so many questions and finally he said, “I’m going to imagine you two every day for the next two weeks. A little piece of my soul will be with you the entire trip. Listen, I haven’t known you a long time, but I love you both.” I said I knew exactly what he meant. I asked for the tab, he waved me away, and I said that wasn’t fair. Let me use the restroom and then we could argue. First, I went out and got the water bag, took it to the sink and filled it. On my way back to the table, Stella met me half way and said so quietly, “He won’t bill us. How much should I leave?” “Ten, I whispered.” When I got back to the table, I told him we’d be camping out tonight in the same area that he recommended a week ago and thanked him so much. As we got ready to leave, he gave Stella a big hug. Then he gave me an emotional hug and while I was shaking his hand, I felt he was crying inside when he said “Good Luck to the two of you. You are such magnificent people!”
Stella and I headed to the scooter, and she said, “Let’s hurry before he finds the money I left.” And we made good our escape from that beautiful place and headed to that other beautiful place along Fountain Creek to make our camp for the night. I would get fuel for Tony the Lambretta in the morning. All this was breaking rules normally followed. Usually, the scooter fuel was first consideration, but this afternoon was special.
Back across the Arkansas River heading northward now, take a right, and eventually get back to the place where I had camped a week before. Could not believe only a week had passed. This had to be a time warp. The past week seemed half a lifetime.
Now it was time to set up camp amongst the small trees and shrubs near Fountain Creek. First thing, stabilize footing for the scooter and tie it off to two small trees. Of course, Stella wanted to help with everything. I suggested it would be better to let me go through my routine unassisted, which would require about fifteen minutes, and she could watch and next time, help with it. That was fine with her, but she really was a bit anxious to jump into this camping. I mentioned again that this was not ‘normal’ camping, but rather primitive with very few luxuries involved. She could, in a few minutes, help me with the new tarpaulin. Set up the tent very quickly and just as quickly had shallow trenches dug around it. Having told her of my fiasco of the New Mexico rainstorm experience, she understood the tarp business immediately. Finally, I retrieved the tarp from the trunk of the scooter, opened the package and Stella helped me spread it out and we draped it over the tent. There was a generous amount of overhang. OK, let’s try to find six rocks about this big and I shaped the air into a football sized chunk. If they’re a little more oblong, that’s even better. That took about five minutes. Not a tough job, here near the river bed. Tied the four corners of the tarp to stones, then a center one on each side, always trying to keep as low a profile as possible. I knew what the force of wind could do, having studied and worked a few math problems which involved low pressures over large surface areas in high school physics. So that did it. We had a camp with a tent. And only a very slight breeze. Now get the sleeping bag bag, and the clothing bags and arrange the inside. The dull color grayish green of the tarp blended well with the surroundings and so far, I was satisfied with it. Ok, next step is to gather two small piles of wood for coffeepot fires, one for this evening, one for the morning. That done, it was time to sit down and rest or talk or read. I pointed out the dead tree where the hawks and eagles had been. We still had an hour or more of daylight. I mentioned we had a river to get bathing water from, but were limited to a gallon for drinking, coffee-making and tooth-brushing. Resting and talking we could do with the reduced light of evening, but reading would have to be done now. She said she would prefer to do a little writing in her notebook. Good, I’d like to read. Haven’t done much this week. Thought I’d read Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ which I had just begun two or three years before and had been interrupted, and had never gone back. But I was always trying to read a half dozen books at a time, anyway. We began and spent a half-hour in near silence at the entrance ‘doormat’ of the little tent, in reality just a thin fabric flap. She closed her notebook and I noticed it was small and thick. Was that the same notebook her aunt had given her when she was a little girl. She nodded yes and said she would never leave it behind.
While we have some daylight, let’s walk near the Creek. Beautiful place, despite being not too far from the highway and railroad tracks on the other side of the creek and close to a residential area on this side. I explained how I washed using a washcloth and a bar of soap the week before and very nearly froze my ass off. She laughed and said, “Tonight then, we go to bed dirty, if you don’t mind too much.” I said it wasn’t normally my style, but neither was frostbite. As we walked back to the tent, I grabbed the water bag from the scooter and asked if she wanted more coffee. She said no, let’s do coffee in the morning and just brush our teeth and wash our faces tonight. I asked if she thought she might want a midnight snack, if so, better get it now while we can still see. And better to pee now, too. We took care of that business, then sat and talked on the doormat for a while as the air cooled, daylight diminished, and starlight gained the night sky. Then it was time to crawl inside the tent for the evening. This was a new experience for me, two people in this little tent. We managed to get comfortable, half sitting up with the sleeping bag rolled out under us, using the clothing bags as cushions, and opening the little vents for breathing air.
With my arm half way around her, I asked, “So, Princess, how was your day?” She started with, “This has been the best day of my life. The scooter riding is just the right pace. I see so much as we go past. I cannot tell you how good this has been … the cookies, towns, mountains, clouds, and the restaurant … such simple, splendid food. And you know what, Rosano? That man, Enrico, you have given him a new look at life. He’ll start some adventure in his life, and soon. You did that for me, too. And what about you … how was your day?” “Stella, it was a memorable, beautiful day for me. The journey northward, I shared with you, but in reverse, as we moved southward. On the scooter was one of the ten most beautiful women in the world touching me almost all day. And this beautiful woman laughed at most of my ridiculous jokes. Nobody on earth can top that.” “Oh yes,” she said, “I can top that if you don’t object to getting in bed with some dirty little woman from out of town.” I said, “Sometimes, we just have to be tolerant and accepting.”
“Princess, I got something bothering me. Just listen. On my way up to Colorado, I realized that I was really vulnerable and almost without any defense if I needed it. Now, with you, I feel doubly exposed. Tomorrow, I want to return to the hardware store and buy a machete. I saw some there. I can’t carry a firearm, because each state has its own laws, maybe each county or township, so that’s a sure way to get in trouble over nothing. But having a machete goes with camping and the tent and all that. So that’s what I’ll do. I just don’t want you to get too concerned about all this.” She answered, “Tomorrow, when we have more light, I will show you something. And tomorrow, let’s get a better flashlight, too.”
We talked for a while, touching on many subjects, this trip included. Tomorrow we would start across prairie land, though for a day or two we would never be far from the Arkansas River. She asked where the river went eventually. The source, was some springs, about 150 miles west of us, up into the Rockies we had just driven past. It finally emptied its water into the Mississippi River. It total length was about 1500 miles as it meandered this way and that way across four or five states. Now you know as much as I do. The Arkansas is absolutely loaded with history, maybe one day I’ll look it up. Starting tomorrow, everything we encounter is new to both of us, that is, until we reach Louisiana, where you know much more than I do. She said no, she really didn’t know much at all, since as kids, all they did was hang around and try to avoid the adults, because they seemed to think kids were just so much trash. My childhood wasn’t terrible compared to some kids, but it was scary and dull at the same time. Actually, my whole life has been pretty dull. And Rosano, you’ve already changed that, in just a week.
My response was something like this: “Look, I’ll take a tiny bit of credit for that, but give yourself far more credit, because you are ready for big changes in your life. Listen, you took leave of absence from your fulltime job, you’ve quit your part time job, all in preparation to go to that family reunion just so you can sever your family ties for once and for all. So you see, you’ve decided, no one else did, it was you, and you’re all set. You don’t know what you want to do with your life, but that’s no problem at all. That will eventually resolve itself. More important is that you know what you don’t want, what you won’t do. So I come along and completely luck out by finding you in a coin-op laundry and we become lovers and at least halfway fall in love in a matter of days and it has been a glorious time. So we’ll be going in different directions soon and you’ll start recreating yourself and I’m going to suggest one thing which could be very helpful in your mind. You should change your name. Stella Beauchamp. Stella, meaning star, is a splendid name, so you must keep that. Beauchamp, which means beautiful meadow, is also a fine name, so you should keep that, too. What you should change, I believe, is the pronunciation of Beauchamp. You pronounce it ‘beachim’ to rhyme with ‘reach him.’ The Brits do crazy crap like that. Sometimes they purposely obscure the language, I swear. Try ‘bow Shom’ with a little push on the second syllable. That does two things: one, it just sounds far more elegant and matches your elegant appearance, and two, it separates you from all that childhood family garbage, it splits you apart from the people, the ‘beachims’ you dislike so intensely. If you have a different name, the split becomes more valid in your own mind, and your own heart, and that’s where it counts the most.”
She sat quietly. Then, a question, “What does Champs-Élysées mean?” Oh wow, I didn’t expect that. I said, “Sounds gorgeous, right?” She said yes. I said it refers to a Greek paradise, the Elysian Fields or Meadows, a place for heroes who have gone to heaven, but I have no idea how to say it in Greek. I’m really weak on Greek history and mythology. For a while though, I was pretty strong on Metaxa and Ouzo. Anyway, say it … “bow Shom.” And she did, and even though I couldn’t see her in the darkness, I know she smiled … and quietly said it again, “bow Shom.” “There you go, Miss Beauchamp, the old spelling but a new name. And you don’t have to change any paperwork.”
After more talk, she asked for the water bag, took a sip of water, and said, “I think you should get naked.” Hmmm … I wonder what’s on her mind, after all, she’s already had a lot to deal with today. I asked if she would join me and she said, “When the time is right.” This was the first night with two people in this tiny tent. And it was a doozie with a capital ‘dooz.’