Joey Patemko and I are hitchhiking buddies. When I arrived at his place, five miles south of Taos Plaza, he told me two other couchsurfers were staying that night. They wanted to take him out to dinner so we were going to hitchhike into town and ride back with them. I showered fast so we could be roadside before dark.
Joey wore board shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. He carried a big sign, ‘TAOS’ in box letters on a slab of corrugated. He waved it at all passing vehicles, jerked his thumb up and down and danced a lick. The crisp mountain air didn’t chill the Cleveland native’s bones or exuberant spirit. “You got to have a sign, that helps. You got to be in daylight too. Make eye contact with every driver.” Sometimes, Joey explained, he got rides into town within 30 seconds, never more than fifteen minutes. Five minutes passed with no takers. Prudent me suggested perhaps two men would have more difficultly getting a ride than one. “Maybe.” I could tell Joey didn’t consider that a real deterrent. “Well, no woman will pick us up.” I said with certainty.
Two minutes later, Tracy stopped her weathered Toyota wagon. On her way to the laundromat. She tossed stuff out of the front seat to make room for Joey. I shifted the car seat in back to create space for me. She asked for a cigarette. Neither of us was carrying. She shrugged, took a gulp of Tecate, and turned the volume on her CD mix up to the beat.
Joey has a pretty mouth; at least that’s what some guy told him. Although Joey wasn’t keen on receiving that compliment from a man, he knows its true. He’s a solidly good-looking 27-year-old male. Tracy’s older but she’s got assets no sharp eye would dismiss.
Joey and Tracy talked about how they came to Taos. She’s been here twelve years, has two kids and a full sleeve of tatts on her shifting arm. Joey’s been here only a few months, and will likely move on soon. They talked about hot springs. Tracy turned the volume down as the conversation spiked. Maybe they would go to Hondo together. She gave him her number. He logged it but didn’t reciprocate. The heat of their conversation made me want to remove my jacket.
We pull up the laundromat a few blocks off the Plaza. “I can drive you the whole way,” Tracy implores. “No,” Joey says, “we can use the exercise; especially this guy,” He thumbs to the back and tells her I’ve ridden my bike 17,000 miles. She doesn’t know how to respond. A lot of people don’t.
A hot mess. I never really understood that term. But Joey nailed it.
How will we live tomorrow?
“When I am in crisis I feel happy – I don’t sweat the small stuff.
“Try to help people when they need it; don’t help people that ask too much. But learn how to ask for help when you need it.”