M. Scott Douglass

8000 MILE ROLL, A Motorcycle Memoir

Chapter 7

After examining their version of a continental buffet and experiencing the flurry of activity erupting at the Super 8, I realized they had nothing worth eating and decided to hit the road. It was Saturday, June 19, a little earlier than I’d planned to leave, but I had a lot of ground to cover today. Mr. Google didn’t show a lot of restaurant options open on my morning ride, but there was a cluster near Espanola, where Rt. 68 met Rt. 84, roughly an hour away. And who knows, maybe I’d get lucky and stumble upon some undiscovered treasure on the way.
My first stop was Dennis Hopper’s Grave. Did you know, if you key Dennis Hopper’s Grave into Google Maps, it will take you right there? I was shocked. I’m a fan of his work. Some of the characters he played were unforgettable. I’m sure he has fans worldwide, but to have a satellite in orbit spotlighting where they laid your bones. Hot damn! That had to be the coolest thing about dying I ever heard.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but this sure wasn’t it. The cemetery was a poorly maintained gravel lot, about the same size as all the other lots nearby where single-family homes had been built. A stucco shed out front had a tilted sign that said Office. Behind the building, a field of mostly small headstones stood buffeted by weeds and separated by gravel paths.
Dennis Hopper’s grave stood out. It was a wooden cross about seven feet tall wrapped with so many bandanas, it was hard to read the words carved into it. His name was carved on the crossbeam, birth and death date on the upright below. Atop the cross sat a molded head I’m certain was supposed to be Jesus. It too, was wrapped in bandanas as if Jesus had been working out in the gym or riding a motorcycle through the desert.
In front of the cross was a ring of what looked like volcanic rocks. Inside the ring was a bed of smaller white quartz stones with a scattering of yellow plastic flowers. yellow flowers were pinned to the cross also. What interested me most were the trinkets at the base of the cross and one painted rock that said, “Boys Don’t get caught watching the Paint Dry,” a quote from Hoosiers.
I’d considered leaving one of my stones here, but seeing this shrine changed my mind. I didn’t want to desecrate it with a personal memento.
After taking a bunch of photos, I walked back to where the bike was propped precariously on sandy gravel in front of the office. “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf rumbled in my head as I fired up the motorcycle. By the time I turned onto Rt. 68, Tom Petty was telling me it was time to move on, time to get going.
Route 68 was a downhill scoot, much of it beside the Rio Grande, with many photo ops built into the time set aside for this ride. The first stop was barely five miles south of Taos where the road took a sharp left curve, then a wide sweeping curve back to the right, then another tight turn back to the left. It also swooped down about two hundred feet and then back up through the last curve.
As I came out of the second turn, a small memorial could be seen on a hillock above a roadside pullover at the start of the next curve. It looked to be a good vantage point to photograph the river. I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and had the road pretty much to myself. Today was about photographs and depositing breadcrumbs in my wake. It was an easy place to stop.
Morning sunlight was perfect for this location. The sun had risen over the top of the mountains to the east and just starting to peek down into the Rio Grande Gorge at an angle that reflected off the water. The gorge was shallow here. The memorial consisted of two small wooden crosses, both apparently well-maintained.
The writing on the older cross was no longer readable, but there were flowers, an angel, and two baseball gloves nailed to the crossbeam. The newer cross was from 2016, an eighteen-year-old, with his name carved into it. The cross rose out of a plastic flowerpot filled with stones and plastic flowers. It was braced by more rocks, some painted, and chards of broken ceramics and pottery.
I thought about the age of the kid whose memorial this was as I took pictures from this higher vantage of the sweeping road that brought us here. My mind did what it does most often, imagined. I envisioned a young guy on a sport bike or a hot sports car choosing these turns to show off and losing control right here in the third turn which was sharper than the previous two. I sensed his excitement and confidence building as he gained speed.
It’s easy to let the thrill of the ride take charge. Those who don’t curb that urge with respect for the road are remembered by plastic flowers and wooden crosses. This was the first of several I passed on the way from Taos to Santa Fe.
I pulled over at least a dozen times to take photos. The river was accessible, but it was still barely bigger than waterways we labeled creeks back in Pennsylvania. Among the most photogenic items were cliff facings on the east side of the road. Another was the road itself. Several times I stood on the double yellow lines shooting with the river on one side, the cliffs on the other. It made for a few good photos, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this during a busy time of day or season. Some of the turns are tight and the road rises and falls with the terrain. Locals drive through here briskly even though what’s on the other side of a rise or bend can’t always be seen.
I left a painted stone at an historical marker where the road separated from the river. That was my last stop on the way out of the hills.
There were only a few Mom and Pop restaurants. Most appeared closed, which was weird to me. Where I come from, it’s vacation season. Being a Saturday, I would think adding local day-trippers to the volume of tourists would spell revenue. Then, again, this was the age of pandemic. One place did appear to be open, but if you’re the only place open and there’s only one car out front, it doesn’t speak well for the quality of what you’re offering.
I ended up eating a brownie at a Starbucks in Espanola where I sat for about twenty minutes to check emails and send a few texts. Had I gone down the road a half mile further, there were other options. Hell, there was a McDonald’s across the street. But the roads here were under construction and I could see on approach that it would be a mistake to go all the way to the main intersection. While checking the route to my next destination at Starbuck’s, Mr. Google said turn right at the next light and skip the main intersection further on. So, I did.
The stretch of Rt. 84 north from Espanola to Abiquiu was a two-lane, rural highway. Traffic consisted of mostly ranchers, day workers, and vacationers. It was a quiet ride without reason to stop before Bode’s General Store. This was the last gas station I’d encounter for a while. As much as anything else, I needed to use the restroom and drink some water. I consider myself a quick-learner and didn’t want to lose another day to heat exhaustion since this was one of the meatier parts of my trip.
Bode’s brought the usual attention: “Are you from Pittsburgh?” Football talk, tales of the road, stories from a former life, someone else’s former motorcycle adventure.
While here, I wanted to scout Rt. 96 for a loop either later today or tomorrow after my tattoo session. Mr. Google said it cut west off Rt. 84 near the Abiquiu Reservoir, a few miles south of Ghost Ranch, a place to check out on the way in.
Apparently, I passed Rt. 96 without noticing. Before expected, a sign for Ghost Ranch appeared on my right.
The entrance itself was enough to indicate the coolness of this place with the longhorn skull logo on a rolling gate. Above it a welcome sign and Ghost Ranch nameplate hung from a wooden post gateway. Then there came the dirt road. No pavement here and it felt as though it hadn’t been graded in a long time.
I crept back, careful to avoid being eaten by rocky potholes or kick up a dust cloud. Monsoon season peaks in a couple weeks. Had it been raining or wet when I arrived, I would have turned around and headed on to my next stop rather than ride my bike on this road.
Soon an old log cabin came into view on a section of land that looked like it may have been the original homestead. The cabin was accompanied by a fenced corral, an antler archway, and a small church. Both buildings were accessible to walk in, which seemed strange. You can’t preserve places like this, out in the open, when the public has unsupervised access. It didn’t surprise me that the antler arch and church were gone when I brought Jill here a year later. It may have been a measure of preservation, but I suspect vandalism had a hand in it. This part of the colony was close to the highway and easily accessible for anyone with a mind for mischief.
Further back, a guard sat in a folding chair beside the road checking identification, asking visitors why they were there, how long they intended to stay, and taking entrance fees. I came for three things, to take photographs, to visit the Welcome Center and gift shop, and to leave a painted rock. I had already taken photos and left a rock at the base of a scrub oak behind the log cabin.
Part of the timing for this trip was to wedge it between our anniversary and Jill’s birthday. She was flying into Las Vegas to meet me on Tuesday, June 22 and I still hadn’t found a suitable birthday gift. Jill likes artsy things. Ghost Ranch is a retreat where artistic people come for inspiration, among other things. My reasoning was, Surely, they would have something in their gift shop I could buy for Jill.
Covid 19 strikes again!
A lack of participation as well as health rules had cut down on traffic and that translated into funding. It didn’t help that the Museum was closed to visitors. Anyway, there wasn’t much to choose from and a T-shirt wasn’t going to cut it for her birthday. I found a pair of earrings that were suitable, but not dazzling. At least I wouldn’t greet her empty-handed. If I found something better in Santa Fe or Window Rock, so much the better.
I also bought a glass with the Ghost Ranch logo on it for our home collection.
Then I left. It was about 10:30 and already eighty-five degrees.
I passed Orphan Mesa Picnic Area on my left about a mile before Ghost Ranch on my way in. On the way to Santa Fe, I stopped to drink water, shed a layer of clothing, and check my bearings if a signal was available. Could I have misread the map and Rt. 96 was north of Ghost Ranch? That happens to me sometimes on small screens. The picnic area also had a nice angle to photograph mesas across the highway.
No, I had it right, Rt. 96 should be down the road a few hundred yards. It turned out to be the entranceway to the reservoir, or what was left of the reservoir. Many of the ravines I’d crossed were listed as “rivers” and were dust dry. The Abiquiu Reservoir barely existed. The reason I’d missed the Rt. 96 turn off was because it looked like the entranceway to the reservoir.
I coasted into the mouth of Rt. 96 and out of the way of traffic to check road condition. It looked like a difficult road to turn a bike around on, narrow and mounded, and the surface quality looked ragged. Here at the intersection, it was already rough, and this was the entranceway to the reservoir and boat ramp. I don’t know what boats anyone would risk on a pond this shallow, but it didn’t look as though boaters used it often.
The loop I was scouting would have taken 96 west to Rt. 550, south about a mile to Rt. 126, which looked like it was one step above a dirt road. Route 126 would take me to Rt. 4/Rt. 502 and either of those would take me back to 84, and south to Santa Fe. This would swing me by either Los Alamos or White Rock.
My first choice was White Rock because satellite images made it look like there could be some unique geology to photograph. I’d read a few reviews of Rt. 4 and most folks said to avoid it in favor of 502. With that in mind and judging by the quality of Rt. 96, this probably wasn’t the best loop to take unless I had an entire day to dedicate to it. And what if I had mechanical issues out there, could I get a signal to call for assistance?
That’s what onsite scouting is about.
On to Santa Fe.
I arrived in Santa Fe way too early to check into my motel, but there were other things to keep me busy. First among them was visiting Guido Baldini at The Lost Tattoo and Gallery. He was notoriously slow to respond to emails and texts, so before committing to show up at noon on a Sunday, Father’s Day no less, I decided to bop in, let him see I’m a real person, and confirm the appointment.
This was a tough place to find. Apparently, it has moved a few times. He greeted me like an old friend. Granted, I’m an old guy, but we had never met. I found him online while planning the trip.
I told him I couldn’t stay long. My bike was in an alley behind the building still loaded down with my travel gear. The alley didn’t seem like a wholesome place to leave anything of value, but I kept that to myself. I was reporting in to assure him I’d be there the next day.
He wanted to see my bike and followed me out. Bike stories. Everybody’s got at least one. Guido grew up in Spain. His bike of choice was a BMW. He’d ridden all over Europe before immigrating here. He said his daughter and wife frowned on him riding, so he sold his bike. He didn’t have time to ride anymore anyway.
From there, I went to my motel. It was still early, but a lot of places will let you check in early if a room is available. Not Baymont.
It was on the southern edge of town and these folks were strict about their rules. “WEAR A MASK” the sign on the door read. “No check-ins before 3 p.m.” It was around 1 p.m. and they weren’t budging. I brought up the phone number of an author I planned to visit while in town. One of the reasons I chose Baymont was its proximity to his house, a Harley shop, and an escape route for Monday morning.
I called the author. He said to come over in an hour or so. Okay. He’s five minutes away. What do I do until then? The Harley Davidson dealership.
Baymont was adjacent to a mall that, like many malls, was slowly slipping into obsolescence. Wicked West Harley Davidson sat across the mall parking lot from Baymont. I could see it from the motel parking lot, but there was no paved access road from Baymont to the mall. Probably another of those unbreakable rules they have. To get to Harley, I circled around the mall. Not far, but a minor nuisance.
What’s really cool about stopping at a Harley dealership when traveling is that they treat you like family. One of my biggest concerns about not being able to check-in to the Baymont was my phone being almost out of juice. Unless turned off, phone batteries drain faster in rural America. Riding from Taos to Ghost Ranch and down to Santa Fe left it drained. I spent an hour at the dealership charging my phone and talking trash with more Cowboy fans.
We stood at a high table outside comparing rides and roads. One guy pulled a cold beer out of his cooler and offered me one.
“No thanks. I’m waiting until I’ve finished business today to get into some whiskey.”
“You’ve got whiskey?”
I held one finger up, turned, walked to my bike, opened a saddle bag, and returned with a flask.
He started cackling like a giddy kid. We passed the flask around. So much for waiting. After all, if not now, when?
With my phone partially charged, I bought a t-shirt and decal before riding off to meet my author. Things were quickly being checked off my things to do list. Life was good.
My author’s house was easy to find. Apparently, he hadn’t told his wife I was coming, and she didn’t seem fond of surprises. Don was recovering from some kind of surgery that made sitting uncomfortable. I don’t ask people for details about such things. In my opinion, if it’s something they want me to know, they’ll tell me.
I stayed about an hour, told him how my publishing company works, answered questions, and ate cookies. That last item was important. I hadn’t eaten anything since Starbucks that morning. His wife’s biggest concern seemed to be what neighbors might think seeing my bike parked in front of their house. She eventually warmed up and showed me her art studio at the back of the house. One of her paintings would be used on the cover of his book.
I arrived back at Baymont a few minutes after 3 p.m. The line at the check-in desk ran all the way out the front door. Not everyone spoke English well. The line moved slowly.
This was the last firm item on today’s list of things to do. Having to wait to check-in eliminated the option of riding a loop through the hills north of Santa Fe.
At 4pm all I wanted to do was get into my room, lighten the bike of my stuff, shower, and relax for a while before going to dinner. Outback was walking distance across the mall parking lot from Baymont. Steak was on my mind.
Not all stops and interactions with other people are noteworthy. The Outback had notables.
It was nice to be able to wear shorts and slip-on shoes for a change. I sat at the bar. No sense taking up a table when you’re alone. Besides, the bar was open to the outside and it was a beautiful day.
You can always tell whether you’re a good fit for a place by the music they play. I could hear “Dust in the Wind” as I walked into the bar. I’d no sooner found a stool when Bob Seger sang “Mainstreet.” That’s kind of like saying Welcome Home to a guy who named his business after that song.
I ordered a Guinness and performed one of my favorite past times, people watching, when a guy came out of the restroom and filled a space across the u-shaped bar beside a little old lady who looked like a regular from a seventies sitcom. But the guy, this guy, had to be an Elvis impersonator. The two of them sitting side by side seemed like they may have been the Santa Fe Outback’s version of barflies. It was hard not to stare. I half expected Elvis to grab a mic, jump on the bar, and start singing and gyrating.
Then a couple sat in the corner seats beside me and we talked while waiting for our food. The woman was interested in cameras. She had been asked to take photos for an upcoming wedding and wanted to upgrade to a new camera. She asked what I was using on my trip. I told her I’ve been using Canon for many years. The one I brought was a brand new, mirrorless camera. She said mirrorless was what she was considering and wondered what I thought of mine.
“Too soon to tell. I’m still learning it.”
“What’s the difference between it and your other camera?”
“Again, still learning it, but it’s supposed to be better for action shots because the lens is faster. They also say that what you see in the small monitor is what you will get, the way it will print.”
Her husband appeared to be a body builder. In fact, they were both very fit, mid-forties. Neither was drinking alcohol, and both ordered a healthy chicken option with salad. I asked him what he did for a living to see if my assumption was right.
To my surprise, he worked for the New Mexico State Road Commission, or whatever they call it. He was one of those guys whose job was to rescue stranded motorists.
I asked him what his territory was.
“Pretty much the whole state.”
“Do you do any business on Rt. 4 or 502?” That ride was still in play for tomorrow afternoon at this point.
“Yes. In fact, I’ve towed more motorcycles out of Rt. 4 than any other road in the state.”
“Were these wrecks?”
“A couple. Mostly it was flat tires. Those backroads are rough and have a lot of debris on them.”
That resolved my Sunday afternoon ride consideration.
“How well do you know Rt. 68 up to Taos?” I asked.
“Pretty well.”
“I saw several crosses on the side of the road. Do you know anything about those?”
“People drive too fast on that road. We had another kid get killed there about a month ago.”
“Yes, sir.”
This couple was very nice. He spoke in the quiet polite tone of ex-military accustomed to reporting to higher ranking officers. One of those chance encounters from which I learned a lot in a short amount of time.
I finished my dinner, my second Guinness, and snuck a phone pic of Elvis before heading back to my room. Tomorrow’s schedule needed to be reworked.
The Longmire television series is based on books by Craig Johnson. Friends at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green introduced me to the author several years earlier. Just a quick howdy, but my friends bought me a copy of his first book, The Cold Dish, had him sign it, and sent it to me as a gift. Craig Johnson lives near Buffalo, Wyoming on which Durant, the fictional town in his books, is based. I’d be stopping in Buffalo later on this trip and arranged to meet with Craig while there.
There was a lot of territory to cover between here and Buffalo. Las Vegas, New Mexico was high on my list of places to visit. Although Longmire is based in Wyoming, many of the scenes were shot in and around Las Vegas, New Mexico. That made it a point of interest for my camera.
My tattoo appointment was at noon. Las Vegas was about an hour’s ride from my motel. The Baymont’s “continental breakfast” opened at 7 a.m. I had plenty of time to grab something, ride to Las Vegas, spend an hour or more shooting, and ride back for my appointment.
The Baymont breakfast.
I stayed here two nights, but only tolerated their breakfast once. They served it in the lobby near the front door. When I arrived, a large group of people fanned out around a barricade of tables. I couldn’t see what was going on until it was almost my turn. All the food was against the back wall. A man who also worked as the desk clerk, took an order, put it on a plate and handed the flimsy paper plate to the customer. We then carried these gifts back to our rooms since there was no seating area. There were also no trays on which to carry everything.
My toast came out black, no butter. The scrambled eggs were hard and cold. No bacon and only plain bagels. To know all that, I ordered all that, hedging my bets on what might be edible. I also ordered Raisin Bran and a container of milk. Instead of a container, he poured some milk into a plastic juice glass. Classy place.
With nowhere to eat in the lobby and my room almost as far down the hall as the hall reaches, second from back exit, half my coffee ended up on the rug by the time I got to my room. He’d only given me one napkin and no implements with which to eat, so I had to go back to the lobby for those. He barked at me for reaching behind the barricade instead of standing in line… again.
Yes, Baymont was a very classy place.
Las Vegas, New Mexico was a cute little town. One of those places I’d ride through and think, I could live here.
Most towns have an arts district. This whole town screamed of art with murals in unexpected places, including an historical mural more than half a block long on a wall across from Dick’s Restaurant, where flea markets were sometimes held.
It was early Sunday. The plaza area was vacant and allowed me to take photos from the middle of Bridge Street, in Plaza Park itself where cool sculptures were displayed, and a few side streets where local artisans had decorated a tattoo parlor and galleries. Then there was the gang clubhouse disguised as a scrap metal yard and auto repair shop. I’m not sure who they thought they were fooling.
But, let me back up some, to a character I met outside a laundromat.
I pulled into town straight off the highway and cruised around looking for the center of town. That’s how I found the train station and a few other notable places, like the local Biden/Harris campaign office and the clubhouse adjacent to a highway overpass.
All the pillar supports for the highway were tagged with a variety of sixties hot rod cars and pseudo-religious icons. The shop/clubhouse itself mounted the front end of a fifties Chevy like an awning above one entranceway, the tail end of a Corvair over another, and a tireless turquoise Nomad on iron supports parked about twelve feet up against the front of the building.
Another old Chevy parked on the sidewalk looked like it was in the middle of being converted to a fifties version of an El Camino. A fifty-something Chevy truck on the street beside it looked almost complete. This one sat low, had aluminum mag wheels, a modern custom exhaust exiting both sides in front of the rear wheels, and looked ready for painting. The patina was gritty and cool as it was, in my opinion. They could probably get away without paint in this arid climate.
Neighbors across the street watched me closely as I walked around taking pictures and when I rode slowly away. They were like silent guard dogs. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they were on someone’s payroll.
I stopped at a corner a few blocks up to get my bearings and locate downtown. That’s when this tall cowboy about my age stepped out of a laundromat, lit a cigarette, and stood there staring at me. He was dressed in jeans that looked like they had just come off the shelf, a long sleeve white-pattern shirt with snaps instead of buttons, and what looked like snakeskin boots.
Is this Dennis Weaver’s clone, I thought.
“Howdy,” I said. You gotta say something when someone is staring right at you.
He touched his hat and said something like, “How you doing?”
“Fine, but I’m a little displaced.”
“I don’t like to use the word lost. I’m never really lost. I came here to take photos and found some nice stuff to shoot, but haven’t found what I came looking for.”
He smiled subtly. “What are you looking for?”
“Are you familiar with the Longmire TV show?”
“I am.”
“I’m looking for some of the places where they shot scenes. I don’t suppose you can steer me in the right direction?”
“Sure can.” He pointed in the direction my bike was already facing. “Cross this main road here and go left over there. That’s National. Stay on that past the college and the library. It changes names, becomes Bridge Street. That goes straight to the Plaza. That’s the only place I know of.”
Of course, we talked bikes and road trips since he was a truck driver. Then, I thanked him and rode on to the Plaza.
It was disappointing not to find the storefront used for the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Office to photograph and show Craig Johnson when we met. The truth is, I did photograph it as part of the whole block, but the signage had all been removed and replaced with a “FOR RENT” sign. I didn’t know at the time which building it was.
The return ride to Santa Fe from Las Vegas was warmer than the ride there. I was back an hour and a half before my tattoo appointment, which Guido had asked me to move to 1 p.m. Since there was time and a McDonald’s around the corner, I walked in, ordered, got my food, sat down, and was halfway into a breakfast burrito when one of the employees came over and ordered me to leave the lobby. Ordered me, arm straight out with an index finger pointing the way. She said the lobby wasn’t open for dining, a sign on the door said as much. Covid, again.
I had missed the sign, but she was downright rude, so I leaned against the bike in her parking lot to finish eating. I ate fast as the sun beat down on me and my burritos. The coffee was too hot to drink, and too awkward to carry. I didn’t feel like standing on hot asphalt in bright sunlight, so the coffee was left on top of my garbage in a parking space for the staff to clean up. I then rode up W. Alameda Street and found a parking space in the shade beside a small greenway a few blocks from the Lost Cowboy, sat watching people and drinking ice water.
Parking was at a premium in this area with several motels and a shopping strip embedded in the block. In addition, an event two blocks over on San Francisco Street near Santa Fe Plaza drew people. As I leaned against my bike, several vehicles drove up, windows rolled down, and someone asked if I was leaving soon. I sat for almost an hour watching joggers, skate boarders, dog walkers, and flashy cars cruise by, then rode to Lost Cowboy.
Why get a tattoo on a ride across the country?
Why put a white oval bumper sticker with OBX on your vehicle? It’s a patch to say you’d been somewhere, the Outer Banks, for example. A tattoo was like that, only more permanent, a commemorative tattoo. I chose an artist whose artwork best exemplified how I wanted to remember this ride, some combination of Native and Southwestern theme that could be done in one sitting.
Guido came into the parlor like a mad scientist, long strides, arms whirling while he talked. Then he settled down. I’d given him three months to come up with artwork and he’d done nothing, but he asked where I wanted it. I took off my shirt and showed him my right shoulder.
“I have a birthmark here that is kind of sensitive, will that matter?”
“Not at all. Let me get a pad.”
I wanted artwork that was something like a firebird. He sketched out a bird with distinctly southwestern wings, a huge beak, and an arch of triangles to represent the sun’s rays. It looked more like a crow. Okay, I can do crow.
I am hesitant to tell artists how to do their thing and wanted something distinctly Guido, so I said, “Can you downsize the beak a little without changing anything else?”
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. He sketched some more, then went over to a copier, punched in something and printed it out again. He cut the head off this one with scissors, scanned it again, brought that copy over, cut off the head and placed it inside the arc of the original body. It was smaller.
“Good,” I said. It didn’t look much different to me, but I wanted to get this show going.
I’d already asked him a few times for a price, but he still hadn’t given me one. These guys usually set a price up front. I didn’t want to come up short on cash. Most tattoo places are cash only. Many have an ATM right on the premises. A word to the wise, never use an ATM in a tattoo parlor. Why? Because they are sometimes insecure, and fees are higher.
I left home with $1000 cash and put almost all my expenses on one card. Cash was for tips, emergencies, and one tattoo. On me that day I carried $550. I’ve had a few tattoos and figured this one would cost around $300, but it’s always good to have a buffer and not let anyone know how much that buffer is.
Another word to the wise, never put all your money in one place. For instance, I had less than $50 in my wallet—that’s standard for me at all times. My wallet carried one credit card and one debit card as well. There were two other cards buried deep in a bag back at the motel along with the remainder of the cash I left home with. In one pocket, the expected was $300 folded up into a tight flat rectangle. The other $200 was locked in a compartment on the bike.
Guido stood me in front of a mirror positioned and repositioned the artwork for me to see how it would look. It seemed crooked. He cleaned me off and repositioned it. I gave him a thumbs up. He sat down to get started.
A few minutes into it, this young guy comes in. Let’s call him Dan for the sake of the story. He’s either one of the regulars or an artist wannabe. He’s a loud guy and very excited. Then he starts talking softly to one of the other artists. Then Guido excuses himself and goes to “get something to drink” in the back room. Dan follows him back. Guido comes out. Dan comes out and leaves the building. A few minutes later, Dan returns. Guido’s working, buzzing away on my shoulder.
“Did that hurt?” he asked as he started working in the area of my birthmark.
“No different than anywhere else. I can barely feel anything. The other guys who’ve done me had me bleeding by now.”
“They weren’t doing it right. But I can make you bleed if you want.”
“Pass. But thanks for offering.”
Dan’s standing by the cash register with his forearms on a half-wall that surrounds the pit where the tattoo tables are. He says loudly, “Hey man, is that your bike out back?” talking to me.
“Yeah, is there a problem?”
He’s walking toward me now. There is something in his hand.
“I found this laying underneath it.”
It was a tightly folded wad of hundred-dollar bills. I reached into my pocket. The money I thought was buried deep in my pants pocket was gone. It must have gotten caught up with the bike keys when I pulled them out to lock the bike. I’m sure my face went flush.
“Holy shit! Yeah, it’s mine.”
I was totally embarrassed. I said, “Thank you,” but it didn’t seem like enough. “How about I give you a finder’s fee?
“No, no, that’s fine.”
The parlor went silent for a few minutes except for the buzz of the needles. Then Guido started talking. It was about his daughter, how he forgot they had plans for today. “Did you know today is Father’s Day?”
“Yes, I do. Haven’t heard from my kid yet.”
Guido continued, “She’s expecting me to take her out for dinner. She should be taking me! But she’s only twelve.”
I started feeling guilty on top of stupid.
Guido told me he was fast, and he wasn’t kidding. Done in an hour. But I still didn’t know how much he was going to charge me. I asked him again when we got to the cash register. I felt like a total rube and just wanted to get the hell out of there by then.
“How much did I tell you over the phone?”
“We never talked on the phone. We talked by email, and you never gave me a price.” “How does $270 sound?”
It sounded like a deal to me, but here’s the thing, it is customary to tip the artist as well, usually 20%.
“Works for me,” I said and handed him the three c-notes Dan had found in the parking lot. Guido started to make change without even unfolding to see how much was there.
“Just keep it all. Spend it on your daughter. And thanks so much for scheduling me on a holiday,” I said and started waving my way toward the door.
Guido said, “Hey, wait. Let me show you something.” He took the bills I’d given him, rolled them up and bound them with a rubber band. “When you have a rubber band around it, it’s less likely to slide out of your pocket.”
“Wow, that never occurred to me,” I lied. I don’t usually carry rubber bands and try not to even carry my wallet since a bulge in any of my pockets is uncomfortable and a target. I built a bar on my bike to mount my phone so I wouldn’t have to carry that in a pocket.
Pocketing the lesson, I thanked him, again, and slipped out the door.
I ended my day at the Highland Brewing Company across the road from Baymont, drank a Feather’s Brown Ale, ate fish tacos, and reflected on the day’s events. I still felt stupid for being careless with my cash, but also thought I’d been played by Guido and Dan.
They were acting from the time they went into the back room together. Dan must have signaled Guido to meet him there and told him how much money he found and where he found it. Chances are, this was a two-hundred-dollar-tattoo. The price was inflated when they saw how much I’d brought and added a finder’s fee.
In the great scheme of things, it didn’t matter. The dummy here was me and why should I care if they thought they’d gotten over on me for a few bucks? We’d never see each other again. They can tell their story, I’ll tell mine. Hell, if Dan had said nothing, it would have cost me even more and there would have been nothing I could have done about it.
In the long run, we were all ahead of the game. May as well carry on as if it never happened.
But it did.

M. Scott Douglass is Publisher/Managing Editor at Main Street Rag Publishing Company, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and NC ASC Grant recipient. His poetry books include Auditioning for Heaven, Hard to Love, Just Passing Through, and most recently Living in a Red State Blues. His travel memoir, 8000 MILE ROLL, A Motorcycle Memoir, is forthcoming in 2024.