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Tales From New Mexico: 200 Miles From Roswell

Tom Lohr loves holidays—just not Christmas. He is still bitter about not getting the GI Joe Gemini capsule as a present in the mid-60s

NOT the Three Stooges

NOT the Three Stooges

Not My Typical Night

The waitress finally brought my huevos rancheros. Christmas, just like I always order them. I needed the protein. And the grease. It had been a grueling all-night drive from Roswell, taking as many back roads as I could, with only a warm six-pack of Tecate and the weak signal of a country and western station to keep me company. Now, slouching at a table at Harry’s Roadhouse, it seemed like a blurry nightmare. But make no mistake, it was real, and I was on the run.

For the last three years I lived in Roswell. Working at a carwash and busking the sidewalks for a buck from alien starstruck tourists. They loved that flying saucer schtick, and being lucky enough to score a flashy, disco-era silver jumpsuit from Goodwill meant a I could wear it with a spray-painted, severely scuffed motorcycle helmet and wander the streets asking tourist if they had any spare change for atomic fuel for my spaceship. They were always good for at least a dollar. It was a decent existence. Until last night.

I was on my way back towards Roswell from just outside the city limits. I camped out for hours on a ridge near town to get away from the light pollution to get a better view of the super blood moon eclipse that heralded the end of times. Just in case those wackos that predicted the moon signaling our demise were right, I had picked up the beer; I wasn’t going out sober. In the end, it was just a cool astronomical event, and like most of my evenings ended quietly...and alone.

Alone until two gray coyotes ran out in front of me on the drive back to my cracker box of an apartment. Despite employing all of the brilliant maneuvering and braking tactics I learned in high school driver’s ed, a dual “thump, thump” meant I hit both of them. They were coyotes, so I felt no legal obligation to stop, but the stories people tell about the pregnant deer they hit, or the kittens left orphaned because they struck a mama cat darted around in my head. I pulled my 1975 AMC Pacer over and backed up to see if any of the beasts were alive enough to save.

First of all, I am keenly aware of the irony of driving the one car in automotive history that, when introduced, Americans immediately claimed looked like a flying saucer; all while living in Roswell, New Mexico. But I didn’t buy the car in the Land of Enchantment, never figured I would live anywhere in the west, AND it was one cool retro car when I bought it. Just try getting parts for it.

But the car wasn’t on my mind when I approached the two gray lumps on Highway 70. The lifeless figures splayed out on New Mexico asphalt were not coyotes or dogs or animals at all. Two smallish, spindly, large-headed bodies lay mangled; and I had one hell of a dent in my left fender. Did I mention how hard parts are to get for an AMC Pacer?

I had binge-watched enough episodes of the X-Files to know what I had hit. Why the hell beings intelligent enough for interstellar travel didn’t know enough to stay out of the middle of a highway was the perplexing part. I chalked it up to being like the countless people I have met over the course of my life that were super smart but came up seriously short in the common sense department. And while these silvery planet-hoppers may be Einsteins in the realm of galactic navigation, their lack of knowledge in New Mexico traffic law had cost them.

I knew I couldn’t report this to the authorities. Carwash workers that dress up in makeshift spacesuits are not the Highway Patrol’s most endeared citizens. And I was pretty sure of one other thing: you don’t travel clear across the cosmos in pairs. There were others out there, and they would come looking for their lost cosmic comrades. I needed to get. Quickly.

The Getaway

As cool as the AMC Pacer may seem, it is not a speed-demon. I figured if I could make Santa Fe by daybreak I could hit up an artist friend of mine for a night on his couch and then keep moving. No probes for this dude. Lifting the the aliens into the back of the Pacer was easy work. They were actually lighter than they looked. Whatever they eat on those across-the-universe trips must be seriously low-cal. The large glass windows of the Pacer made it easy for anyone to peer in, so I covered the corpses with a blanket I had brought with me to cover the ground while observing the lunar eclipse. For me at least, blood moon now had an entirely new meaning.

Working on my third warm beer and listening to a static-filled Conway Twitty song, I discovered something few will ever know: rotting aliens smell like ass. The warm night air wasn’t helping. The Pacer, like many cars of its time, had no air conditioning and the ambient temperature was accelerating the pace of decay. With each whiff I accelerated as well. Until I passed a parked police car doing ten miles per hour over the posted limit. Maybe he was busy, asleep or just didn’t feel like pulling anyone over at three in the morning, but apparently the spirit of Gene Roddenberry was watching over me as I sped past, unmolested by the officer. By the time I got to Cline’s Corner the smell was so pungent I pulled into a gas station to check on my roadkill.

I picked the dimmest corner of the parking lot. Nearing 4 A.M. it was still relatively busy with travelers slogging across I-40. I needed a snack and purposely picked out a Mars bar just to add to the surrealness of an already weird night, even though I was pretty certain my hapless victims were not from Mars. I probably should have finished the candy bar before pulling back the blanket to ascertain the state of the two, who I had nicknamed Jan and Dean.

For the uninitiated, wherever these guys were from, they don’t bleed. They ooze this green stuff that now made the back of my Pacer look like the slime scene from Ghostbusters. All the comet and 409 in the world wasn’t going to clean up that mess. Do you know how difficult it is to get cargo compartment replacement carpet for a 1975 Pacer? You stand a better chance of seeing a UFO, which it dawned on me that while I had two dead aliens in my car, I still hadn’t seen their spaceship. A passing thought was that they had mistaken my futuristic-for-the-seventies car for their ride and had been trying to wave me down. Their mistake.

One thing was certain: I had to get rid of these interstellar stiffs in a hurry. I had one idea. I needed gas if I was going to make it to my destination, so while filling up, I pumped six empty beer cans about half full of unleaded. Tank full, stiffs in tow and an uneasy Mars bar in my gut I sped off towards my destination.

Hunk'a Hunk'a Burning Love

Just south of Lamy I found what I needed: a side road that was a dirt path to some rocky bluffs without a soul for miles. Two miles in I pulled over. I hadn’t given much thought about the proper way to send our planetary guests to the other side, but whatever line they crossed when they passed, I was about to hasten their journey. It only seemed fitting they go out in style, and somehow I thought they would approve of a classic flying saucer funeral pyre. I doused their lifeless, little alien corpses with 86 octane from the beer cans, using the final two for the inside of my Pacer. That car had been defining my life for way too long. It was time to move on. It would serve to help incinerate the aliens and push me towards acquiring something that had air bags. With the flick of a Bic I created a fireball that would make Lucifer proud. The beings crackled as they burned, and the Pacer seemed relieved to finally meet its end.

The sun was coming up when an early-riser picked me up on Highway 285. I wanted a ride into downtown Santa Fe, but as the conversation was purposely steered towards religion I asked to be dropped off at Harry’s. I had enough off-planet experience for one night. I wanted food and the company of humans. I surmised that no one would really be looking for a pair of missing space aliens; no one from earth. That put me in the clear and about 200 miles from the scene of the crime. And 200 miles seemed about right.

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