Dear readers—apologies for my having been remiss in regularly updating this space. I’ve been moving-moving-moving, looking for the end of that long white line, as the song goes. I pulled into my folks’ place in Michigan this past week and will hopefully have some time to set down a few words in the coming days. Until that point, here’s a little tale from the road.

I drove through the Petrified National Forest in NE Arizona a couple weeks back. It was pretty but it’s also important to note that it’s simply a desert filled with wood that has been petrified. Now petrified wood is interesting and curious and so forth, but at some point it does beg the question whether we need an entire national park devoted to such ends. I’m inclined to err on the side of Yes rather than No in such matters, preservation of the earth being something that seems mildly important and all, but whatever—none of this is the point of my story.

As night began to fall I found an RV lot just outside the park that offered free camping. It was only a cement parking lot with a few electrical hook-ups but it was free and that seemed like a fair price to me, so I sidled the Focus beside several huge RV’s and campers and walked about. I noticed a younger guy behind the wheel of an RV as he supervised his machine into a parking place. He waved me over and we chatted a few minutes—this/that about the weather and the park and so on. I asked his name and he looked at me and nodded. With a face straight as a 2×4 he said,

You can call me Spartacus. (Reflective pause.) Or Yair.

He pronounced the latter name Yeah-ear, and as it rung long in my ears I paused and thought a moment. Those were two highly distinct options and I told him that. It was now his turn to think a moment, which he did before he said,

If it’s easier you can just call me Jay.

Personally I thought it was a little wussy to lead with Spartacus only to back off to Jay. It felt a lot like being offered a New York strip only to receive Hamburger Helper, but I didn’t tell him any of that. After chatting about it we agreed upon Yair, which I only know how to spell because he told me. He assured me it was Jewish, and once again I was in no place to argue.

Yair was a quirky dude with all sorts of ticks and odd physical mannerisms, an affinity for engineering strings of multi-colored LED lights, and faded and absent eyes. He had been living the RV life for the past six years, traversing the country attending various Burning Man celebrations. (With that in mind you can likely see him much more clearly.) He was plenty sweet and clearly lonely, and as much as I don’t go in for armchair diagnoses it was clear as day he was pretty far along the Autism Disorder Spectrum.

I liked him good enough to chatter on a bit before climbing into the back of the Focus and going to bed. It stormed like mad that night: wild winds screamed across the desert and bright flashes of lightning cut the sky. When I woke early the next morning Spartacus was still holed up in his RV. I waved a goodbye he likely never saw then turned out of the lot and continued down the road.