It was a dark and stormy night. Just before midnight, glared the dash clock in the ‘64 station wagon. This highway I had already seen twice today: going south, then back north, and now south again. The earlier two trips were in bright friendly sunlight. Now I was driving south in the darkest of darks. Behind me two miles was Corona, and ahead of me just 44 miles was Carrizozo. Then on to Alamogordo, my final destination where I would rid the car of my guest and guests: the one in the front seat, asleep for the past hour and to stay same until we reach his driveway, and the rowdies caged in back who were about to awake.
I was a first year rookie with NM Game and Fish and in assignment to Jack, a seasoned wildlife information officer who also hosted the weekly Game and Fish PBS television show in Albuquerque. As we prepped for this week’s show, he said, “Tomorrow drive to Alamogordo and pick up our guest and his props, drive him up for the show, then drive him back to his home tomorrow night. It will be an easy and fun day and you will be entertained during your drive,” Jack, the Prankster, said.
I learned some things in my first 16 years in New Mexico when we never lived closer than 15 miles to a town.
Don’t waste water, ice is a heavenly gift, take a flashlight to the outhouse, never go barefoot outside, always shake your shoes in the morning to empty of critters, and many other helpful tidbits to well serve during a full life.
And the most important: You will — from time to time and without a doubt — hear a rattlesnake rattle. The rattle is the signal that it is near. You must first determine its location. Then your options are: (1) remain perfectly still, or (2) leap high and far in the opposite direction, and (3) scream because you cannot contain a good scream. In my youth I practiced all three many times. To this day the sound of rattles rattle me. And did that night south of Corona.
Early that day when I gathered the guest for the night TV show, he brought his props all right: two boxes of rattlesnakes that he promised were boxed tightly with secure lids. He placed the boxes in the back of the very long ’64 wagon. The trip to Albuquerque was pleasant. Not a sound from the back. Occasionally I breathed. I could see the boxes in the rearview mirror. Lids were secured. We did the TV show and the guest allowed the snakes to crawl around on stage. All of us bystanders were watchful and ready to run.
Show is over, boxes of snakes are placed in the back of the station wagon, and off we go into the dark of the night on the two lane to Alamogordo. All is well until Corona. The guest in the passenger seat goes to sleep. The 46 miles to Carrizozo is a much rougher road at night and the shocks on the wagon have hardened since the trip up earlier in the day.
Now, with each bump in the road, a snake rattles. The more bumps, the more rattles.
I turn on the dome light and can just make out that the lids appear to be on the boxes. “Will the lids hold?” I ask myself. I am now looking at the front floor board to see if I am still alone. Did I see a wiggle? A slither? More bumps; more rattles. I now have one leg and foot under me and the remaining foot has increased our speed to 75 which has increased the number of bumps in a short period and increased the rattles until we are a speeding lights-on missile in the dark of night near out of control rattling and screaming as we pass the turns to Ancho and White Oaks and finally arrive at the old Texaco in Carrizozo where I brake to a sliding stop and abandon the idling vehicle. Leap high and far and scream.
An hour later we finally arrive in Alamogordo and as the guest opens the back to get his boxes he says, “That was sure a nice and quiet trip; glad my little friends did not bother you.”