“Do you have anything smaller?” The kiosk attendant at Four Corners National Monument asks me curtly. It’s 9:03 am and we’re clearly the first tourists on site.
I fumble in my wallet for a moment and turn to Lindsay, “Do you have any change?” She shakes her head no and I look back towards the toll both operator. “I’m sorry, I don’t.” I suddenly feel like I’m back in Vietnam, where the banks dispense massively large bills, but it’s a street crime to attempt to pay with currency worth more than three dollars. I want to ask what am I paying for anyway? But I hold back, knowing that there’s no reason to increase the strain on our entrance any further.
The attendant fumbles around for a moment, clearly hoping I give-in before she does, (and I would if I could), until she finally hands me the change. With our epic battle for money exchange over, we drive forward and pull into the empty parking lot.
As we walk towards the four corners, a breeze picks-up from the south and I’m convinced it brings with it a memory from my childhood, when I was three, and traveled to this same spot with my family. The monument looks familiar: a concrete courtyard bordered by stands where Navajos sell trinkets and jewelry and postcards, and at the center, inserted into the concrete, a medallion placed by the USGS marks the geographical significance of the state boundaries.
Each state provides benches in their quadrant, so I waver at where to sit. Should I contemplate in Utah or Arizona? I finally decide on New Mexico, because it’s the Land of Enchantment and that sounds good on this fall morning.
And it does not disappoint. I’m immediately enchanted by the question I imagine most everyone asks, or should ask, at this sacred meeting of land, at this symbolic standpoint of the great debate between state power and the federal government, at this piece of earth first stolen from Native Americans and than “negotiated away” from Mexico: why doesn’t anyone sell coffee or donuts?
I don’t mean to discredit the value of this National Monument, or take away from the surrounding scenic beauty, but I’m a bit hungry for fried dough and hot liquids. And that’s when I realize maybe this intersection of boundaries and liminal zones has extremely important implications for the American psyche.
The fact of the matter is, as we play hopscotch across state-lines, our framework for legal living changes drastically. Tomorrow is Sunday, and if I land in Colorado, I won’t be able to buy a car. If I truly want to quench my thirst, all I have to do is jump over to Arizona and ask, because it’s unlawful to refuse a person a glass of water in this great desert state (I wonder if coffee is included in this decree?).
But what if I want to carry my lunch box down Main Street of Las Cruces, New Mexico? I can’t even consider it, state law enforcement will be on me in an instant. And if you’re thinking about moving to Utah, make sure you’re not lactose intolerant: it’s illegal to not drink milk in red rock country.
What does all this mean? Is this four corner monument as arbitrary as all my mocking would indicate? Are we to realize the great significances of our country as we move back and forth between these quadrants?
The wind picks-up again, and I return to that memory of standing in this same spot at the age of three. Hopscotch was just hopscotch then. How enchantingly glorious.