Time to Trust

9 02 2010

I’m still kind of surprised the officer pulled us over. It was really nasty outside. Bitter, bitter wind and freezing temperatures. But we did have a Florida license plate — good Ol’ Bay County for all to see.

The officer was of Hispanic descent and in good shape. Hell, he had to be — just to be standing out in these conditions. My sneezing had not gone away. The officer asked for Jim’s license and proof of insurance. Jim had it ready.

Now, I’ll have to admit, I have a lot of respect for men in uniform — and women too for that matter. I’m not sure if this guy lived in Vaughn, but if he did, I sure felt sorry for him.  It was pretty desolate and all. If the economy was puttin’ a hurtin’ on Vegas then it had damn near killed Vaughn.

Downtown Roswell

The officer returned to his patrol car with Jim’s information and I continued to blow boogers into my supply of Kleenex, which were starting to run low. I’m here to tell ya, I felt like Holy Shit. Flagstaff seemed like last month.

As we waited for the officer to return, Jim didn’t seem too put off by the state of affairs. He’d been pulled over before on this trip, he said, but that was in Texas. I wondered what ol’ Gabe did? I doubt his powers of persuasion and cock sure attitude work too well on law enforcement.

“I’ll just pay the fine,” Jim said.

And that’s what he did. When the officer returned he handed Jim a ticket and explained the speeding infraction. He also explained that if Jim wanted to contest this decision that another trip to Vaughn was in store.

“We’ll pay,” Jim said.

To his credit, Jim tried to politely engage the officer in conversation, asking how many inches of snow had fallen the night before.

“About nine,” the officer said. He didn’t want to make small talk and I don’t blame him. It was damn near frigid outside. The wind was blowing sand and sheets of snow across the highway. This officer was a real trooper indeed.

So, we left Vaughn a little lighter in the pocketbook, but grateful to be close to Roswell and the cozy confines of another Holiday Inn Express. The place was like an oasis by the time we finally arrived and thankfully a drug store was not too far down the road. Once we got checked in, Jim drove down to the drug store and bought me a pack of antihistamine. It was a mighty noble thing for him to do. Those kind of drugs aren’t real cheap. They do, however, work and my sneezing began to subside.

I’m sure that made Jim happy. Nobody likes to be around someone sneezing all the time. I remember when I was in grade school and would have those sneezing fits. Mom always said I didn’t know how to blow my nose.

That night we had dinner at the Applebees next door. As usual, Jim headed straight for the bar and, like clockwork, we got top-notch service. We both ordered the chilli and a few rounds of beer. The bartender was a young skinny fellow with a slick, freshly cut head of hair. He asked me for my ID.

“You got to be kidding me,” I said. “It’s back at the hotel. You’re not going to make me go outside again are ya?”

“What year were you born,” he asked me.

I told him and he left to get my beer. And that, my friends, like the speeding ticket in Vaughn, is what we call … Trust.





The After-Hours Tourist

10 01 2010

John wasn’t about to kiss and tell in the Canyon …. there is a code among Nerds, one that is sometimes solved by Queers.

But Gabe was another story.

“They can’t grow grass up there,” he said, in his thick Jersey Shore accent.

We were back in Panama City, comparing notes on the trip with Jim and Gabe was unveiling his turf research. John, admittedly, was envious of Gabe’s youth with that baby face that would never be kicked into the streets — at least for very long.

In Vegas, Jim had even encouraged Gabe to walk The Strip, but the youngster keenly stayed inside the casino’s cozy atmosphere.

The Canyon was a different climate, entirely. “How can you stay inside a place like that?,” Gabe declared.

The workers in the park rarely mingle socially with visitors. Tourists, despite being their life source, were usually held in contempt at “after hours” get-to-gethers.

And I was about to get my first taste of Canyon “after hours.”

Stallone, the twinky Hawaiian server, invited me back to his apartment after dinner to meet some of his friends and Jim gave me the green light, offering up the keys to the Murano.

It was cold that night and very, very dark. I drove slow and tried to remember the way, knowing the drive back would be a solo affair. Stallone was a friendly fellow and his language skills impressed me… and then he surprised me, “You don’t have a joint on you, do you? Because I would really like to smoke a doobie.”

Wow.

The answer, of course, was no and this seemed to solidify park workers’ biggest complaint.

“You tourists,” Stallone said, shaking his head with a sheepish grin.

We arrived at Stallone’s apartment before the herd. Stallone introduced me to his roommate, a short lesbian who liked football and beer. I don’t recall her name as shortly after introductions the apartment began to fill with Canyon people, all workers in the park and all with vastly different personalities.

Still sporting my blazer and khaki pants from dinner, I was overdressed for this soiree, but still my ‘Southern Good Ol’ Boy’ wit attracted quite a crowd. The girls seemed to like to hear me talk. So did Stallone, who grew more girlish by the hour.

A whiskey bottle was passed around and inside Stallone’s living room people huddled on the floor and lounged on couches, conversing about Canyon life. There was a young Asian girl there who dispensed the trouble with housekeeping and her beef with management.

Her comments made me wonder why Jim always tipped the bellhop but never the maids.

There was no music playing and nobody was dancing. I guess you could say it was a drinkin’ party…and since I was the token tourist in the crowd, an outsider, I wasn’t offered any mind-altering substances.

And that was cool with me. The decade of decadence was coming to an end. Stallone probably would have had more fun with Gabe.

After a few hours of spin the bottle, I said my goodbyes and returned to the El Tovar, driving ever more slowly through the dark park. A steady wind made the cold air slightly bitter.

On the way, I came upon a large elk, casually walking a long side of the road. There was no fear in this magnificent creature’s eyes as I passed by. Back home, that elk would be a welcome addition to many walls. My trophy, however, was seeing this beast roaming free.

Something only a “tourist” could truly appreciate.





Tumbling through Amarillo

17 12 2009

The drive to Amarillo was boring, a scenary consisting of flat lands dotted with oil rigs and cattle ranches.

We got to the motel — another Holiday Inn undergoing remodeling — early and Jim recommended going down to the train yard to watch the choo-choos. He drove us right down next to the track and together we marveled at the sheer volume of freight ramblin’ by.

Earlier, during the drive, I had caught my first glimpse of a tumbleweed. It was a vision fitting of Amarillo, a cow town if ever there was one. I got the impression, things tended to tumble through this place a lot — Trains, travelers and livestock.

For the life of me, I couldn’t see anything sticking around here very long. It had an air similar to that of Monroe, minus trees.

We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant which was packed with families still enjoying the holiday weekend. Jim walked right through the crowded lobby and into an even busier bar.

Despite this mass of humanity, Jim managed to catch a young waitresses’ eye and we had our drinks quicker than I would have predicted. Almost as if it were clockwork, two seats at the bar opened up and we promptly plopped down and ordered food.

Behind me some young WASPs were discussing real estate prices and stock options. It was almost nauseating to listen to, but I had no choice considering our close confinements. Jim didn’t have to worry about overhearing young yuppie talk. His hearing was fading and I had to repeat myself a lot.

Several times we would exchange seats so that I was positioned on his right side. This, Jim said, was his good ear.

To my right at the bar was a hungry young fellow with a black eye and a lot of tattoos on his arms. He was friendly, but not overly chatty. I told him Panama City Beach had some of very fine tattoo artists and he wished us luck in Vegas. I didn’t ask about his black eye and Jim never acknowledged his existence.

After dinner, we headed downtown to check out the bar scene. The first stop, a dive called Sassy’s, catered to the lesbian crowd. We had one beer there and walked down the street to another bar where the scene shifted to a more nightclub feel.

With another long drive ahead of us, Jim advised heading back to the hotel after one drink. I agreed. Jim never insisted that I leave any of the bars when he did and he often told tales of how Gabe would venture out on his own late at night, only to turn up at the hotel just before it was time to head out.

“I really wanted to leave his ass a lot of times,” Jim said.

As it has been noted, Gabe knew how to work a pool table. He would meet people there, win drinks and usually a ride home.

I was too old for that act and my finances left little room for error. So when Jim was ready, even as the club in Amarillo was starting to show some signs of life, I followed.

“The trip really starts tomorrow,” Jim said on the ride back to the hotel.

And he was right. My eyes were in store for scenes I had only dreamed of before. Tumbleweeds were just the beginning.

We left before dawn, conjuring up a famous country song…. Amarillo By Morning. Jim punched in the data and our drive to Colorado was underway.

“You haven’t seen nothing yet,” he said.