Neto’s Passtime Bar, Gila Bend, Arizona

I hadn’t planned on stopping today, but somewhere between Pistachio Rock and Gila Bend inspiration hit me head-on and I had to stop and do something about it.

It was one of those moments that catch you off-guard, although they seem to be more routine in the desert than elsewhere. I was driving into the sunset, in true western fashion, and let me tell you, it was one hell of a sunset. It started out subtle; the sky an ever-deepening blue, a few wispy clouds adding their own commas and question marks to the sky. I rounded a barren, jagged hill, and across the plain in front of me was splendor. Saguaros slid past, their arms akimbo in gestures of praise and wonder, standing in silhouette against the vibrant pinks and oranges that filled the western sky. Farther away the rocky hills became mysterious shapes, almost reminding me of things.

I spun the radio, and landed on a Spanish-language station without accordions. The next song that came on was achingly beautiful, a woman singing of sorrow in a language any human could understand. I will probably never hear that song again, and I will never know who the singer was. Like the sunset, it was just for that one moment and then gone forever.

The station fuzzed out on the outskirts of Gila Bend, but I decided to stop anyway. I found a hotel that advertised wireless internet and checked in. The signal doesn’t reach my room. The bathtub faucet was dripping — a sign of evil in this arid land — but I could not make it stop. I closed the bathroom door to at least shut out the sound, and realized I had a locked door between me and the toilet. The large Coke and 32-oz Gatorade I had consumed on my desert trek chose that very moment to make it known that their probation was up and they were ready to be released right now.

Back at the lobby to get a large paperclip to spring the door, I asked if there was a bar nearby, where I could sit, have a couple of beers, and maybe get some work done. The lobby staff exchanged a skeptical look. “Just down the street a couple of blocks,” the guy said, “there’s a bar. It’s the only bar in town.”

“Can I just sit in your restaurant and have a beer?”

“They don’t serve alcohol. There’s a circle-K across the street,” he added helpfully.

“Is the bar any good?” I asked.

The guy nodded, and got a confirming nod from the girl. “Yeah, it’s a good bar. I like it anyway.” Good enough for me. I had given him the opportunity to issue a safety warning and he hadn’t. Chances of getting beat up or knifed seemed low enough to take the walk up the road.

Now I sit in a long, narrow building constructed of cinder block, listening to “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”. There are no windows and no chairs that can be thrown in a fight. It is winter, and there is a large box fan set up on the table next to mine. Most of the light in here comes from neon beer signs (the only exception is a string of blue christmas lights), and almost everyone in here is sitting at the bar. The freight trains pass right outside the door, blowing their lonesome whistles through the security mesh and adding to the crooning of Patsy Cline doing a song I don’t recognize.

The only nice car in the parking lot belongs to a guy I assume to be the owner. Someone is wearing an obscene amount of perfume or cologne. I’ll sneak a picture once the locals have becomed accustomed to a guy being in the bar with a laptop. In a way, I feel like Diane Fossey with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. They will accept me, but I can’t do too much all at once.

Beers are two dollars and everything comes in longneck bottles. I won’t tell you what I’m drinking, but rest assured the word “lite” is not in the name anywhere. An obscure Stevie Ray Vaughn song has just come on the juke box and it’s time to order a second beer.

Time has passed, just how much I’m not exactly sure. I’ve been here, trying to put a short story out of my misery. A few minutes ago a longneck appeared at my table. “It’s from that guy over there, Gary,” the bartender explained. I thanked her and sent a toast Gary’s way when he finally looked over.

This is a very friendly bar. I have spotted chairs that could be thrown, but I will not revise the above description because I like it, and reality be damned. There’s a good vibe here, the oasis-in-the-trackless-desert vibe. We come from different places, we’re going different places, but at this moment we are together, bound by a common need. And at the oasis there is an eclectic jukebox, and there is joy.

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