Caught between a rack and a hard body

So much, so much, so much. Driving back from the bar tonight, after spending the whole evening composing what I was going to write, Bill said, “Don’t forget the Lolita factor.” Damn Bill. Damn all who have heard him laugh. Damn me.

Shae, our waitress for the evening, was about the friendliest person I have ever met. She had a way about her that made us feel right at home.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you all know already that I have a soft spot for any woman who brings me beer. Shae was, honestly, different. She made me feel really special until I saw how she made the regulars feel even specialer. Still, before she was busy she pulled up a seat at our table and we had a chance to chat. Here’s a way I thought of to describe myself that won’t come as a surprise to those who know me: while I am verbally gregarious I am physically introverted. While I can (on a good day) engage strangers verbally, it takes far more than a good day for me to relax and allow familiar touches. Shea uses her hands to reinforce the contact she makes while she talks to you, or just walks past your table. With her, for whatever reason, I was comfortable. One time when she came up behind me she ran her hand up my spine. Boy that felt good. We talked about stuff, Bill making my aimless mission of drifting around the country sound much more important than it really is. We talked about itchy feet. Shea has difficulty staying in one place for a long time.

Shae is an attractive woman. “I don’t normally dress this way,” she said. “Well, I certainly appreciate it,” Bill replied. I must agree with Bill. There was another waitress there as well, young and cute smiley and all, thin and fit and generally hot, but our hearts and minds belonged to Shea. And to the Big-Ass Beers. (They actually call them Big-Ass Beers on the signs around the bar.)

But I’m racing ahead of the story. I’m sitting here now, aware of the smoke in my clothing, trying to figure how to tell you all the things that happend tonight. Triage is clearly in order; just because it was interesting to me doesn’t mean I should write about it.

We were there for a band. The No Dern Clue Mystery Family Revival Band. Bill knows the guy who put together the band, but this was their first public performance. We didn’t really know what to expect, but the guy’s previous bands played what Bill described as “eclectic country rock”. Not this band. I could see it was going to be a pretty big band when we sat down and I started counting microphones. Then the band members started to show up wearing black suits.

We sat and listened to the music, to grumbly growly vocals by the guitarist, to smoky raspy songs when the organ/acoustic/cornet player stepped up to the mike, sometimes singing with the cigarette still hanging out of his mouth, and to the clear tones of the bass player’s voice. The trumpet player could wail, and when he put a little growl into a riff the guitarist would spit right back with a grumble of his own. All the players could solo.

The core of the band was the horn line, however. The trumpet player, a little guy, middle aged, the one in the band that wore the black suit like he belonged in it, could quite simply wail. The sax and the flute were kicking ass, and the trombone wasn’t bad if a little more sterile than the others. Trumpet guy did a plunger solo, and it reminded me of a time when I was listening to amateur jazz in Scotland with Jesse and we were discussing the subpar plunger work. “You gotta feel like there’s a string from the plunger to the audience,” I said, or something like that. You’re trying to hold it shut, but eventually the drag it open.” This guy had that feel, that connection with us.

The band was at it’s best, however, when they were all grinding away together, getting big and ugly at the ends of songs, the red light shining on the bass drum jumping and throbbing like a vampire’s heart as the sound built to a train wreck where all the engineers were Picasso.

The only reason I know I got the name right is the flyer I pulled off the Men’s room door. Just below the name of the band it said “Saturday the 16th”. Half of October is gone. Time sure flies. My trip is almost over, or at least this part of it. I’ll have to come up with another name for the next part of my life.

Shae brought us another round and stopped to chat for a while. The tamale guys came through, and challenged her to a game of pool for some tamales. “Not tonight, hon,” she said. “He just wants to see me bend over,” she said to us, “I don’t need to in this outfit.” She was right about that. Ample amounts of ample chest were exposed. “My daugter saw me in this and said I must be going for the tips tonight.” Shae has a sixteen-year-old daughter, and in defiance of stereotype they get along. And that is the Lolita factor Bill mentioned on the way home. I imagined dating Shae, easy to do when a pretty woman is sa dang friendly with you, and I imagined meeting her daughter, who it only stands to reasin is every bit as pretty as her mother, while saying to myself “Look at her eyes look at her eyes only lookathereyeslookathereyes…” ’cause the last thing you want is for you date to catch you checking out her daughter, or even to think you were.

Oh, but the story gets better – even better than I realized at the time. While the band was playing two very attractive girls came in. I was concentrating on the band, so I paid them little heed. I did notice that they looked pretty young, but sad to say they all look young these days. Shae went over and talked to them, and they left. Here’s the thing I didn’t know at the time. Bill picked it up, but I was oblivious: Shae said to one of the girls, “Don’t call me Mom in here.” Shae then kicked them out. Yikes! That girl I was checking out was Shae’s kid. Luckily for all concerned, I found the mom to be more attractive. She came back over to our table and she said something like “Well, I got to be the bad guy tonight.” Not realizing that she had just kicked out her own daughter, I simply nodded sympathetically. At that point I was much more interested in the band and Shea’s breasts. But her daughter was cute, I’ll grant that. It’s the Lolita factor. When Bill first mentioned it, I had no idea how appropriate it was.

Bill said, “That’s the friendliest waitress I’ve ever met in my life.” Shea was that, hands down.

Goodbye, Rose

This will be my third time heading out of town, but the previous two times I knew I was coming back. Not this time. I’m really not much of a goodbye guy; I prefer to slip out unnoticed, but to Rose I really wanted to say goodbye. Maybe that’s why she slipped away. We’re alike that way. We’re alike in a lot of ways, the notable difference being that she rocks.

It’s not secret that I have a soft spot for bartenders. They have to pretend they like me even when they don’t, and I’m willing to believe the fiction. Given time, I can turn the pretense into reality. I’ve got to be the prototype for the ideal bar patron. Low maintenance, friendly, and appreciative. I shudder to think how many IQ points I’ve lost to alcohol (not that IQ is worth a crap anyway but you get the idea), but I still know how to mount a gyroscope to hold a motorcycle up and I still can hold a good argument, and quite frankly everyone else’s ideas for a hotel on the moon are pathetically misguided. Seriously. Those guys are idiots.

But Rose and I will not be meeting on the moon. I am leaving the bar that has been my home since it opened, fifteen years ago. I am leaving Rose. More reliable than any lover, she has always been there for me. While I’ve never been deep inside her life and she’s never been deep inside mine, we understand each other. Rose, quite simply, rocks. Tonight is one of the only times I didn’t tell her so. It feels like I left the period off the last sentence in a story. I may never see her again. She may forget she rocks. The latter is much worse than the former. But without me there to remind her…

She slipped away tonight. I’d like to think that’s because we have a certain unspoken connection. I’d like to think there’s a bond between us that she picked up on to tell her that this was the final goodbye. Too much freight to carry. I’d like to think it mattered to her. Maybe it did. Eventually, it’s not going to matter what mattered to her. It’s done now.

So goodbye, Rose. You Rock.

Sadness

I was talking to a friend today. I have not mentioned her often in these pages, and certainly you have never read a comment by her. She is there, nonetheless. She is loud and brash but if you know where to point the x-ray gogs you will see the sadness.

When we part, I don’t say goodbye. We have our own ritual, and some nights I can see what it means to her. Tonight she needed a boost. I haven’t been around lately, so tonight I elaborated a little bit, cluttering our parting with words, until it came down to the key transaction. I dropped to sign language, swish, bang, and she smiled at me.
You Rock.
Thanks. I needed that.
I wish I could do things so right more often.

We share a sadness, a feeling you have to have to see. She is loud and happy; I am reserved but optimistic. Under it all, for both of us, is a dark desperate solitude, a certainty that we cannot be known. A gut-wrenching fear that we might be known. We don’t even know ourselves.

But there is something we have. Some time ago I was sitting at a bar after a softball game with Melinda and Kelly, and my inept love life became the topic of conversation. It came out that I had a soft spot for bartenders. Kelly asked why. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose they have to listen to me. My way with women is to wear them down over time.” Kelly thought that was hilarious. Fine. She had a girlfriend at the time. I think Kelly has the sadness too. That’s why she laughed at my jokes.

When it comes down to it, everyone I know has the sadness. Different people show it differently, but somewhere in every soul I’ve met is a terrible yearning, a tiny chamber deep inside reserved for thoughts of what might be, but will not be. Thus we are separated from the brutes of the field. No other animal has the ability to ask “What if…?” and no other animal knows sadness.

But “what if” fills my life. It is a constant reminder of things I could have done, could have said, but didn’t. And every day I create new what-ifs, more questions than I will ever be able to answer.

What if, tonight, I had not signed you rock? After all these years it could have become a meaningless phrase, but it hasn’t. There has never been any doubt that I am completely sincere when I tell her she rocks. Some nights, like tonight, she really needed to hear it. Could I have said something more? No. Not without breaking what we have. Not without changing the meaning of “you rock” forevermore. How could I do that, when I’ve seen what it can mean to her? So instead I will stand resolutely proud to be her friend, and I will be sad, for I have the imagination to know what could be, and the intelligence to know it cannot be.

I will taste the sadness, and embrace it, and in my quiet heat I will savor it.

The Aspen Lounge

Location: Aspen Lounge, Hilltop House, Los Alamos, NM
Miles: 10236.0

At the prompting of Jojo, I have made my way to the other bar in town. They have three beers on tap: Moosehead, Fat Tire, and Sam Adams. Right there I knew that things were going my way. It’s not that I’m particularly orgasmic over any of those beers, but they have those instead of Bud and Bud Light.

Aspen Lounge is a small place, and there are quite a few people here getting an early start on their weekends. The place feels recently remodeled with the obligatory southwestern color scheme and architectural touches, but for all the newness and shininess Sally keeps it fairly dim so it feels cozy. There is a solarium area connected to the lounge that appears to be popular as well.

I knew it was Sally when she called me “hon”, true to Jojo’s words. Sally stands in the four-foot range only because she has fairly tall hair. Her voice has been abused by 40 years of cigarettes and she’s still working on compounding the damage. She doesn’t move fast but she doesn’t stop moving; everything is clean and everyone has their drinks. The bowls of snack food are always topped off. We discussed briefly the challenge of the first pour of the day from a tap. I bet she mixes ’em strong for her regulars. When she brought me my second drink, she made a point of using my name.

An interesting thing about accelerated regularization: Nobody wants you to succeed at your goal more than the bartender. Help them help you.

There are regulars here. That would usually go without saying in the “other bar” in a town of 16,000 plus, but this is Los Alamos and this is a hotel bar. People know Sally’s (not Sal’s) name, and when people walk in there are happy greetings from those already here. I can be comfortable here. Canyon Bar and Grill was larger, and had its own regulars, and had pool tables, so there could be times when that is the place to go (I missed karaoke last night—what a pity), but overall this is more my kind of place to come and hang.

Did I tell you about my visit to Canyon B&G the other day? No? Well, you didn’t miss much except warm beer. And speaking of small town, a woman just walked in who looks familiar. She is wearing a T-shirt from my college (My college is smaller than your college. My college is probably smaller than your high school.) So I could go over and ask her what year she graduated. I would, too, but her voice is really annoying. I’d remember someone like that.

Now she’s looking at me funny.

So anyway, on the way over here I passed the Inn and saw the sign for their coming bar with free high-speed Internet access, but there was no definition of “coming soon”. Not soon enough, that’s for sure.

So I sit here in a fairly contrived bar, which usually bothers me, but in this case it is made good by the power of the bartender. I can’t picture her ever vying for the oh-so-coveted Jer’s Favorite Bartender (which, oddly, actually is coveted by a few sorry souls), but it is definitely Sally that makes this place what it is. She doesn’t dominate the room the way Rose or Amy does, she just quietly makes it work.

Keep on doing the Lord’s work, Sally.

Amy’s Car

Amy drives a Ford of some sort, a two-door that still has enough paint to allow one to tell that it once was purple. Long parallel scratches go down the side, as if Amy brushed against a rake. There are bits hanging off here and there, flapping in the breeze or dragging on the ground. Most of the bits are inconsequential–weather stripping, trim, and the like. None of the parts of the bumper that are dragging on the ground seem critical, which is good since the bumper has clearly seen plenty of use. Other parts that are barely hanging on are the types of things that some people might find important, like headlights. Both headlights turn on, but one is good for little more than signaling to passing aircraft.

The motor makes a sound somewhere between a rumble and a wheeze, a moan that seems to come from below the pavement, from some circle of Hell deep below the Earth’s crust created just for automobiles.

One night after she had been drinking Karen the Irish Bartender dubbed the left rear window “the pukie window” because it has no glass. It saves a lot of locking and unlocking, and on occasion I have used it for a headfirst dive into the back seat. The seatbelts are the kind that run along a track when the door is closed–uh, that should be “ran”. They’re not running anywhere anymore.

Still the car steadfastly soldiers on. If you’re ever in PB and you see this car groaning down the street, give Amy a wave.

Tiki

Location: Pacific Beach, California
Miles: 7994.1

I was sitting at Good Time Charlie’s, having lunch and catching up on three months worth of mail, when the call came. It was Amy, just off work and calling to see what I was up to. When I told her where I was, she said (more or less) “Great! There’s a laundromat near there. I’ll put my stuff in and then join you. I’ll be right over.”

After finishing my lunch and separating the wheat from the chaff as far as the mail was concerned, I moved from table to bar and from iced tea to beer as I waited for Amy to show up. My phone rang again. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” she promised. Forty-five minutes later she showed up. While the washers washed and the dryers dried she and I called some of the rest of the ol’ gang and agreed to meet at Tiki. While we were still at GTC’c Bevins called from Tiki asking where the heck we were. “We’ll be there in ten minutes,” Amy promised. There was no way in hell we were going to be there in ten minutes. Welcome to Amy Time.

While Amy got the last of her laundry I parked my car by her house and was done driving for the day. Rather than wait for her to show up, I just walked over the bar, stopping to recruit Bad Bobby who was sitting in his customary position watching passers-by from the patio at The Tavern. It was a nice day for a walk; it was a sunny day but the sea breeze was nice and cool.

Tiki is a pleasant bar, dark and cozy. The first time I went in there I looked around and said to myself, “If I had a bar, it would be a lot like this.” It is small and narrow, and when there is a band in there it can be pretty crowded. (Tiki Dave does a good job booking music. Some fairly famous bands played there back before they got big. Or so I’m told.)

An hour later Amy arrived. She had some catching up to do, but she got down to business and was right with us in no time. A couple of girls came in and to avoid unwanted attention they told Bevins they were lesbians. That led to Bevins telling them at length about the time he had almost been beat up by some lesbians right there at Tiki. I don’t think the girls were terribly impressed.

Later I found myself with Amy up the street at the Tavern doing shots with the fake lesbians. After my first shot I just watched the girls drink. Amy was getting pretty toasted by then and it looked like I would have to be the designated walker. They were all attractive and getting even better-looking as the last drink assaulted my quivering nervous system. Soon enough, though, it was time to go. I bid a sorrowful goodbye to the girls and Amy and I stumbled back to her place (with a brief detour by the bar where she had recently been fired). After only one wrong turn and preventing Amy from taking any shortcuts through people’s yards we got home safe if not sound.

We managed to stay awake just long enough to make a big mess and a grilled cheese sandwich. No one was injured in the creation of the sandwich, although I was having trouble slicing the cheese until I realized it was presliced. What will they think of next?

Nicole: The Aftermath

I went down to The Cannery today, to fulfill my duty according to the poll. I was nervous. I really didn’t want to ask Nicole out for a date. That’s not to say I didn’t want a date with her, oh, yes, I do want that. No, it’s the asking that scares the piss out of me. Seriously, I know the answer is a given. Nicole, if you’re out there reading this, you can relax. You always could. There was never any reason to be concerned.

So, anyway, there I was in The Cannery. I got some good writing done, not so much for smallifying the story, which it needs, but I wrote some stuff that lets us watch an important transformation of the main character. Smallifying is what I need, however. Apparently publishers don’t want a first novel that’s too big – it takes too much paper. They don’t want to go to the extra expense until you’ve proven that you sell. But the story keeps growing. Balls, balls, balls.

I was at The Cannery; Nicole was not. I set up at my table in the nearly deserted bar. The bartender, a loud and outgoing woman whose name I am embarrassed not to know, took great care of me. She was telling some of the few other patrons how difficult she was to keep as a girlfriend. “I’m independent,” she said, “I don’t need to be taken care of, I just need to be loved.” My kind of girl. “I piss everyone off after a while,” she added. maybe not my kind of girl after all.

The day was wearing along, and my interim favorite bartender was ruling over the bar. The only others there were dried up old men. Present company included. At least I had a purpose. Eventually my battery was going dead, and happy hour was starting down at the Ale Works. I am a cheap bastard, after all. I asked my kind beerfetcher who was coming on next. “Denise,” she said. “That’s good,” I said, “if it was Nicole I would have to stay and make an ass of myself.”

She nodded. “That’s how it is,” she said. Not a question. Not an impeachment. Just an observation. More than that. It was acceptance. That’s how it is. “I think she’s working tomorrow.” My new best friend checked the list. “No, she’s not working until Friday. You’ll be good then.”

“I’ll be out of town by Friday,” I said. Relief. I will not have to make an ass of myself. Also disappointment. As much as i dreaded living up to the poll, I was also looking forward to it. I was looking forward to taking the chance, however ridiculous that was. However afraid I was. But it’s over now. Finally I have to head back south. I just can’t put it off any longer. Friday’s not so far, but it’s so very, very far.

Here we go…

Unless someone bails me out by voting for “charm with wit, let her make the move” this morning it looks like I’ll be asking Nicole on a date. To be honest the two more extreme choices were less scary than the date option since she would not take them seriously. Oh, well, after I embarrass myself I’ll be leaving town. If she doesn’t have a shift in the next day or two it’ll all be moot anyway. On the plus side, I’m now morally obligated to spend time at The Cannery.

In other news, I had so much fun using John’s fancy camera that I have bought one of my own. It arrives tomorrow, if all goes well. Then I just have to learn how to use it. I’m pretty stoked, though. I can see lots of mistakes in the pictures I took, mistakes that a camera can’t fix, but I can also see some good stuff and having images that are more “tweakable” afterwards gives me the ability to bring out the best in a shot. Plus having a lens that can reach out and touch someone is really nice. Oh, it’s a slippery slope, all right. Can you say accessories?

John has been really helpful both by letting me borrow his gear and by helping me get a decent bang for my buck for my new gear. (I think he enjoys spending my money on stuff as much as he does his own.) He has also been very encouraging when looking at my pictures. Thanks, John! Thanks also for the encouraging comments from you guys out there. I sure am having fun. Still looking for a way to get paid to do this.

Snapshots

I went to yellowstone again a couple of days ago, and I took about 325 snaps on two different cameras. I’m pretty happy with the results. I’ll put the best of them up soon enough. There are some good ones, if I do say so myself. Of course, you’ll be able to judge soon, and more objectively than I.

A woman to her daughter, who was trying to rescue a dragonfly foundered in the hot, acidic water: “I bet he’s already laid his eggs.”

You know already that I like bartenders. You know I’m a sucker for a friendly face that will give me beer and all I have to do in return is give them money. Call it a weakness if you want, I’ll accept that. Here in Bozeman, there’s Tori, Kristen, Joe, Pete, Jen, Molly, and, of course, Nicole. Here’s to them. Honest, hard-working and friendly people who have made me feel at home here when I have no home. I raise one to all of them. Keep doing the Lord’s work!

Breakfast at the Town Cafe in Gardiner, the gateway to Yellowstone. Two eggs over easy, hash browns (Tabasco! I’m back in civilization!) and toast. Half a dozen overweight men are sitting around a table, yucking it up. They’re going fishing. As usual. They’re in a jolly mood. Fishing. Beats working, so I’m told.

I didn’t mention one thing about the Crystal Bar. Angry employees eventually cooled, goofy old guys played pool while their wives heckled. Hilarity ensued, while I got the perfect buzz. Ah, the perfect buzz. Not drunk, no, not that. The perfect buzz is a delicate balance, with rational thought on one side, and the fairies on the other, lifting your thoughts on gossamer wings, making them greater than they were before. Colors are a little more true, and jokes are far funnier. It is a beautiful world. The weakness of the perfect buzz is in it’s own creation – it is alcohol that got you there and the idea of having more is just like everything else. Perfect. But there is no maintaining the perfect buzz. You can choose to stop drinking, and soon feel sleepy and enjoy a good night of sleep and wake the next day feeling good and remembering what a nice time you had the night before.

More often, you chase the perfect buzz with another one. After that you’ve crossed a line, and “one more” is not one more. It is simply the next. You remember the perfect buzz and you want it again, but you’ve passed it now and you’re heading the wrong direction. The perfect buzz is as fleeting as it is rare. At the Crystal Bar, I had the perfect buzz and I sat, enjoying it, enjoyed the craziness all around me, reading the profane sign again. Life was good. “Do you want another?” asked Caroline (rhymes with gasoline). “Yes, I do,” I said. “But I’m out of money.” That’s one form of restraint. I wouldn’t have had another anyway. That place was making me tired. I took a walk. Of course, I walked to Montana Ale Works. They take plastic, and beer is cheap until six.

The fishermen drink their coffee, tell their jokes, and discuss where they’re going go go today. My head is fuzzy and my stomach wobbly, but the tea helps, and the hash browns. It’s time to go take some pictures.

The Crystal Bar

At the time of my departure chez John the poll consensus was to find another bar. Which sucks, because I haven’t found another bar in this town with the right combination of tables where I can set up my writing and being slow in the afternoons. Montana Ale Works is closed afternoons, or it would be the obvious choice. So, find another bar I must. A laptop on my back, I made my way into the light of day with a vague recollection of John mentioning a bar across the street from The Cannery. That would do nicely. Down Main Street I trundle, moseying along until I’m across from The Cannery.

I saw no bar. Most of you who know me are probably assuming the bar was right in front of me, and you’re probably right. Probably there was a giant flashing sign shouting “BAR! BAR! BAR!” but I didn’t see it. I continued. It was a few blocks before I saw the red neon in the shape of a cow skull that announced Crystal Bar. The neon in the window proclaimed that they had all the standard domestics on tap. Like there was any doubt. I crossed the street (safely, at the corner) and pushed into the bar.

It was exactly what you would expect from a bar identified with a red neon cow skull and a sign proclaiming this to be burger night. It was mid afternoon and the seats at the bar all appeared to be taken. There were a couple of pool tables lying idle and a few slot machines, but no tables where I felt good about pulling out the technology. The few tables were large and crowding the slots. There were peanuts on the bar, and shells on the linoleum floor.

At the end of the bar, near the burger cooking station, was one empty stool. There was an unfinished drink in front of it. I moved that way, since that’s where the standing space was. One woman at the bar turned to me and said, “She’ll be right back.” Presumably the ‘she’ was my new bartender. I bellied up to the bar. “Have a seat,” the woman said. “Is someone sitting here?” I asked. “No,” another patron said. “You are!” said someone else. Message from everyone: “You are welcome here.” I took the stool.

While I waited for my beer fulfillment, I looked around. Above was baseball – Cubs vs. Astros. I hate the stinkin’ Astros. It’s not about the team, it’s about their ridiculous stadium. Somebody in Texas needs to be slapped. But I digress. The TV was over the beer fridge, which was covered with the usual collection of bumper stickers and hand-written signs. Prominent among the signs was this gem, hand-lettered in red El Marko: WE DO NOT FUCKING SELL MIKES HARD LIME DOWNSTARIS!! PERIOD!! Yes, “fucking” was underlined twice.

Eventually my bartender returned. Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) was spitting acid and lighting fires with her eyes. She had been talking to her boss, and I guess it didn’t go to her satisfaction. I found myself in The Land of Disgruntled Employees ™. The woman sitting next to me, the one who had led the way in making me feel welcome, had recently quit the bar for the fourth time. She knew what to do. She bought Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) a shot. The next bartender, whose name is not Jersey, showed up early and was dragooned into covering for Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) for “a few minutes”. Not-Jersey graciously agreed to cover and then grumbled for the next half-hour while waiting for “a few minutes” to expire. She was grumbling to the burger-cooker, a pretty girl whose name was probably not Allison. Probably-not-Allison shared a general disgruntlement with Not-Jersey about some other person (We’ll call her Bill) who was supposed to be working but wasn’t. Or something like that.

Probably-not-Allison doesn’t like working with sauerkraut and wanted to know why she needed to scoop pickled cabbage from the big jar into a tupperware container. No one had an answer, but if she didn’t do it, she was going to “get a note.” There was general agreement that getting notes sucked. Eventually Caroline (rhymes with gasoline) returned and Not-Jersey ran off to change before her actual shift started.

So while I sipped a particularly unsatisfying Kokanee the staff and former staff had a long discussion about Bosses and the girl called (by us) Bill. The rest of the bar was pretty cheerful, right down to the drunk husband of the woman who had quit for the fourth time, who accosted a Korean tourist to get him to go fishing. Communication was tricky, since both parties were having difficulty with English, but it was good-natured. Eventually drunk-husband-of-four-time-quitter learned that the Korean tourist was traveling with three pretty girls. At that point drunk-husband-of-four-time-quitter was trying to get Korean Tourist and Harem of Korean Tourist to play pool. In the end, they just settled for a group portrait.

The final note on the Crystal Bar, John reports it’s the only place he’s even been where the bartender (reliable sources say her name is Madame Curie) didn’t know how to mix a margarita. Also, I moved on to Sierra Nevada and pulled through just fine.

And Nicole…

When Nicole came in, I was sitting off in my corner, writing, and doing pretty well. She was walking into a volatile situation and she had no idea. Things were starting to get ugly. Buddy of Chris was beginning to cheese the other patrons. He was hitting on the girls instead of pimping for Chris. He was out of control.

When she saw me, she was really happy to see me there. Happier than I am used to contending with. She waved across the room and said, “You’re back! Or, you’re still here!” She not only remembered my horrible beard, she remembered me. She remembered my story. Accelerated regularization at its best. And man, oh, man, she was looking good. She’s going to read this, and that means I probably can’t go back to The Cannery without freaking her out. Strike that. I’m already freaking her out, that’s why I can’t go back. ‘Cause here’s the thing. She’s really something. I actually entertained the idea of asking her to come to Vegas with me, before I overheard that she had a boyfriend of some years.

I don’t think I would have had the guts to ask her along anyway. The prospect of rejection is far less frightening than the possibility of her saying yes. What the hell would I do then? And just because she has a gift for making all her patrons feel special doesn’t mean that I actually am special. I saw it work. Whoever she talked to was the most important person in the world. Yeah, I know all that. In my head I know that, anyway.

So I sit here, late at night, writing about it and that’s all it’s going to be. Why? Well, let’s be realistic. I’m just passing through. Beautiful women who repaint their own cars aren’t looking for drifters. Of course, I could be wrong. I’d love to be wrong. But I’m right. (Still, Nicole, if I’m wrong, let me know.) But I’m right.

For those of you worried about Chris, he gave his number to one of the girls at the bar. Now I have to sleep. Adult Swim has given way to Tom and Jerry. Tom is drunk off his ass. Good kitty!

Crossroads and Epiphany

Location: Valemount, BC, Canada (map)
Miles: 4386.2

Before I describe to you the recent past, it is only fair that you understand the present. Let’s just pretend for a moment that I was somehow important to national security. Maybe president, or something like that. Let’s say then, that as president I’m sitting in a bar and I notice they have a pretty good selection of single-malt scotch. “The genie has left the bottle,” a secret service man would whisper into his cuff, and the damage control teams would swarm into action.

My drive today, through some of the most spectacular scenery yet, was dominated by a single question. Should I drive to Alaska? I have always wanted to go there, and when was I going to have a better chance? But fundamentally I am tired, and the idea of two weeks or more of nothing but strangers didn’t appeal. Not when there was a place I could go in Montana where I could feel connected. Most important of all, in Bozeman I could relax for a few days, not drive, and spend the hours instead on my other projects. Hang out there, go to Vegas, head out to the space launch, take care of my business in San Diego, then head east. Simple.

I thank the sweet lord for bartenders every day, but this day I offer an extra homily. Her name is Amy, and for today she is my honorary favorite bartender.

Out of Edmonton I went straight west. I followed 16A and then 16 back up off the plains and into the mountains. In Jasper, there was a decision to make. Continue west and by implication north, drive for several days to Fairbanks, or turn south through spectacular country and head back on something more closely resembling my original course – whatever that was.

All I knew was that I was tired. I had spectacle fatigue. I saw things that would have made my heart leap ordinarily, but I could hardly blink. The rain fell off and on while the clouds tore at the impervious peaks, and I simply drove. I didn’t think, then, about how the assault on the stone by the air seemed futile but ultimately the tireless air and water would wear down the stones, as long as the sun shone. I just drove.

I reached Jasper and knew that I was just too plain tired to make the decision about which way to go. I ate lunch there, poring over the atlas, trying to estimate the effort involved to get up there. I had been planning to see the space launch in Mojave later this month. Were the two exclusive? I decided to stop, sleep on it, and perhaps even solicit input from you, my faithful readers. The only problem was that Jasper is a really expensive place to hole up this time of year. I tried several places, but couldn’t stay there. I hit the far end of town and there is was: the choice. South or West. I chose West for the simple reason that sleep was closer in that direction. I was so very, very tired.

Down, down, down I went, while the mountains shook their fists at the sky all around me. Occasionally I realized that I was driving through some of the most breathtaking scenery on this big earth, but when I did I also understood just how tired I was, Another mountain range. Sun in the distance, rain close by. Rushing river next to me, feeding into Moose Lake. I drove through it with the vague apprehension that perhaps I should be appreciating it all more.

I was heading toward Alaska, but more important I was heading toward rest. When I got to Terre Jaune I had made up my mind. South. Driving to Fairbanks, was, I realized, work. It was a long time without the safe haven of someone to crash on, of no preregularization. It was a commitment. So it was that I turned south at Tete Jaune (the whole yellow head thing is for another episode if I ever figure it out) with a sense of relief. I was back on track. If not now, then when? echoed in my head, but I knew that I wasn’t out here to commit to anything. I had done the right thing.

So I came to Valemount. I found a cheap hotel (actually a very nice cheap one) right next to the town’s only bar. After a nap I headed over. I didn’t take any technology with me, so for quite a while I was sitting at a dead bar with nothing to do but think. I unblocked a problem I’ve been having with The Monster Within and eventually started a conversation with the two bartenders. I mentioned to Amy that I had thought about driving to Fairbanks and she said, “Do it.” I told her about how much I had been driving lately, and how tired I was, and she said, “You should take the ferry up. they call it a cruise, but really it’s a ferry.”

Perfect. Not driving for a few days, going somewhere cool, and on the way become a regular on the boat. As long as I can plug in the laptop, this is ideal.