Kamis, 05 Januari 2012

THE Id LOUNGE by Peter Nolan Smith

Knowing The Id

The Rockies were blurring in the window of the Inferno Lounge. AK tapped me on the shoulder and I turned my eyes away from the distant mountain vista to the interior of Sterling, Colorado’s only bar. Carol was nowhere in sight and I was drunk for the first time since leaving Boston.

“It’s time to go.” AK wasn’t comfortable in the bar. The clientele was 100% local. We were the only strangers.

“We just got here.” My beer was half-full.

“We’ve been here for two hours.” AK nodded to his left. Three big farmers were muttering in the corner.

“Long enough I guess.” The big hulks looked like trouble and I was only in condition for a beating and not a fight. “Let’s get Carol and get out of here.”

“You leaving?” The bartender presented the bill. It came to less than $10.

“Trying to reach the Rockies before nightfall.” I dropped a $20 on the bar.

“Best you take the road out there to Fort Collins, then head up Big Thompson Canyon. You’ll find someplace nice to stay for the night. Try the Big Bear Lodge.” The old bartender was also from Maine. He wouldn’t steer me wrong. He made change and I gave him a $2 tip. “No police on this road too. A straight line to the Rockies.”

“Lot of those out here.” I picked up my cash. Draft beers cost nothing

“After here none. You’ll be in the mountains from here to California. Better get your girl or else Billy Bob will kidnap her to his farm.”

We rescued Carol from a Chevy pick-up. The blonde nursing student was flushed red in the face from a make-out session in the parking lot with the lanky farmboy. AK got behind the wheel. Billy Bob and the bartender waved good-bye from the doorway of the bar.

“Nice bar.” I settled into the backseat like cracked egg.

“Nice.” Carol hadn’t forgotten the boyfriend in Mendocino for the last hour. he had just slipped her mind.

“Nice view.” The frosted teeth of the Frontline were growing larger, as the Ford Torino station wagon sped along the local road.

“Mountains to the west and flatlands all around us.” The wheat fields were sprouting green buds. It was late-spring. By mid-summer the new crop would be ready for the Harvesters. This was the end of the Great Plains.

“Two days ago we left Boston and now we’re almost a mile high.” By nighttime we would be even higher.

“I don’t feel the difference.” I inhaled the air pouring in Ford’s open windows and smelled earth, wheat, and the road. The trio made a potent fragrance for the soul.

“Wait until tomorrow.” The passes through the Rockies topped out at 10,000 feet.

“Can hardly wait.” Every day on the road brought something new.

We stayed the night in a rustic cabin along the Big Thompson Creek. Dinner was trout from the river. The owner of the Big Bear Lodge knew the bartender from the Inferno Lounge.

“He’s from Maine. I’m from New Hampshire.”

We sat up the night talking about the White Mountains and hockey. The Boston Bruins had lost the Stanley Cup to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the month. Neither of us were happy about that defeat.

In the morning we got a late start and Carol drove into the Rockies. We stopped several times to hike to various scenic vistas. Serious hikers were setting out into the wilderness. Grizzlies roamed the high trails. This was mountain man land.

The Big Thompson Creek Road connected with the Fall Creek Road. Snow clung underneath the trees and deepened to drifts along the Trail Ridge Road. Winter remained the season in these high altitudes and we zigzagged through the mountains to reach US 40 in Granby.

The valley broadened to pastures for cattle and Carol drove a steady 65. We saw our first state trooper in days. She was driving a little over the limit. Out West 55 was more fools and our plates read California.

“You know we haven’t seen a black man since Omaha.” AK commented after filling up the tank in Craig. At 55 cents a gallon the bill was a little over $10.

“I saw one in Fort Collins. He was working on a yard.” Carol came from Washington. She had a good eye for color. DC wasn’t known as Chocolate City for its candy.

“Maine has one minority. Canucks from Quebec. Out West the cowboys and farmers think that the Mexicans are the minority, but they’ve been here forever along with Indians.”

“I haven’t seen any Indians.” Carol was examining the map for reservations. “They have to be someplace.”

“Look in the bottom right corner and you’ll find the Ute reservations.” I had received a map-reading merit badge from the Boy Scouts. “Back before the West Was Won they roamed from Wyoming to Northern New Mexico.”

“Only good Indian is a dead Indian.” AK had watched his share of cowboy and Indian movies. We were TV children of the 50s.

“General Sheridan said that after a Comanche Chief told him. “Me good Indian." Sheridan replied, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”

“That’s fucked up." Carol used the f-word for the first time on this trip.

“Very fucked up.” When Woody Guthrie sang THIS LAND IS MY LAND he meant everyone.

AK was Jewish. The Nazis shared the same sentiment as Sheridan and the KKK. Carol was 100%. I had half-Irish and a hippie. EASY RIDER had been made about the South, but this far from the cities AK and I were the only blacks for hundreds of miles. Neither of us said this and we drove along US 40 exceeding the speed limit.

The sides of the mountains were scarred by ski trails. Steamboat Springs was world known. Not a flake remained on its slopes. The land was getting drier and the greenery survived by the river and its many oxbows.After Dinosaur the terrain became desert and the wizened people looked seared by the weather.

They were all white.

We crossed the Colorado border into Utah. Night fell fast on the high plains. and darkness erased the desert scenery. Two-lanes of black asphalt straightlined into Roosevelt, Utah. It was a speck on the map,

I was at the wheel and filled with intent of driving straight to the Bonneville Salt Flats, but lights of the Id Lounge loomed on the left.

“We’re stopping there.” My hunch about the Inferno Lounge had been spot on. We had spent two hours of beer happiness in the Sterling, Colorado bar.

“We’re not stopping.” Carol had had her one fling in the parking lot. She was not interested in testing her fidelity for the second time in two days.

“We’re not stopping at the Id Lounge?” My best grade in university had been an A in Psychology 101. Ego, Superego, Id were Freud’s forte.

“How do you know it isn’t the ID Lounge?” AK was voting with Carol for giving the bar a miss.

“Small d.” I wanted a beer and pulled into the parking lot.

“This is a bad idea.” AK tucked his hair under a NY Mets baseball cap.

“It will be fine. We had a good time at the Inferno Lounge.”

“The bartender was from Maine. Billy Bob was cute and it was the afternoon.” Carol pulled on a jacket to hide her breasts.

“If it gets bad, we leave, plus we owe Freud the honor of drinking in his name.”

The scrabble dirt parking lot was filled with dusty pick-ups. We walked into the Id Lounge and sat at the bar. The clientele at the tables was a mix of farmers and cowboys. Several other oddballs hung at the bar. They seemed friendly.

The jukebox was playing Merle Haggard. MAMA TRIED. I ordered three Olympias. We toasted Sigmund Freud and I sang along with Merle. Andy shook his head. He hated the way I tried to meld into the crowd like I came from nowhere.

“Stop worrying so much.”

“Easy for you to say.” AK kept his back to the tables, fearing someone might recognize him as a Jew.

“If anyone says anything, go out to the car and start the engine.” I was wearing heavy Frye boots. No one was touching Carol or AK.

Two men sat at the nearest table. The goat-roper and sodbuster were arguing about who was the strongest. Devoid of blacks, beaners, and Jews Roosevelt, Utah had arranged its own division of humanity.

“Ain’t nothing hard about rasslin’ cattle.” The farm boy could have started for an NFL team as linebacker. He was that big. The only way I could take him was with a bar stool to the back.

“And nothing tough a bout plowing dirt with a truck.” The young cowboy looked like he had been constructed from barbed wire, but their diatribes sounded friendly to my ears.

“One way to settle it.” The farmboy rolled up the sleeve of his flannel shirt.

“Yeah.” The cowboy spat on the floor.

“Arm wrestle.” The two of them said at the same moment and posed their hands over the table.

“One out of one.” The bartender declared with a baseball bat in his hand. This was not a good sign. “Ready, set, go.”

The two locals strained with every muscle in their body to force the other’s hand to the table. Backers from each clique shouted out encouragement. I was pulling for the farmboy. The cowboy looked mean.

“I got a bad feeling.” AK pointed to the jostling between the two groups. Pushes were replaced by elbows and stomping boots. The bartender pulled chicken wire over the liquor bottles against the wall.

“You might have a point.” I wasn’t moving from my stool.

The cowboy threw his weight into the table. The farmer lost his advantage and the back of his hand wavered an inch from defeat. He grit his teeth and shouted like a steer trying to free itself from quicksand. His hand rose from the table. The cowboy was sweating bullets and a beer bottle fell to the floor to break into shards. The farmers sensed victory and a second later their boy slammed the cowboy’s hand to the table.

“I might have lost that contest.” The cowboy stood from the table, rubbing his wrist, then smiled with a wickedness bent on madness. “But I could kick your ass in the alley out back.”

The big farmboy said nothing, as he launched from his chair to punch the cowboy’s skull with a massive right. I felt the crack of flesh and bones in my teeth and the young cowboy collapsed in a pile of sand. His friends swarmed the farmboy, who threw them right and left like bales of hay. The bartender bonked heads to even out the fight. He was even-handed with his swings.

Carol ran out of the bar with the keys to the Torino in her hand. AK and I looked at each other. Our eyes confirmed a belief that these people probably knew each other from childhood and if they didn’t have any trouble fighting each other then they would even be more willing when it came to stomping hippie strangers.

We ran from the Id Lounge and jumped in the Torino. The tires spat dirt and I left Roosevelt Utah for the first and last time of my life.

“Nice bar.” Carol checked the rearview mirror.

“Was for a few seconds.” I liked Merle Haggard.

“No more bars.”

“If you insist.”

“We both insist.” AK and Carol said at the same time.

“None of us got hurt.”

“No more bars.”

“Okay, okay.” I slumped into the backseat and wondered who won the fight in the Id Lounge. My money was on the farmers. They had bulk.

US 40 swung south into the desert. There was no traffic. The sky had a billion stars. The universe was black and they were white.

Carol put on BLUE. Joni Mitchell sang ALL I WANT. It sounded like California and CAREY made me glad to be back on the road. Beach tar on my feet was only a day or two away.

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