Selasa, 10 April 2012

THE Id LOUNGE by Peter Nolan Smith

The next morning AK, Pam, and I took advantage of the cabin’s comfort and slept in late. We ate breakfast in the dining room with the owner of the lodge. The older man and I had spent the black hours of last evening talking about a place almost two thousand miles to the East. He was a good man and we heeded his advice on breakfast. Flapjacks and sausages were a hearty start to the day after a night of beer. Sipping our coffees Pam, AK, and I listened to Ralph’s counsel on the way westward.

“Following 14 up the canyon to US 40 is a more direct, but the more scenic route would be to drop down to Boulder and cross the mountains through Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a beautiful ride this time of the year. The traffic gets crazy after July 4th.” Ralph spread out our map on the table pointed out various highlights of the drive.

“Thanks for everything.” I tried to pay the bill. Ralph refused my money.

“You’re nice kids. I wish you were staying longer. Heck, I could use help here during the summer. It’s hard to get good help out here. Everyone is either a cowboy or a farmer. They’re good with animals, but suck with people other than their own.”

“Wish we could stay too.” The mountain air was pure and I had no job waiting in California or back in Boston. I glanced out the window. The river ran fast through the canyon bracketed by pine-covered slopes. Working the summer wasn’t such a bad option.

“But you have someplace to go.” Ralph handed the map to me.

“Yes.” The answer should have been ‘not really’. Our ages were almost thirty years apart and that gap meant nothing to either of us. We were New Englanders away from New England.

“I once had someplace to be, but here I am.” Ralph had no regrets.

“Maybe we’ll catch you on the way back.” AK finished his OJ. It was almost 10.

“I’ll be here.” Ralph walked us out the car. 

We loaded the station wagon and AK elected himself the driver. He got no argument from me. My hangover excluded the operation of heavy machinery and moving objects. Ralph waved good-bye, as the Ford Torino motored onto the road. Leaving someone new behind was becoming a familiar theme on this trip.

“Yesterday you thought about staying in Sterling. Today I was contemplating the same.” I looked over my shoulder and watched the Big Bear Lodge disappeared behind the forested curve. “Some of Lewis’ and Clark’s men must have felt the urge for staying on that expedition.”

“Except they would have been with savage Indians.” AK was being sarcastic. “Your scalp would look good on a tent pole.”

“I’m talking about now.” Hippies had been leaving the cities to live in communes ever since Altamont killed off Flower Power.

“I can understand the temptation of the mountains, but we have an ocean to see and swim in.”

“Yes, we do.” The Pacific was our destination just like it had been for Lewis and Clarke.

We descended to Boulder and then climbed into the Rockies on US34. Once past the alpine suburb of Estes Park we traveled higher on the Fall River Road. Traffic was light and the Torino handled the steep switchbacks with ease. There were no guardrails to prevent disaster should we leave the pavement.

“I’m glad you’re driving and not me.” AK was cautious behind the wheel. A flurry of flakes cut visibility to less than two-hundred feet.

“Anyone in a rush?” My friend asked with his eyes locked on the road.

“Not me.” Pam had pulled out her jacket. It was getting cold.

We stopped at the snowy pass some 11,000 feet above sea level. The frigid wind ripped through the stunted trees and the three of us fought to breathe in the thin air. I read the plaque at the pass.

“This road followed the Indian path.” We were passing above the tree line.

“Savages didn’t believe in tunnels.” AK was shivered in his jean jacket. He had not counted on running into winter until December.

“Neither did the engineers of the road. It was built by chain gangs using picks, shovels, and sledge hammers.” I was taking a guess. The plaque said nothing about the men who constructed this road, but its 1920 opening preceded Roosevelt’s CCC projects to give work to the poor. “They still have chain gangs in the South.”

“But none here.” Pam grabbed the keys out of AK’s hand. She had had enough of the tundra. “Let’s lose some altitude.”

The weather improved on the other side of the pass and she drove a little faster, but alert for elk feeding on the fresh meadow grass surrounded by aspen woods bordering the Trail Ridge Road. AK lit a joint and handed it to me.

“Might help your head.” He reached over to the radio. Static was playing on every station.

“I hope so.” The hangover wasn’t letting go of its pincer grip on my temples.

“It could be altitude sickness.” Pam offered her opinion. In the fall she entered her final year of nursing school.

“Probably both.” I took another puff and passed the join to AK. We re-entered the world of man. Resorts on Grand Lake were preparing for the holiday weekend.

We stopped several times at various scenic vistas. Serious hikers were setting out into the wilderness. They carried big packs on their backs, as if they were leaving civilization forever. They didn’t speak much under their heavy loads. Grizzlies roamed the high trails. This was mountain man land.

We zigzagged by the alpine lakes to reach US 40 in Granby. The valley broadened to cattle pastures and a state trooper was parked behind a large boulder. The young officer wore a stiff cowboy hat like he was related to Wyatt Earp.

“Shit.” Pam She was driving a little over the limit, but this far west enforcing 55 was a joke and the Statie waited for a faster violator of the road.

“Of course it would have been difference, if we were black.” I didn’t bother to check on the cop. That would have been a sign of guilt and a joint was a serious offense for the police in 1974. The spokesman for the MC5 was sentenced to ten years for giving two joints to a narc.

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

“I saw one in Fort Collins. He was mowing the grass.” Coming from Washington Pam had a good eye for color. DC wasn’t known as Chocolate City for its candy.

“Maine has one minority. Canucks from Quebec.” They had worked as cheap labor in logging camps and lumber mills.

“Every place has someone underneath them.” AK pulled into a Sunoco station to fill the Ford Torino. The owner liked the big V8 running on the full tank. “Mexicans are the minority for the cowboys and farmers, even though there were before the White Man.”

“Indians were here before all of us.” I got out of the car and the other stretched their legs. AK handed the teenage gas attendant $5 and wandered over to the Coke dispenser. He bought us each a bottle. It was cold as ice.

“I haven’t seen any Indians yet.” Pam took off her jacket and examined 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.”

“Back before the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” AK had watched his share of cowboy and Indian movies. We were both 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.” Pam 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, red, white, black, brown, and yellow.

“This is white people country.” AK was half-Jewish. The Nazis shared the same sentiment about his people as Sheridan had about the Indians.

“We haven’t had any trouble yet.” Pam was 100% white.

“Hippies are the closest thing these people have to a black person.” EASY RIDER might have ended in the South, but bad things happened to longhairs this far from the cities. “Good thing there aren’t that many people out here.”

The gas attendant was talking with his friends. They were ogling Pam. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

“Let me see that map.” The next real city was Salt Lake. US 40 ran through small towns. None of them had many inhabitants. “We shouldn’t have any problems. As Neil Young sang, “Everyone knows this is nowhere.”

We downed the cokes and put the empty bottles in the crates. The young boys were muttering about hippies. AK eyed me. Nowhere was no a place to have a fight over the length of our hair or the beauty of Pam’s breasts. I sat in the back. AK and Pam switched driving duties. We left the gas station and I was proud to have succeeded in resisting giving the boys the finger.

We crossed over the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass. The western slope fed the Pacific and ski trails scarred the mountains above Steamboat Springs. Not a flake remained on the slopes. The land grew more parched to the west and greenery survived along the trickle of a shallow river and its many oxbows. After Dinosaur the dessert dropped a boot on the terrain and the few wizened inhabitants appeared bred by the harsh seasons of the High Plains.

They were all white.

At sunset 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 slowed down seeing the lights of the Id Lounge on the left. The long ride had cured my hang-over.

“What are you doing?” AK asked from the back. He didn’t like strange places. In truth no one did at night.

“We’re stopping there.” I pointed to the upcoming bar. One cold beer was my reward for a day’s long drive.

“We’re not stopping.” Pam 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.”

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

“Small d on the sign.” I pulled into the uneven parking lot. Tomorrow was my birthday. “I’m celebrating my last day of being 21.”

“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.” I crammed my hair under a Red Sox cap. There was no sense in taking chances.

“That was yesterday and this is tonight.” Pam pulled on a jacket to hide her breasts.

“If it gets bad, we leave, plus we owe Freud one drink in his name.”

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

“Stop worrying so much.” I was comfortable with the beer in my hand.

“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 handed him the keys.

“And wait for you?”

“You’re my friend, right.” I was wearing heavy Frye boots. No one was touching Pam or AK.

The goat-roper and sodbuster at the nearest table were arguing about who was the strongest. Devoid of blacks, beaners, and Jews the Non-MOrmon residents of Roosevelt, Utah had stratified into its own caste system.

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

“And nothing tough ‘bout plowin’ 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 heavy-set 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 bodies to force the other’s hand to the table. Backers from each clique shouted out drunken encouragement. I was rooting for the farmboy. The cowboy looked mean.

“I got a bad feeling.” AK nodded at the jostling between the two groups. Pushes were replaced by elbows and stomping boots. The bartender tugged down a chicken-screen wire over the liquor bottles against the wall.

“You might have a point.” I motioned for them to go to the door and put down $5 to cover our tab, but remained transfixed by the contest.

Pam left without saying a word. AK was two steps behind her. We looked at each other. Our eyes confirmed the 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 to stomp hippie strangers.

“I’ll be a minute.” I didn’t see AK leave.

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 gritted his teeth and shouted like a steer trying to free itself from quicksand. His hand rose inch by inch. The cowboy was sweating bullets and a beer bottle toppled off the table to break into shards on the floor. The farmers sensed victory and a second later their hero slammed the cowboy’s hand to the table.

“I might have lost that contest.” The cowboy stood from the table and rubbed his wrist. His face was warped by a wicked smile bent on madness. “But I could kick your ass in the alley out back.”

The big farmboy said nothing and 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 at my feet. His friends swarmed over the farmboy, who tossed their bodies right and left like bales of hay.

The bartender bonked heads to even out the fight. He was batting .500 with his swings. A bottle broke my trance and I exited running from the Id Lounge. The back door of the Torino was open. I jumped in the station wagon.

“Go, go, go.”

AK bottomed out the gas and the Torino’s tires spat dirt in our wake. The station wagon hit 100 within twenty seconds. The V8 was built for speed. Two minutes later we were leaving Roosevelt, Utah. Any police would be headed to the bar.

“Nice bar.” Pam checked the rearview mirror. The lights of the Id Lounge were gone.

“Was for a few seconds.” I liked the Merle Haggard and the beer was cold.

“No more bars on this trip.” Pam was interested in narrowing the distance to her boyfriend.

“If you insist.” I accepted their judgment. I had gotten my way on this one.

“We both insist.” AK and Pam said at the same time. There would be no vote next time.

“None of us got hurt.” I tried to put the stop in a positive light.

“No more bars.” AK was a lover and not a fighter.

“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. The Torino was the only car on the road and the sky had a billion stars. The universe was black and they were white.

Pam put on BLUE. Joni Mitchell sang ALL I WANT. It sounded like California and CAREY made me glad to be back on the move, because beach tar on my feet was only one or two days away and one of them was my birthday.

Tidak ada komentar:

Posting Komentar