When in Doubt, Pee on the Fire

Beyond the service industry shroud, there is madness and mayhem in Moab. Within each river guide, shuttle driver, restaurant server, bike mechanic and hotel operator, there exists an undercurrent of something more. This undercurrent is a man rolling down Main Street in a handmade hamster wheel. It is the annual fashion show, wherein minimum-wage workers get to be top models — bedecked in mini-blinds or vacuum hose — for a night. It is Molotov cocktails tossed off Hurrah Pass at 2 a.m. It is a 28-day Daily run on the Colorado River. It is a stealth mission to turn the iconic “G” on the cliffs above town (“G” for Grand County) into a directive to “Go Away!” during Jeep Safari. It is the brilliance of Moab Community Theatre, the thrill of breaking world records at the Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival, and the hushed glory of prominent community members dancing with nearly naked skydivers — leather-bound leg acrobatically propped up on bare, brawny shoulder — at the bar on Halloween.

Yes, we are a tourist town. Yes, we survive by the grace of our guests, living thanks to those who love our surroundings. But Moab is also something more. There still exists an element holding steadfast to eccentricity amidst the onslaught of gentrification and commodification. For, once we’ve lost our idiosyncratic heart — beating to a rhythm as unpredictable as summer monsoons and sudden rock fall — then the real Moab is dead. Eccentricity is vanquished. And I will have to plant the seeds of my landscape love elsewhere.

Moab needs its eccentrics. It needs its darers and dreamers. They are the essential artists painting on the canvas of the day-to-day, reminding us that this life is less desperate — and more urgent — than we suppose. The eccentrics advise us that imagination is not a childhood relic, that dreams need not be confined to the brain and that conformity is the first sign of societal heart disease. But eccentricity is a dying breed, relegated to the shadows — especially during tourist season.

My boyfriend, Tyler, is an import to Moab from Durango, a town where, much to his sadness, the flame of eccentricity is flickering out. He came to Moab for me, but other loves have since abetted the original, including mountains, canyons, friends and the town itself.

He, too, is a daring dreamer, an important addition to the Moab milieu. Together, we ran the Colorado at high water on an air mattress, asking hapless boaters, “We just woke up; where are we?” and noting, “Wow! We’ve never seen the Dolores this big!” Inspired by the sweeping cinematography of a National Geographic documentary, he built operational camera equipment — an enormous jib and a dolly — out of scrap metal. During the first month of our courtship, he bought us a 1971 Streamline trailer to live in. He is my mountain man — a firefighter, a flawless feller of trees, a fearless adventurer. And he is my artist — with an ear for the essential, an eye for the emotional and a mind for the intuitive. And when he dresses as a bunny to run the half-marathon or plays alt-country versions of Lady Gaga on the guitar, no one around him can take this life too damned seriously. Like any good nonconformist, he helps me to see the comic within the consecrated. And for that I am grateful.

Tyler was a Moab resident for just a week when he experienced the town’s harbinger of the holiday season, the Winter Sun Festival. We ran the 10K, we visited the craft fair and we bundled up to stand among the crowds on Main Street for the annual Electric Light Parade. This is Moab at its shining finest. The spectacle is an assemblage of trucks full of teenagers and bisexuals on bicycles, antique tractors and elaborately decorated trailers, livestock and live music, dance troupes and costumed groups. The unifying theme is that every entrant — animal, vegetable or mineral — is adorned in lights. And the greatest beauty is that, for 30 golden minutes, Main Street is closed to everything but this one, locals-only holiday event. Suddenly, Highway 191 isn’t bisecting our town, cleaving west side from east with the noise and girth of semi traffic. Instead, it’s simply Main Street. And it belongs to Moab, a town not worried about making a buck — because there isn’t one to be had in December.

I was thrilled to share the parade with Tyler, the neophyte Moabite, to show him that this desert town is much more than the Slickrock Trail and Jeep Safari. We are passionately quirky in ways our visitors will never know. We live hidden lives of authenticity, colorful communion and song. Our increasingly short off-season is full of creative pursuits — parades, fashion shows, theater and craft nights — to while away the darker, carefree hours. We give off a shine that money can’t buy when winter is at its worst. I wanted Tyler to know that he was in the midst of kindred spirits.

At the parade, he got it. He loved it. And I loved him for loving it.

Following the procession, Frankie D’s Bar hosted an after-party with Moab’s best (and only) disco cover band, Sparkle Motion. The bar is housed in a Quonset hut painted with enough magic and memories — or alcohol, I suppose — to make its origins seem less humble. One never knows when Frankie’s will implode with debauchery — it’s hit or miss, directed by some devious turn of collective consciousness — but when the masses arrive, it’s disorderly perfection.

Ty and I sat in my darkened car parked across from a crowded Frankie’s, downing the contents of my thermos (a drink we labeled Hepatitis C on the Beach in honor of one of Moab’s many eccentrics). As any good, recession-era dirtbag knows, you do your drinking before entering the bar, to save money.

Just as we were about to make the move from car to bar, a straggler from the Electric Light Parade rode his bike across our field of vision, headed toward Frankie D’s. The scene was double-take-worthy.

His bike trailer was on fire.

Initially, the flames were small and confined to one portion of the trailer. We assumed that it was perhaps a portable barbecue — in Moab, why not? However, as he swiveled and swayed his way across the street, the mobile conflagration grew. When he hit the curb in front of the bar, the trailer broke free from the bike. With this, he finally became aware of his dangerously flickering hitchhiker.

We watched from our shadowy vantage, unobserved and absolutely titillated.

The cyclist stood above the trailer blaze and scratched his chin, seemingly unperturbed, puzzling over the predicament as if it were a simple mechanical problem that could wait until morning. But inspiration struck, and even in the dark, we could see it light up his features. We watched him unzip, extract, aim and fire. His urine flow was so copious that, not only did our hero douse the blaze, but hardly a wisp of smoke remained in the aftermath.

The alcohol that likely led to the fire’s ignition also helped to put it out. The inundated bladder saved the day for the inebriated brain. It was a glorious display of bodily self-correction. We silently cheered from the car.

Seconds later, a figure emerged from the bar. She wore a glowing, spinning electric fan on her forehead and a boa bedecked in sparkling lights. It was none other than Moab’s Queen of Westwater, our most infamous and beloved eccentric, trained (among other things) in the arts of branding and bondage. She stormed over to reprimand the hapless biker, fan spinning on forehead all the while. We desperately wanted to hear what was being said, so I inserted my key in the ignition to roll down the automatic windows. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that the key-ignition combo prompts illumination of the dome lights and commencement of buckle-your-seatbelt beeping. I’d blown our voyeuristic cover. We froze. But the Queen of Westwater and the King of Firewater didn’t notice. And we’d already missed the bulk of their absurdly surreal confrontation.

With the eventual dissipation of the spectacle, Tyler breathlessly broke the silence in the vehicle with, “I think I just fell in love with Moab.”

And he’s been falling in love ever since.

Finally, we made our way into the bar for a typical night in Moab — fires, fans, freaks and all — our lives painted vibrant by the creative palettes of our compatriots in nonconformity.

Jen Jackson resides in Moab, where she will spend the off-season learning the finer arts of driving a 1976 Kenworth W900A, servicing a Stihl MS290, shooting rabbits with a .22 and loving this life —quirks and all — with an ever-bigger heart. 

Creation and the Dirty Shame

RoadtrippingOn the first day, I created the Roadtrip, and I saw that it was good. And the Days stretched out before me, gangly arms reaching high over glossy heads, first long and deep breaths taken.

The Days collectively winked. They smiled. They licked their full and rosy lips. The Days lined up in front of me, just waiting to be taken. With an easy equanimity borne from frolicking amidst the wild and green, they waited. Some tapped their toes and hummed contentedly. Others danced joyfully in circles. The first three sat cockeyed on barstools at the Dirty Shame Saloon, rang the bell and ordered another round of something dark and yeasty. The first Day belched moistly without covering his mouth.

Earl old pal, god of weather, graciously bestowed upon this adventure into the imagined and unknown clear skies and breezes mild. Two conditions imperative considering my mode of transportation: VW camper bus with high-rise fiberglass turtle-top, a vehicle that is entertaining as hell to keep within the lines in any kind weather. Be it inclement, be it fair. It’s just easier in fair.

The bus putted on, faithfully if not enthusiastically, over one state line and then another. In celebration of the busted radio, I composed psalms to the Roadtrip to sing along with the arrythm of the engine. Often I pulled off the road, listening to rivers meander, stretching my long and restless legs, letting the two big dogs out to pee and frolic. I watched the odometer tick off miles and I grew thirsty. I imagined English would be waiting at the Dirty Shame, wedged solidly between Days One and Two, ordering another round.

He was not. Prayers to Earl and myself answered, I arrived two hours ahead of schedule. This never happens. So I continued up the byway in search of a site therein to revitalize. I parked the bus in the cool shade of dense and fragrant pine gathered about an old service road, and let the big dogs out to romp. I romped right along with them through tall trees until the overgrown gravel road gave way to primitive trail and the trail gave way to thick impassible brush. Eliciting goose bumps, I stripped down and cleaned up in a chill and snow-lined creek, decided to go cowboy (cowgirl?) — very liberating — and pulled on fresh and faded blue jeans and a clean T. I brushed my hair. I brushed my teeth. I fished a barley wine from the cooler and drank deep.

At the Dirty Shame, Rick, Bartender Proprietor-Priest, poured me a tall one, relaying that English had phoned to say he was two hours behind, his intended route yet to be plowed out from the past season’s heavy snows. But with a Moose Drool bedded down patiently before me and new friends in the making, none of the waiting mattered. The big dogs were invited into the establishment and life was sweet. So I made those friends and nursed that beer, while the big dogs lounged on the worn wood floor.

Day One tipped his hat to me and promptly fell off his barstool. It had been a long one.

The sun was just narrowly above the hills when in walked English, throwing open the door to release long, sinewy fingers of cigarette and cigar smoke, friendly vulgarity and loud guffaws. I stood up and walked over. We grinned and wrapped our arms around one another. Squeezed. Tendrils of soft dark hair were blown askew and into his dark, mischievous eyes. It was a very nice effect. He was wearing a thick cotton shirt that had seen better days, a tattered pair of shorts, and he smelled like the forest. For all of my waiting, the payoff was fine.

I introduced English to my new best buddies at the bar. With eyes bleary, Days Two and Three scootched over to make room as he pulled a battered barstool next to mine.  Spread-eagled and snoring, Day One hadn’t budged from his spot on the floor.

All through the evening, the bell was busy ringing. Thirst was no longer a dilemma. Another Rick grabbed a guitar from the back of the room and played Celtic folksongs for a while. He really was good. Barkeep Rick joined in at times and was pretty good himself. Old Bernie told a few tall tales and we all belly laughed. Bernie had been in the valley for a very long time. I felt like I had been in the valley for a very long time. It was beautiful. Before English and I ended up joining Day One, who was clearly passed out cold and had begun to drool, on the floor, we thought we’d call it a night. We slept entwined and peacefully in the bus parked on the grass and weeds behind the saloon, beneath a starry starry sky, full moon, big dogs, thick blankets.

In the wee hours, Day Two arrived naked — without a stitch of cloud cover, entertaining temperatures in the high teens and masterfully finger-painting a layer of serious frost onto the inside of the bus’ windows. It was so cold, Day Two’s teeth were chattering loudly and her knees were knocking violently. All three of us were in dire need of hot coffee. We walked over to the wee mom & pop, cozy’d up to another fine drinking establishment. Yaak Valley: population 300 give or take, two taverns, one one-room schoolhouse, one place of worship and one sparsely stocked store offering bad but gratefully hot coffee in leaky paper cups. It was easy to see wherein the priorities of this populace lie. Good for them. We reclined in the bus, watching the sun straddle the hills, while eating trail food and sipping steaming Joe. Day Two burned her tongue on the coffee, cussed sweetly under her breath, smiled sheepishly and quickly began to warm up.

Adventure beckoned. We left behind the bus and boarded English’s late-model pickup. Up the road we traveled. The big dogs sat eager in the back of the extended cab, long tongues lolling, twitching noses poked out of windows. Past cabins and homesteads, past the board-and-bat schoolhouse, past the little log church, past a few more cabins. Up the road we rolled until it was flanked by continuous forest, and then out into the woolly wild we ventured. Packs packed and boots laced. We were keenly aware these woods were home to black bear and grizz, big cats and an assortment of ungulates. Neither of us had hiked often in grizzly territory and it felt a little spooky. I watched the big dogs closely.

Upon returning down valley, for two bucks each, we bathed at the Yaak-O-Mat, finding our way back to the Dirty Shame. It was handily the next building over. We ordered burgers and brews and let the good times continue to roll. We saw a few new faces. We made a few more new friends. A slight woman, brown hair gathered into an awkward ponytail, burst like a balloon into the saloon and, wasting no time, tried to talk a familiar patron out of paying any attention to the ring on his finger. He was a good sport about it. A short while later, she slipped into an unintended cartwheel behind the bar, both feet flailing in midair, legs splayed. Her landing scored low but she appeared unharmed. Rick paid her little attention as he poured another round. Sometime before last call, in through the front door, the ponytailed sprite maneuvered a child’s bicycle, resplendent with glittered banana seat and colorful plastic streamers hanging from the handlebar grips. She peddled forth a few feet before tipping over, joining Day Two who, with moss ground into her knees and forest detritus in her hair, had curled up on the floor for a nap.

A blond man walked up to English and me, grinning wildly and dancing with his own round belly while adroitly balancing a drink within his big, chapped paw. He winked at me. He winked at English. He introduced himself as Jeff, flirting with me and teasing English about his mop. He wondered where we were sleeping, so we told him. Jeff said that was no good, offering his cabin located a few miles up the road. He wasn’t using it. What about the big dogs? Without the slightest hesitation, Jeff said to bring ’em along. I pictured a cobwebbed and drafty shanty with an outhouse if we were lucky. Probably no running water, likely no electricity. Hey, just like the camper bus only perhaps a bit roomier.

We arrived to Jeff unlocking the door and flipping breakers. He motioned us in with a hearty sweep of his big, burly arms and mixed himself a drink for the road from a cupboard in the kitchen. He told us to enjoy ourselves and then he left. Just like that.

The cabin was not cobwebbed, nor was it drafty. The cabin’s interior was blanketed in hardwoods and softwoods, comfortable furniture and picture windows that would offer 180-degree views of the sunrise, mountains, river and meadows. We selected a bedroom and made ourselves comfortable, if not ready for sleep forthwith. One big dog made three circles on the braided rug at the foot of the bed and began drafting ZZZs. The other, chin resting on front paws, kept an alert canine watch from down the hall. When all was said and done, we closed our eyes, slowed our breathing, and were carried blissfully away to our own private dreams.

Day Three bolted upright as dawn cracked bright and shiny. We let him out the front door along with the big dogs and found coffee to brew. We reclined on the sofa and watched the big dogs chase Day Three around the frosty meadow.

We found ourselves in a vast and lonely sea of mountain acreage. We moved casually around in our birthday suits, swimming peacefully in the low tide of morning sun that slowly crested through shade-less windows.

There were more Days of course, as I had created quite a few of them. But they had traveled ahead as a group to the top of the next valley east, damn near a stone’s throw from Canada. Days Five and Six, an extremely athletic pair, had already strapped on snowshoes and were camped out at the base of Terriault Pass, sharing an exceptionally succulent apple. It was snowing again in the high country and English and I would catch up with them soon enough. Meanwhile, we had mountain to climb and road to travel.

And on the seventh Day, I rested. I still had a long, long way to go.

Tricia M. Cook writes from a wee hamlet snuggled into the eastern toes of the North Cascade Mountains. Her last story for Mountain Gazette was “Eating Wolf,” which appeared in MG #176. Catch her bimonthly blog, “Living Beyond Lost,” at mountaingazette.com.

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #183

At the Mad Dog. Aspen, 1966At the Mad Dog. Aspen, 1966

Here’s Pierre, taking stock of his life: He’s got the job on the Mountain, with plenty of time to ski, a place to live, and his “Honey” to take out dancing when he wants, and enough change in his pocket to have a beer or two in the bar. This is it.

So here he is, contemplating the seasons still to come, and wondering how long he can continue to do this, how long before too many people make it impossible. And what about Taos, when will it be time to move on? To keep this happening, this life. Because this is “The Life.”

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.

It’s Always Weekend At Bernie’s Somewhere

Cartographic - Beer DrinkingThere’s some predictability when it comes to the West’s watering holes and the all-too-human habit of using them. Each year, Portland will snag a lot of mention for its exquisite beers, a bunch of people will do stupid things under the influence and someone, somewhere, will outdo the people who established the previous year’s criminal records relating to alcohol and its consumption. But this year we’ve got a couple idiots in Denver who simply won’t be outdone, shored up by a visit from Dog Chapman. Apologizing in advance for the 2012 issue, we present …

1) Things to do in Denver when you’re dead

Robert Jeffrey Young and Mark Rubinson must have anticipated the Mountain Gazette’s annual Bar Issue when they took Young’s roommate out for a night of boozing, with the roommate picking up much of the evening’s tab. Jeffrey Jarrett had no complaints as the trio went to Teddy T’s bar and grill. The three went on to Sam’s No. 3 bar before Young and Rubinson drove Jarrett home and put him to bed. Young and Rubinson then went back out to snag a little Mexican food and naturally, made a final stop at Shotgun Willie’s strip club, where they used Jarrett’s ATM card to withdraw $400. Right about now you’re saying Jarrett should be pissed, but we’ll never really know. You see, Jarrett was dead when the two loaded him into Rubinson’s Lincoln Navigator, and he stayed in the back seat for a couple bar stops before being returned home. Young allegedly found his roommate unresponsive on August 28, and instead of, I don’t know — calling 911 or something — he took Jarrett out for one last night of fun. According to police reports, Young and Rubinson flagged down a cop at about 4 a.m. and indicated that Jarrett was back at the house and might be, I don’t know — dead or something. The two are charged with abusing a corpse, identity theft and criminal impersonation, although neither is charged in Jarrett’s death. Denver police aptly described the incident as “a bizarre and unfortunate crime.”

2) Come on, white boy!

La Montaña Linda is a cozy little bar and restaurant on Breckenridge’s funnish Ridge Street, and most nights you can rest assured that Duane “Dog” the Bounty Hunter Chapman isn’t going to come in and go batshit crazy. But all bets were off in early July, when the mulletted Chapman and his entourage busted in, looking for the owner’s father and generally acting like a bunch of assholes. Something to do with jumping bail, naturally. The father seriously was not there, but that didn’t stop a near-brawl from ensuing, with several bar loyals getting in Chapman’s face, and one of them spraying one of Dog’s muscle men in the face with cleaning fluid. The spray-wielding patron ended up in the emergency room with a cut face requiring 15 stitches — after Chapman’s man lashed back. A potted plant was thrown, naturally, Chapman allegedly brandished but didn’t use a stun gun, and the incident moved into the street, which had filled with patrons from nearby bars. Somewhere in all this Chapman issued his famous “Come on, white boy! Come on, motherfuck@r!” mantra to a would-be aggressor, and was able to get in a brazen hair toss before jumping into the getaway SUV with similarly haired Buxom Wife Beth. Catch the action on YouTube.

3) With distinction, naturally

The Daily Beast came up with a formula that combines total drinks per month, percentage of heavy drinkers, percentage of binge drinkers and deaths per 100,000 of alcoholic liver disease to establish the esteemed Most Hungover Cities of 2011. We were stunned to see Milwaukee top the list, but a few locales in the American West show that people here are willing to live and die for booze. Coming in at No. 5 is Reno, which quaffs an average 12.13 drinks per person per month, and where 11.9 out of 100,000 die from alcoholic liver disease. Denver held up its end at No. 12, with 12.94 monthly drinks and 7 liver deaths, respectively, and 17 percent of adults admitting to binge drinking.

4) Buzz Killers

Montana State Rep. Alan Hale (R-Basin) spoke out last spring against a law to stiffen DUI penalties for repeat offenders. Montana consistently leads the country in drunk driving stats, but Hale, who runs a tavern, oddly enough, said DUI laws were “destroying a way of life that has been in Montana for years and years… They (bars) are the center of the communities. I’ll guarantee you there’s only two ways to get there: Either you hitchhike, or you drive, and I promise you they’re not going to hitchhike.”

5) If Esquire says it’s true…

From the magazine that rightfully decries Bud Light’s Chelada, which is infused with Clamato (yeah — tomato and clam juice), salt and artificial lime as the worst beer on earth, we have the best cities for drinking beer. In no particular order we have Chicago, Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, St. Louis and San Diego. The other cities come and go in various ratings, but Portland is always on any list that puts beer in a favorable light. Perhaps because it has more breweries than any other city on the planet, Portland is bound to get it right at least some of the time.

6) Brrrrrp

The general rule is that the colder the state, the more beer people drink. That said, Alaska and Hawaii’s annual consumption are nearly tied at 32.4 and 32.7 gallons per capita. With kudos to Las Vegas, Nevada comes in at No. 1, with a belchsome 44 gallons. Montana is 41.5, New Mexico, 37.8, and Arizona, 36.4. No shocker here that Utah lags behind the pack at 19.5 gallons.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge, where she works as an equine massage therapist. Her monthly blog, “Out There,” can be found on mountaingazette.com. 

Way of the Mountain #183

I cut some of my best performance teeth in bars, reading poetry above the clink of glasses and the din of boisterous patrons. It sharpens one’s work. If you can grab the intoxicated so they stop and really listen, you’ve done something remarkable.

But this month I want to celebrate a poet who didn’t read in bars much, but who stood in a trench with his fellow soldiers far too close to an early atom bomb blast. The experience led him, by various routes, to become a poet/professor and a peacenik. Leonard “Red” Bird was a marvelous educator, who taught his students at Fort Lewis College in Durango to love literature — from Shakespeare to Bukowski.

I had the good fortune to read in his class, watch him teach and become his friend. The last time I saw him was at the San Miguel de Allende Poetry Festival in Mexico last winter (when he shared with me the poem below), and he was as vibrant and full of life as ever, in spite of the sickness that would eventually take him from us. The whole idea of poet laureates is so Brit and high-tone that it seems antithetical to the subversive art of poetry. But Red Bird was my poetry hero when I came to Southwestern Colorado. He may not have been a laureate, but he was an honest, authentic, Western voice with a message of peace and love — a quintessential Way of the Mountain Poet.
— Art Goodtimes
Cloud Acre

Send all poetry submissions to poetry@mountaingazette.com

So Shine!

Each budding self exists
As one translucent slice of time
That plays across the radiant sun
But once. Every breath
Depletes the finite gift.

Even at birth, as we swim
Towards first breath, we catapult
Into space as glorious rainbows,
And fade just short
Of bridging the abyss.
So plunge into the dance, and shine.

— Leonard “Red” Bird

Coyote

Out on the ranch and loping home.
Perfect evening. Perfect solitude
Horse and I.

Suddenly, coyote song
in surround sound. Pull to a stop.
Song on the left and song on the right.

Coyote right in front of us
singing away. Lucky to see
her song being sung!

— Therese Rocamora
Leadville, Colorado

Solo

Before me
the plain stretches outward
begging to be clothed in footsteps
and suddenly my world
is too small to contain my wild …

One day
to be myself
in the mountains.

— Charles Allen
Salem, Oregon

Stories

Stories are just pins
Holding up a dress as big
As this star-strewn sky

(Let’s take it off, look
each other in the eye)

Ellen Marie Metrick
San Miguel County Poet Laureate
Norwood

Monsoon

The show is in town
It’s hard to miss
Black veils drape the stage

Behind the scenes
torrents of compassion
bathe the earth in a wet caress

The curtains part
The performers appear
Arizona Rose Penstemon

Columbine Purple Loco
Aster Paintbrush
Wandbloom

— Eric Smith
Flagstaff


On Resurrection

vA saloon from a lifetime ago

A Dive

I left 25 years ago, and except for occasional news about former

acquaintances, a few obituaries in quirky rags of various hues and distributions and one casual mention of the town’s oldest dive bar finally burning down, I’ve gone years at a stretch without thinking of my time here. Even now, I’m only stretching my legs before continuing a long drive back to my current life.

This place was once my hometown. It was one of the first destination ski resorts in North America, and like most “last best” towns betrayed by travel mags out to make a buck, it suffers the afflictions common to other pick-your-poison elite retreat/real estate development zones that dot the Mountain West. The streets are familiar, but the stores are up-scale and mostly empty of shoppers, seasonal-worker safehouses I once hung out in are gingerbread restoration projects geared to flip on the next boom cycle, dogs are on leashes and so are most of the people I meet. I’ve had about enough nostalgia for one walk and am heading back to my truck to get the hell out of town, when I look up and the unmistakable facade of the old bar materializes from the mists of my memories.

Through a Glass

Like the rusty prow of a cargo ship moored among yachts, unpretentious but imposing, it rises above its neighbors. The barn-shaped roofline still defines the block, and the front door is just as unassuming as the last time I stepped in after a long night-shift to sip one beer before closing time. Only problem I can see with having a cold one before leaving town is that, according to a reputable source, this dive burned down about five years ago. Temporarily suspending disbelief, I open the door, and confront another problem — the entry hallway that used to smell like spilled beer and vomit is clean, carpeted. There are posters on the walls, and a revealing light that makes me want to turn and leave before I reach the inner door. Thinking that this feels like the start of a long trip toward the bright light that supposedly awaits all mortals, I push open the final door.

There are the exposed log beams that have long supported the second floor’s mysterious goings-on. A few tables sit empty in dim corners. A small television emits stale scenes from a wall at the far end of the bar. The pool tables are in the places I remember, and the row of stools could be propping up the same cast of characters who used to nod in my direction before turning back to their own stories. I look down, and there is an old dog, lying just inside the door where an unobservant tourist might kick him and cause the bar’s regulars to raise their own defenses. I step over the sleeping dog, and head for an empty section along the bar. No heads turn, which can be a good sign when you have no acquaintances in a place like this.

Darkly

No taps. Bottles of swill beer lined up on the back-bar, and in front of the patrons. The bartender sidles over, and I ask for his darkest brew. He pulls a can of Guinness from one of the wooden-framed coolers I remember, sets it and a cold glass in front of me. I mention that it’s been a long time since I passed this way, and it seems not much has changed, at least in here. He nods, and says with a half-apologetic smile of long practice, “No, except that you can’t smoke here anymore.” My lack of reaction must encourage him to add, “Smells better, anyway, for working in here all day.”

I nod, and he grabs more beers to replace empties down the bar, where guys about my age are solving the budget, reducing taxation, restarting the economy and greeting a recently returned regular in a swirl of barstool bonhomie I figured had gone up in smoke when this bar burned to the ground. Next pass, I’ll try to ask the bartender about the story of a fire, but for now the fine tawny head of the stout in front of me demands attention.

Through the dark glass, I see ghosts of the naïveté that once eyed me from the back-bar mirror while I sorted through the temptations, vicissitudes and possibilities of a wide-open ski-town in full roar. The other old guys down the bar must’ve been young then too, and we may have roared together or butted heads a few times many beers ago. More and more these days, I wander through my old haunts this way, looking and listening for familiar markers that say whether the old ways were just passing fads, or are as venerable as some old buildings and the mountains that surround them.

In the spreading glow of the nearly empty glass, a decision must be made. To move down the bar, ask about a few friends that might have survived to become one of the late-afternoon regulars at this old bar from my half-remembered past, or to quietly pay up and move outside into the late afternoon’s light. On the edge of town, I could drive past more history, and in the next town, see if that one friend still lives in the house I helped him finish. There we could search for more memories, or I can move on through the high sage desert to a dirt road I once drove to its end, where coyotes howled me into the dawn of a new day.

As the bartender comes my way, I glance through the bottom of my glass once more, and a certain amount of clarity returns as the old dog by the door glances up and waits.

Long-time contributor B. Frank is currently traveling incognito through climes hotter than Dante’s imagination. He is the author of “Livin’ the Dream: Testing the Ragged Edge of Machismo” (Raven’s Eye Press, 2010) and occasionally scribbles The Ragged Edge missives to MG readers. 

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