Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rock Springs, Wyo.

by M.R. Smith

Those are badlands, the highway
straight. Pick a motel, it won’t matter.

This one has a sports bar next door,
more rigs than cars, more cars than
bikes, it might work. The big woman
lives in the back, I can see the crocheted
doily on the divan, the very big TV on a
cooking show. While I’m signing my AMEX
slip, handed over 5 copies press hard after
the chu-chunk chunk of the clunky imprint
machine, I’m pretty sure I saw someone
else moving around back there. Check-out
is 9:30 a.m. unless you call me. I need
to be gone early so… Well, there’s breakfast.
She raises her chin behind me and I see the
Bakelite rack that will hold white bread and
English muffins by 6. I’ve never seen a toaster
like that before. I back in a spot near my door,
217, right under the sign no backing in and toss
my possibles and folding garment bag on one
of the two twin beds .I like to take the one
farthest from the door.

I walk across the joining lot great enough
for turning big rigs, and pass underneath
a sign reading Kar kee, a misspelled O in the
weeds at the base of a paint-peeled post.
Inside it’s a hangar, like a tin building shut
around a random amount of space regrettable
when winter comes. But when the gas fields
let out we can fill the place. I imagine I come in
as a foreigner, wrong clothes, wrong money,
so I saddle up to the bar backwards with elbows
hiked and watch a pool game. Waddya have Doll?
I spin and look down the bar at the Buds, the
Ribbons. The only beer on tap I see I’ll drink is Sam
Adams. Sam Adams. Draft? Please. You all want
a menu? Please. There’s a guy setting up for the
show. He’s got on long cargo shorts, tidy-whitey
socks and white low-tops, his untucked shirt is
rolled to the elbows and unbuttoned just one
to reveal a crisp white tee-shirt. To my utter
amazement there is a line at the DJ station
signing up to sing. Tight Wranglers, boots, lineman
boots, oil wranglers, cattle wranglers, a woman
in a square dancing dress. The DJ attends politely
to each and every one.

I am in love with my night, the potential,
and I grip my glass with both hands and hope
like hell this isn’t my last chance at redemption
with my god. When the first one goes it is a
bust but the crowd stays with him. Then comes
a degrading Steve Perry, bad Boston, silly Styx.
I am transformed. I order deep fried clams,
where the hell the clams come from who knows,
and I eat them with cocktail sauce so sour that I
consider cutting the taste with a shot of Dewar’s.
When the Mexican irrigation worker sings his
“Like a Virgin” there is no clever irony, and I can
see money changing hands at his table full of
raucous fun. He is only a bad singer who knows
the words to one inexplicable song. I look for
cameras. I think of which of my friends have the
means to pull off this prank, which of my enemies
I have transgressed without impunity. Not a soul,
save Sherri the bartender, has said a word to me.
Once or twice I try to catch the eye of a fellow
stool-warmer but they are seemingly rapt.

At the first break I whirr a 5 into the nearest
video poker machine. I play it down to 2 bucks
and then bet it all. I draw to an inside straight
and it pays more than 20 times. The machine
clatters for a time and makes me feel like a
winner who could still go big. I’ve had 4, maybe
5 Sam’s and I am warm and full of Rock Springs.
I leave the poker credit and hope for the Mexican
man to find it. But If not, for the beautiful woman
in the square dance dress who sang Streisand
and who was the only one I clapped for. I pay
with cash since they won’t take American Express
and wonder across the lot in the pale glow of the
Kar Kee sign, where a raccoon slinks across the far
edge of the gravel. He seems headed for home. So
am I, as soon as breakfast opens and I can get a slice
of toast for the road.

No comments:

Post a Comment