I woke up in my car. My car was in a parking garage on the top floor. There happened to be a nice view and a strange man sleeping next to me. It was time to hurry up and go. There are places to be and things to do. There’s no use in sleeping the day away. I must tell you – the car seemed to be working just fine in its late modelness. The only thing wrong with it was some body damage. I backed up into a jeep a couple weeks ago. But it worked. That’s the point.
Over mountains, through canyons, the music was dead. There wasn’t much talking with this strange man. He seemed to be very tired. I thought a lot about pop singers and cheap prime rib. I sang to myself. I stretched. I considered what I was going to do when I got home. It all helped pass the time. I then pulled over for a cup of coffee. It was too hot. I didn’t drink much of it.
More mountain passes. We drove. And we came upon a former booming mining town. It is now left to decay and ghosts. Fire has ruined parts of it. Snow has ruined more of it. Some of the houses have cheery paint of purple and pink, but for the most part people have forgotten this old town. All of the dust has settled.
The brick buildings towering on each side of us smell of sin and old time ladies of the night. There are a few people mulling around. I think I can speak for the strange man and I… we were happy to make our merry way out of this place.
But then trouble arose. Out of nowhere, the car broke. The dashboard lit up like the 4th of July. The electricity seemed to go kaputs. I pulled over and asked the strange man next to me what we should do next. The strange man simply shrugged his shoulders. I looked around franticly for someone to give me a hint of how to solve the problem. A local with two Chihuahuas and two toddlers emerged from one of the trailer homes. He paused and looked down for a long time. There were no mechanics open on Sundays, except for one he thought on the other side of the town.
The strange man and I got back in the car. We slowly made our way back to the gas station on the opposite end of town. The car made it, but was in bad shape.
I approached an ashy looking clerk. I asked him if he was a mechanic. He said yes, but he didn’t work on my type of car. We waited amongst the rows and rows of tires at the gas station. People kept coming by to pick up tires, and then left tires in their place. It seemed like there was no regulation on this trading of tires… I don’t know why the tires stuck out so much in my mind. It just seemed that the people in this town cared an awful lot about tires. Finally the tow truck driver car and took my car far far away.
The strange man and I were left in that town with nothing but our carpetbags and a little bit of money. Maybe the strange man had more money than I did. He really didn’t tell me. My boots scuffed in the dust. We walked quite a ways to get a cheeseburger. The place was called Wild Bill’s. It was a hole in the wall. The place was small and cramped with lots of hand written signs about “Straw trash only!” and “Try our beer battered appetizers.” Hanging above the counter, the “Place Order” and “Pick up Order” signs touched. The ashy waitress took our order. We sat down at a big booth by a window. The blinds were partially open. It looked cloudy and cold outside. The booth it self was very comfortable and had a lot of give. But, it was definitely tilted to the right. I had to sort of lean the opposite direction to stay balanced.
The cheeseburgers came with lots of fries. We sat there in silence and ate our meals and finished them off with milkshakes. I took my last slurp and asked my fellow traveler what he thought we should do next. I could see the weariness in his eyes. He shrugged his shoulders again. I looked over his shoulder at an odd poster. It was a very healthy looking kitten with big eyes and an upward glance. She was sandwiched between two buns and a patty, tomato, and cheese. I said to myself “How did they get a kitten to stay still like that long enough to take a photograph?”
We slowly walked out of the diner and looked up and down the main street. The wind blew. The clouds grimaced down on us. Across the street was the Legendary Saloon. It stood tall above the other buildings inviting us in with clinking of glasses and loud laughter. All eyes shifted as us strangers entered. The bar had many old animal heads, old photographs, and mementos from the past. The big deer with antlers mounted on the wall didn’t seem to want us there. Now to think of it, those people long dead in the photographs seemed to be scowling at us too. The strange man and I ordered a beer. It did not go down well. It made me very tired. I could hardly hold my head up. I looked over at him and it seemed like hope was lost. We had a lot of waiting ahead of us.
I got up to go the bathroom. The eyes of the customers followed me. The eyes of the taxidermy seemed to be looking me down. And even the eyes in the photographs all stared as I walked to the back. The bathroom was large but had only one pot. The walls were covered in collage. It consisted of half naked women and porn. There were notes on the pictures, of people promising to come back. It was an interesting bathroom. But the knocking of someone waiting made me hurry up and leave.
I asked the bar wench if there were any parks around. She looked at me funny.
Again we ventured back to Main Street. We ended up at a baseball field. The grass was dead from the seasons. Leaves crunched as we walked out to center field. The strange man and I used our bags as pillows and lay down for a minute. Sleep came over me. Spirits and mines drifted through my dreams. A strange dog barked at me. I awoke to find myself in the same strange place that I was in the dream, to where I was in real life. I shivered. The clouds were getting colder. I felt like my traveling buddy and I needed to get a move on.
We walked through the neighborhood. Pitches of roofs had fallen. Most homes had fences around them. Lace curtains fell over the windows. Beat up cars crammed the driveways. Junk filled up the yards.
We got back to the main part of town. It was still afternoon, but the streets seemed empty, except for ashy people in the bars. There were a many curious things happening on these streets. A father son scooter team raced down the street. May I add that the father did not wait up for the son. It just felt like things were off.
Then we came across the Opera House from the late 1800s. It was strong, tall, and brick. Someone had painted it grey, but the red bricks were starting to fight through. The windows were boarded up to avoid peering eyes. On the edge of the building it looked like there was a bird massacre. Feathers flew in every which direction on the littered ground. I looked up. Pigeons nested in every window well. It made me sad that at one point this was a beautiful building that had life. Now it was just another pile of bricks that nobody cared about.
Time on my watch moved very slow. We had more waiting to do. So we went into an antique shop. The store had every little thing, from ice skates, to postcards that were never sent, to ancient bicycles, to sheriff badges that said “Brothel Inspector”. It had very tall ceilings and those library ladders that attach to the wall to reach items. It had been an old general store. The owner had filled up all the old drawers with things to sell. I asked the old ashy woman
“You like living here ma’am?”
“Oh well yeah. There isn’t a place quite like it.”
“You can say that again. Me and my friend,” I said nodding to the stranger, “have seen a lot of interesting things here today. Our car broke down this morning, so we’ve just been exploring town.”
“Is that so? We are used to a lot of visitors around here. People like you keep me in business.”
I walked away to look at more things in the other cases. I had run out of things to talk to the old lady about. I kept my hands in my pockets. After a good bit of silence, the lady felt like talking again.
“I guess I like it here cause there is a since of the past. It’s still with us. You can’t walk down this street without thinking about the old days.”
“Yeah. It has charm that way.”
“You probably think it’s just a lot of junk,” she trailed off as she looked around her store “Or at least, a lot of people feel that way.”
“No ma’am. I think it’s interesting. It’s just different. Definitely feels like we’re in a another time.”
“I like staying away from all the politics and things that are going on in the real world. I like a simple life. Suppose it is sort of an escape that way. I don’t think things were so bad without all of this fuss about computers and things.”
“They are fussy.”
I might have talked to that old lady a little longer, but the strange man was in a big hurry to get out of that place.
We went to a convenience store to wash our hands and get a coke. The strange man simply remarked, “This is a strange place.”
I nodded. We walked out back on to the main street and took one last look at the old town. Our ride was here. I was never so happy to see my friend. I got into the car feeling relieved and good. On the way home, I couldn’t shake the memory of that place. I felt like it didn’t want to be remembered. The old town just wanted to rest in peace.
*photo by Scott Jarrett