LOOKALIKE by Peter Nolan Smith

A four-lane bridge spanned the flooded Mississippi and the Torino sped past heavily loaded semi-trailers creeping up a steep bluff. Davenport, Iowa wasn’t a big city, but it had been even smaller in 1947, when Jack Kerouac had been dropped in the middle of the prairie by a trucker. The sun had set without his catching a ride and the beat writer had returned to Davenport to rethink his plan.

Twenty-seven years later the Recession of 1974 was in full swing and our car was the only passenger vehicle on the Interstate. The deep night bathed the countryside in darkness and the Ford’s headlights lit up the dotted lines separating two lanes. I checked the dashboard clock.

It was 5:10 Central Standard Time.

I turned my head to the right.

AK was huddled against the passenger door.

Behind us Pam was sleeping in the back of the station wagon. A local AM station broadcasted country-western music and I listened to an ad promoting the Quad City Angels baseball team’s home stand.

Following the promo plug the DJ played Melba Montgomery’s # 1 hit NO CHARGE followed by Ronnie Milsap’s PURE LOVE.

Fifteen minutes earlier I had taken over the wheel from AK, but that time felt like ten hours and I cracked open the driver-side window. The cool wind revived me and I splashed water on my face.

After the municipal airport I-80 beelined through the vast farmlands. The night smelled of ankle-high cornfields and my foot pressed down on the gas. The roads off exits were devoid of any sign of civilization and a hurried glimpse at the map informed me that the next truck stop was about thirty-five minutes away at 75mph.

Once I had some coffee in me, I would be fine.

The DJ cued up Dolly Parton’s I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.

The long love ballad led to one yawn and then another. On the third I rested my right eye and fifteen seconds later opened it to favor my left with a nap.

This was a dangerous game and I splashed more water in my face.

Singing along Charlie Rich’s chart-climber I DON’T SEE IN ME IN YOUR EYES helped for about a minute, then I shut both eyes and my hands dropped off the steering wheel.

“Yo, man.” AK shouted, as the Torino’s driver-side tires edged off the asphalt onto the grassy meridian.

A jerk of the steering wheel righted the car onto the interstate and a half-mile later I pulled over to the shoulder. The landscape beyond the breakdown lane was buried beneath the blanket of the night. In the distance was the low silhouette of a farmhouse. There were no lights other than the stars and the headlights of the trucks speeding east and west.

“What happened?” Pam asked, rubbing her eyes. She had slept through all of Illinois.

“He fell asleep at the wheel.”

“Just for a second.”

“Another second and we would have been dead.”

“Pam, I think it’s your turn at the wheel.” I opened the door for the blonde co-ed.

“It was probably was my turn last time you stopped.” Pam got out of the Torino and stretched her arms and back.

“You looked too comfortable to wake up.” AK tried to brush some order into his sleep-tangled hair.

“Where are we?” The twenty year-old beauties gazed at the plains stretching west. No road signs were in sight and the fields bordering the interstate were a mirror image of the last five hundred miles.

“A little west of the Mississippi in Iowa.” I gave her the map.

“Another ‘I’ state?”

There had been three of them.

“The last one. Next up is Nebraska and it’s a long one.” Colorado was over four hundred miles from Omaha. Kerouac had ridden in trucks to Cheyenne and caught a bus south to Denver.

“Why don’t you go sleep in the back?” Pam suggested, sitting behind the wheel.

“I don’t mind if I do.”

My falling asleep at the wheel had been a close call and I crawled into the back seat to lay my head on the pile of sleeping bags. One of them smelled of our driver. I liked flowers.

Pam put on the 8-track BLUE.

Like most college girls of the 70s she was a Joni Mitchell fan and I asked, “What is it about Joni that you like so much?”

“Her songs are magic for my soul. She sings about our lives. I know it’s not cool for men to like her, but what she says is what we want to hear.”

“I saw Dave Van Ronk perform BOTH SIDES NOW at the Club 47 in Harvard Square. Before that I thought she had nothing to offer. I was wrong. Tom Rush covered URGE FOR GOING. I’m probably in this car as much for that song as Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD. I’d love to hear it now.”

“I can play it on my kalimba.” AK lifted his African thumb piano.

“You can?” I was amazed by his virtuosity. I was only good on the kazoo.

“I know all the words.” Pam stepped on the gas. A billboard advertised the truck stop in Atalissa. It was less than twenty miles away.

“I can help on the chorus.”

AK plucked the plaintive chords of Joni’s song on the thumb piano. Pam sang a decent soprano. I backed her with my baritone.

We sang URGE FOR GOING twice and the second time tears stained the corners of my eyes. Joni sang for everyone who wanted to listen and I fell asleep with the wheels mumbling through the chorus.
“And I get the urge for going.”

I woke with AK behind the wheel and the infant cornfields tipped the white of a rising sun. Pam was reading her book. She was halfway through FEAR OF FLYING. Kenny Rodgers’ RUBY was on the radio and we were approaching a broad river. It wasn’t in flood.

“Morning, sunshine.” Pam offered with a smile. The sleep had sweetened her disposition.

“Is this the Missouri? I climbed into the back seat.

“You scored an A for Geography.” AK said from the driver’s seat. “Just east of Omaha.”

The morning light was bright. A city rose across the river. Two years ago Lucky had been driving over a 100 in his Super Bee. He had had trouble staying awake too.

“We’re making good time.”

“Thanks to Old Leadfoot.” AK pointed his thumb at Pam. “But I don’t think we’ll break your record.”

“I really did make it cross country in fifty hours.”

“Yeah, we already heard that story.” Pam and AK had laughed at my claim back in Boston.

“No, this speed freak picked up my friend and me in Iowa. Lucky was driving a Super Bee. The only time he dropped below 100 was to get gas.” I remembered his head on the steering wheel, as I steered from the passenger seat.

Lucky had been heading to LA. He should have been on I40 instead of I80. We didn’t tell him about this mistake until Winnemucca.

“I believe you.” AK opened the window. The air smelled different. We weren’t East anymore.

“Me too.” Pam resumed reading her book.

“Thanks for nothing.”

After Omaha a ribbon of mist mapped the course of the Platte River. The pioneers had followed its path into Colorado and over a century later we were heading the same way. The cornfields were replaced by wheat. Low hills bordered the horizon. Men in pick-ups wore cowboy hats. None of us had bathed in a day and AK pulled off I-80 into a truck stop offering showers.

A young black teenager with reddish hair was pumping gas. Pam got out of the car and his eyes followed her every move. The blonde nursing student was a mirage of hippie free love.

“Fill it with high test,” AK told the young man.

I stood on the oil-stained asphalt and the teenage gas attendant asked, “Anything else, sir.”

“Could you get the windshield?” Bugs were smeared over the glass. A wind devil swirled across the parking lot. The fine grit bit at my eyes and added another layer of dirt onto the patina of the road on my skin.

“Yes, sir.” His politeness was edged with fear.

Back in 1919 white crackers had savagely lynched a black man suspected of rape and leveled the black section of Omaha.

I was a hippie, but I was white and the teenager lowered his gaze.

“Time for a shower, if you like.” I pointed out the bath facilities attached to the diner.

“The word is not ‘like’. It’s love.” She grabbed a towel from her bag and stepped out of the car with a smile for the black gas attendant. He resisted watching her walk and scrapped the smear of insects from the windshield.

I tipped him a $1.

“Thanks, mister.” Nobody tipped gas attendants.

“Don’t mention it.” I was glad to not be a ‘sir’.

“You drivin’ to California?”

“San Francisco.”

“Damn, you be careful with the speed. The police don’t like hippies.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

“We have to stick together.”

The teenager flashed a secretive black power fist and replaced the gas nozzle before attending to the next car.

I motioned for AK to park the Torino and walked behind the car. He slotted it between two campers with out-of-state plates. They were vacationeers like us.

AK got out of the station wagon.

We had been in the car a long time and he was unsteady on his feet. AK looked back at the attendant and said, “Bet he’s the last black we see before California.”

“You’re probably right about that.” We were entering white man territory.

“The last time I drove cross-country there were only Mexicans and a few Indians in the Navaho reservations on Route 66.”

“Nebraska has six reservations on the map, but they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

I couldn’t throw any rocks. The Yankee side of my family had seized the Abenaki lands in Maine before a single white man stepped foot on the plains.

“Same as Long Island.” AK parked the station wagon “The Shinnecocks have a reservation the size of Yankee Stadium.”

“Better than nothing. My Irish Nana’s family had been forced off their farm by the British landlords.”

I reached into the car for my leather jacket. All my money was in the inside pocket.

“And my father’s family fled the Russian pogroms.” AK checked his jeans. His wallet was in his front pocket.

“Like the Mormons fled their persecutors?” I sniffed at my shirt. It wasn’t close to clean.

“The Mormons are more a cult than a minority, plus we won’t see them until the western reaches of Colorado. So for now we longhairs are the only minority in sight.”

“You know I’m related to Joseph Smith?” I pulled on a new tee shirt from my bag. My jeans were good for another day. A shower could wait until the Rockies.

“You’ve told me that before.” AK also pulled out clothing for a full change.

“It’s the truth. My grandmother had told me that more than once and she had never lied to me.”

“Mormons believed that the only blacks in heaven will be slaves.” He surveyed the Torino. Its front was filthy with insect suicides.

“I don’t think that we’ll make it into their heaven either.” I was into the now of this road. It offered the traveler a choice of heaven and hell between long sections of purgatory.

“You don’t even believe in God.”

“Guilty as accused.”

The furling morning wind blew dust into my eyes, mocking my atheism.

“Don’t tell anyone out here that. This is Bible thumping territory.”

“I know how to keep my mouth shut.” I said, as we walked to the men’s showers.

Nixon’s Silent Majority were right to call us ‘dirty hippies’, but every traveler was ripe after a few days on the road. Crackers were dirty, families were dirty, and we were dirty. AK stopped in the toilet to wash off the road.

“See you in a minute.”

I stopped at the payphone in the hallway and called my parents collect. No one picked up the phone on the South Shore and I called Jackie in Buffalo. No one was home there too. I slammed down the receiver and entered the diner, which was half-filled with sleepy truckers in desperate need of a lift stronger than coffee.

I sat at the counter.

“You can’t believe what some guy said to me in the toilet.” AK joined me three minutes later.

“Oh yes, I can.” Truck stops were notorious cruising spots for sex.
AK and I accepted the waitress’ offer of coffee, while waiting for Pam. None of the truckers commented about hippies. They wore their hair long too.

I picked up a discarded local paper and scanned the sport pages for baseball results. The Red Sox were still my team, despite the previous season’s epic collapse. They had lost the previous day and I turned to the front page.

Watergate dominated the headlines. Nixon was guiltier each passing day. Patty Hearst remained on the run from the police. The heiress topped the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

AK read the menu, as if he might chose a breakfast other than eggs over easy with bacon, but lowered the plasticized folder the second Pam sauntered into the room. He wasn’t alone.

Every man in the diner watched the twenty year-old blonde, but several snapped their eyes from our travel companion to the newspapers in their hands.

“I feel like a new woman.” Pam beamed with the pleasure of a hot shower, then her mood shifted upon noticing the attention of the men in the diner. “They stare at me, as if they haven’t ever seen a woman in their life.

“They have a good reason.” I showed her the photo of Patti Hearst in the newspaper.

“They think I look like her?” Pam was upset by their mistaking her for the kidnapped heiress. “I look nothing like her.”

“I don’t think so either, but a reward has a funny way of making people see things that aren’t there.” Mr. Hearst had offered $50,000 for the safe return of his daughter. No one with any information had given her up for that amount. Her father was a millionaire and they were holding out for more.

“If she’s Patty Hearst, then they must think that we’re the SLA.” AK studied the men at the tables and counter. “You think any of these cowboys have a gun?”

“Some.” Two men were glaring at us, as we had robbed the Hibernia Bank.

“Let’s get out of here,” Pam folded the menu.

“No, we stay or else some idiot will call the State Police for the reward.” I waved to the middle-aged waitress. Her nametag said ‘Helen’. It was my aunt’s name.

“You ready to order?” She posed a pencil over her pad.

“Yes, but we have a small problem.”

“I hope that it isn’t a vegetarian thing, because this diner serves bacon, ham, and steak with breakfasts.” She planted both hands on her hips with a veteran’s disdain for fussiest eaters.

“No, we love bacon.” AK reversed the newspaper. “Maybe a few of your customers think that our friend is Patty Hearst.”

“Patty Hearst?” The waitress gasped with a start, then her eyes flitted between the picture and Pam two times before chuckling, “They’re as dumb as a cow tied to a post. You’re much prettier than that poor rich girl. Let me handle this.”


The waitress turned to the other diners.

“You idiots keep your eyes on your food. This pretty girl ain’t no Patti Hearst. She’s like the rest of us. Plain people, so back to your grits and eggs.”

“How can you be sure?” a fat man asked from the back of the diner.

“Jack, you want extra coffee or a check?”

“Extra coffee.” Jack dropped his head.

“What will you kids have?” The waitress had enjoyed her tirade.

“Bacon, eggs over-easy, home-fries, toast and OJ.” Pam smiled with the delight in another woman’s power over men.

“Make it two.” I loved breakfast in America.

“Three.” AK added his order and the waitress went to the short-order cook.

Thirty minutes later we exited from the truck stop. The day was getting warm.

A state trooper was filling the tank of his cruiser. His eyes tracked Pam across the parking lot to the station wagon. He smiled and tipped his hat. To him she was another beautiful hippie girl on the way west.

She sat in the back.

AK and I stood in the morning light. The humidity of the Plains was behind us and the dry breeze carried the scent of the western half of the continent.

“You smelled that?” Alan Lerner had called this wind s ‘Mariah’ in his musical PAINT YOUR WAGONS.

“It’s the West.” By the end of the day we would see the Rockies.

“It’s getting close.”

“And it will get closer.”

AK sat in the co-pilot seat and turned on the radio. An Omaha rock station was playing HEY JUDE.

I got behind the wheel and drove at 55 for the next two miles, expecting the Statie to ambush me for speeding one mile over the limit, as the Beatles wailed the chorus of ‘HEY JUDE’.

“That was weird.” AK looked over his shoulder to see if we were followed by the trooper.

“What was?”

“Them thinking I was Patty Hearst.

“Tania’s wanted coast to coast.”

The heiress topped the FBI’s most wanted list.

“Her name’s not Tania,” Pam spoke with reactionary conviction.

“It’s her name now.”

“You have no idea what they did to her.”

“Who did what? The SLA are revolutionaries.”

“Who kidnapped her? Not Nixon. Not General Westmorland. Not the Pope. She was grabbed by a gang of criminals and she’s only a female college student like me and Jackie.”

“Whose father controls a newspaper backing the war.”

“So she was fair game?”

“An enemy of the State.”

HEY JUDE was lasting forever.

Its words meant nothing.

“My father is a lawyer. Yours works for the phone company. They support the System.” AK had a strong aversion to hypocrisy.

“But I don’t.”

“So they’re targets?”

“Same as a kid in Vietnam.”

“That’s another reason Jackie didn’t like you. You believe that there will be a revolution in this country. Those men back there voted for Nixon. They outnumbered you twenty to one. They will never let there be a revolution.”

“Pam’s right.” AK re-entered the fray. “The police beat us in Chicago, the National Guard shot us in Kent State. RFK, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King are dead. They even shot George Wallace.”

AK didn’t say who ‘they’ were, because no one knew their names.
“What about the struggle?” This country was far from free.

“The Struggle?” AK laughed at my saying the word. “People in this country have forgotten the Days of Rage, Stop the War, and the Black Panthers. This country is tired of the fighting.”

“So all they want is a peaceful barbecue on Memorial Weekend.”

Most of the troops were home from Viet Nam, but B52s were dropping bombs on targets big and small in Indochina.

“Americans don’t care about the war anymore. They have shut off Viet-Nam like it was an old Green Acres re-run on TV.”

“The SLA and Weather Underground are still fighting for freedom.”

A week ago four hundred LAPD had surrounded an SLA safe house. The SWAT team had shot tear gas through the windows. The gun battle had lasted until the house caught fire. America did not fool around with revolutionaries.

“The SLA deserved what they got from the police.” Pam’s family lived in the suburbs outside of Washington DC.

“Deserved?” My parents’ house was south of Boston. The split-level ranch house was painted pink. We came from the ams backgrounds. “The LAPD killed everyone in that house without any attempt to peacefully end the siege.”

“Thankfully Patty wasn’t among the dead.”

“That’s another reason I hate the Beatles.” I snapped off the radio to kill HEY JUDE. “Their song REVOLUTION. “If you want to talk about destruction, then count me out.” I expect nothing else from a group who sold out rock for pop, so they could say they were more popular that Jesus.”

“Time out, time out.” AK lifted his hands to quiet me more than Pam.

“Another thing Jackie didn’t like about you.”

“Another thing?” The list was getting bigger every day of this trip.

“You have a bad temper.”

“Only because I care.”

Attacking the status quo had been eliminated by college students seeking a job. Seniors at my college had cut their hair and worn suits and ties to appointments with corporate recruiters. No company wanted to hire a longhair in 1974.

“I care, but I’m not a revolutionary.” Pam glimpsed into the rearview mirror. Our eyes met for a second. The nursing student was right. I did have a temper.

“Neither am I.” Bombs, kidnappings, and bank robberies were beyond my commitment to change. I stared ahead for several minutes, then said, “Sorry, Pam.”

“I’m sorry too.” I turned back on the radio. The DJ was playing STREET FIGHTING MAN.

Neither of us explained our apologies and we listened to a medley of hits from the Rolling Stones, as the distance increased between the small towns and I-80 arrowed across Nebraska like a snake nailed to the prairie. Trucks accelerated to 70. I pushed the Torino to 75. There was no place off the road for a state trooper to hide, but I slowed at every off-ramp.

Approaching Kearny I spotted a bearded hitchhiker on the side of the road.
Something about his stance looked familiar.

“It’s Bill.” Pam identified the ragged longhair.

“How’d he get in front of us?” asked AK.

“Same way I crossed the USA in 50 hours. Good rides.”

“Are we stopping?” Pam had to ask.

“Not a chance.” I stepped on the gas.

Bill glared at the station wagon and gave us the finger.

He recognized us too.

“I thought he said he was going to the Midwest to join a carnival.” AK had thrown Bill out of the car at the Charles River Bridge by 128. That was over 1600 miles from Kearney.

“Someone likes Bill tells the stories he wants people to hear.”

“Like Jack Kerouac.” Pam had banned hitchhikers after Bill.

“I think Kerouac was nicer than Bill.”

I sped up to 80.

After Gothenburg Pam took over the driving. Parched buttes rose on either side of the interstate. The Torino cruised at 90. I wanted to tell Pam to beware of cops, but she refused to believe that one would give a beautiful blonde a ticket. She was more right than me once again.

I-80 split at Julesberg, Nebraska.

North led to Wyoming and we veered on I-78.

“First one to see the Rockies wins a beer,” I said to break the silence.

“You’re on.” Pam accepted the wager.

I spotted the mountains first a little east of Sterling, Colorado.

“Break time.” I had the map in my hands.

“Here?” Pam pulled off the highway.

Distant peaks shining white with snow.

“Route 14 runs to Fort Collins and the Rockies, plus I don’t think Bill will be coming this way.”
Distant peaks shining white with snow.“And you think there’s a bar in this town?” Pam was obeying the speed limit for once.

A cop car sat at an intersection. The officer was eating a sandwich. Pam waved to him and he waved back.

“Probably on the outskirts.”

At the western edge of Sterling was a bar called the INFERNO LOUNGE. Two battered pick-up trucks were in the parking lot. The bar looked like the previous owners might have serviced wagoneer in the last century. The road beyond the bar ran through calf-high fields of wheat.

“This looks like the place.” It was here or nowhere.

“Looks good to me.” Pam parked the Torino near the entrance and got out of the station wagon.

AK followed the two of us into the bar.

The wooden interior was decorated with the stuffed heads of wild animals, proclaiming the clientele’s fondness for guns. The two older men at the bar regarded us for a second and then returned to their beers. They had seen hippies before.

“Guess you stopped looking like Patty Hearst.” I sat on a stool with a cracked leather pad.

“I hope you’re right.” Pam didn’t need a repeat performance of the scene back at the truck stop.

“Sorry about before.”

“You said already said that.” Pam turned to me. “Sorry about you and Jackie. Not everything works out the way we think.”
“I know.” I wished that I was talking to Jackie instead of Pam, but my wish wasn’t coming true any time soon.

“What you folks want?” The bearded bartender placed both hands on the bar. The ancient wood was scarred with carved names.

“Coors.” The brand wasn’t available in the East.

“Three.” AK went to the jukebox, reaching into his pocket for change.

The beer was cold.

Pam sipped hers and asked the bartender, if she could make a phone call, putting $2 on the bar.

“Payphone is out back.” The bartender gave her eight quarters and she walked to the rear of the bar.

“Pretty girl. How long you know her?” He had clever eyes.

“I know where you’re going with this. You think she’s Patty Hearst. She isn’t. Pam’s a college co-ed from Boston. She’s friend’s of my ex-.”

“That’s too bad.” He shrugged with a well-aged sense of disappointment. “I could have used the $50,000.”

“Couldn’t we all.” That much money was the price of ten GTOs. I only needed one. I told him my name and he gave me his.

“Buck, it’s not my real name, but no one here knows that. By the way where’s your ex-?”

“She’s spending the summer with her high school sweetheart.”

“Old boyfriends are always trouble.” The bartender nodded, as if he was an expert at old boyfriends.

“Yeah, I confronted her about him.”

“How that work out?” The bartender winced, having heard his share of bad ending involving old girlfriends.

“We sort of made up over a bottle of tequila and I decided to drive home rather than spent the night, since she shared a bedroom with her roommate.”

“The girl on the phone.”

“One in the same.”

“A bad decision.”

“Tell me about it. I ran over some bushes and an unmarked car came up on my left. Two policemen were inside. They ordered me to pull over. I decided to run for it. I was driving a VW hatchback.”

“Not the best car for a chase.”

“No, pretty soon every cop car in the town was on my tail. I pulled into a dead end and jumped out of the car, thinking to tell the cops that the car had been stolen. It wasn’t mine.”

“Was it stolen?”

“No, I had borrowed it from a friend.” I watched Pam put the coins into the slot several times without speaking on the phone. Jackie was in Kissing Bridge with her boyfriend.Pam had no idea where her boyfriend was this weekend.

“And you thought that the cops would believe your story?” Buck was used to relatively smart people doing stupid things after a few too many drinks.

“They didn’t have to. I ran into a backyard and fell over a low ledge into a bush.”

The cops had had a good laugh at that.

“Bad night for bushes.”

“Yeah, the first bushes had friends. The cops cuffed me and threw me in jail. My uncle paid bail in the morning. He was a big-time lawyer and got me off with a fine plus paying $200 for the ruined bushes.”

“Damn expensive bushes. We got bushes out back you could have run over for free.”

“Probably thousands of them.”

My beer was almost empty.

Back gave me another.

“My girlfriend wanted nothing to do me after that night.”

“Can’t say that I blame her.” The bartender was a master at listening to a sad tale without interruption.

“Me too.” I turned my head at the slam on the payphone. Pam strode up to the bar in a bad mood. I knew the feeling.

“Don’t say a word.” It was a demand and I stepped away from the bar to give her the time to calm down.

“That’s your girlfriend?” a young farm boy asked with a pool cue in his hand.

“No, we’re just traveling together.”

Saying Pam was a friend sounded weird, even if it was the truth.

“You wanna play a game of pool?” His shirt was covered with shredded hay, his jeans were stained by dirt, and cow paddy rimmed his boots. Farm work was a messy job.

“Not for money.” I wasn’t into gambling.

“A game that’s all. I’m no hustler.” His toothy smile beamed with small town honesty.

“Eight Ball.” The game required luck as much as skill.
“Good by me. The name’s Terry.”

We shook hands and flipped a coin for break. Terry won break. His first shot sunk a solid. He had a steady hand and a good eye. The nineteen year-old sunk three more balls before missing a bank shot.

Pam sat on the stool without a smile on her face. She drank her beer fast and ordered another, then watched the eight-ball game, while AK selected songs.

Joni Mitchell’s URGE FOR GOING was a little out of place for the Inferno Lounge.

As much as Pam loved Joni Mitchell, she ignored AK’s choice, because her eyes were on the farm boy.

Terry was pure America.

I sunk three balls in a row. The last shot was pure luck.

Terry won on an 8-ball scratch and Pam played the winner.

After she sunk the eight, we played teams; AK and I versus the farm boy and Pam. AK was a musician not a pool player and Pam ran the table, as if she were related to Minnesota Fats. Terry was impressed with her skill as were the five other men in the Inferno Lounge.

“Playing pool well in the sign of a misspent youth.” Pam laid the cue pool on the table.

“Herbert Spencer, English philosopher,” AK said to identify the quote a little too quickly and Terry replied, “Ain’t no one around here been named Herbert since Herbert Hoover.”

“And that’s a good thing.” Pam took his hand. “Let’s take some air.”

Terry and Pam walked out of the bar and I ordered another Coors.

AK stood before the jukebox.

My second beer tasted as good as the first. My driving was done for the day.

Several minutes later AK sat next to me and asked, “You think she’s all right.”

“We’re on the road. She’s fine.” Pam was taking a break from being someone’s girlfriend. Flirting wasn’t a sin.

“I mean…”

“I know what you mean.” AK liked Pam in the same way that I had liked Jackie. They were girls made to love. “She’s just having some fun same as me holding hands with a cold beer and a dark bar.

“Good.” AK peered out the window.

“Yeah, good.”

Pam was taking photos of the farmboy with her Kodak.

The blonde nursing student lowered her camera and held hands with Terry.

The Beatles had scored a huge debut hit with I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND in 1964.

As a twelve year-old boy on the South Shore I had sung the song to a blonde girl named Ginnie. She was a year older than me. I put down my beer and went to the jukebox.

A quarter bought three songs.

My three choices were all Rolling Stones.

GIMME SHELTER rang true good after three beers, but Pam was right.

The revolution was over for America. The SLA and Weather Underground were too small to threaten millions in the Silent Majority. I went to the front window.

Pam and Terry stood next to a dented pick-up truck. The prairies crawled west to the wall of mountains crowding the horizon from north to south. The Rocky Mountains were there before me and they would be there after me.

I returned to the bar to sit with AK.

“You okay?” I asked glancing at the couple by the truck.

“Never better.”

“The same for me.”

We clinked glasses and toasted the moment without saying a word.

It was good to be back in the West.

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