THE ID LOUNGE by Peter Nolan Smith From BACK AND FORTH

The next morning AK, Pam, and I slept late. We ate breakfast in the dining room with the lodge’s owner. His wife was great cook. We heeded her advice on breakfast and ordered flapjacks and sausage. The generous serving was a hearty start to the day, especially since the owner and I had drunk away the black hours of last evening deep in discussion of our native New England.

Sipping our coffees Pam, AK, and I listened to Ralph’s direction for the best route westward.

“Follow 34 into the Rocky Mountain Park. The road just opened two weeks ago.” He raised his eyes to the sky. There were only a few clouds. “It’s a beautiful ride this time of the year.”

Ralph spread the map on the table to point out the drive’s various highlights. Tombstone Ridge and Sundance Mountain sounded magical

“These canyons were the hunting grounds of the Utes and Arapaho. They chased Megabisons to their death. No buffalos here now. No Indians either.”

“None?” Pam was surprised by this.

“They were moved farther west.”

“You might see some in the desert, but they keep their distance from us.” Ralph meant white people.

Pam and AK went to load the Torino and I reached into my pocket to pay for breakfast.

Ralph refused my money.

“You’re nice kids. I wish you were staying longer. Heck, I could use your help here this summer. It’s hard to get good help out here. Everyone is either a cowboy or a farmer and while they’re good with animals, they suck with people other than their own kind. I could pay you a decent wage and you’d get room and board.” Ralph was serious about this offer.

“I have work in the Fall.” I had a substitute teaching job waiting for me in Boston. It wouldn’t start until after Labor Day.

“This is a nice place to summer.”

“I’m sure the Indians liked it.”

“You’d be doing me and yourself a favor.” Ralph had settled here over twenty years ago.

“It’s tempting.”

The river ran fast through the canyon. Tall pines covered the mountain sides. The Rockies were begging me to stay.

“But you have someplace to go.” Ralph handed the map to me. We were almost thirty years apart, but we were New Englanders away from New England and that bond was stronger than the generation gap.

“Yes.” My answer should have been ‘not really’.

“I once had someplace to be and here I am.” Ralph didn’t regret his decision. The years along the Thompson Creek had been good with the promise of better ones to come.

“Maybe we’ll catch you on the way back.” It was an honest consideration.

“I’ll be here.” Ralph walked me to the car and wished us a good trip. AK had elected himself the driver.

He got no argument from me. My slight hangover excluded the operation of heavy machinery and moving objects.

Ralph waved good-bye and the Ford Torino motored up the canyon following the wild waters of the creek.

“Pam, yesterday you thought about staying in Sterling. Today I was contemplating the same about here.” The Big Bear Lodge disappeared behind the forested curve. Leaving someone new behind was becoming a familiar theme for us.

“Some of Lewis’ and Clark’s men must have felt the urge for staying on that expedition.” AK steered through the curves with both hands on the wheel. “Except they would have been living with savage Indians and your scalp would have look good on a tent pole.”

“I’m talking about now.”

“I can understand the temptation of the mountains, but we have an ocean to see and swim in.” AK and I had been planning this trip for months.

“Yes, we do.” The Pacific was our destination just like it had been for the Lewis and Clarke expedition and I put the notion of staying out of my head.

We passed through Estes Park. Traffic was light on the Fall River Road and the Torino swung through the many switchbacks. Climbing above the tree line the sky fell on the mountains and a flurry of flakes cut visibility to less than two-hundred feet.

AK slowed down to 20 mph.

“I’m glad you’re driving and not me.” There were no guardrails to prevent disaster should we leave the pavement.

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

“Not me.” Pam put on her jacket.

I did the same and AK turned on the heat.

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 the thin air, as I read the plaque on a large stone.

“This road followed the Indian path.”

We were surrounded by peaks.

This altitude must have tested the stamina of anyone on foot.

“They were better men than me.” AK shivered in his jean jacket. He had not counted on running into winter until next December.

“And so were the chain gangs that built this road with picks, shovels, and sledge hammers.”

The plaque neglected to mention the men who constructed this road, but its 1920 opening preceded Roosevelt’s CCC projects and in those years prisons provided cheap labor for the state.

“You can drink a beer to them at the next bar.” 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 we descended into the warmth of spring. Elk fed on the fresh meadow grass surrounded by aspen woods bordering the Trail Ridge Road.

AK reached over to the radio, finding static from one end of the dial to the other.
We stopped several times to admire scenic vistas. Serious hikers were setting out from the trailheads into the wilderness. They wore rugged boots and carried big packs, as if they were leaving this world forever. Grizzlies roamed the high country. It had once been the home to mountain men famed for their explorations of the West.

“Both of you would last about one day in those mountains,” Pam was right, then again a woman is always right.

She didn’t stop in Grand Lake, which was busy preparing for the holiday weekend.

“What about lunch?” It was well past noon.

“We’ll stop at the next store and buy food to make sandwiches.” Pam was determined to put on some miles and we zigzagged by the alpine lakes to reach US 40 in Granby, where the valley broadened for cattle pastures.

Several miles farther down the road a state trooper was parked behind a large boulder. The young officer in the front seat wore a stiff cowboy hat like he was related to Wyatt Earp.

“Shit.” Pam had a heavy foot on the gas pedal.

“You’re okay.”

The cruiser remained tucked behind its hiding spot. Strict enforcement of the national speed limit had yet to hit these wide open spaces.

“Of course it would have been different, if we were black.”

“I haven’t seen a black man since that gas station attendant in Omaha.” AK continued to fiddle with the radio, catching the scratchy signals playing country-western. “And I doubt we’ll see one until Reno, Nevada. Hippies are a minority to these people.”

“Everyone has to have someone underneath them.” Pam pulled into a Sunoco station at Craig to fill the Ford Torino with high-test. The owner liked the big V8 running on the full tank. At 55 cents a gallon

Nineteen gallons came to a little over $10.

“But Mexicans are the low man on the totem pole for the cowboys and farmers out West, even though they were before the White Man.”

“Indians were here before all of us.” I got out of the car to stretch my legs.

“And there isn’t one in sight.”

“Only the white man.” AK paid the teenage gas attendant.

The gas station had no food and AK wandered over to the Coke dispenser. He bought us each a bottle.

They were cold as ice.
“The Indians have to be someplace.” Pam took off her jacket and open the map.

“Look in the bottom right corner of Colorado and you’ll find where they stuck the Utes.” 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 seen his share of cowboy and Indian movies. We were 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 had sang THIS LAND IS MY LAND, he had meant that it belonged to everyone, red, white, black, brown, and yellow.

“Not only is this white people country.” AK was half-Jewish. The Nazis shared the same sentiment about his people as Sheridan had about the Indians. “But it’s Mormon country, so don’t start telling people how you’re related to Joseph Smith. These people take their religion serious.”

“I am related.”

My father and aunt had told me that his side of the family moved to Vermont and ours stayed in Maine.

“We don’t need any trouble.” AK was a lover not a fighter.

“I know how to keep my mouth shut.” I was the complete opposite sometimes and noticed the gas attendant talking with his friends. They were ogling Pam. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

“Let me see that map.”

US 40 ran through small towns. None of them had many inhabitants.

“The next real city was Salt Lake. We should reach it tonight.”

“Motel?” AK liked sleeping in a bed.

“Or the Bonneville Salt Flats.” The dawn rose with prehistoric splendor on that dead lake.

“I’m good either way.” Pam wanted to burn the road to California. Her fiancée Harry was waiting in Mendocino.

We downed the cokes and put the empty bottles in the crates. The young boys snickered out more jokes. This was not the place to have a fight over our looks and I sat in the back simmering with anger.
AK and Pam switched driving duties. We left the gas station and I was proud not to have given the boys the fare-well finger.

We crossed over the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass. The western slope fed the Pacific. The Colorado River began its long run south. The land grew more parched with greenery surviving in stubborn patches along the shallow river and its many oxbows. After Dinosaur we entered the desert and its few inhabitants were wizened by the harsh seasons of the High Plains.

Most were white.

The few Mexicans drove rusted-out trucks.

A lone man walked on the shoulder. He wore a battered cowboy hat and long braids. He turned at our approach and stuck out his thumb. His skin was burnt from the sun, but his features belonged to this land. He was an Indian.

Pam stepped on the brakes.

“What are you doing?” asked AK.

“We’re giving him a ride.” Pam looked over her shoulder.

The rawboned man was taking his time getting to us.

“What about the ban on hitchhikers?” We had picked up a drifter in Boston. We had thrown Bill out of the car before 128. He had been ranting against Jews, fags, and spooks. To Pam everyone on the side of the road was an ax-murderer.

“There’s always an exception to the rule. Open the door.”

I pulled on the latch and the big Indian sat in the car. His boots were cracked by years of use. His jeans carried the grime of the West. His canvas jacket was ripped, as if he had fought a pack of dogs. He turned to me and stared into my eyes with a sadness belonging to a lost life.


“Where you going?” It was a simple question.

“West and then north.” He had a simple answer. “The name’s Eagle. You mind if I sleep. I’ve been walking a long way.”

“Not at all. Makes yourself comfortable.” Pam stepped on the gas.

Eagle laid against the door and fell asleep and his snore sung a song of weariness. AK turned up BLUE on the tape deck. It partially drowned out the nasal drone.

“Well, you finally met your Indian.” I sniffed the air. Eagle smelled like a gravedigger.

“He’s better than your ‘Bill’,” Pam said with biting irony.

“The only good white man is the white man you throw out of the car.” AK had chucked Bill out of the
Torino before we hit 128.

“I’ll sleep with one eye open.”

“As long as it’s not at the wheel.” Pam returned her attention to the road.

“I learned my lesson.” I had almost driven into the scenery in Illinois.

At sunset we crossed the Colorado border into Utah. Pam and I switched seat. Night fell with a black completeness erasing the arid scenery. The two-laner straight-lined into Roosevelt, Utah, which was a speck on the map.

I slowed down seeing the lights of the Id Lounge. The long ride had cured most of my hang-over. A cold beer would take care of the rest. I flicked on the left turn signal.

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

“We’re stopping there.” I pointed to the upcoming bar.

“We’re not stopping.” Pam had had her one fling in the parking lot of the Inferno Lounge. She was not interested in testing her fidelity a 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, and beer.”

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

“Small d on the sign.” I pulled into a dirt parking lot filled with dusty pick-ups. 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, didn’t we?”

“That was yesterday and this is tonight.” Pam pulled on a jacket to hide her breasts. The desert had a cruel feel.

“If it gets bad, we leave, plus we owe Freud one drink in his name as well as those men in the chain that built the Fall River Road.” I was interested is seeing what a bar looked like this deep in Mormon Country.

“What’s happening?” Eagle asked, as we got out of the car.

“We’re going in for a beer. You wanna come?”

“Better not. They don’t like Indians out here. If you want, I’ll get out of the car.”

“No, stay where you are. We won’t be long.” Pam took the keys from me. She knew how I liked my drink.

“I’ll be right here.” Eagle resumed his position against the door.

As we walked across the parking lot, I asked, “You think it’s all right leaving him with our stuff.”

“You have your wallet.” Pam didn’t turned around to look at the car. “I have the keys. He isn’t going to do anything. One beer and we go.”

She trusted Eagle more than me.

AK shrugged and held open the door to the Id Lounge.

The clientele of farmers and cowboys were seated at the bar and tables. The jukebox played MAMA TRIED. I ordered three Olympias and toasted Sigmund Freud after which I sang along with Merle

“Always wanting to belong.” AK shook his head.

“Everywhere is my home.”

I asked to the bartender about Mormons.

“Don’t get many in here. They don’t drink and we don’t serve milk.”

The bartender left to serve two fat women leaning against the bar. One was checking out AK. He must have been her type.

“What’s wrong now?”

“Everywhere you go you try and fit in.”

“Is that a crime?”

“You’re from Boston. None of these people know a thing about your hometown and to tell the truth you know nothing about theirs, but you pretend that you’re one of them, only you’re not one of them.”

“I know that.” My Boston accent was an unmistakable reminder of my origins, even if I couldn’t hear it.
Still I was comfortable with the beer in my hand and told AK, “Stop worrying so much.”

“Easy for you to say.” AK kept his back to the tables, fearing someone might finger him as a Jew. “You’re one of them now.”

“If anyone says anything, go out to the car and start the engine.” I was speaking to Pam.

“And wait for you?”

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

At the nearest table a goat-roper and a sodbuster were arguing about who was the strongest. Devoid of blacks, beaners, and Jews the Non-Mormon residents of Roosevelt, Utah had its own caste system and these two were looking to see who was # 1. Like Ralph said back at the Big Bear Lodge these people weren’t good with anyone other than their own and livestock.

“Ain’t nothing hard about rasslin’ cattle.” The huge farm boy could have started at linebacker for an NFL team.

“And nothing tough ‘bout plowin’ dirt with a truck.” The young cowboy appeared to have been born from barbed wire. Their back-and-forth 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, which was not a good sign. “Ready, set, go.”

The two locals strained 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 regarded 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. Farmers and cowboys weren’t friends.

The three of us looked at each other. Our eyes confirmed 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.

“You get out of here.” I put down $5 to cover our tab, yet remained transfixed by the contest.

Pam left without saying a word. AK was two steps behind her.

The cowboy threw his weight into the table.

The farmer lost his advantage and the back of his hand wavered an inch from defeat. Gritting his teeth he 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 on the floor. The farmers sensed victory and a second later their hero slammed the cowboy’s hand to the table.

Whooping was their victory call.

“I might have lost that match.” The cowboy rubbed his wrist. His face was warped by a wicked smile bent on madness. “But I could kick your ass out back.”

The big farmboy wasn’t much for words and punched the cowboy in the 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 with his bat to even out the sides. A smashed bottle revoked my spectator status. Three farmers eyed me. I was a long hair. I was not one of them. They wanted my blood on the floor. I ran from the Id Lounge. The back door of the Torino was open and Eagle was standing outside.

The farm boys stopped in their tracks.

Eagle was a big Indian.

“This ain’t your fight, Injun.”

“He’s with me.” Eagle hitched his thumb and I jumped in the station wagon. “You got a problem with that?”

Four cowboys emerged from the Id Lounge.

“Fuckin’ Injun.” It was the loser of the arm-wrestling contest.

“White man, go back inside.” Eagle had heard it all before.

“You gonna make me, redskin.”

“No need to.”

Eagle got in the car.


The Torino’s tires spat dirt in our wake. It hit 100 within twenty seconds. The V8 was built for speed.

Any police would be heading to the bar. We saw none on the way out of town.

“Nice bar.” Pam checked the rearview mirror.

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

“No more bars on this trip.” Pam had abandoned the romance of the road along with Billy Bob in Sterling, Colorado and there was no turning back left in her heart.

“We both insist,” AK said, intoning that the decision was final.

“But tomorrow’s my birthday.” I tried to put the stop into a positive light.

“No more bars.” AK had had his fill of cowboy bars. “We’ll celebrate with a cake and candles.”

“Okay, okay.” I slumped into the backseat and turned to Eagle. “Thanks.”

“I did nothing.”

“And nothing happened to me. That why I didn’t go into the bar. I like nothing happening to me, but you were lucky. The girl is right. Bars like that aren’t made for you or me.”

“We should be able to go everywhere.”

“I will tell you a short story. Once we Indians were everywhere on the land. The white man came. Now we are few. You have to know where you belong to stay where you are.”

“Oh.” I had nothing else to say.

Eagle leaned his head against the window and went to sleep.

“Guess he told you,” whispered AK.

“You could say that.”

US 40 swung south into the desert. The sky was possessed by a billion stars. The universe was black and they were white.

Eagle woke in Salt Lake City.

“I’m heading north to the Rez. Let me off when you turn west on 90.”

There were a lot of them in Montana and the Dakotas.

Wounded Knee was the best known after last year’s standoff with the FBI.

“Good luck.”

“As long as I don’t have any problems with the ‘wasichu’, I’ll be good.”

“I guess that means the White Man.”

“But not White Women. I like some of them.” Eagle smiled in the dark. He had most of his teeth.

When he got out of the car, the big man gave Pam a long feather.

“Same as my name. Good luck for a beautiful woman. Tókhi wániphika ní!”

“What you think that meant?” AK had studied Spanish in college.

“Good luck.” I tried to repeat the phrase. It was already fading from my ears. “Tokhi wanneepcik no.”

“Doesn’t sound the same with a Boston accent.” Pam pulled back onto the highway.

“Not even close.” AK had a musician’s ear.

“I gave it a try.”

I repeated the phrase several times to myself. The Mormon Temple glowed in the black night. We headed toward the Salt Flats. I knew where.

Pam put on BLUE. Joni Mitchell sang ALL I WANT and CAREY made realize that beach tar on my feet was only one or two days away and one of those days was my birthday.

“Tokhee wanneeprick no.”

Even saying it badly made me feel lucky.

Maybe because in one hour it would be my birthday. Tonight was my last night to be 21 and I was spending it on the road.

Just like Jack Kerouac.

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