The next morning AK, Pam, and Sean slept in late.

After waking tey ate a hearty breakfast of flapjack and sausages with the lodge’s owner on the porch. White rapids surged over the rocky creek and a few clouds dotted the deep blue above the mountain peaks. Ralph spread a map on the table to give them directions through the Rockies.

“Follow 34 into the Rocky Mountain Park. Snow had closed the road until two weeks ago. Check out the view of Sundance Mountain from Tombstone Ridge. These canyons were once 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.

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

“With good reason. The FBI declared war on Wounded Knee.”

“Indians have been killed by the government for ages. The Sioux killed two G-Men White people like the West white. Not brown. Not black. White.”

“Same as Boston.” His hometown was known as the Selma of the North.

“And they don’t like hippies either.”

”We’ll be careful.”

Pam and AK loaded the Torino and Sean reached into his pocket to pay for breakfast.

Ralph refused his money.

“You’re nice kids. I wish you were staying longer. Heck, I could use you here this summer.”

“What’s wrong with the people around here.”

“They’re either a cowboy or a farmer and while they’re fine 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’s offer was serious.

“I have work in the Fall.” Sean had a substitute-teaching job waiting after Labor Day.

“This is a nice place to spend the summer. You’d be doing me and yourself a favor.”

“It’s tempting.”

The river roared through the canyon.

Tall pines covered the mountainsides.

“The Rockies are begging for me to stay.”

“But you have someplace to go.” Ralph handed over the map. The two of them were almost thirty years apart, but bond of the New England was stronger than the gap between their generations.

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

“I once had someplace to be and here I am.” Ralph’s years along the Thompson Creek promised better ones to come.

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

“I’ll be here.” Ralph accompanied him to the car and wished them a safe trip. AK had elected himself the driver. He got no argument from his friend. Sean 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 spoke about staying in Sterling. Today Ralph offered me a job.”

“And you thought about staying?” AK steered through the curves with both hands on the wheel.

“Some of Lewis’ and Clark’s men must have felt the urge for staying someplace on that expedition.”

“I’m talking about now.”

“Yes, I wouldn’t have minded staying.”

“I can understand the temptation of the mountains, but we have an ocean to see and swim in.”

“Yes, we do.” The Pacific was their destination same as for the Lewis and Clarke expedition. “And we’ll be there soon.”

They 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 on the icy road.

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

“Anyone in a rush?”

“Not me.” Pam put on her jacket.

AK switched on the heat.

They stopped at the snowy pass some 11,000 feet above sea level. The frigid wind ripped through the stunted trees and the three of them fought to breathe the thin air, as Sean read the plaque on a large stone.

“This road follows the Indian path.”

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.”

“Convicts built this?”

“The road opened in 1920 and in those years prisons provided cheap labor for the state.”

“Nowadays too.”

“Enough with convicts. You can drink a beer to them at the next bar.” Pam grabbed the keys out of AK’s hand. “I’ve had had enough of the tundra. Let’s lose some altitude.”

The weather improved on the other side of the pass and they descended into the warmth of an alpine 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.

They stopped several times to admire scenic vistas. Serious hikers set out from the trailheads. They wore rugged boots and carried big packs, as if they were entering the wilderness forever.

“Anyone care for a walk?”

“Grizzlies roam the high country,” warned Pam.

“People are rarely attacked by them.”

“This time of year they are hungry and none of us can outrun one of them.”

“Grizzlies have been clocked at 30mph.” AK was a fast runner, but not that fast.

“So no hiking?”

“Not here.”

Sean had hoped for AK to take his side, but the New Yorker got in the station wagon and they headed west, passing through 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 some miles on the odometer and they zigzagged by the high lakes to reach US 40 in Granby, where the valley broadened for verdant cattle pastures.
Several miles farther down the road a state trooper was cooped 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 fiddled with the radio, catching the scratchy signals playing country-western. “And I doubt we’ll see one until Reno, Nevada. Like I said before hippies are a minority to these people.”

“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. There‘s none here, but people have to have someone underneath them.”

“And usually it’s a woman”

“Adam did come before Eve.”

“Sometimes being first doesn’t mean being first forever. Time for gas.” Pam pulled into a Sunoco station at Craig to fill the Ford Torino with high-test. Ten gallons came to a little over $5. AK paid the teenage gas attendant. The gas station had no food and AK strolled over to the Coke dispenser to buy three ice-cold bottles. As they drank the sodas, AK said, “The Indians have to be someplace.”

“I’ll show you where.” Sean opened the map. He had received a
map-reading merit badge from the Boy Scouts. “Look in the bottom right corner of Colorado and you’ll find where they stuck the Utes. The tribe once roamed from Wyoming to Northern New Mexico.”

“Back before when the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” As a child of the 50s AK had seen his share of cowboy and Indian movies. “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 said the f-word for the first time on this trip.

“Very fucked up. Woody Guthrie sang THIS LAND IS MY LAND about America belonging to us all, red, white, black, brown, and yellow.”

“Not in the mind of white folks and 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. “This is Mormon country.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Just don’t tell people how you’re related to Joseph Smith. These people take their religion serious.”

“I am related. My father and aunt told me that his side of the family moved to Vermont and ours stayed in Maine.”

“Just keep it to yourself. We don’t need any trouble.”

“I know when to keep my mouth shut.”

The gas attendant was joking with his friends. They were ogling Pam. She wasn’t wearing a bra. She asked Sean, “So what’s next?”

“This road, US 40, runs through small towns. None of them have 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 shone on the dead lake’s prehistoric splendor.

“We’ll decide later. Let’s push on.”

“You still in a hurry get to Mendocino?”

“What do you think?” Her fiancée was waiting there.

“Big hurry.”

They downed the cokes and put the empty bottles in the crates.

The young locals snickered out a joke about Cinderella and her ugly sisters. They had heard this before, but this was not the place to have a fight and Sean sat in the back.
AK and Pam switched driving duties. When they left the gas station, Sean fought hard not to give the local boys a farewell finger.

They topped the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass. The western slope fed the Pacific and 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. The few inhabitants were wizened by the harsh seasons of the High Plains.

Most were white.

The few Mexicans drove rusted-out trucks.

Outside Dinosaur a lone man stood on the shoulder. Long braids streamed from under a battered cowboy hat. His skin was burnt from the sun, but his features belonged to this land. The Indian stuck out his thumb.

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 slowly approached the station wagon.

“What about the ban on hitchhikers?”

They had picked up a drifter in Boston. Bill had ranted against Jews, fags, and spooks. To Pam each hitchhiker was a potential ax-murderer.

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

Sean pulled on the latch and the big Indian sat in the car. His boots were cracked by the weather.

His jeans carried the grime of the West. His canvas jacket was ripped, as if he had fought a pack of dogs. The big man stared into Sean’s eyes with a sadness belonging to a lost life

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

“West and then north.” The Indian had a simple answer. “The name’s Slow Eagle. I soar high and go slow. You mind if I sleep. I’ve been walking a long way.”

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

Slow Eagle fell asleep and his snore sung a road-tired song. AK turned up the volume for BLUE on the tape deck.

“Well, you finally met an Indian.” Sean sniffed the air.

Slow 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 paid attention to the road.

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

At sunset Colorado became Utah. Pam and Sean switched seats. Eagle slept in a motionless coma.

Night fell with a black completeness erasing the desert. The two-laner straight-lined into Roosevelt, Utah, which was a speck on the map.

Sean slowed down seeing the lights of the Id Lounge. The long ride had cured his hangover. A cold beer would take care of the rest. He 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.” Sean pointed to the upcoming bar.

“We’re not stopping.” Pam had had her one fling in the parking lot of the Inferno Lounge and was not interested in testing her fidelity for a second time in two days.

“We’re not stopping at the Id Lounge? My best grade in university was 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.” Sean pulled into a dirt parking lot filled with dusty pick-ups. “Where better to celebrate 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 fun 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 on the chain gang that built the Fall River Road.” Sean was interested in seeing a bar deep in Mormon Country.

“What’s happening?” asked Eagle, stirring from his slumber.
“We’re getting 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, knowing how Sean liked his drink.

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

As they crossed the parking lot, he 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. Slow Eagle will stay with the car. One beer and we go.”

“Sean? One beer. Fat chance.” AK held open the door to the Id Lounge.

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

“Always wanting to belong.”

“Everywhere is my home.”

“And nowhere too.”

“What else can you expect from a drifter?”

AK turned to Pam.

She hadn’t touched her beer.

“Suit yourselves,” Sean muttered and asked the bartender, “You get many Mormons in here.”

“None. They don’t drink and we don’t serve milk and we don’t allow any talk about religion.”
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?”

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

“I know that.” Sean’s Boston accent was a reminder of his origins, even if he couldn’t hear it, and he 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,” Sean said to Pam.

“And wait for you?” asked AK.

“You’re my friend, right.”


“Then don’t worry about me.” Sean had on heavy Frye boots. No one was touching Pam or AK. “Or you.”

“If anything starts, you’re on your own.”

“Nothing will start. Not by me.” Sean knew his role in this universe.

A stranger passing through town.

At the nearest table a goat-roper and a sodbuster argued 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 vying to see who was # 1. Like Ralph said back at the Big Bear Lodge these people were better with livestock than humans.

“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, but their back-and-forth sounded friendly to Sean’s ears.

“Only one way to settle it.” The farm boy rolled up the sleeve of his flannel shirt.

“Yeah.” The cowboy spat to the right.

“Arm wrestle,” the two of them said 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 promising sign. “Ready, set, go.”

The two locals strained their biceps and forearms muscle to force their adversary’s hand to the table. Backers from each clique shouted out drunken encouragement. Sean rooted for the farm boy. The cowboy looked mean.

“I have 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.

A glance between three of them 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.” Sean put down $5 to cover the tab, transfixed by the contest.
Pam left without saying a word. AK followed two steps behind her.

The cowboy threw his weight into the table.

The farmer lost his advantage and his hand wavered an inch from defeat. Gritting his teeth he shouted like a steer trying to free itself from quicksand. His hand inched higher and higher. The cowboy sweated bullets and a beer bottle toppled off the table to break on the tiled floor. A second later the farmers’ 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 and said, “But I could kick your ass out back.”

The big farm boy wasn’t much with words and punched the cowboy in the skull with a massive right. The young goat-roper collapsed at Sean’s feet. His ranching friends swarmed over the farm boy, 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 Sean’s spectator status. Three farmers eyed his long hair. They were out for blood and Sean ran from the Id Lounge. The Torino’s back door was open and Slow Eagle stood his ground.

The farm boys stopped in their tracks.

Slow Eagle was a big Indian.

“This ain’t your fight, Injun.”

“He’s with me.” Slow Eagle hitched his thumb. “You have 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.” Slow Eagle had heard it all before.

“You gonna make me, redskin.”

“No need to.”

Slow Eagle and Sean jumped in the car.


The Torino’s tires spat dirt in their wake and hit 100 within fifteen seconds. The V8 was built for speed.

“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 that young cowboy in Sterling, Colorado and there was no turning back left in her heart.

“We both insist,” said AK.

“But tomorrow’s my birthday.”

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

“Okay, okay.” Sean slumped into the backseat and spoke to Slow Eagle, “Thanks.”

“I did nothing.”

“And nothing happened to me.”

“That why I didn’t go into the bar.” Slow Eagle mumbled low. “Bars like that aren’t made for hippies or Indians.”

“We should be able to go where we want.”
“I will tell you a short story. Once we Indians lived on this land. The white man came. Now we are few. Few is better than none, so you have to know when to stay where you belong.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Not right. I’m just not looking for any trouble.”
Slow Eagle leaned his head against the window to sleep.

Snores soon followed.

“Guess he told you,” whispered AK.

“You could say that.”

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

Slow Eagle woke in Salt Lake City.

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

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

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

“Stay safe.”

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

“I guess that means the White Man.”

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

When he left 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.

“Tokhi wanneepick no.” Sean repeated the phrase, but the words were already fading from his ears.

“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.”

The Mormon Temple glowed in the black western night. Pam drove through the city. They would stop for the night in the Salt Flats. Sean knew where.

Pam put on BLUE. Joni Mitchell sang ALL I WANT and CAREY. Beach tar on his feet was one or two days away.

“Tokhee wanneeprick no.”

Even saying it badly made him feel lucky.

Maybe because tonight was his last night to be 21 and Sean was spending it on the road.

Just like Jack Kerouac.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *