The Bar ( a short story)

“I’ll have your finest cold one, whatever that one is please.”

The old bartender slides a bottled beer down the counter, effortlessly.

“Where ya from fellar?”

The question implies that most people that venture into this dark bar aren’t from here.  The bar is a essentially a wooden shack, nestled amongst rows and rows of cornfields.  While the cowboy had been driving, it popped up like a river of sugar water in a sour land. Irresistible.

“From somewhere else,” the cowboy says dryly.

The bartender says nothing.  This response has been common for the 40-plus years he has owned the bar.

In the bar there are no decorations.  Just old plywood full of nails, some rusty, and some sticking out like loose hinges.  There’s no need to ask if he takes credit card.  It’s implied that this bar doesn’t.  There are probably a million stories about lonely, weary souls that have wandered into this bar, the cowboy thinks.  The air is still, and none of them are spoken of.

The cowboy tips back his beer, drinks.  He might not really be a cowboy, maybe he only acts and dresses like one.  Neither of them ask into detail, so neither of them care.

” What you passin’ through for?,” the bartender asks.  This question is arbitrary.  It doesn’t require a thoughtful answer. How is are you? 

“Got me some busnezz’ I’ll be takin’ care of further south.  Just passin’ through cuz’ I have ta’.”

At that moment the door swings open freely.  A man enters.  Black business attire, black tie.  Shoes shined.  He shuffles the stool, exchanges to indifferent glances at the bartender and the cowboy.  Has a seat, comfortable enough, legs crossed.

“What’ll it be for ya?,” asks the bartender.

“A drink of your finest cold please,” says the business man.

The bartender pops open another bottle, slides it across the table.  There is silence for a while.  Both customers appear tired from the road and not yet ready to talk.  When the cowboy and the business man begin talking, the conversation goes from sports to talking about making money.  This is the only thing they really talk about.  The bartender interrupts politely.

“So, have you heard the deal about this bar before?,” the bartender asks.

Both men shake their heads.  No.

“Well, it’s a bit of a story but I’ll give yous’ the shortened version.  I started this bar back in the thirties, just after Prohibition ended.  I invested everything I had into it and then some.  Me and my wife, who passed on while back, bless ‘er soul.”

The bar is silent.  This bar doesn’t offer a jukebox.  Nothing fancy.  Just a plywood stable and cold beer.

“Well, one day there was a fire in the bar, started from the grill in the back.  We used ta’ serve burgers here in our heyday.  Anyways, my wife were in the back room doin’ some work when the fire started, we got stuck.  You probably won’t believe this, but we were both stuck in the fire and it burned to the ground.  This bar was not more.”

The cowboy and business man stare blankly at the bartender.  You can hear the wind rustling the tall grass just outside.  They say nothing.

” So we both died in the fire, my wife and I.  Well, come to find out, the powers that be had screwed up and we weren’t scheduled to leave this world yet.  See, they made a mistake and didn’t know we’s’ was’ in the bar. Our lives weren’t supposed to be over yet. So they told us we could have our mortal lives back, and they’d even rebuild the bar.  That took the snap of a finger.”

‘ Only thing, my wife was scheduled to leave, whether I liked it or not.  Since it seemed to unfair, we all reached a compromise that my wife could still stay at the bar, the only thing being that we both had to become ghosts. So she still technically lives here, keeps me company and the bar lives on, giving stragglers like yourselves comfort from the road.”

“That’s a pretty good story yous’ got there,” the cowboy says.  He lights a cigarette.  Deep inhale.  Blows a ring of smoke away from the bar.  The business man glares at the door.  Exit.

“All of it’s true,” says the bartender.  “…And the kicker is this.  My wife has the power to look into a man’s soul and know the very date he’ll be leaving this Earth.  You can’t see her right now, but she’s actually standing right by my side right now.  In the form of ghost.’

‘So have a look at the back of your beer.  You’ll find your expiration date for this Earth.”

The men exchange confused glances.  Spin their beers around.  Expiration dates are on the label.  Cowboy’s beer says he expires in fifteen years and some change.  Business man expires in 32 years and some cents.

” Is this a joke?,” says the business man.  “Seriously, where’s the cameras?”

Both customers exchange glances and kindly tell the bartender that he’s weird and that he should screw off.  They leave.

Outside the bar, they talk about their business ventures, the cowboy owning a ranch and the business man investing in stocks.  They don’t seem interested in much else.  A paper bag blows on along the road.  The air is cold, yet fresh.  Stalks of corn sway in the wind.

It’s at that moment that the man that had been sitting by a booth in the corner of the bar runs outside.  “Here,” he says, handing both men a beer.  ” These ones are on me boys.  You gents look like you could both use another beer before you hit the road.”

The cowboy and the business man exchange glances, look at the expiration date on the back.  It says the expiration is set for today for both men.

“Joke’s over,” cowboy says.  “This isn’t funny and we’re leaving.”

As they’re walking away, a semi with a loaded trailer comes skidding out of control along the snow.  The trailer crashes off the hinges, diving straight into the bar with a crash louder than ten cannons fire off at once.

“Backpack Full of Bush Dust”, now available on Amazon!

Here is an insert from my latest book, now available for sale on Amazon at the following link, for both hard copy and Kindle versions:

http://www.amazon.com/Backpack-Full-Bush-Dust-hitch-biking/dp/1501001914

I sleep in Coolgardie on the hard ground in the middle of the bush.  The sleeping bag is covered in wetness and a thin layer of melting frost as the sun rises.  In the middle of the night a truck driver and pulls up next to my spot and is surprised to see me when I say hello; he wouldn’t have seen me if I hadn’t introduced myself in the dark.

“Thought I was hearing things!,” he says.  He takes time to clean and wipe out his cab.

I have various short rides all the way to Salmon Gums, which is a town small enough that you can only buy groceries at the local post office.

One guy that picks me up is a stocky Aboriginal who used to be a boxer and now works at a correctional facility.  He pulls over while I am hiking with my thumb out and even though he hadn’t initially seen me, he offers a ride in his Japanese Supra.  He shows me around town and takes me to a scenic overlook.

“This here is wheat country,” he says.  We are surrounded by green rolling hills and farmland.  “I’m from Melbourne, just moved here five months ago.” He says that he mostly deals with illegal immigrants from Iran and other areas of the Middle East that arrive by boat.

“The boat driver gets paid about 100 dollars per person to bring migrant workers to Australia,” he says.  His car is fast, efficient, and quiet as we cruise along the highway and a speed of 180/kilometers an hour.

Just before dark, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal man who is a Christian pastor.  “It’s a good job,” he tells me.  “We’re in the business of counseling, marrying, and burying people.”  He pops in a cassette of a local band, I imagine him as someone thoroughly involved in the community.  He pops in some Jesus-inspired country music and old-timer style porch bluegrass all the way to Coolgardie.  He offers me the rest of his KFC chicken.

We pass along miles and miles of pipeline.    “That water pipe goes all the way south,” he says.  “It’s for drinking water.”

He drops me off on the outskirts of town and it’s long since passed dark.

Somebody was Already Here (a short story)

“T-minus two hours till approaching orbiting planet in ship’s trajectory.  Crew, prepare for imminent landing on planet.”

The space travellers assemble their breathing apparatus, black suits that enable full body movement while supplying added oxygen.  The Earth-like planet’s oxygen levels are not high enough to support human breathing without supplement, as far as they know.  The year is 2237.

The travellers have been orbiting in space for over three years and are just now arriving at their new location.  The brigade was comprised of 24 men and 24 women and no children.  Their plan was to settle and raise families once settled on the new planet, much like the European settlers had colonized the Americas.  Much like the Native Americans had crossed the Bering Strait into Alaska. The story of human movement, stretching across continents, across oceans, now across planets.

The group was funded independently. They had left a world of overpopulation, overused resources, apocalyptic conditions.  As far as they knew, they were to be the first to colonize this planet.  They imagined strange species they would encounter, maybe another race of intelligent beings, much different than their own.  Two hours later, the spaceship was orbiting the Earth-like planet.

From above, they were shocked at what they saw.  Strange exotic plants, species unlike anything they had seen before, sure.  What they hadn’t expected to see was shopping malls stretching and lacing their ways through all of the surface.  The planet was small; 1/300th the size of Earth.  Meaning that humans had secretly been colonizing this planet for at least a thousand years already based on what they saw.  Copy-paste corporate chain stores, symbols of mass consumerism littered the planet and made it a dump just like humans had done with the last planet.  History repeated itself, and this truth was not pleasant to the explorers.

As they landed on the soft ground, they were devastated.  They were welcomed with offers to buy things, to purchase homes, to get jobs working in factories, in shopping malls, in cell phone stores by the resident capitalists that already lived there.  This was not the independent lifestyle they had hoped for.

They wished they could say something clever, such as one giant step for mankind, something of grandeur or significance, but instead they were speechless.  Shopping mall clones ripped through the landscape like a disease.  They imagined how beautiful it may have once been before they arrived.  Too late.

Somebody had already been here.  Just like everything else, it was bought, eaten and spit back out.

Instead, the explorers one by one took off their oxygen masks. Slowly, they stopped breathing, and they fell to the grounds of the new planet like dominoes, one after the other.

Little I-House On the Prairie (a short story)

19ejkiikqii51jpg

Henry starts his day drinking a hot cup of coffee (coffee beans imported from El Salvador but he doesn’t know that) , which was poured from the automated machine, served with a programmed smile by his servant robot while still in bed.  The coffee machine has a timer that pours the caffeine-supplemented hot brown liquid at the exact time he needs to wake.  An automated voice then plays from the surround-sound speakers above and the house’s motherboard computer says, in a friendly, non-confrontational, slightly-condescending voice:

“Good morning Henry and Ashley.”  (Ashley is Henry’s wife, she’s still asleep).  “It is now time for your awakening.  For your safety, please watch your step as you exit your sleeping quarters.”

All the floors and walls in the house are padded with white cushions (for your family’s protection and safety, copyright 2105).  As Ashley stills lays in bed the household robotic servant begins applying an acupuncture to her body.  They don’t speak a word to each other, not so much as a good morning. The house’s motherboard system arranges that.  Automated messages are more common than oxygen these days.

Henry feels the air jets kick on and slide the soft, fluffy silk morning slippers onto his feet.  Coffee-in-hand, he walks out into the kitchen with minimal feeling, feet scuttling over dust particles of empowerment or original thought.

Immediately (like Instant Noodles), the television automatically blinks to on at it’s programmed time.  The TV is a virtual  3-D projection which spreads onto the wall like thin latex paint.  Henry is bombarded with artificial stimuli and tainted news from the mouth of a machine that operated faster than actual experience.  (who was it that said society’s deepest lies are the ones that are prophesized?)

There is only one channel– the channel that he watches every day, every night.  The family is to gather around it for one full scheduled hour like some pathetic glowing bonfire.  Henry does not read, nor does his wife ( that’s a peculiar thing to do these days anyways) yet he always watches.

“Terrible things going on in every corner of the world these days,” the newsreporter begins, as his eyes follow the teleprompter.  “Wars, famine, unemployment, failing economies, lot’s of important stuff to talk about folks,” he says.  A woman reporter chimes in and they both start blabbing their opinions about everything sour.

And so beings the retortion of lies and garble gibberish of media coverage that Henry listens to passively every morning and acknowledges solemnly, partially conscious, as coffee dribbles down his chin.

In place of actual windows, there are digital displays of artificial virtual scenery.  (it was mandated years ago that to look at computerized-mountain scenery rather than the sprawl and gloom of the city was better for your health). Henry’s vital signs are displayed digitally on the fridge as invisible nanobots constantly monitor Henry and his family’s physical health.  At any sign of discrepancy or fluctuation in these numbers, a robot will be at the door to rush them to the hospital for inspection.

“Good morning, Mr. Callister,” chimed the house’s motherboard.  “It appears you are running on time today.  Keep up the great work and have a great day!”  Everything from the morning breakfast, to the ride to work, to work itself, to coming home– it was all automatic.  Like the push of a button, this was the pinball that life had made you inside the big machine.  People were cogs, like the lubrication of buttered toast.

Society’s structure had become automated for so long that most had even forgotten it was automated; in fact, some of the most patriotic citizens waved freedom flags while walking the fine line of drudgery.

The temperature inside the Callister’s home was a constant 71.2 degrees Farenheit, never deviating ever the slightest.  The temperature in the shower was a constant 106 degrees Farenheit, the calorie intake always a constant amount of calories, the daily feed of news a constant three hours, the time Mr. and Mrs. Callister left in their automated cars for work was constant, the nursing for their two-year old child and exact times of feeding and play an learning were constant, as was the exact time they were to perform their night-time marital duties.  Constant.

Henry steps into the auto-car, is driven to work free of his hands via a mix of satellites, computers and new and improved brain of mankind– the progressive and ever-improving, machine.  While being driven to work (alone), the TV blabs on about conflict in all corners of the world.  Henry looks out the window. Speed limit signs were taking down more than a century ago.  With automation, accidents rarely occur, and the only signs that still are posted are signs that state things like: NO NON-AUTOMATED DRIVING ALLOWED.

Revenue is collected every day from automated (of course) tolls, and because computers don’t break rules, there is no need for speeding tickets.  An automatic seat buckle and helmet is placed over Henry’s vital parts every morning by robotic functions, despite the fact that crashes now rarely happen.  The roads are tamed, using a bacteria-driven material that automatically heals itself rather than cracking as the Earth shifts or forms potholes.  The city has all vehicles repaired monthly by robots at the factory.  Vehicle problems along the roadside rarely ensue.

In fact, the entire society is built around the idea of complete safety, minimal risk, and comfort.  The end result is a city in constant monitor.  Cameras shoot you at every inch.  Mechanical growth is exponential, seemingly limitless.  The human mindset of creativity seems to be at an all-time stagnation.

Sometimes though, especially as of late, Henry finds his mind wandering silently to himself as the familiar roads pass him by on his way to work.  His wife and he have lived in the same demographic their entire lives, never ventured outside of it.  What was beyond the city limits?  Were these limits real?  Where did the roads lead that the automated cars wouldn’t take him?  Was there a place where people still lived off the land, didn’t depend on governmental institutions and mechanical things?  Was it as dangerous as everyone said?  He knew not one person who had ever left– those who spoke of it were ridiculed, the ridiculous.

Then he’d lose these passing thoughts.  He’d lose grip and start thinking about work.  Then he’d arrive at work and– just like clockwork– Henry would begin his day.

Work involved programming robots. Disassembling robots. Re-assembling robots. It involved behaving as if he were a robot. Still, the job payed a handsome compensation in the form of the idea of monetary funds.

Then one day, Henry quit his job. He decided that he would take himself and his family far away from the town and all the comforts they were afforded. He was tired of being comfortable. The family’s robot servant was once caught dancing by itself in a room when it thought it wasn’t watched. It was at that moment that Henry realized that the robot may in fact leave a freer life than Henry did.

So he packed his kid and his wife into their auto car along with their robot servant and drove off. First, Henry de-programmed the car’s autopilot features, which was of course against the law but he did it anyways. Secretly, Henry had begun reading books in his spare time (also against the law) instead of watching TV. Henry began performing a dangerous act that nobody dared do anymore, which involved thinking for himself.

Armed with these thoughts, he piled his family into the car, his wife deeply concerned for their safety. ” The news says that the outside world is entirely dangerous,” she says. Nothing outside the material world is safe, proclaimed every digital billboard.

Henry had no idea what was outside their town. It had been forgotten for generations, blocked by the media and popular opinion. He drove as fast as he could, dodging auto cars and crazed looks from passerby. In a few moments, the Auto-Police were onto him.

They automatically shut down his car with their programs. The family car stalled and moved to the side of the road.

” It is illegal to leave this town,” proclaimed the policeman. “For your own safety, it’s required that you stay. As you know, it’s also illegal to de-program your auto car, so you’re now under house arrest and a police escort will be monitoring your home at all times. We assure your family that these methods are for your complete safety.”

It was at that moment that Henry and his family took off in full sprint, the auto police screaming “FREEZE! YOU CAN’T GO THERE! NOT BEYOND THAT LINE!”

And Henry had their child in his hands, and they ran together, the robot by their side. Shots were fired and the robot fell to the ground, sparks flying into the air.

What was the cost of being de-programmed? Of thinking for ones’ self?

They Came on the First Fall of Winter Snow

images
In the vast distance of what is now suburbia wasteland, pillars of concrete and mortar brick fall to the ground with a crash, once symbols of industrial progress.  The aliens invaded on the first falls of  winter snow.  They came marching in their 200-foot tall robot suits and combing through on foot, destroying buildings and Earth’s inhabitants bit by bit, as if they were merely roaches dialed for extermination.  Why were they here?  What did they want?  Couldn’t they be reasoned with?

Jennifer and Daniel reasoned from behind a giant piece of fallen concrete that this was the end of it all, ready or not.  They reasoned in whispers, at first terrified for their lives that one of the 15-foot tall purple extra-terrestrials would find them hiding here,  and they’d be zapped into oblivion like yesterday’s burnt toast.  Their stomachs were growling, having not been nourished for some time.  (close to 24 hours and counting…) Where did humans go to eat when ever Taco Bell had been vaporized like tequila in Mexico on a scorching summer’s day?  This wasn’t like the movies, where the world powers got together and summoned the might of their militaries, and in one enormous display of human egotism and power, blasted the aliens into the afterlife five billion galaxies away.  This wasn’t like a science fiction book where the invasion took weeks or months, giving the humans of Earth time to prepare, to gather their defensive resources together.

No, it wasn’t like that.  In less than a days’ time they had arrived (without any of NASA’s fancy billion-dollar equipment able to detect it)  and in less than a days’ time, what was once on Earth was no longer there.

The aliens spoke a language that had absolutely nothing in common with the English language, or anything even a hop, skip, and a galaxy’s toss similar to the resemblance of Roman language derivative.  The aliens made mostly gurgling sounds from the pits of their throats, sounding like nothing of Earth for that matter.

Daniel had viewed a group with binoculars and observed that some of them could change the deep colors of their retinas, from purple to yellow to red to black, which seemed to convey emotions of some sort (they didn’t seem to show it in facial expressions, at least not recognizable), although you couldn’t call these feelings human.

Outwardly, the aliens were a violent race, at least in regard to humans; they had obviously come to the third planet from the big orange Sun with the intentions of destruction as the end result.  This was like War of the Worlds, but without the time for a radio broadcast.  All the radio stations and satellite towers had been demolished with ease within the first hour of the invasion.

Jennifer and Daniel had watched (from what was hours ago the comforts of their suburbia home) as newscasters from around the world depicted terror and destruction (what else was new) on a world scale.  The aliens didn’t distinguish between classes; third, second, or first world, they blasted them to the fourth world just the same.

They had watched as technologies invested with years of building were annihilated within the hour.  Not a word from the invaders: no loud speaker, no customer service satisfaction ( thank you, this invasion is very important to us), no explanation of what was going on.  Not so much as a hint, outside the explosions in the sky.

Screen by screen, every channel and newscast around the world went blank.  The aliens had technology superior to that of humans, which shut down vehicles like fat-pocketed lawyers shut down equality of rights.  In a matter of an hourglass that was only a decimal fraction on the complete timeline of human civilization, the entire planet had been nearly wiped out; now nearly devoid of all life of Earth origins.  Now wiped away, all traces of human progress.  Shopping malls around the world were reduced to piles of rubble, worthless Gucci purses, former car dealerships with chunks of BMW metal splayed about– suburbia transformed instantly to wastelands.  Even buildings of religious significance were turned to ash.

Now, there was nothing, although it was hard to imagine.  Surreal, even through their own eyes.  The national forests were burning, so the aliens had no interest in the Earth’s environment.  What they had planned for it after the fact, nobody knew.  Once the humans were gone, maybe they were going to use the planet to grow crops?  Maybe they would change the environment to suit the needs of their species?  One thing was for certain– the fate of the human race wasn’t even in their cards of consideration.  There were no conferences, no negotiations, no treaties between species.  This was a clean slate they wanted, everything gone.

Daniel and Jennifer hid behind the chunk of concrete, holding each other.  Jennifer was once crying, and even Daniel at one time, but not anymore.  What was left but to accept their fate?  There were lamer ways to depart this world than being destroyed by aliens.  There was cancer, car accident, old age, a strange disease, death by elephant squatting; the list went on and on.  Was this return of the aliens that helped build all that crazy shit in South America?  Or was this a different race?

Daniel and Jennifer were long-time lovers.  They kissed behind the concrete.

The aliens invaded on the first fall of winter snow, and flakes of fresh, soft precipitation in white fluff form glazed their cold faces.  There were no words left to speak (anything they could have ever said had been spoken anyways) and they wanted to delay their Earth departure, whispered voices mot likely attracting the aliens searching for the last remaining humans.  That was Daniel and Jennifer.  The last remaining humans, as far as they could tell.  Desolation surrounded them.  It was instantaneous.

Suddenly, they could hear nearby footsteps.  Soft at first.  Then heavier.  Definitely not human, and in the vicinity.  Whikoooooooo. Whikoooooooooooooooo.  A sort of cooing sound (birdlike?) , perhaps a call to another alien, came from nearby surroundings.  Fire burned all around them.  Buildings gave way, their foundations compromised.  It looked like a tornado had tossed everything about, making upscale homes toy houses and trees matchsticks.

They way the alien breathed was strange too ( of course it was, they were from another planet), with deep inhalations and the sound of roaring fire-breath upon exhalations.  The 15-foot creature’s lungs must have been at least three-times that of homo sapiens, they reasoned.  Did they even have lungs, or was there a different vital mechanism for their breathing?  Did they live on a planet as oxygen-filled as Earth?  Perhaps they did, since they could breath on Earth without special suits or breathing apparatus.

Daniel and Jennifer reminisced together (somehow, they could read each other’s thoughts) about how scholars and religious fanatics used to speculate how the world would end.  Some said by another Ice Age, some said by warfare on a massive scale, some said by widespread plague, some said through global warming, some said by the hand of the creator himself (itself?).  In the end, did the means to the end matter?  Or was it really an end?  The world would go on, inhabited by a new species, maybe not missing the primate presence at all.

Daniel and Jennifer had come to terms with their insignificance at this moment, and it was no longer depressing.  Although, there was of course, still that primal urge to keep on surviving ( carry on, said the genetic code), they realized that they sized up to these giants the way a zebra sized up to a lion.  Or the way one of those prehistoric Wooly mammoths sized up to a T-Rex.

Humans, within the two hours time, were no longer the top of the food chain (with their so-called intelligence and innovations) but had fallen off the ladder to the mud puddle below.

Why did the aliens wait till now to attack?  How long had they known about Earth?  Did they have a government, or a leader, or something similar?  Did they believe in a God or Gods?  Were they themselves Gods?

Footsteps, right above them.  Daniel and Jennifer closed their eyes, held their embrace for dear life.  They knew that now the creature stood above them; their time was up, they had been found.  They opened their eyes, the last thing they might ever see.

The creature was towering above them, eyes the size of basketballs (glowing green), skin a scaly purple.  The dome of it’s skull was shaped like a raindrop ( a giant one the size of a bicycle tire), its’ skin slimy but smooth along the mid-line and waist.  It had webbed-sort of feet (eleven toes on each, and dexterity in all of them), six figures and six hands.  It stood upright on four feet.  It’s legs were like sturdy branches of an elder tree; strong, muscular-like that of a bull.  At the dome of it’s head, veins protruded and throbbed at rapid-speed (along with it’s thoughts?) and there was no sign of sex despite it being naked (was it asexual?)

It’s feet crunched in the snow and it breathed fire-like, a short few feet away from them.  It’s breath smelled like rotten fish, it’s teeth a decaying black sort of color, many of them jagged.  Did intelligence and dental work not go hand-in-hand?

The creature was armed with a deadly weapon, and surprisingly, the creature set it down.  The alien pushed a button on a peculiar gadget that made an Iphone 6 look like a children’s toy, and a robotic voice spoke English, as evidently, the alien’s vocal cords couldn’t perform on it’s own.   The vowels weren’t possible to pronounce with their gigantic gizzard-tongues.

Then, the words that the device spoke were more terrifying than being destroyed in itself.  “Hello. Humans,” it said in staggered speech.  “You. Are. The. Chosen. Woooons.” (they depicted it meant to say ones) “You must come now with us.”

They came on winter’s first snowfall, and this wasn’t the end as they had presumed.

Hitchhiking Colorado- “Soy de El Salvadoor, amigo.”

IMG_3042[1]

The snow in Fort Collins is thicker, more powder-substance than the slush that has fallen in Denver.  Denver is where I’m heading, as I make my way up the hill to the I-25 South merge.  My boot finds its’ way into a shallow puddle (hidden in snow, then a thin sheet of ice) as I follow the rabbit tracks to the hitchhiking point.

Wait time is low; altogether about ten minutes for a blue Smart car to pull along the shoulder.  Inside is a hispanic man sporting a distinguished mustache, maybe in his late forties.  I hop in and I realize that the man speaks a very small amount of English.  I take this opportunity to practice hablo mi espanol. (speaking spanish).

“Hablo pecito anglais,” he says.   He says that he is from the small Central American country of El Salvador.  “Soy de El Salv-a-door amigo,” he says, with a rise on the “oor” part at the final vowels.  “Trabajo mucho,” he says.  “Mucho frio.”  (he works much and it is very cold).   Fredrico says that he has work for a roofing company that labors mostly in Greeley and Fort Collins as of late.

“Mucho frio aqai,” he says. (very cold here).  “No mucho frio en El Salvador.”  Before he migrated to North America for new horizons and dreams of a better life, he worked on farms in his home country, harvesting mostly beans and corns as cash crops.  “Coffee es muy bien en El Salvador,” he offers as we pass through the cold, wind-weathered Colorado plains.  Coffee beans account for 90% of the income that El Salvador brings in from exported goods.

We pass a total of five cars in the ditch, some of them missing bumpers, as we drive to Denver.  Most likely they fell into the ditches while driving the previous night.  Fredrico’s driving is fast-tempered as he shoots by in the fast lane, hugging the left shoulder as we cruise on by semi-trucks and roll over clumps of melting snow.  Maybe this is how most people drive in El Salvador? I wonder.  That’s the thing about driving in Colorado– many people are from somewhere else, so there is really no standard driving etiquette.  People drive like New Yorkers, Texans, Californians, Michiganders, Coloradans (sometimes), and in this case El Salvadorans (is that what they could be called?).

At least a hundred black birds fly in groups, down to the ground, then back to the sky, then down the ground again, in a thick cluster to the west; I watch this and keep my eyes off the road, which I’ll admit makes me just ever-so-slightly nervous.

IMG_3044[1]

Fredrico says that he once attended a Carlos Santana concert and a guitar was given to him during the show.  He says this with a smile and glisten of pride.  Cumba music plays softly over his speakers, a swinging rhythmic style bass line carries the song.  “This music from Mexico, no El Salvador,” he says.  ” Food is no spicy in El Salvador.  Mexico, yes.  El Salvador, no.”

The language barrier between us only allows us to converse so deeply, but I can tell he is a good man.  “Gracias senor,” I tell him as he sets me off along the shoulder of the highway.  This is not an exit, nor could it be called an ideal drop-off point, but I’ll make do and don’t want him to go out of his way.  He has a turn off to take after he sets me off, which is not an exit, only a merge.  “De nada,” I tell him, later slightly regretting getting out at this spot.

I walk the quarter-mile or so along the highway.  There are the whooshing sounds of traffic overtop my head as I scuttle underneath the turnpike.  My boots crunch in the soft snow.  The snapping of dry bushweed and frosted sticks.

IMG_3045[1]

I walk up a steep slope to the I-25 merge ramp, and the eighth car pulls over ( she almost didn’t) after I offer a gentle wave and smile.  A woman wearing a fair amount of makeup (dark red lipstick) tell me to hop in the backseat ( she tells me the passenger’s door doesn’t open or shut anymore).  And so I do.

“I missed all kinds of appointments today n’ shit,” she tells me.  “This morning has been all crazy.”  This wonderful woman seems chola to the core.  Wikipedia defines a chola as an ethnic slur created by Hispanic criollos in the 16th century, the male version being a cholo.  It’s hard for me to describe without sounds stereotypical, so I’ll just surmise that it means to be a certain class of Mexican-American.  There is a certain attitude and demeanor that tends to go along with it, and this woman has it.

It’s only two exits to go, so we only scratch the surface.  ” I had a doctor’s appoinment dis’ morning,” she says.  ” I have cervical cancer and have already had four treatments on my uterus… I’m 35, but life goes on.”

She has a constant smile, studies me through the rear view mirror.  “I picked up this hitchhiker twice one time, and our conversation picked up right where we left off.  He was funny n’ shit.”

Then we arrive at the bus station and the fleeting glimpse is over.  I thank her, she thanks me (for what I’m not sure yet), I hop out.

IMG_3046[1]

Hitchhiking Colorado- The Aviator and the Newly-Divorced

Date: Monday, November 10, 2014
Wait: about 45 minutes total

IMG_3038[1]
As I stand along the I-25 120th merge ramp, bundled from head to toes as the wind whips my face, it’s hard to believe that it was warm enough to go jogging early this morning in shorts and a T-shirt. But that’s Colorado anyways– bipolar in spirit to the core. Soft, cold flurries of snow (the first breaths of winter) blow on the ground, and traffic consists of drivers yapping on their cell phones (about fifty percent) and another portion maybe focusing on a task known as driving (maybe ten percent). I’m not sure what the other 40 percent of people are actually doing, but they definitely don’t stop for hitchhikers.

Two flocks of procrastinating last-minute geese fly west over the Rocky Mountains towards warmer lands. What do they know which we on the ground do not? Where exactly will they land, and when they get there, will they stay? For how long? Some of the snow is beginning to stick. Winter comes suddenly, even though it comes like a calendar.

Rain, shine, snow, or sleet, the Rat Race stops for no one. Cars zip by, trucks sending thick black coughs of fumes into the cold, pungent air. About a half hour later, a few cars do pull over but both are heading towards Loveland (foreshadowing?) and it’s not in the direction to Fort Collins, so I must decline even though they seem like interesting individuals. Another five minutes and a passing yellow school bus passes. The lady driving motions for me to look behind, and I see a white van with it’s reverse lights on that I didn’t see while facing oncoming traffic.

There’s a young guy wearing a Colorado hat (blue, yellow, red colors) and after attempting to slide open the door to toss in the pack and guitar (it’s frozen, he tells me) I hop in the front to an inviting, warm passenger’s seat.

He introduces himself as Casey (my friends call me Casey Jones) and says that he has work installing housing insulation, and it attending Denver Metro college to study aviation while working part-time. “I’m trying anyways,” he says. “I live not too far from here,” he says as we pass along the Rocky Mountain Divide in the distance and suburbia and franchise-filled, empty sprawl of fields and cookie-cut home clusters to our east and west.

“I have lived in Denver my whole life,” he says. “My parents grew up here too. They can remember when downtown was boarded-up skyscrapers and a sketchy, dangerous place to go. A lots has changed, even in the last 20 years.” Denver is currently one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.

It’s a short life and I jump out three exits later. It beats staying in the same spot, jogging in place to keep warm. Walking to the next merge ramp, a guy gets out of a car and holds up a cardboard sign with the markered slogan: ABDUCTED BY ALIENS AND THEY STOLE MY WALLET– ANYTHING HELPS.

At least 50 cars pass me by, the traffic a pace that is not conducive for people to pull over safely. Cold weather generally doesn’t earn the hitchhiker pity– people pass you by just the same. Like lightning, a silver car shoots tot he side and skids along the gravel.

I meet Jake, who tells me (after we coast along the divide for some time) that he is going through a divorce. “We were married for a year,” he says. “I just got a job working for A & W Oil. They’re stocking up on workers right now since everyone quits in January when it gets cold.” He takes a deep breath and shoots out his life story for the last year. The dashboard becomes a soundhole for a confessional booth of sorts.

“I know it sounds lame, but I met her on match.com,” he explains. “I’m a mystic kind of spiritual person and our pastor actually suggested us moving in together to see if things could work with us.” We pass by an exit for a Crossroads Boulevard as he speaks. Jake is definitely at one of those, as we all are whether we intuitively are aware of it or not.

“At first things were really working out between us, so I decided to propose to her,” he continues. “Six months into the marriage, she became verbally abusive, saying things like, ‘you can’t hold a job, loser’ and ‘why don’t you take back this crappy ring.”

In the last few weeks, he had been crashing on friends’ couches in Fort Collins and just began working in the oil field. “It’s good paying work,” he says. “And really not that hard like everyone seems to think. It’s five days on, then two off. The other day I learned how to melt piping together, sort of like welding.” He shows me using his arms how wide the pipes are (one foot in diameter?) and the process of joining aluminum piping. “We’re basically setting things up for fracking,” he says. I wonder if our automated relationships can be a metaphor for automated oil drilling, or the other way around.

He goes on to say that he met a girl at a bar recently who listens to the United Kingdom-based band Alt-J but when he listened to it, he was disappointed despite the hype she gave them. When he told her he didn’t like their sound, she sent him a text that said she was hugely pissed about this.

“Who says hugely pissed off anyways?,” he says. “I sort of knew right then that it was over, even though I’d only known this new girl for a week.”

And so is this ride (over), since we have arrived in Fort Collins. I get off near campus and hope the best for this guy; his spontaneous spirit deserves it.

IMG_3039[1]