Round ‘Em Up, Head ‘Em Out

Today’s audio update: Alexandra Fuller contemplates the vastness of the American West.

Our revels now are ended.…
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

—from The Tempest, by William Shakespeare

Twin traditions of a small town: city government and a bar

There is something philosophically redundant and self-important about traveling 2,682 miles in two weeks and hoping that in that length of time I can write something coherent or meaningful about the places I have visited and the people whom I have met all in daily 700-word dispatches. Two weeks ago, I started in Wyoming—one person with all the prejudice and humor and love and opinions of one island-stranded human—and I have ended (as is probably proper) in Mexico. “Guerrilla tourism” is how my companion on this trip has described what we have done. We have driven down the length of the continental United States and swallowed both ground and people too quickly to digest them. I regurgitate my thoughts and ideas based on my life, my education, and my current state of mind. It is no real reflection of what I see—only a mirror into myself.

It is our last morning together, and Christian is in a thoughtful mood (read: hungover) as he sips his coffee. I am dutifully hunched over my computer trying to make sense of what I wrote last night, which seemed brilliant after a bottle of wine but in the cold light of day has revealed itself to be nothing but drunken gibberish.

“What is the opposite of the ‘key to the city’?” asks Christian.

“I don’t know,” I reply, frowning at my screen. “The ‘boot to the city’ perhaps?”

“Because that’s what we’re getting everywhere we’ve gone.”

Christian lists off the towns we’ve visited on our quest to follow the Outlaw Trail—from Kaycee, Wyo., to Silver City, N.M.—and cites the reasons why we can never again show our faces in any of them. He pauses and then amends our widespread unwelcome ever so slightly. “Well, maybe we’d be welcome in Mogollon,” he concedes, referring to the almost-ghost town we visited yesterday, a place currently populated with residents whom society, in general, might kindly refer to as “misfits.” Ah, it is the old cliché. Christian and I have become the outlaws who were the subjects of our study.

For my part, I shall blame last night on the waiter. We were, at evening’s well-intentioned start, at a very small restaurant/bookshop run by two men, one of whom seemed to do little except slouch in a low armchair at the head of the restaurant and glower at his customers over the top of a bodice-ripper romance novel, while the other squirreled about anxiously in his capacity as waiter. And it was he, the waiter, who wore in his left ear a small chandelier as an earring—a victory of cheerful eccentricity over the constraints of conservative menswear.

Bo prepares to run the table

There was something about the courage of this outlandish fashion gesture that inspired us to abandon caution to the wind and, on the way back to our hotel from the restaurant, Christian and I led each other into the smokiest, dingiest bar on the street. “Let’s play pool,” I said, forgetting for a moment that I’d never held a cue stick in my life. “Let’s,” agreed Christian recklessly.

Somehow (and it may have been the inspiration afforded by the wine) I won three rounds of pool, which put me in such a celebratory mood that I danced the two-step, inasmuch as I can dance a two-step, with both a cowboy and a man who claimed to be an Apache chief, although not at the same time.

In my feeble defense, I have been on the Outlaw Trail for two solid weeks—something had to give. Christian and I have driven the length of the continental United States together and, like the men and women whose long-ago lives we have been following, there comes a time when a person has to let their hair down.