Old Dogs

WELCOME HOME


damn
it was hot
as I stumbled
with my backpack
up
the exit ramp

I had just
been dumped
by a man
and his wife
who had picked me up
outside of Laramie

apparently
I had made
the woman uncomfortable
so her apologetic husband
opted to unload me
a few hundred miles
ahead
of schedule

possibly
it was my comment
about land rape
and sodomy

he did give me
a guilt-ridden ten spot
which
with some pocket change
represented my total
monetary assets

at least
he had dropped me
at an interchange
but as I reached
the overpass
I saw
that the facilities
were a meager
few

diner - closed
motel - closed
and a gas station
that was either open
or abandoned in haste
leaving the inventory
free for the taking
and as I
headed toward it
the depressing twangs
of some country western tune
reached out to me
through the dust

I yelled
a friendly greeting
as I entered
the office
but received
no reply

I stuck
my head
into the garage bay
where a large
ventilation fan
kept the torrid air
from stagnating
into a cloud
of death

no one
was there
but evidence of recent
mechanical endeavors
littered the floor
tools
parts
greasy rags
surrounded
fresh tire tracks
leading out
of the oily muck
into the Wyoming
wasteland

back in
the noisy office
I turned off the radio
and spotted
the pop machine
behind the counter
so inserted the coins
and grabbed a cold can
before going back out front
to stand beneath
the corrugated canopy
and scan around
hoping to find
some signs
of life

in the distance
I saw a vehicle
nearing on the two lane
that defined the intersection
with the interstate

it appeared
to be an older
model truck
and as it grew closer
I could make out
a single occupant
who signaled a turn
into the station lot
even though
there was no one
for miles around
to witness the gesture
but me

the trucked stopped
under the shade
of the sheet metal
and before the dust
from the graveled lot
had a chance
to settle
a man
somewhere in his 60's
I'd guess
stepped from the vehicle
and eyed me suspiciously
but as he neared
be began to smile
and offered
a tentative
wave

"car break down
young fella?"

apparently
he was the owner
and he seemed
friendly enough
but I knew
from experience
to carefully hedge my bet
with these rural types
so I quickly assumed
a deferential pose
as I explained
my situation

"no sir
just hitching through
but my last ride
would only take me
as far as
here"

he nodded
as he passed
into the office
and I followed
him in
as he got
a cold drink
for himself
and I watched
as he sucked down
the whole thing
in what seemed
one prolonged
swallow

"ahhh
that's better

well
they didn't
do you any favor
dropping you
here
did they?

which way
you headed
son?"

he threw
the empty can
in a graceful arc
into a trash container
then stepped
into the garage
where he firmly closed
the overhead door
locked the latch
and turned off
the light

"west
sir
as far
as I can get

I have
some people
on the coast"

he removed
a large ring of keys
from the counter drawer
and locked the cash register
before flipping over
the open/closed sign
as we headed
out the door

"well boy
I'll tell you what
I'm heading to Rawlings
on a parts run
and you can
ride along
if it suits you"

it suited me
just fine
and I followed him out
as he tossed a few things
into the office
before locking up
I laid my backpack
in the truck bed
and waited beside
the passenger door
as he finished
securing
his business

he climbed
into the cab
motioned for me
to do the same
then started the engine
with a cloud of smoke
put the relic
into gear
and we rolled
out of the lot
accelerating rapidly
down the entrance ramp
and onto the freeway
heading west
into the sun

during the drive
he jabbered nonstop
with a multitude
of folksy tales
and worn
advice

get a steady job
find a nice girl
settle down
and raise
a family

but
all his talking
passed the time
quickly
and soon
we were slowing
for the Rawlings exit
and I decided
to go into town
with him
and grab
a bite to eat
before resuming
my westward
trek

at my request
he pulled into
a cafe parking lot
but before
I got out
he tossed
a twenty at me
and as I clumsily
retrieved the bill
and stuffed it
into my pocket
he had already
gotten out
and retrieved my pack
walking around
the old truck
to hand it to me
as I got out

"thanks
a lot sir
for the ride
and the cash
it's really too much
but I can't deny
that I need it"

he waved off
my feeble thanks
jumped into the pickup
and sped into traffic
in a hurry
no doubt
to get his parts
before closing time

maybe
I would need
to seriously reassess
my long held notions
of country folk

the
next morning
in Green River
I shook my head
as the sheriff again
accused me
of murdering
some rancher's wife
but no one would believe
my unsupportable
alibi

my bucolic
benefactor
had really hung
a good one
on me
and must have
still been laughing
about the hapless hippie
that he had
so neatly
framed

they had found
some of her jewelry
at the bottom
of my pack
and a bloody shirt
that used
to be mine
next to the body
at the scene

my prospects
did not look
very promising

the West Coast
would have
to wait awhile
as it was starting
to look
as if I'd be settling
in Wyoming
near term

howdy pard