While waiting for Alfano or his attorney to come up with the satellite positioning information for the Porsche, I had decided to follow the only decent lead I had. Four names had been scribbled on the back of that wrinkled and tattered state tourist map in Orlando’s laundry. The first three were gay bars and hangouts in Albuquerque. The fourth was simply “Chesty’s!!!” The three exclamation points lent that single word importance.
There was no place more likely to capture the imagination of two young gay adventurers than Chesty Westey’s Truck Stop on the Continental Divide just off I-40 in western New Mexico. I had experienced the same titillating curiosity about the place in my salad days. Immediately upon hitting the legal age, I had headed due west with pounding heart and high expectations. Frankly, when I arrived, the place scared the living hell out of me. I had heard about Eagle Bars, and while Chesty’s wasn’t labeled as such, it was nonetheless an out-and-out Bear place filled with bikers and truckers. Now, fourteen years later, I experienced the same trepidation at tackling the place, especially to ask a lot of awkward questions.
Begin to get a feel for the place? After parking, BJ enters Tia Maria’s, the truck stop’s café, for a mouthwatering meal and a short conversation with a truck driver named Tree Trunk before venturing over the arroyo to the gay bar to look up Sweetie, the manager of the joint, and ask about the two missing men.
I left the car where it was and walked across the footbridge spanning a broad, deep gully to a big, ramshackle adobe with a ten-foot neon sign on the roof modestly proclaiming it The Continental Divide Bar. It staggered the imagination to find a real leather and Levi joint out here in the hinterlands of New Spain, but here was Chesty Westey’s notorious sin palace—if you can call a half-acre mud building a palace. They said the Continental gets plenty of uniforms from the Air Force community in Albuquerque and Army boots from Ft. Huachuca over in Arizona, but it was predominately a trucker and the biker joint.
The south parking lot was full of animals, presidents, exotic metals, Swiss auto racers, and American industrialists: Cobras, Mustangs, Lincolns, Mercurys, Chevrolets, and Fords. Towering over them all were the big rigs like Tree Trunk’s long-nosed aardvark. The north lot was given over to two-wheeled chrome hogs, hog-wagons, and choppers. There was no orange Porsche Boxter in either lot.
The atmosphere hit me in the face like a pillow of wet feathers the moment I walked through the door. The air was heavy: smoke-heavy, fart-heavy, beer-heavy, sweat-heavy, with the musk of men on the make permeating everything. After buying a beer, I hauled it around on a tour of the place. The main bar was immense, meandering out of sight in two different directions, one leading to a big patio, the other to a smaller, quieter bar and thence to the back rooms.
There wasn’t a stranger around, blind or sighted, who couldn’t find the right bathroom in the Continental. A big curved brass penis mounted on the door identified the men’s side, and an embossed plaque in the shape of labia marked the women’s. Apparently everyone used the phallus as a door handle; it was worn thin, making the engorged head appear outlandishly huge.
The joint undulated like a den of writhing serpents. The clack of billiard balls and thunk of darts and an outclassed, inadequate, old-fashioned juke box laid down the beat; the talking, laughing, drinking, cussing, spitting customers and blousy waitresses, almost all of them with bolt-ons, as these people likely called boob-jobs, provided a wonderful, discordant rhythm.
Deciding it was time to make my pitch, I claimed a spot at a tiny table opposite a mountainous black man in bib overalls boasting the long, graying beard of an Old Testament patriarch. Tree Trunk had said Sweetie was his handle, but it should have been Sweaty. This guy would have perspired in an icehouse.
“What’s new, Sweet?” I went for the personal touch and lost my fist in the grip of a gigantic coal black paw.
“This ain’t your kinda joint,” he said in a high-pitched voice as effeminate as any swish-queen I’ve ever encountered.
“How do you know?”
His big rheumy eyes gave me the once-over. “Honey, you got a waistline, that’s how I know. Look around at these bozos. Ain’t a one of them even remembers where theirs is at.” He paused and read me with shrewd eyes. “’Sides, I been around long enough to know these things.” He leaned forward, bringing the odor of sweat with him. “You might like to play, but these ain’t your playmates.”
“You’re probably right. But I’m looking for two who are. Okay if I show you a couple of photos?”
He leaned back; making his reinforced chair creak. “You could be fuzz, but the aura ain’t quite right. You believe in auras?”
“Oh, yeah. Auras…energy…whatever you want to call them.”
“Yours is yellow. Goes to green sometimes, but mostly yellow. I’d say that makes you an okay dude except I keep getting a flash of tin. You a cop?”
“Used to be. I’m private now. And I’m not looking to jam up these two guys. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve got a right to live their own lives.”
“Amen to that, brother. All right, show me the pictures.” The giant’s eyes lit up when I handed them over. “Oh, them sweethearts.”
And just like that, BJ has his first lead…one that ultimately takes him all over Northern New Mexico.
Next week: We’re working our way toward Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Maybe we’ll get there next week…if something doesn’t interfere.
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.