dontravis.com blog post #336
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Thank you for putting up with my personal grief last week. Your indulgence helped me a great deal.
This week, I’d like to get back to some fiction. The following is a short story in four parts, each installment a bit long for a post, but once again I ask you to stay with me.
By the way, I return to the Eagle Bar on the Continental Divide for the first part of this story. You may recall that readers were introduced to the bear bar by BJ Vinson, the protagonist in my second book in the BJ Vinson mystery series, The Bisti Business.
I-40 West out of Albuquerque climbed to a bright blue sky for nine straight miles, and then more or less kept its head up all the way to the Continental Divide in western New Mexico. I’d trucked it so many times, I could handle it with my eyes closed, and over the last ten years might well have done just that once or twice. But now my bobtail was gone, and I was wrangling a brand new Dodge Ram extended cab three-quarter ton. Felt funny going cross-country without looking down from a rig on ordinary citizens in four-wheelers and pickups. Heck, now I was one of them guys.
I set my cruise control and thumbed my nose at all the plain wrappers and blue wrappers and county Mounties that used to give me goose bumps. There’s a little less tension when there’s not a load for the tin-toters and DT’s to check. I could drive twenty-four hours straight, and it wasn’t nobody’s business…unless I got foolish and wiped up the road with my new wheels. Took some getting used to. The first two days out, I automatically started checking my back door when I came up on ten hours of straight driving. I guess it comes down to once a trucker, always a trucker.
The other side of that’s true, too. Once a bear, always a bear. So the first roadside billboard for Chesty Westey’s Truck Stop advertising fuel, mechanics, clean rooms, hot showers, and anything else a tired trucker might crave revved my motor a little. The second, ten miles down the road, highlighted Tia Maria’s Homestyle Cooking, and everything they claimed about it was true. Pure ‘Grandma’ cooking, and it didn’t matter if your grandma was named Lucy or Amée or Sooky or Esther or Wu…old Marie Tuxburry whipped up meals like all of them.
The last sign was a garish plug for the Continental Divide Eagle Bar that sprawled beyond the arroyo behind the truck stop. The filling station and café and mini motel that came before were merely lures to the gigantic bear den where truckers and bikers and military men co-existed like bosom buddies, not the natural adversaries they were. What made the difference? The bar, of course. Or more accurately, the bears that hibernated there.
Nobody’s ever been able to adequately define a bear for me. For every hairy hulk, I can show you one without a pelt. For every beer belly, I can show you a waist thick with muscles. For every giant, I can locate a midget. It’s the attitude, I think. A good-buddy, live-and-let-live philosophy most of us possess. Now, sometimes, something can upset that formula, like too much alcohol or a roving cub…or even a woman now and then. But at Chesty Westey’s, the Peterbuilts nuzzle Hogs flanked by Jeeps as peaceably as their navigators get along behind its adobe walls.
After I’d washed up and topped off the gas tank at the truck stop, I pushed through the heavy front doors of the Eagle. The blue wall of smoke parted like the Red Sea as I crossed the threshold and then swirled to enfold me in the comfortable miasma of the den…men, alcohol, chicken fried steaks, and sex. I was home. In the momentary blindness of the deep gloom, the rumble of conversation, clink of glass, and throaty laughter of bar-maids rendered me deaf. Constant, shadowed, undulating motion made me think of a vast boiling cauldron.
As a veteran, I knew enough to detour to the left of the big double doors to pay court to the shapeless mass of black flesh decked out in cotton field-blue bib overalls that must have been cut out of a tent.
“Sweetie,” I addressed the Queen of Sheba who had managed the joint for as long as I had been coming here on cross-country hauls. I suspected most people figured this gargantuan hulk came by his name by virtue of his high-pitched voice and outrageous feminine mannerisms; I happened to know, it was a corruption of the dude’s last name, Sweetwater.
The shining ebony mound quivered, gave a loud gasp, and flashed an ivory smile that reminded me of a chipped keyboard. “Vince Lozander!” he shrieked. “As I live and breathe! Where have you been, you luscious mass of man muscle? Sit your bear ass down right here and bring Sweetie up to date!”
Sliding into a chair behind a ridiculously small table, I complied. “I threw in the towel, Sweetie. Sold the old bobtail. Got tired of dodging Mounties and alligators and the Transportation dicks.”
The black raisins that served as the man’s eyes glittered. “You send all them Transportation dicks you don’t want old Sweetie’s way. I take care of them for you.”
“Now, Sweetie, you know I mean dicks as in pricks…not as in dongs.”
The manager gave a shrill giggle. “All the same to me, honey. But what you gonna do with your cute ass if it ain’t riding the saddle?”
“Opening a produce store near San Diego. Been hauling the stuff for years, so now I’ll let it haul me all the way to retirement.”
“Gonna miss your pretty face in this old cave. You better haul ass back here now and then to keep up with your buds.”
“Sweetie, you’re the only person in the world who considers me pretty. Now bring me up to date on everybody.”
The man absently stroked his long, grey-flecked Methuselah beard as he gave me news on truckers he knew were important to me, people like Tree Trunk Martone, Hillbilly Dawson, and Pardo Folsom. Half an hour, a gallon of beer, and a bucket of sweat later—Sweetie would sweat at the North Pole—he finished his newscast.
“Anything new and interesting?”
Sweetie rolled his eyes and pursed his chocolate pudding lips, motioning across the cavernous expanse of the bar’s main room, merely one of the many in the meandering adobe building. “I’m trying to figure that one out. He don’t belong.”
My gaze fixed on a young man who, from this distance, appeared to be a twink…a creature ill-fitted to a bear den like this. “What’s his story?”
“Dunno. He wandered in around noon and been cadging drinks ever since. But he’s sly about it. At first he bought his own, but when he flashed an empty wallet, the guys started springing. These sweethearts can’t stand to see a man run dry…know what I mean?”
“Yeah.” And I did. This cave’s denizens didn’t go for leaches, but they were quick to help a guy down on his luck. Wondering what tale the kid was feeding them, I lumbered to my feet. “Gonna make the rounds now, Sweetie. Catch you later.”
“Behave,” he gave his customary benediction.
With a mug of fresh beer in hand, I circulated, talking to a few good-buddies and meeting new ones. Trading blue blazers with this bunch passed some pleasant time. Eventually, I confronted the young stranger Sweetie had pointed out. Up close, he was pretty, saved from being girlish by an intriguing Adam’s apple. He was definitely a fish out of water. A smoothie in a bear den was apt to be tossed out on his ear. The kid’s blond thatch wasn’t a military haircut, but he could have been an underclassman at UNM who wandered in from Albuquerque by mistake. On impulse, I stuck out my hand. He met my grip and tried to leverage it, but he was no match for my big mitt. He couldn’t have stood more than five-ten and weighed one-seventy or less. Downright puny. Of course, his body had more definition than anyone else in the joint, including the Air Force MPs from Kirtland and the grunts from Fort Huachuca over in Arizona. Maybe he aspired to be one of those male dancers they had in the Blue Room but was too shy to ask Sweetie for a job. For some screwy reason the bears I know like their men big and beefy, and probably with lots of hair, but they go nuts cheering slender-hipped boy dancers on weekends.
“Vince Lozander,” I offered.
“Davy,” he responded with a boyish grin. “Davy Winston.”
“What brings you to the Eagle?” I asked affably.
“Hitching, and I thought the truck stop looked interesting.”
“Bet you didn’t know it was a bear den. Must have been a shock when you came through the door.”
He laughed aloud, lighting up his good-looking face. “Especially when I ran into that big black gorilla guarding the door. Thought for a minute he wasn’t gonna let me in. Looked at my driver’s license real hard.”
“Sweetie manages the place, and he takes his job very seriously. You don’t have a glass in your hand. What’re you drinking?”
I bought a pitcher and led the kid through the main bar into one of the side rooms where the noise level was a decibel or two lower and the smoke cloud was a mite thinner. We found an unoccupied table and settled in. In a nutshell, Davy was thumbing his way to California to visit a college buddy. He’d left Texas after the car plant where he was working cut production. “Outsourced,” he announced with a nose wrinkled in disdain.
It was soon obvious he was fishing for a ride, but I wasn’t ready to commit. Now if he had another fifty pounds and a mat of fur, he’d already be in the cab of my pickup. Still, there was something about the good-looking fucker that intrigued…an air about him. There was a mystery here yet to be revealed.
A twink in a bear bar. What could go wrong?
Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!
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See you next week.
New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.