Late Wednesday evening, I was on the last leg of a very long day from Longview, Washington to Clark Fork, Idaho. I was the only car on the secondary highway east of Sandpoint and it was dark. I was pooped. Then I heard the sound. It seemed to come from inside me, and then all around me. A low groan, not human. It was a spaceship! Momentarily I would be abducted into the bowels of the beast, where skinny little grey guys would start doing unspeakable experiments on my innocent body. The noise got louder and then stabilized … to my right. I looked over there and all I saw was black. Suddenly, a string of lights rose up and a train blasted past me in the opposite direction. Whew! No internal organ inspection today. The tracks had been way below the level of the highway and hidden by trees, but then they climbed up, revealing the terrors. I got to the motel shaken but still in possession of all my limbs and digits.
I slept the sleep of the dead and knew that coffee would be the solution to my traumas. The gentleman at the front desk said there was a café just down the street, so off I went. I walked through the door of the Cabinet Mountain Bar and Grill wearing my “I’m The Crazy Uncle Everyone Warned You About” T-shirt and yellow short shorts. Three guys in outdoor work clothes looked up from their table. “So you’re an uncle. Nice shirt.” “Yeah, it’s pretty cool. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law gave it to me.” A little smile in return. They returned to their conversation and I perused the menu. I read about sports in Bonner County and news about kids who had entered 4H competitions. One girl had raised a goat for meat and now it was hard to let him go. I enjoyed the read, as well as my ham and eggs, hash browns and brown toast.
My friends across the way were engaging in topics of which I knew nothing. “That offroad forklift handled the whole thing but geez it was expensive – 10000 bucks.” And one fellow talked about how long it took to fill his swimming pool. And then Person A at Table 1 started razzing Person D at Table 2. D gave it back to A in spades. And so the fun unfolded. Our waitress bipped from table to table, smiling. I had great fun. Just normal people leading their lives. The fact that I hadn’t had many of their experiences was irrelevant. After my meal had mysteriously disappeared we all had a good talk, including how best to get from Clark Fork to Cranbrook, BC. We blathered on about stereotypes. I mentioned a trip I took through Southern Ontario and New York, where I assumed Canadian drivers would mosey along with me at the speed limit while as soon as I crossed into the States, Americans would tailgate me mercilessly. So much for assumptions. The reality proved to be just about the opposite. I think the guys enjoyed my story.
Long later, after I had worked my way through Idaho, BC and Alberta, I was sitting in the kitchen of Ray Doram in Lethbridge. Joy had gone to work. Ray spun a tale about his dad Joe. When Ray was 5 or so, he was looking up at the stars with dad. “You know, son, the stars look even better when you see them through the sleeve of a coat.” “Oh.” “Let’s try it.” And as young Ray gazed up through the tunnel of fabric at the silver dots, dear dad poured a pitcher of water down the hole! Ray and I doubled over, him with a great memory, me with newbie astonishment.
So it was a day. Plenty more to come.