Saturday, January 5, 2013
The Treasure State
We're driving from Seattle to White Fish, Montana, and Lindsey needs a pair of brown cowgirl boots to match her dancing dress. She's wearing a pair of bright red ones right now, extraordinary shoes, but they're not working for her. "I need brown." She laments. "Desperately."
She types in "thrift" into her phone and exclaims at the results. "Moses Lake is a town of thrift shops! Georgie's Gently used. Salvation Army. Good Will. Bargain town. BARGAIN TOWN??" She looks at me. "We. Have. To. Go."
But we can't go to Bargain Town because we need to keep chugging east down on 1-90 at full speed to hit Lookout Pass in the daylight. It's still hundreds of miles away and the weather is deteriorating. 25 degrees and snowing. In the back seat, the dog is snoozing.
Then we run empty on gas, and we pull off the highway into an old Conoco station. We're blasting our Montana Road trip theme song, Where Have All The Cowboys Gone and I leave it playing as I fill the tank and chip away at the thick crust of ice and dirt on the windshield. That's when god steps in and the car dies. It just dies. I turn the key and there's nothing- no click, no strain of engine turning, no effort.
"This doesn't make sense!" I say out loud. "I took this baby in yesterday for a complete check! I fixed a bunch of shit and they gave my car a glowing review. Look!" I fish around on the floor for a piece of paper, ball it up in my fist and wave it around. "Here's the receipt- everything I fixed. Two hundred bucks!"
But the car is dead. It appears non negotiable.
The men in the store are cowboys- the hats, the jeans, the belts. "We've found where all the cowboys are," Lindsey whispers to me. "They're in Moses Lake and they're 70 years old."
No one in the store has jumper cables, which surprises me, and I don't have jumper cables, which doesn't. But the men fashion some out of some old wires and cables and touch them to the battery while I hover in the background, ready for an explosion. My car reluctantly coughs to life.
"Sorry girls," says the man with a heavy country accent and eyes uncomfortably close together. "Got you started but your battery is shot. You need a new one if you want to get anywhere."
"Or!" I counter, detecting the makings of a delicious misadventure, "We could just keep the car running between now and Whitefish. Never turn it off!" In my head, it sounds completely doable.
The cowboys shake their heads collectively. "Can't do that," they said. "You'd have to keep the car running when you stopped for your dinner. You'd have to sleep in it." One of them takes his phone outs and dials an auto shop in town. "We got two pretty girls here from Seattle, they need your help."
Lindsey says, "Thank you!"
I say, "I don't understand! I fixed this car yesterday!"
And we drive away, following their directions, into a town that does seem to be made entirely of junk stores. And car stores. We're weaving in and out of traffic, I'm too afraid to slow down or pause at a red light.
Lindsay says, "thank you!"
I say, "I don't understand, I got the car fixed yesterday."
The man in the jump suit said, "Honey, take a look at that thing. They didn't check nothing."
"Here's the good news," says Lindsey, "We're only a mile away from Bargain Town!"
"Oh boy!" I say. "Bargain Town! Bargain Town here we come!" We're so glad that god stepped in and stranded us in Moses lake, Washington.
But the old man give us a grave look. "No no. Don't go to Bargain town. Don't do it. It's-" he pauses here, grasping for the right words. "It's the worst place in the world."
The younger guy nods solemnly. "It's the worst place."
We compromise with Georgie's Gently Used, but Georgie, apparently, had never used any brown cowgirl boots. Then we book it into Idaho, and a few hours later crawl over the icy curves of Lookout Pass. We got through in the last few minutes of twilight. Then it is completely dark. We listen to Where Have All the Cowboy Gone again.
The Johnny Cash Cover band is just starting into Ring of Fire when we finally push through the doors of the Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish.
"Five dollars," says the man at the door.
"I don't have any Cash." I say, and then say ha! and crack some Johnny Cash joke. He doesn't smile so I change tactics. "Buddy we just drove from Seattle and we broke down and here we are so you'd better let us in. "
"How did you break down?"
"That barely counts," he says, and our friends show up just in time before I clock him. They pay for us, and they buy us whiskey sours.
There is dancing and there are cowboys, younger ones than the cowboys of Moses Lake, and they stand in the bar's shadowy corners and watch Lindsey and I as we dance to Folsom Prison, arms around each other, she in her bright red boots.