I was standing on the street corner outside the Crossroads Bar looking at the road signs when a man walked up to me and introduced himself as Dundee Ragland. When we got done shaking hands, I looked back to the road signs. One said CR 19 and the other CR 54, and I could believe that, but I wasn’t sure if the name he’d given me was real or not.
He was wearing broken-in Carhartts and a long-sleeve flannel shirt, work boots, and a wool hat. I decided I didn’t care about the name.
Right around then he asked me for a cigarette. I didn’t have one to give him, on account of how I don’t smoke, and I told him so. Instead of moving on down the road or stepping into the bar, he crossed his arms over his chest and directed his gaze at the street signs I’d been eyeing. Then he asked me what I was doing standing in the rain.
It wasn’t much rain. I was looking through it toward a bend in the road—County Road 54—that led into town. The town was in Colorado, near the Wyoming line, with one end snugged up against the foothills, the other facing the plains, and the middle sprawled carelessly along either side of an old highway that didn’t see much use anymore.
Past the bend in the road I could see the soft glow of the few streetlights on the underside of the clouds. Closer in, a line of cottonwoods planted as a windbreak stood out against the dark sky. The leaves were turning and some were falling along with the rain into the tall grass growing out of the shallow ditches cut along the sides of the road.
I was looking at all that and thinking about winter when I answered. “Would you believe I’m not really sure?”
“Yeah, I’d believe that.”
I looked to see if he was messing with me, but he wasn’t. We stood awhile looking at the road signs and the trees and the rain falling onto the rusted farm implements parked in the corners of the fields. The air felt good, cold and clean. It was good to look through, good to breathe.
After a time the wind picked up and the rain started coming down harder.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” Dundee said, “but I’m thirsty. You want a drink?” Since he’d already opened the door, I walked through it.
Nothing much happened in there. Dundee bought a couple rounds and we talked. We were both wanderers, had more stories than possessions, worked seasonal jobs and moved around a lot, kept most of our stuff in basements belonging to friends and family. We’d been to some of the same places, at different times, and that was fun to talk about, for a minute. But then the past ran out and we were faced with the present.
Maybe the road was losing some of its allure now that we’d been enough places that some of them started seeming the same, or maybe it was the conversations with friends and brothers and sisters who were more and more often married or becoming parents had started getting less comfortable. Or maybe it was just that we were getting older and sleeping on floors and couches wasn’t as easy and comfortable as it once was.
It wasn’t necessarily that we wanted off the road right then, that night, but I heard in his stories what I heard in mine: a creeping suspicion, almost a fear, that a time would come when we’d want to stop traveling, stop wandering, and find that it was all we knew, that having learned how to move and keep moving we’d lost the skills necessary to stay in one place.
Neither one of us said any of this aloud, of course, since we were just getting used to hearing it inside our own heads, but the thought hovered in the air over the bar, dampening our spirits.
So Dundee didn’t look surprised when instead of accepting a third beer I shook his hand and walked out of the bar into the small town rain falling through a night that was warmer than the place I’d just been and cooler than where I was going. It was nice there between the mountains and the plains, and I had friends and family in the area, but it didn’t feel like home. I walked toward my car and wondered if I would recognize home if I saw it, wondered if I’d been wrong all along—that home wasn’t something you found, but something you made.
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