"You ever get blown off?"
I lifted my head and turned his way.
"Sorry?" I said. Unsure if I'd missed some chunk of context... or if I was being very bluntly and awkwardly propositioned.
"You ever have someone... just, like... bail on you?"
I looked at him. Mid 30's. A round ruddy face. Tweed driving cap perched upon curly reddish hair.
"Yeah," I said. "I have."
I'd been fading in and out of the conversation. In that weird limbo of seeking proximity to people but also seeking respite. I wanted to be near them... but didn't really want to engage. He'd been talking to me fairly steadily for the past 15 minutes. I'd been only present for only about three of them, max. The rest of the time I was lost to my own head doing what it does. Watching shades of people move around the room. Watching them shine or quicken. Fade or slow.
Or looking at my phone in the universal gesture of "not really into talking at the moment."
He was undeterred.
"She won't even talk to me. You know? Like... won't answer her phone... won't respond to emails... nothing." Shaking his head.
"That's pretty intense," I said. Watching his ghosts... Wondering only absently what the story was...
Meanwhile catapulted into my own.
Yeah... I'd been blown off before.
|Insert topically unrelated picture here to break up word clusters and make reading more palatable for people.|
(artwork by Stephen Hayes and ganked from my recent feature in Dirt Rag. Subscribe, fools. )
There was only a very small part of me that momentarily wondered what it is that makes some people open up to total strangers in this way. The rest of me understood.
Maybe some level of anonymity. Maybe the kind of thing he wouldn't, and likely couldn't, admit to friends....whether because of embarrassment or the politics of friendship. The kind of thing he didn't want to pay to tell a shrink... but needed to get out there.
Keeping it inside... was tearing him up.
So why not the stranger on the stool next to him.
Even as the arch-duke of public oversharing, I got that.
And while I just wanted to drink my beer in peace... And didn't really want to play drunk-therapy to a stranger in a Memphis bar... I turned on my stool toward him and asked the question:
"So what happened?"
Meanwhile... Somewhere in Texas...
The rocks in Palo Duro were sun baked and warm. I gingerly placed my bruised face and cheek against the cliff wall; An admittedly bizarre rite that has meaning only for me... but is undoubtedly absurd looking to any casual observers.
But there were no observers. Just me.
There was bustle below, in the base of the canyon. A running race. Oddly enough, almost twenty years ago... in another life...back when I fancied myself an Ultra-Runner... I'd passed through Palo Duro before and encountered the exact same race.
Whatever the movement below... up here there was no one. Just a warm breeze. I sat on the ledge and stared out into the gap. Trying to soak in as much of this as I could. Filling stores that might get me through the next few months.
After my ride yesterday, I'd prepared to leave. To drive roughly an hour or so away to another state park. Part of the same canyon system, but more remote. But sunset was coming. And the chances of my making it to the next park in time to see it were slim. And I didn't want to be somewhere on the road when it happened. So I decided to hang out. Watch it from here. Set off after dark. Pull in late.
Parking near the bathhouse, looking for a shower to clean off the red patina of dust that covered me from head to toe, a man approached me. "You the guy looking for a spot to camp?"
Indeed I was. The campground was full. The footrace. People from all over. Hence my arrangement to camp elsewhere. But someone had overheard me talking in the park office and word had spread.
"You can just park with me, man" he said.
He turned in early. And I sat by the fire a little longer with some bourbon...and with my own complicated and complex feelings about things. And eventually crawled in my van and slept.
The next morning, after drinking my coffee and eating my O's, I set off to find more sun and rock. Even though some of the trails would be off limits tomorrow, I'd ride the ones that weren't. Climb to the rim of the canyon again and follow the narrow path I'd seen up there.
|Those Yonder Journal boyz are pretty damned funny.|
|You obstinate fucker.|
|I... am gigantic.|
(and, incidentally, very funny)
|(and according to sources... a selfie obsessed tween girl)|
Interlude: A brief word on selfies.
It's not vanity. I know it seems absurd, but it really isn't. Vanity implies self-love. There's nothing like that happening here, I assure you.
I'm sure it's partly my mom's fault. Some early lecture when we were kids about how film was expensive and if we were really going to take a million pictures of the backyard, to at least put someone in the picture. And she's not wrong.
I can't imagine a scenario where I ever add to the world's store of great landscape photos. Because real photographer I am not. I'm just a moron riding my bike and snapping brief, shitty pictures with my phone. So I tend to put other shit in the pictures. People. And because I'm a lone-ferret... I often tend to be the only person around to put in the picture.
And I mean... Look at the picture above. Now... remove me. Sure, it's a pretty rock and all... but it's also a pretty fucking boring photo.
Yeah... we all look stupid taking pictures of ourself. And yeah...we all have that one friend. The one whose Instagram feed is a thousand iterations of the same picture. And looks like this...
|Yeah, I fully committed to this... |
It took almost ten minutes... which was entirely too many.
And come on... even the most self-despising of us still has a morbid fascination with seeing photos of ourselves, whether we admit it or not. A "is that really what I look like?" thing.
|Do I look like this?"|
|"Or like this?"|
(Speaking of which.... You know what sucks? When someone looks at a particularly terrible photo and says "Oh! This is a good one of you!")
And you realize... how the rest of the world views you... and that you truly are as unattractive as you feared.
Also, for whatever the reason... selfies tend to get the most likes on Instagram. Who the fuck knows why?
Back to Texas...
After exploring every nook of the canyon I could, I sat in the sun and drank a beer... and reluctantly... started east. Unsure where I would even end up that night.
Driving down a random street in Oklahoma City, looking for coffee, I spotted a tree full of bikes. The first indication that maybe something beyond my scope was happening here.
Who knows what sets us off? What flicks the switch inside our brains? What starts the unraveling? Sometimes it's circumstance. Absence. Proximity. Sometimes emotion. Sometimes confusion. Sometimes an exploded burrito.
Whatever the case, I was beginning my unraveling.
I hear that epileptics have a thing called an "aura." This thing they see or feel before the onset of a seizure. While I can't say I've ever experienced a seizure... not in any traditional sense, at least... I think I know a little about these auras. I call them "clouds." And I know when they're building. You can feel it. The light in your vision changes. Like there's a filter over it. Your air gets heavy. Thunder rumbles inside you.
And then the lightning arcs through your head.
It's difficult to explain. But if you know, you know. And while most nights I can outdrink it... alcoholic torpor crossing the finish-line before suicidal ardor... some nights you get beat. And tonight... if I didn't surround myself with people, then I'd likely lose sight of my life-lines. Whether I wanted to or not. Storms a comin'.
So I drove past my would-be campground. Into Tulsa. Up to the bar at Prairie Brewing. Where I sat and...thought. Surrounded by, but not engaging people.
From there, I wandered up the busy street... to a bar called the Sound Pony. Noise and chaos. A band. An aggressive woman.
Tulsa. My experience was fleeting, to say the least. A moment in time.
But head-space aside... I liked it. There was bustle and energy. Young people.
Greensboro... sometimes it seems to be the most bizarrely devoid of young people place I've ever seen. At least... young people like me.
(Editor's note: Watts... firstly, you are fucking 40. Whether or not you conduct yourself like a goddamned 16 year old, you are not young. Secondly..."like you?" More people like you is a fucking nightmare. Think "world destruction.")
I admit... The Sound Pony might be my favorite bar in the country right now. That... is a big deal.
|The only picture I took at Sound Pony that even kind of turned out.|
And this is part of why I get lost. Finding those pins on a map that you'd have never considered. Finding the extraordinary in the mundane. In so many ways, it helps me get a better perspective on my own town. The one I bitch about all the time. Make the comparisons. Why do I like fucking Tulsa, OK more than Greensboro? What did it have that we really don't? Or...is it all really just me? Because here I was, on the road... doing that thing that supposedly makes me happy... and still battling demons. Not to be too terribly trite... but "wherever you go, there you are" has some truth to it.
If you visited me in Greensboro, I could make shit look great. Take you on a great ride. Eat at a great restaurant. Drink at a great bar. Hang out at a great bike shop. (The owner's a psycho, though.)
I ate some breakfast at Bramble. Bloody Marys and coffee. More coffee at Dilly Diner. Then headed off. To Bentonville, AR. I'd gotten rained out before, but the weather looked quite fine. I pulled into town and having ridden SlaughterPen, went to find the Back 40; one of the newer trails being cut there.
It proved a bit elusive... the first time the MTB Project App has let me down in the least. Taking me to random points in various neighborhoods and saying "you're here!" Here being someone's house. Or a gravel road.
Finally, I figured it out and started riding... immediately coming up on a Westy parked on the side of the road. There I met Dawn... who was doing the same thing I was... tooling around the mid-west, but in reverse. She'd had problems finding the trailhead too... hence parked on the side of the road.
She gave me intel on other places to check out... became my Instafriend... and I set off to ride the Back 40.
Post ride, I walked down to Pedaler's Pub for a beer and curry fries. But was super bummed to discover they were closed. After an early dinner at Tusk and Trotter, I stopped in for a red-eye at the fascinating Onyx, and I saw a stray social media post from Mike Ferrentino that they were at the Pedaler's Pub. Well shit. I'd intended to ninja camp further down the road, but what the hell... I walked down and crashed Bike's private party.
|The owner of Pedaler's Pub. Who has a damned good thing going here.|
|Bryce and the Butcher. |
This is not a photograph.
The next morning, ordering a coffee at Onyx, the pretty barista smiled and said, "Watts, right?"
Huh. I was already a regular.
Bentonville is another one of those bizarre, unique pins on the map. And my feelings about it are conflicted. And not just because of the time I got copped. The riding is excellent. A good mix of fast, flow and tech. Take your rigid SS. Take your XC bike. Take your Trail bike (whatever the fuck that even means anymore). The food and drink is superb. Tusk and Trotter. Pedaler's Pub. Pressroom. Onyx. The Hive.
But all of it... is Walmart affluence. And regardless of however much has been invested in making Bentonville the cultural hub that it is... it's all still built on Walmart's aggressive destruction of culture in every other pocket of the country.
So yay for Bentonville and all the trails and food and art and pretty baristas and shit.
But it comes at the expense of worker's rights and cultural identity everywhere else. And that kind of sucks.
Fuck. You. Walmart.
|Again... Random picture to break up the words.|
From Bentonville to Memphis. To a bar. Where a stranger told me his story.
"So what happened?"
And the answer was... he didn't know. She just... disappeared. Stopped texting. Stopped emailing.
It was already complicated, he said. There were...other people involved. And sometimes...it got messy. "You know?"
Yeah... I knew. I knew pretty fucking well.
"What if... she's just... done with me?" he asked. Not because I had an answer for him, but because he just needed to say it out loud.
I answered anyway. "What if she isn't? What if... she's just dealing with her own shit? Processing in her own way Maybe... that's how she copes with shit. Shuts down for a while. I... I've... known people like that."
"I... Maybe?" He paused. "I just want to talk to her, you know? Figure out where she's at. If she's ok."
"Yeah, man. I know."
"You think... I should keep trying? Or do you think that will just push her away?"
"Fuck... man, that's not really something I can answer. But... for what it's worth... it's what I'd do. Even if it wasn't the right thing. Sometimes... you can't help it."
"What if she... never speaks to me again?"
"What if she does? Man... I don't know you. And you don't know me. But personally? I'd rather feel stupid for chasing the things I want... than feel stupid for not chasing them. And if you want her. You tell her. Even if she can never want you the same way. And even if... you don't know if she can hear you."
He sighed. Stared into his glass. I did the same. Both of us a thousand miles away from some stool in a bar.
Once upon a time... after picking myself up off a bloody bathroom floor... I made a promise. That from that point on, I would chase the things I want and feel... at all costs.
To live any other way... seems tantamount to being dead.
Me? I'm kind of done being dead for a while.