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"We're West if, indeed, we're anywhere at all."

The Schooner runs quiet as a ghost. Inside, The Muse and I listen to old jazz, Gene Krupa pounding away on his jungle drums through Bennie Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing. We could be front row center at that famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, flopping to feral rhythms. Just outside, a wonderland passes by around us, with high mountain wildflowers punctuating our smooth passage. We quite literally bop through Steamboat and out onto the great basin country beyond, a landscape defined by uplifts, which naturally lift up our spirits, and spirits we seem to become. A town out there is defined as any relatively wide spot featuring a sign. Several of these exhibit no clear signs of life, but they apparently warrant a sign anyway. A scrappy ex-building or two might show where once some enterprising entrepreneur made a go of something, but the cafe sign seems permanently faded and the gas pumps have gone missing. I suspect that most of these "places" have become ghost towns now.

I think it only fitting that we flit between ghost towns out here because we seem to pass as ghosts, too.
The mountain sheep clustering along the verge don't seem to flinch a muscle as we pass. In perfect mirroring echo, we capture little more than the sort of glimpse that leaves us wondering if we really saw anything at all. Other travelers seem similarly ghostly, them passing us or us passing them, into and out of existence like whims. Vistas open and close like so much smoke wafting on some particularly lazy breeze. We pass a place out on the Utah oil patch called Gusher and imagine a temporary boom town once overtook that willow and sweet grass draw. Rusty history stands piled and derelict where impossible dreams once promised to permanently come true. We breeze through, hardly there before we're gone, another goofy jazz song lubricating our passage. "I don't want sweet cakes and rye bread, you heard what I said …"

The Muse and I might say we're traveling, but we might be ghosting instead. Secure at home, nobody notices our presence there, either. One might reasonably wonder after one's own existence everywhere. Here and gone like a particle/wave duality, our wake might rustle a roadside sunflower stalk or two, but little confirms our passage through. We stop not quite long enough to make an impression and barely long enough to gain any impression of the place we parked. A few hot cars ticking in the lot, we might have left before we arrived, though The Muse snagged a replacement for that map she found so dissatisfying. Opening it as we reentered the forward flow, she found it identical to what she already had. Two ineffectual maps failing to meaningfully illustrate the ghostly landscape, we continue forward, always forward. If time could move us backwards, we'd be crossing over into the promised land about then. Moving forward, we seem to experience what those promises eventually amounted to: a rusty trap wagon, a crooked cafe sign, a twin-trailered tanker truck grumbling up an eternally steep incline.

We seem perfectly suspended inside our vehicle. My water bottle seems to empty itself and that three hundred road mile ache settles into my lower back. It looks like an utterly perfect day outside and we're on an inside looking out like flies trapped in amber passing through. Fossils inhabit this gritty country. I suspect that unknowing fossils drive through it now, footprints of diesel smoke and whispering tires which leave no permanent mark on fresh asphalt pavement. We calculate our projected arrival time and invest an hour investigating where we might stop for supper. All the choices seem suboptimal. I imagine a ghostly bar and grill set out beneath an ancient cottonwood. Two dented touring cars permanently inhabiting a dusty parking lot. Inside, a red faced man in a bloody apron welcomes us. We choose the chops and the cabbage salad and he fronts us a couple of drafts. The food disappears almost before he sets the steaming plates before us. We can't remember ever feeling so satisfied before.

That ghostly bar and grill might have never existed for all the hardpan cares. Once the sand blows away, a pebbly substrata more permanently paves the desert floor. Before, the landscape seems blowing sand, slipping through even the most desperate hands. The stage coach might have never passed through here, favoring more promising routes to the North. The railroad never once considered this passage. Airplanes might not even exist for all the relevance they hold here. Us, too, seem distinctly insubstantial when set up against cliff faces dating themselves in eons. We're hardly the blink of an eye, passed before we even thought to pass by. By evening, we'll re-inhabit that seemingly same room in that now familiar hotel. The Wasatch will glower down on us and the sunset will seem to creep backwards down their foreshortened faces. We left East far behind us. We're West if, indeed, we're anywhere at all.

"Waiter, please serve mine fried
I want the frim fram sauce with the Ausen fay
With chafafa on the side"
(Joseph Ricardel / Redd Evans)

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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