Western Travels

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Fortune smiles on the kind-hearted intrepid traveler. His plane rolls into the arrival gate not at 8:40 p.m. but at 7:40, which is important only because today is 4/20 eve, 2019, and he thinks his hotel is within walking distance of a dispensary, which appears by all maps to be the last one before the main gates of this state’s airport. On this weed holiday, it might be busy and the one solid thing he knows about dispensaries is: they close at 10 p.m. For once, this slow guy hurries. The cabbie has a story to tell about papal misdoings in South America, but he just can’t listen. Did they just drive through the parking lot twice? He checks the sky – still light. He checks his watch. Warm western air out the window.

He checks into his Chanquita Inn suite, washes his face once and races pretty quickly back downstairs toward the near dispensary with the word “native” in its title. Having had no experience whatever in all this – this is not how he procures his smoke –  he has no idea what to expect of this adventure, and that’s exactly why he enjoys walking out of his motel room — ah, the  chunky chip moon — and walking down to where he can see the packed parking lot of the store; lights everywhere; people are dropping people off and zipping away. It’s warm and smells like the food from the restaurant across the street. You are in the west, he tells himself. This is west. First place where you can legally procure your greens, right there, boys. There’s plenty in town, but this, this is the first place.

It’s a building that may in the past have been a small roadside restaurant or a cellphone store. A crowd of about two dozen folks, none of them happy-looking. He is a lightly smiling and unhurried man, bearded and dressed appropriate to the temperatures. His accent would immediately give him away, so he feigns a British accent. It is not his day to hurry. At the counter he show his ID and the affable guy there says, “It may be 35 minutes or so, and the door gets locked at 9.”

“Got it, thank you mate, I guess I will wait.”

His name is written on a list as he meanders away to the least populated spot he can find: it’s in the back up against a black mirror. He wonders if he is the oldest person here—it’s close. One lady might beat him, she in all black and with ringlets of silver.

The whole place has a wonderfully strong funky, skunky smell about it. A fragrance gardeners might enjoy. Someone’s making a nice salad. Now, it was the odor of illegality now nasal legal: the unincarceration of the organ of smell itself, he thought.

Normal, also, like leather smells at a rodeo, or ozone in a greenhouse.

On the other side of the walls of the waiting room, through a shiny black door that opens and closes a lot, was the area where several bud-tenders were ready to help everyone find whatever they seek.

The room for waiting for pot is one big semi-bifurcated room, with half a wall down one side and doors in that wall, where everyone is expected to stand around as we await our opportunity to purchase clean and tested marijuana products. I read in a book for a short while.

There is not a whole lot of conversation, though there is some, light and frothy, barely audible in the silence. At one point, music could be heard through a room that opens into another part of the shop. Maybe Kool and the Gang? Hard to tell.

Customers come in clots through the front door, IDs in hand, not all good IDs—”I can’t take this, man, it’s been glued together”–and exiting/entering the main display rooms, which cannot be seen from almost anywhere in the waiting room. Predictably, many are on their phones. Others go outside, but the 9 deadline is coming up soon.

At one point, between answered phone calls, the greeter starts talking to us about what he fears is happening in the parking lot outside the front door. “Ohhhh no. My buddy better not be doin’ what I am thinkin’ he is doin’.” He starts out from behind the counter, but then something changes outside. “Hey y’all,” he mutters to us, rubbing his moustache,  returning to his spot. “Please don’t never do that, okay. No smokin’ in front of the store. Not cool. Thank you so much. And thank you for your patience.”

Amiable mumbled grumbles from the twenty or so of us left.

He wonders if it’s like this in every shop in town, or if this is a function of the green holiday. (Future spoiler: it isn’t. They’re all a bit different from one another.)

His name is called and he goes into the other room where there is another line and he moves then fairly quickly through this new orderly line (the waiting room was a disorderly line, none of them truly knew who was up next) and is eventually shown, by friendly and helpful folks, everything he might need or want regarding cannabis.

He chooses the sativa pre-roll for work later and the Indica gummies for sleep-aids, with the chocolate rectangle for experimentation purposes while he rides a bus over Monarch pass—that’s later tomorrow, after he wakes and wanders downtown. They use a fancy sack, like something from Victoria’s Secret, to pack up his purchases. Exiting the storefront he hears the main desk guy calls out in his strong voice: “Howard, party of 2, Howard?”


 Union Station Tableau

Next morning I Ubered downtown and then meandered down the 16th Street Mall to where the crowd was puffing away quite illegally in Civic Center park. Got some good hummus and walked back to Union Station, dodging the Segway explosion with ease.

Now I am to wait an uncomfortable hour for a bus to a valley town in Colorado. I find the waiting room underground at Union Station and sit down for a while, trying to do traveler’s meditation. It may work or it may not. Fun to try. I could walk a few blocks to do something but by the time I got there, it would be time to walk back.


The somewhat disjointed guy in the old army jacket and fuzzy hat starts speaking unusual, almost indecipherable words and stands on one foot, whirling a little in the middle of the wide concourse, hopping, addressing no one in this his unique language. He’s not addressing the thin man near the stairwell.  Nor the frightened couple over there, nor the lady with the grey-blonde hair on her phone beside me – not me, either.

It’s time for the train. We all glance around. The guy sleeping on the floor, with the big white spotted hound beside him — he’s gone now. He woke and left without anyone noticing, leaving a tiny spill of some kind behind.


This guy’s got a lot of energy. His coat flies out as he performs. You have to wonder what the face of his demons look like, right? I felt the same way once watching a good friend who had drunk way too much champagne and was laughing above the voluble in a purposefully maniacal way for way too long, where everybody’s smiling and wincing.

Now, though, he has accosts the lady and, outside my bad hearing, asks if he can use her phone.

No, she says, you can’t use my phone, I’m sorry, I just can’t —

There is more talk.

No, I don’t need that.

More discussion.

She dials a number. I hear the rings go on and on.

No answer, she tells him. The conversation is taking place over her shoulder.

She speaks in an understandably unnatural way:

I’m calling for Dan, who says he is–he is your brother and that he is in the Denver bus station, Union Station…and he needs some help. Okay thanks — bye.

She looks at me. I don’t usually consciously, like, know what is expressed by my face, but I know there was a sympathetic look on my face at that moment.

I see that she has a slightly bulbous nose, like Helen Mirren’s nose in many ways. She give a slight shake of her head and puts her phone away.

We are all of us fiddlers with our phones, aren’t we.

She gets the phone out in a bit after the guy has whirled off with a Thank you!Thankyou!Thankyou! bouncing and staggering purposefully from one spot to another along the walls of the concourse, his words sometimes a repetitive murmur, sometimes loud upshouts. He is alternatively curled up and then uncurls, his face stretched upward to the ceiling lights. The green jacket flies out; his eyes appear to be unopened and he bumps into an affixed garbage can. Others dodge him.

The older man who has been waiting with his wife comes up to stand near me:

Where are the cops when you need them?

Nobody says anything. The bus arrives.

It’s empty and we pile on. The driver stands before us, a youth of perhaps thirty, his blondish red beard sparse but long and his eyes green-blue and clear.

I’m Gus, your driver today. This is my first trip and I hope you enjoy it. The weather looks great. If you need anything, please ask me.

Most of the passengers exit the bus along the route, which is only a few hours. The lady with the grey-blonde hair and the barely bulbous nose rides to the terminus: down the valleys so flat at first but soon ascending to an area where we pass through a collection of remote villages like Fairplay and Salida, up and over the snowy divide, passing through remote little towns that often appear to be nothing more than the random collection of compounds, though a few may have been farms. Knowing nothing about this part of the world, what may I judge?

In the flat town of Buena Vista, near the western edge of town, the bus made a stop, pulling up to a Feed store parking lot situated beside nothing much and the Buena Vista trailer park. Of course one wonders, in the brief wait, what it is like living there, with such an insanely beautiful view of the Collegiate mountains brightly and bluely imposed on one’s day-to-day functioning. Maybe you work in the big prison. (I was later told that the trailers house out-of-state workers brought in to work specifically in that prison near BV, as the town is referred to by those who live there.)


A restaurant over there, maybe open at this time of day, maybe not.  Two dirt roads where dogs of indeterminable size  are yapping away. And Mount Harvard, glorious in bright sun whereas here was clouded.

The scary beauty of the pass passage – there are some extreme grades —  has me wondering about Gus’s training, its length and extravagance. Did he once navigate the entire dangerous strip this hefty vehicle a few times with another, more experienced driver, who certifies Gus at the bottom with a “Whew!” and one beer only before on to Salida and the Denver terminal to the north. Would he have ingested, as had I, a tasty THC chocolate bar?

I stare at the tawny, unknowable rear of Gus’s head for good luck. You can ask me why “good” but I can’t truly answer. My mood, it’s good. I check in with myself every now and then. Gus is a super driver.  He lets others pass him on the way up, just past Maysville, and then we seem to reach some high mountain plateau where we drive for a long, long time, switching sides of the road with a torrent of water that had to be icy before we hit another stretch of uphill curviness that eventually ends in Monarch pass. I put my jacket on, as do others on the bus.

I guess it would not be wise to try to converse with the driver in such a situation; certainly rules are made for vapid passengers like me who make even the slightest twitch toward wanting to speak to him.

I want to start a conversation by asking my co-passenger about the guy she’d made the phone call for, but I decide I need not disturb this anonymous woman’s peace a second time today.

Today may not be my luckiest day. I still have to cross the Great Divide. After that? start packing up my friend for the drive back East.


Delay & Wonder in Antonito

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Did I snore?


After driving along one or two extremely straight, unpolluted roads (mostly US 285) for innumerable miles we find ourselves momentarily delayed in this one-road, windy town named Antonito, which squats anomalously on the high plains of far southern Colorado. Elevation is above 8,000, population’s 802 and the sun seems very brilliant for late April. The cat seems unhappy and wants out of the car.

If he weren’t dead, I’d swear Sam Shepard was sitting in the car next to us at the Food Market.

On my phone, I find three places in town to rent a room.

At the Steam Hotel a sign sits askew (with its pencil) behind a dusty front window: “Check with Green Genie to book a room” and an arrow pointing toward the side of the building, where sits a nice, small mom’n’mom cannabis business run by two grey-eyed women wearing black t-shirts which may be uniforms…no, the Green Genie would have green shirts.


I go up to the desk and sniff a redolent bin of buds being held forth for me but, “I’m here about a room at the Steam Train Hotel. Maybe later!” She brings up a single blue  fingernail and pulls out her phone. We’re outside and she lights a cigarette. After a bit of talk, she turns back to me.

“I can’t get hold of the lady who does the bookings. She’s not in,” I am told. “But, uh, are you  staying in town for a little while?”

“Yeah, a little,” I say. “Call us if you get hold of her and there’s a green room.” I brag on the hotel a little and say I really want to stay tonight if I can. She gives me a patient look but at least she doesn’t ask where I’m from; I guess my accent is in check. “It will be green.”

We’re just a few kms from the New Mexico line, the line past which possession of my pre-rolled joints and gummies is illegal. If this hotel deal works out, we can stay here and smoke here as well, and check out the little town before moving on tomorrow morning. Our destination is far to the east.

But no one calls. I meander off for a bit to check out a hotel called the Palace, but a rather short and quite ancient man answers the door and says they haven’t rented rooms in decades. I thank him and look back to see him looking out upon the sunny sidewalk, almost as if there were an expected line of people like myself asking about the defunct Palace.

A funny dog with twisted white hair moves down the street ahead of me and pauses at the light with me. It leaves me when I reach the car.

“I checked the weather, and you know what? snow is forecast for this little town for tonight.”

“Wow, you wouldn’t know it now.”

“But it is. I don’t want to drive in snow — and the mountains — ”

“You’re right. No snow driving. No movement on the room anyway. We’ll cross the border down the road . . .”

Silence down the road a few miles. No good music can be located.

“So – you can tell me. Did I snore?”

“No snores.”

On the last curve out of town we see the third hotel, but — snow — we drive on to the sign that says “Welcome to New Mexico,” at which point we goes back into Colorado a few clicks, next to the sign that says “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” and stand looking solemnly up into the sky if a car passes, trying to fire up that last joint — but today the wind seems strong enough to pull small rocks off the road and combustion cannot happen. It won’t light. We give up and place the unsmoked joint on the sign’s edge. The last of an eighth is poured out into the wind; we nibble up the remaining edible goodies. Clean, pure and ready for the border. Borders. As a Coloradan, the driver knows how important this is — the tag is a cop magnet. Also, one cannot smoke in one’s car in Colorado — odor alone is enough for a driving while stoned ticket. Wise smokers accept the inconvenience.


On. New Mexico starts to distinguish itself radically from southern plains Colorado.

As we near Santa Fe, the phone rings: the woman from the Steam Train Hotel has become available, and a room as well, if we still want it.

“No, I guess not, but can I ask…is it snowing there yet?” The mind ponders what might have happened but did not at the Steam Train Hotel and the Green Genie Shop.

“Yet? Nope, no snow.” She sounds as if she is laughing. 



Razorback Profile

They were three states from home and hit the spot in Arkansas where everything starts looking precisely, horribly just like everything else back east. Billboards, like some crude visual craze, are back. They were nowhere to be seen in Colorado and much of New Mexico. Powerlines and telephone lines are now above ground. Even the massive quaint wind-engines of the Texas panhandle dwindled away and then were seen no more. Brutely-colored New Mexico rocks turned to flatland, sage, and then the larger sagebrush clumps disappeared all the streets alongside Interstate 40 began their switch into the ubiquitous businesses we see in all southern U.S. states and many of the northern ones as well.

The travelers were looking forward now, even on their phones, and even with the best timing, it appeared they would arrive at dark.

Shit! Nothing to do but drive drive drive.

But they escaped a lengthy bank of murderous fog just past the Oklahoma line and then got into a clickin’ road rhythm. It’s like you know when to stop for gas or for the other person to pee, and the music starts to fit the land you drive through. If you miss a turn, the detour doesn’t hurt much. By the time they passed the next state, they’d be crossing the Big Muddy, and home a mere three hours away.

One of the passengers briefly listened to an Audible book recording of “Life,” by Keith Richards, and the story he heard was a picaresque account of the Stones’ arrest and release in Arkansas in 1975 near Fordyce, Arkansas. It made him smile.

Coming into Little Rock, the tractor-trailer rigs began to multiply wildly. Everywhere, behind, in front, to either side of this tiny car, were churning truck tires and silver trailers full of American stuff. They got pinned, stuck behind a pipe-truck which had slowed suddenly, and in the swing they made around him, to pass — aimed their way — were the three Arkansas police-cars lined up in the interstate split. Can’t see ’em til you pass ’em.

One night-blue cruiser pulls out, attracted by and now following — of this the travelers are certain — the Colorado tag on their car. It weaves ahead to look at them: young woman driver, cat, Caucasian middle-aged male passenger in a Phish t-shirt . . . the bastard weaves back to check their tag, then pulls carefully back behind them and flick on the lights and a blip of siren.

They pulled over on a long exit ramp and waited. No dash-whacking, a breathless silence.

“I knew it. I fucking knew it. Profiled by the Colorado tag! fuck Jesus’s tits.”

The Colorado tag means that this mesomorphic looking fucker walking toward them hopes to get his quota done before the end of the month, which is in, let’s see, two days. Uh oh.

[As it happens, it has been exactly 364 days since he was arrested, a mile from his house, for possession of pot and DUI, back in Alabama one wild April evening not unlike this one: breezy, smelly with blooming flowers, and cars zipping past. Sunday evening the year before. As the cast unfolded, lawyered up, he was allowed to enter diversion court and undergo color-coded testing — to also keep his license — and had been a drug court graduate since January, so technically he guessed he was pretty clean.]

Cop leans his face into the passenger side:

“I uh stopped you for following too close behind those tractor trailers back there.”

“Yeah, they were kind of boxing us in, it seemed.”

“There was a problem uh with your tag, too? Is it new?”

“Yes, it sure is . . .”

“. . . couldn’t find it in the system…”

“Could you both get your IDs out for me and ma’am, you come with me.”

He sat in the car watching in the outside mirror as she went back to stand beside the cop car’s passenger window. She stood in the passenger window and seemed to be speaking an awful lot. Too much. Who knew. She looked like me trying to explain to my mother some recent misdeed.

In fact, she was unpausing in her speech. We all make mistakes when we overtalk – he was a prime example, and struggled daily to keep his mouth closed. He was fascinated as he watched, breathing a bit shallowly for a moment imagining just how the anxiety-level drives were cutting loose both in her and in him, fear was here, as present as a passenger. I  have never seen her quite like this, ever. Breathe. Both nostrils at once: slow . . .

The voice shifts harsh. “Get out of the car, sir.” He got out and was patted down. “Any weapons?”


“Sir, please go stand over there while I’m searching the car . . .” Tanned, crew-cut, muscular guy. Probably has a boat he takes out on weekends, coupla kids.

He moves as directed and keeps on waiting, hand-tips in pocket-tips. Several other police vehicles pass them on the exit ramp and this (he thinks) is a very good sign. The cop seems to do a pretty perfunctory check under this seats, in the trunk, and then he returns to his cruiser.

Their IDs are returned and they are sent on their way with a verbal warning about traveling too close. Heartrates hove toward normal.

“Call Colorado and see what they say about that tag.”

A phone call. “Colorado says there’s nothing whatever wrong with my tag, it is in the system.”




Slowly, only gradually beginning to feel less fear and less violated, the trip continues toward its terminus in the solar plexus, the obese belly, the plumped out aged omentum of the Dixie beast, that place where state legislators pass abortion heartbeat bills alongside rapist-protection laws and try to incarcerate as many of their citizens as they can each year for possession of the same weed decriminalized/legalized by about half the country. Why would you come back to such a benighted place? Relatives? Beauty of the land, where left unspoiled by economic development? Could such an uncompassionate, misogynistic system, so well-managed by powerful dotards, have even the tiniest hope of ever – ever – evolving in the slightest way?


© 2019 Thomas N. Dennis

One thought on “Western Travels

  1. Wow. Anxious lead to a happy ending…except for the fact that Alabama is indeed a backward-moving, yet poignantly beautiful place to live. California and Canada are looking better by the day. ❤😫

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