Each one of us comes with our own life story. I believe that every story is unique, and that this story is strongly influenced by where we come from, and the circumstances that we grew up in. I was more conscious of the existence of such stories when encountering people during our recent road trip out west. It was not just about experiencing the places, it was also about trying to get to get to know a little bit about the people in any little way possible, with the faint possibility of even understanding something a little more substantial about individual lives. Others’ stories are as important as our own, regardless of what you think of their achievements, or yours. And many people are, for the most part, just trying to get by and make a living without hurting somebody else, and trying to find some happiness in their lives. That is universal. Life is not necessarily about becoming powerful, famous, and well-known, even though that would not be very obvious from what we are used to hearing in the news.
In my mind, most of the interesting interactions with people took place when we were in some of the smaller places, and mostly when we met people associated with the smaller mom-and-pop establishments, like some of the motels we stayed in, or some of the restaurants we ate at. Thankfully, there are still places that have not been overtaken by the big hotel chains and other “name brand” commercial establishments. There are places where you can find things that seem more genuine. In some of the smaller places that we visited, there were even people we encountered who ran multiple establishments or operations of different kinds – like the hotel, the country store, and maybe even the town’s gas station and/or a restaurant. Life could be about making a living and being happy. It does not necessarily have to be about defining a always rising career.
In the places we were visiting, you could try to imagine the background of the people you were interacting with or talking to (hopefully without romanticizing it unnecessarily), and if things turned in that direction, you could even strike up a conversation with them and get to know something specific about them.
In circumstances like this, when one did get a chance to interact with people, they usually tended to be open and friendly. There was no reaction that would indicate discomfort because of how dissimilar or out of place tourists like us might have seemed be in the particular situation. I say that because you typically do not see a large number of Indian tourists at the kinds of places we visited. That having been said, I am not sure if the people we were meeting were as curious about us as we were about them. Nevertheless…
Here are some of the folks that I remember from our travels, folks who in many cases were from the little towns that we were passing through:
The waitress at Doug’s Steak and BBQ in Monticello, UT; the waitress at The Broken Spur Steakhouse in Torrey who went out her way to customize a dessert for us – she looked busy but she did not ignore us; the waitress with a east European accent at Rustler’s restaurant in the town of Tropic, UT, – we did not have the conversation to figure out how she ended up in Tropic, but she appeared to be bringing up her daughter there; the friendly waitress at Mango’s in Red Cliff, CO, who was cheerfully also serving the noisy crowd at the bar, but nevertheless talked to us a little bit. (If you do go to Red Cliff, ask about the many dollar bills you will find attached to the ceiling in Mango’s using tacks).
I remember the girl at the hotel front desk at the Green Bridge Inn in Red Cliff, CO. She clued me in on what there was to do in and around her little town. The lady who checked us in at the Blue Mountain Horsehead Inn in Monticello cheerfully talked to us about the few eateries in her small town and gave us a sense about how small it was. They have one traffic light in town, where the two main roads of the town intersect.
The owner of the Peak-to-Peak motel at Estes Park, CO, was manning the front desk of the motel himself. I got the impression that he took also care of a lot of the things in the motel by himself. It felt like that kind of an operation. I think he lived in the little house I could see outside the window of our motel room. He helped us look for a place for dinner and even chatted a little bit about stuff. His accent did not seem to be of the place.
The lady who was taking care of the Country Store at Cannonville, UT, when we checked in also owned and ran the Grand Staircase Inn. When we did not have the change with us to pay for what we had bought from the store, she asked us to pay her whenever we were back down at the store, even if it was the next day. We met her cousin the next morning when we went down for breakfast. She told us that the only two commercial activities in town were the motel and a cement factory. Apparently, the place always had a small feel to it.
Bernice, the young Navajo girl who was our tour guide at Upper Antelope Slot canyon near Page, AZ, was a whiz with any camera that came here way. She would take the pictures for the people in her tour with their own cameras. The pickup truck that she was driving made all kinds of sounds as we traversed the sandy wash, but it made it. It did not seem to be in the best of shape. I suspected that the pickup truck was hers, but never found out. If there had been some spare time, I might have tried to find out more about the life experiences of a young Navajo girl. When I asked, she said that she did not own a real camera, but muttered something about getting one. How affordable would something like that be for somebody who earned a living the way she did?
I remember the kindly old native American lady we met at the pullout at Monument Valley. She was selling trinkets that she had made, and she was willing to talk about herself, where she lived, the circumstances under which she grew up, the life of the Navajo people in general, etc. She told us that the young Navajo went to college outside the reservation so that they could find jobs. There were not many jobs in the reservation.
Torrey, UT, is a very small place. There are small number of private hotels just outside town on the way from Torrey to Capital Reef National park. One of them was the Noor Hotel. On our way out of town we stopped at the gas station connected to the hotel. I had to go into the store to get a receipt. I could have sworn that the lady behind the counter looked middle eastern. Unfortunately, it was not the right time to start a conversation and find out. I did find out that the hotel had changed hands in the last couple of years.
The ranger at the Interagency Visitor Center for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was very friendly. She took the time to engage with us and to talk about the place, at one point even looking up a book to try to find out information about some plant that Teresa was interested in. I do not know if she was actually from the local area. I do not know what the hiring process is for folks who do these kinds of jobs. In general, the rangers we interacted with were young and enthusiastic, and tried to be helpful.
The circumstances under which we saw the cowboys was not geared towards any meaningful interaction, but I have to wonder about the life of a cowboy these days. I tried to take a good look at the face of one of these cowboys, but I could not gather a decent impression because I had to concentrate on driving. Of course, he was wearing a cowboy hat!
Many of the employees in the restaurants that we went to in the very touristy town of Moab appeared to be of Hispanic background, whereas, we did not see many Hispanics on the streets. It seemed like there was a story somewhere there.
Everyone has his (or her) own story to tell.