I slept on and off all night. My consciousness drifted in and out of tune while what sounded like bottles being smashed against the wall reverberated through the hotel, and on occasion, a sudden shrill laugh from the room below mine. Soon enough the sun came up.
If there is a word for just not quite rested enough, that’s how I would describe the feeling in my eyes. White beams of light shot through tiny pinholes in the curtains. The room, which I hadn’t had a good look at the night before, was derelict and dingy as you would imagine from the state of the bar downstairs. I checked out nearly as soon as I got up.
When I came to the front desk, the old man was no longer sitting in the old wheeled chair, and had be replaced by a bubbly middle-aged woman who wore those weird thick-rimmed glasses that secretaries always have on old TV shows. She thanked me for staying the night, and told me about the continental breakfast that was set up in the corner of the office. I would’ve eaten something but I could only imagine the quality of stale, bland bread and assortment of other breakfast related goodies that were likely days past their prime.
I peeked once more into the bar.
“Bar’s closed until 11:00,” the woman at the desk said.
“Yeah, I’m just checking for…”
There was no sign of life in the bar that just the previous night had been a hive of extreme masculinity and sweat. “Everything looks different in the light of day,” I thought. Something my dad used to tell me, often after my mother had had one of her violent episodes. But that was long ago and time leaks on at a steady pace. There wasn’t much to reflect on in that regard. Not at this point, anyway. I drove for a couple hours. I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was headed. The funny thing about driving without any plan of where you’re going is that you can never be disappointed with where you end up. And there’s nothing more comforting than a familiar face, even if it’s not one you expected.
At this point I was just a little past For Macleod, another little place that, like Nanton, forgot the mantra about time and a steady pace. Up ahead the greenish-yellow fields stretched on into the horizon. The sun still hung heavy in the sky, baking the hot asphalt beneath my tires. I could say that in the distance a single hand outstretched pointing it’s thumb at me approached and quickly flew to my rear. I drove right past without a second thought, just another hitchhiker. That’s when I noticed in the rear-view mirror a speck of red shimmering like a familiar jewel. I thought for a short moment about the conversation the night before, Is that really all it takes to make a friend” Here, a quiet, lonely man, sat alone in a bar; and a firecracker approached and flared in front of him without a second thought. It took me more than a second thought to repay the favour. “Is that really all it takes to make a friend?” I didn’t know, but I guessed it wasn’t as much effort as I had thought.
I peeled into a range road and tossed the car around, wondering if someone else might have been much more sympathetic than I and picked up the traveler.
But she was still there. And she was a jewel tarnished with bruises and blemishes.
“Well hey there,” she said, in a combination of surprise and upset.
“What are you doing hitchhiking?” I asked.
“Husband threw a tantrum and left me here,” she replied as she picked up the mess of ratty nearly handle-less bags into the back seat. “We can catch up to him in a couple hours if you’re going my way.”
Well now I had somewhere to go.
“Where’ll he be?” I asked.
“Pincher Creek. Got a show in a hotel dive called Excuses.”
“That’s on the way,” I said.
There are few things in this world more solitary than the hills of Highway 2. Though we barely spoke a word, the road sang with deep, crackling tones of loneliness while the two-passenger car bellowed its answer back, and neither felt as solitary as before. “Everything looks different in the light of day,” I thought.