“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Eventually the rude bartender shooed us out the door, but not before Paul bought a growler of their ESB. In the car, he grabbed the map and pinpointed Fremont Lake, a state park area just north of Pinedale. Since we hadn’t eaten all night, what with our rush to drink mango beer, we stopped at a gas station and bought chips and water. With food supplies replenished, I drove up a winding gravel road, eventually finding a roadside nature stop where we could set up camp and get some shut eye.
We began unpacking the usual supplies (tent, sleeping bags, matches) when Paul noticed that the flashlight had died. I re-parked the car in order to face the headlights straight into the woods. By car-light, I set the tent up while he scoured the forest for fire wood and rocks to form the pit. Once he finally had a fire started, I turned the headlights off and went to bed.
I slept in pretty late, but finally woke up to the sound of Paul crunching on cereal outside the tent. I got up groggily, and began the habitual act of rolling up sleeping bags and tearing down camp. With everything packed into the car, I got into the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition.
“Chkkkkkkkk……Chkkkkkkk……..” The battery was dead. We only had the headlights on for 20 minutes to set up camp. Could that have been the cause? Or did we leave one of the dome lights on while munching on our dinner of potato chips? Neither of us knew how the battery died and were in no mood to play the blame game. We had bigger issues. How would we find help out here in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness?
We sat on the hitch of the Element for a while, looking out at the distant lake. As beautiful as the scenery appeared, we didn’t seem to care much at the moment. Our plans to see Aimee Mann that night in Boulder were on the brink of extinction.
After about 15 minutes of staring down the gravel road, I could hear the rumbling of a car engine coming around the bend. Paul jumped up and ran roadside, waving his arms at the approaching Honda Escort. The car came to a stop and the window came down. In the drivers seat sat a young teenage girl who seemed scared of the strange bearded men stranded in the woods of Wyoming. Paul explained our situation and she said she’d send someone to give us a jump.
Feeling accomplished, Paul grabbed his Harry Potter book. I remained in the car waiting for help while he went to the edge of the forest, sat on a rock and read his children’s literature. Another 10 minute wait and help finally arrived in the form of a large Ford pick-up truck. The back window was caked in stickers: Oakley, No Fear, and of course Calvin pissing on a Chevy symbol. He stepped down from the truck and couldn’t have been a day over 16.
“You boys need some help,” he said in a fake “I’m a man’s man” voice. When I explained the situation he went to the back of his truck to grab jumper cables. He looked for about a minute, and then out of no where he burst into a barrage of curses, “My God damn faggot brother! He must have fucking borrowed my jumpers. I’ll be right back.” And he was gone before I could get word in. Watching his advertisement laden back window fade away, I noticed an Opie and Anthony sticker in the top right hand corner. I knew this wasn’t a good sign: O and A fans are not the most compassionate, trustworthy breed (take me for example).
I waited and waited, the entire time getting more and more irritated by douchey Paul, contentedly lounging on his rock, reading Harry Potter. Car after car drove by, but no sign of sticker boy. After 30 minutes, it became pretty clear that he wouldn’t be returning. Every few minutes a car would pass. Each time I’d look back at Paul to see if he had any concerns about waving another car down. But no, he was too busy reading about Dumbledore or Veldemort or some other stupidly named wizard in his amatuerish book.
Fed up with our situation, I stood roadside waving down each car that passed. After 10 minutes of standing there looking like a hitcher, a female park ranger pulled over and said she’d send someone up to give us a hand. As she drove away, I wondered if she’d ditch us like the last two cars who had stopped and talked with us.
Fortunately, we wouldn’t have to wait and find out. About 30 seconds later a truck swerved up the hill and pulled into our area. An older gentleman with an obvious sunburn stuck his head out the window. “You guys need a jump?” The truck was packed to the brim, with five teenagers crammed inside. Two of the boys jumped out and goofily fooled around with the jumpers before hooking my car up. And just like that, my car engine began to purr once again. As if on cue, Paul appeared next to me smiling. I glared at Harry Potter boy for a brief moment and then thanked our heroes. They told us they were going on their own mountain adventure that morning, so we wished them luck and let them go on their way. Why five kids are heading into the woods with creepy sun burn man, I’ll never understand.
The battery debacle set our day back an hour, so we didn’t waste time in Pinedale, heading south toward Rock Springs. On the way, Paul suggested we get a shower at a truck stop if possible – our last real shower had been over a week ago in Omaha. I agreed with his idea. With the Aimee Mann concert that night, we would be re-emerging into the public after our hiatus in the wild. Plus, if by chance I did run into Aimee, I would want to be my best. Sure, she’s old, but I still find myself attracted to her. I’m not sure whether it’s her looks, her voice, or her songwriting.
We found a truck stop on the outskirts of Rock Springs, so I went in and inquired about the price of a shower. I couldn’t believe the obese clerk’s response. “Eight bucks.” I found Paul in the candy aisle and relayed the roadside robbery to him. He suggested we just split the price. I’d take a shower, and then sneak him in when finished. It seemed like a ridiculous task just to save eight dollars, but the challenge peaked my interest.
I ran out to the car and grabbed a fresh change of clothes, bathroom amenities, and went back inside. I walked down the hallway of showers, eventually finding shower #4. I dialed my code number and entered expecting the worst. It was actually a pretty sterile, spacious bathroom. I peeled off my mountain climbing clothes, threw on some flip-flops and jumped into the warm shower spray. I stood there for an eternity, relishing the refreshing water flowing over my sun burnt scalp. I then commenced taking the most meticulous shower I’ve ever taken, cleaning every crease and crevice of my body three times over.
15 minutes later I emerged from the invigorating waters a new man. I threw on a fresh set of clothes and stepped out of the shower room expecting to find Paul, but of course, he was no where to be seen. “Now what?” I wondered. We hadn’t talked out our plan. I went back into the room, grabbed a towel, and threw it in the doorway to use as a doorstop. When I came out from shower alley, I discovered Paul sitting with a couple other truckers in the lounge area watching “COPs”. I raised four fingers toward him, signaling our shower number, and continued out to the car.
To pass the time I laid back in my car seat and read a couple chapters out of Klosterman V. A while later Paul walked out of the truck stop with his mullet dripping wet. He hopped into the car and said, “Do you want to stop at the brewery here in Rock Springs? We’re making good time and I could use some food.” I agreed. My last real meal was my chicken fried steak in Ennis, two days prior.
After asking for directions at a little white trash gas station, we found Bitter Creek Brewing amidst the industrial district. Inside, the brewery oozed with a woodsy, log cabin feel. We were led to a table in the back and ordered up a couple beers. I went for the Sweetwater Wheat while Paul opted for their Scottish ale, The Wee Bastard. Being located near the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice a voluptuous blond waitress passing us once every few minutes with her bosom leading her around the restaurant. I pointed her out to Paul, but he didn’t seem very impressed. I looked her over again and began to wonder whether my judgment in beauty had been altered by my time away from civilization. Had I turned into a swarthy Neanderthal, ready to pounce on anything that moved?
My wheat tasted great, with a hint of banana. I could tell my trip had already taught me a lot about beer when I commented to Paul, “This must be a Bavarian style wheat, it has a banana-y aftertaste.” He nodded, not even questioning my beer snobbery. Soon we had a couple of burgers brought out to us, which we inhaled. All out of my wheat, I ordered up “A Beer Named Bob”.
When the waitress heard my order she scrunched up her noise and said, “You sure you want that? It tastes like burnt coffee.” I scoffed. Poor girl, she doesn’t appreciate a good stout.
“Yeah, I like the taste of burnt coffee,” I replied.
“Okay then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
She came back with the black potion and set it before me like it was a vat of acid. “Enjoy?” she said as she walked away. Foolish girl. I took a sniff, swirled the glass like a true beer connoisseur, and sipped the stout, letting the malt and hops settle on my tongue. She was right. Burnt coffee. Not strong coffee or bold coffee: burnt coffee. I felt like such an ass, doubting her beer tasting abilities. I drank the rest of the brew like I was a 10-year-old again taking spoonfuls of Nyquil.
Since we had to get going in order to make the night’s concert, we returned to the road. Paul told me to take a southern scenic route because we would be spending time in Laramie in a week. No need taking the same road twice. Paul took a nap, so I listened to the new Wolf Parade while driving through the rocky landscape. When we rolled into Colorado, he woke from his nap and asked what I thought of the scenery. I told him it looked like the fake landscape you usually see at the zoo.
I then had a realization: the last time I visited Colorado was 10 years ago. My friend Justin LeSieur lived in Fort Collins, so Duhn and I road tripped out to see him. We spent a week in the area, visiting a Renaissance Fair, and enjoying the natural surroundings. The first night at LeSieur’s apartment he introduced me to the locally brewed Fat Tire. I didn’t even drink back then, but he assured me I would enjoy it. To this day, Fat Tire is my all time favorite beer, and it has never tasted as good as it did that night out on his patio, looking out toward the silhouette of the distant mountains.
“Hey Paul, the last time I was in Colorado I was 19.”
“Oh yeah?” he answered with disinterest.
“Yeah, I can’t believe that was ten years ago…crazy.”
Paul looked confused. “Wait a sec…10 years ago? 19 years old? Dude, you’re 29!?”
“…yeah, how did you not know that?” I asked.
“Holy shit dude, you’re fucking old! So you’re turning 30 soon?”
“Yeah,” I said, annoyed by his burst of excitement in connection with my age.
“Damn. I hope I’m like you when I’m 30.” I let this statement sit for a moment. I tried to figure out what he meant. He didn’t say it sarcastically. What about me as a balding 30 year old did he appreciate? I didn’t go any further with the age conversation, but I’d like to believe he admired my freedom and yes, my blatant immaturity.
When we reached Boulder, we were once again in a race against time. The Aimee Mann show started at eight, and we didn’t find a parking spot until 7:50. I reassured Paul, telling him we’d just miss some of the opening act. The show was scheduled to take place at the Chautauqua, a historic amphitheatre built in 1889. The theatre was located in the rear of a large park.
We walked into the entrance to the park and saw a scene taken straight out of Pleasantville. Hundreds of people milled around the park, some having picnics, others walking dogs. Frisbees flew to and fro while bikers rolled down the path winding throughout the park.
We didn’t have time to enjoy Eden, speed walking through the hub bub and finding the auditorium up the hill. As we approached, I could hear “Deathly” from the “Magnolia” soundtrack. I turned to Paul in shock. “That’s Aimee Mann! She’s playing already!” I jogged ahead, taking two steps at a time and tossing my ticket to the doorman. Once inside I looked to the stage to find Aimee and her band playing the final chords of the song. Since when do shows actually start on time and why the hell was Aimee Mann the opening act?!
Once Paul caught up with me, we found our seats near the back of the giant amphitheatre. Next up Aimee played the catchiest song off of her latest album, “Freeway”. It’s one of those songs where the lyrics make no sense, yet you can’t help but sing along. I started to get into the performance, nodding my head and singing along. Then I noticed everyone around looking at me in annoyance. I took a look around and found that we were surrounded by a bunch of gray hairs. The old women were decked out in their Sunday’s finest, while the wrinkly old men were sporting their Jimmy Buffet look, floral beach wear and all. I had no idea Aimee had such a senior citizen following. Maybe they were here for the other act? Nah.
Between songs, I grabbed a program see who Aimee opened for. Marc Cohn? “Who the hell is Marc Cohn?” I wondered. I read on to discover he won a Grammy like 20 years ago for the song “Walking in Memphis”. You know the song. The dude puts on his blue suede shoes and boards a plane, then touches down in the Delta blue. Yeah, that song sucks my balls. I thought the “Walking in Memphis” guy got shot or something. And now he was getting top billing over Aimee? Oh the humanity…
The crowd’s faint applause between songs annoyed me even more. I tried to get over the audience and redirected my focus on the band. For such an old structure, the Chautauqua had amazing acoustics. I hate sitting at concerts, but this one sounded so great, I didn’t mind leaning back and soaking in the soothing sounds of Aimee’s heartfelt music. I’ve always loved her self deprecating, genuine, lyrics, laced with the type of imagery that would make Bob Dylan proud.
When the band began playing the song “31 Today”, I was reminded of our conversation in the car earlier that day. I listened to the lyrics, expecting to hear Aimee speaking my feelings like she’s done so many times before:
What a thing to say
Drinking Guinness in the afternoon
Taking shelter in the black cocoon
So far so good, but then the chorus broke in, and for the first time, I didn’t agree with Aimee’s sentiment:
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn
Yes, 10 years ago when I first visited Colorado, I did have a different vision for my life. Sipping my first Fat Tire with my lifelong friends on that Colorado night so long ago, I’m sure I didn’t foresee myself being a bachelor at 29 years old. But I also don’t think I could have foreseen the plethora of life changing experiences I would undergo or the wide array of amazing people I’d meet. Yes, I was back in Colorado 10 years later, and I could honestly say that my life was better than I could have ever imagined.