I couldn’t be this lucky, I think to myself. What are the odds of finding a rattlesnake skin that’s been sluffed off, left behind in one piece, and in pretty good condition? But there it is, of all places on the driveway of the Fairfield Inn, in Laramie, Wyoming. I figure, Well yeah, I’m out west. This is Laramie. It’s where rattlesnakes live. And cattle rustlers and sherrifs and matronly good-hearted bar maids and well-dressed hanging judges.
Modern man takes a picture. I’m reaching for my phone as I walk toward the skin, thinking we could take it home, frame it, hang it above the mantle. What better memento.
Then the skin comes into focus: it’s a necktie. Some poor guy packed a sloppy suitcase, or lost his job, or quit his job, or left the hotel in a hurry after a dangerous liaison. What does modern man do? I take a picture anyway.
I’ve got cattle rustlers and sherrifs and matronly good-hearted bar maids and hanging judges on my mind because I’ve just feasted on the Fairfield Inn complimentary breakfast, and while eating it, enjoyed watching black-and-white reruns of a television show called Laramie. I watched it when I was a kid. The show ran from 1959 to 1963. It starred John Smith (born Robert Errol Van Orden), Robert Fuller (born Leonard Leroy Lee), Hoagy Carmichael (that’s his real name), and Spring Dell Byington (that’s her real name). This morning it was on the big screen in the hotel breakfast room. The sound was turned off, which I very much appreciated. In the episode showing there was generic trouble afoot. I couldn’t help but notice how scrubbed and pristine the black and white scenery was, how well dressed the characters were. It was another era of television, of westerns, sans dirt, sans whiskers, sans whores and gore and the profanity you see and hear in Deadwood or Hateful 8.
“This is good,” I said to Tizi. On my third trip to the board, I’d scooped up scrambled eggs with salsa verde. “Want some?”
I knew the answer. First she shriveled, then said, “Powdered eggs.”
“Is that even a thing?” In the army maybe? And not anymore?
She emitted a barely audible Ugh, pointed at my plate. “What’s that green stuff?”
“This ‘green stuff’ is salsa verde.”
Ugh. Again. She frowned at her plate. “I think this is artificial bacon.”
“From this day forward, I will always have scrambled eggs with salsa verde,” I said. “It’s that good. And look: Nutella. They’ve really got it going here.”
On regular intervals a kind lady emerged from the backroom and replenished napkins and waffle mix and artificial bacon. She also cleared tables.
“This was terrific,” I said when she walked by.
“Why thank you!” she said.
On screen Spring Dell Bylington, her brow furrowed, was imploring the sheriff and hanging judge for help.
“Maybe later,” Tizi said, “we can find some good food.”
After breakfast we drive 600 miles. As is our habit now, we look up in the sky and check for smoke. Day before yesterday, leaving Des Moines, we debated: was that haze or smoke? Or was it good old-fashioned fog? This morning there’s a brown strip across the horizon, an inversion layer. Under scattered, not quite blue skies, we cross the high desert, pass through Salt Lake City, and run the salt flats toward Bonneville at high speed. Finally in Nevada, we see it: blue sky. Deep blue. All blue. With large fluffy white clouds that cast wide shadows across the terrain.
In Elko, where we’ll spend the night, we search—for fresh vegetables and for shade.
The former, I know, is a fool’s errand. We ask the clerk-in-training at the hotel desk where Tizi can find some nice fresh vegetables. The clerk is stumped. I imagine a French fry is the closest she’s come to such fare.
“I mean,” Tizi says, “like an omelet?”
Clerk-in-training number two, also not long out of pigtails, appears and says with confidence: Try JR’s.
JR’s is a casino restaurant. They serve breakfast. The vegetables in Tizi’s vegetable omelet were fresh once, then frozen. She is neither happy nor unhappy.
My tacos, on the other hand, are a triumph, eliciting pleasures exceeding those I experienced this morning scarfing scrambled eggs and salsa verde.
Back at the hotel, we drive around the parking lot twice, looking for shade. There are a few minor trees, some stunted bushes, gravel, and cement. No significant shade. Shade matters to her—more than it should, I think. But she’s had a bummer dinner, so I circle the parking lot once, then twice, and begin a third rotation when she points. “There.” At the end of the building, shade possible tomorrow afternoon.
“It will be cool in the morning,” I tell her.. ”We’ll leave early enough, shade won’t matter.”
Morning. Breakfast. I, for one, can’t wait. Laramie will be hard to beat.