Tandem, An American Love Story


At dinner in the restaurant, we met Cactus, an old cowboy who’s had a hard life. At 71 he uses a cane and moves slowly, doesn’t ride horses anymore. He wears his cowboy hat all the way down to his eyebrows, has a bright blue kerchief around his neck, a clean shirt and starched jeans; coming to town on a Friday night.

Cactus has 80 acres up around Alvord hot springs, (a few miles north in Oregon) where he just got his first telephone and running water. He still prefers to go to the hot springs to bathe. Claire and I have soaked there and we agree; there’s not a hot-tub at an upscale spa anywhere with the mountain and desert view this old cowboy has.

He likes to go up to Burns (Oregon) for fiddle music every couple of weeks even though he can’t dance anymore. His favorite tunes are Red River Valley and an old Hank Williams tune, I’m Walkin The Floor Over You. Both very sad love songs. I wonder who she was and what happened, but you don’t ask a cowboy such things.

He lives on a little Social Security, and seems happy, except for the cane. I suspect he’s being helped out the way old and poor men and women were taken care of when I was growing up in West Virginia. They always seemed to find a place to live cheap or free, and younger people to look in on them now and again, bring special treats and garden produce. It’s too bad that system had to be replaced by bureaucracy.

I liked the way everyone in the restaurant stopped what they were doing to give a special greeting to Cactus; they appreciate old cowboys around here. Fine people.

We also enjoyed talking to Juan Trevino, a trucker who hauls potatoes from Klamath Falls to Winnemucca and stops here often. His wife died a dozen years ago and he has been raising two daughters since. They live in Eastern Washington, one 16 and one 20, and take care of each other while he drives almost constantly to support them. He calls them every night and is very proud of how well they do in school. He drives a dangerous road, particularly in winter, but knows that he is protected. God needs him to provide for and guide his girls.

He offered to give us a ride to Klamath Falls, but we declined. We’ll hang tough here until we can get there on leg power. Juan is impressed with us. He parks his truck as close to the restaurant as he can and hates walking even that short distance. He says just thinking about bicycling over his route makes him tired. The feeling is mutual, we are impressed by his parental dedication; we have met so many Mexican Americans who have impressed us with their work ethic and parenting.

Claire’s cough wasn’t any better in the morning, and we’ve decided to rest some more here, another couple of days. Our next leg is 127 miles to Lakeview, Oregon with a cold night in the desert somewhere in between; not a place or time for a sick stoker to be out.

The weather is another reason not to go: The rain falls horizontally, bending the poplars outside our trailer-house motel room. The sky is blue-black and seems touchable, hanging heavy against the fresh snow covered mountains. We’ve heard it is sticking on the road not far away.

Our room has a few leaks. No problem, none of them are over the bed. The bed sags mightily with our weight and rolls us together, which is the way we sleep in the tent anyway, but I can’t imagine heavier people in it.

My only problem with being stuck here is that there is nothing to read. Claire brought along a Discover magazine from Winnemucca, and I have read every story twice, from the latest in quantum physics and black-holes to tool-use among orangutangs, and all of the advertisements in between. There is nothing else here to read except a brochure on bighorn sheep hunting and the Winnemucca real estate guide. Denio Junction must be the place they send reading addicted persons to dry out.

The weather had better improve, and Claire had better improve, or she won’t be able to stand me. It would be okay if I had my computer and could write something, but the power here is full of surges and it just won’t work. I may never be able to decipher these handwritten notes.

Earlier we sat at the bar and ate hamburgers and fries while Hulk Hogan and friends played out their adolescent morality tales in the professional wrestling ring. Amazing stuff. We miss so much not having a television.

Two couples and one teen daughter out for a weekend trip apparently underestimated the distances around here (not hard to do) and are staying for fear of snow on the passes. They stood by the bar, drank beer and made jokes about going down to the mall after dinner for shopping and a movie. The nearest mall is at least 300 miles away, the nearest movie 100.

I could like this place, if there was a bookmobile.


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

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