Column by Hal Walter
Mountain Life – May 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine
IF THE WOOD PILE’S LOW, the bank account’s zeroed out (thanks to the IRS), and I’m up to my hocks in mud, it could only mean one thing:
It’s Springtime in the Rockies.
T.S. Eliot — the British poet who to my knowledge never owned a trophy home in Central Colorado — was correct when he wrote that April is the cruelest month. But March has its moments as well, especially for those who do business locally.
The local newspaper, the Wet Mountain Tribune, had just published an editorial about the virtues of shopping at home the week I met my friend Mad Dog at a local restaurant/bakery on the day between our birthdays. A celebration was in the works, and we were hunting dessert as well as something to write about.
There was a list of the different types of pie on the menu board. So we inquired about the purchase of a pecan pie. But we were told that there was only one pecan pie on hand, and that it was reserved for the dinner crowd. In fact, all of the fruit pies were also unavailable. We would have to choose from the cream pies. Or cookies.
After some discussion regarding a previous visit to this restaurant, and a cream pie that had been quite delicious, we agreed that chocolate-eclair cream pie would suffice for the annual interim-birthday bash.
“We’re sorry, we’re out of chocolate filling. You should have called ahead. How about some cookies?”
“Just what type of pie can we have?” I asked.
“We can make a coconut or peanut-butter pie right now. The cookies are really good too.”
At this point I suggested, fairly politely, that cookies would not do. Then the consternation: Mad Dog won’t touch coconut, and I don’t think peanut butter is for pies. Since neither of us is the type to compromise on matters of the palate, we dismissed ourselves and headed toward MetalMart.
Mad Dog ran recon whilst I stopped at the bank and the post office en route. There is a certain individual who resides in Westcliffe that I’ll just call “Big Stinky,” and when I drove up to MetalMart, he was just leaving the store. Mad Dog was sitting in his truck shaking his head in the most negative manner. Apparently he has had the olfactory misfortune of encountering Big Stinky on just about every visit to MetalMart.
Inside, we found employees walking around spraying Lysol. We headed directly to the bakery and made the grim choice of a cherry cheesecake of unknown ingredients, then passed through the produce section for some wilty lettuce and an avocado that looked like the Pony Express had brought it in from California — back when the Pony Express was still the fastest delivery service.
Unable to hold our breaths any longer, we retreated to the checkout aisles with lungs full of anti-bacterial perfume.
The checkout on the far left was clogged with shoppers, the one in the middle was closed, and the counter to the far right was damp with disinfectant. The checker had a good amount of money fanned out on the counter and was literally drowning the visages of the former leaders of the free world in Lysol.
“We’re sorry. We had to close down this checkout while we disinfect the money,” she said. “We’ll have it back open in a minute.”
“No problem. We’ll be writing a check, for sure.”
MAD DOG HAD HAD ENOUGH, and headed on home for a much-needed shower. But I had to pick up a sack of feed, so I headed for the hardware store.
I really thought the guy leaning on a broom and reading something in front of the counter was a customer waiting in line to be helped. Meanwhile, the worker behind the counter explained the intricacies of a space heater to another customer. It became apparent, however, that the broomstand was not a customer when he finally turned and asked if I needed some help.
“I want to buy some feed.”
“Oh, you’ll need to talk to him,” he said, walking off with the broom in one hand and pointing at the very busy space-heater expert with the other.
More time passed.
Finally, the owner paid a visit to the checkout counter. He watched the ongoing space-heater dissertation for a moment before catching my impatient eye. Since I appreciate the slow pace of small-town life, I acted like it was no big deal.
The owner radioed out to the barn to make sure the feed was in stock before ringing it up, then took my check and gave me a receipt. Nice guy, I thought; too bad he has to fish his help out of this particular hiring pool.
Pleased that somebody had finally taken care of business, I drove around to the barn to retrieve the feed. But there was nobody there.
I walked back into the store through the back door and found a worker who was not the broomstand or the space-heater expert.
“You working the yard?” I asked.
“I need to get this feed,” I said, handing him the receipt. We traipsed back to the barn. When it was apparent that he didn’t know where this type of feed was stacked, I pointed it out. I knew because I had made mental note of it after a similar search by a different employee a couple of weeks earlier.
As I was leaving Westcliffe, I saw Big Stinky up ahead, walking as he does down the side of the road instead of on the sidewalk. As I drew near, he began to slowly veer into the lane, and I swerved to avoid hitting him (a matter which would likely put me in the market for a new truck).
After that, I decided that the only business I would do in Westcliffe was with the bank and post office. But this decision was faulty in logic, because a week later I decided to license my 23-year-old Jeep — which I had promised a friend she could borrow to pull her horse trailer.
The biggest storm of the year had descended upon Custer County on this Good Friday, but I opted to drive to the courthouse to license the Jeep anyway. Also, I had packages to pick up at the post office and needed to swing by the bank for some cash.
IT WAS LATE IN THE AFTERNOON, but apparently too early for either the county or the state to plow any roads. It had only been snowing all day long. I arrived at the post office with a case of blizzard-induced motion-sickness, but was successful in retrieving my packages. There I also learned that the courthouse had closed at noon for Good Friday.
Monday — joking that I hoped the courthouse wasn’t closed for the “Day after Easter” — I talked my wife into retrieving the plates. She called from town to tell me that they cost almost $40, and required a visit by a deputy to check the VIN number on the Jeep.
Sure enough, the dogs were already barking.
I looked out the window to discover that indeed a deputy had already been dispatched from the high-school parking lot. The deputy was a nice-enough guy, and as I led him through the deep mud to the Jeep, he almost apologetically told me that the VIN-number check would cost $5.
Unbelievable. My parents turned this Jeep over to me for less, but I produced and handed over the picture of Abe Lincoln to the man with the badge — just like it were my license, registration and insurance.
The funny thing was, as the bill exchanged hands, I thought I detected the slightest hint of Lysol on the crisp spring air.
Writer Hal Walter has considered mail-ordering fresh fruits, vegetables and baked goods, and having them delivered to his home near Westcliffe.