By Kevin S. Giles
The man who answers my knock at a trailer house behind the locked gas station holds a pistol. Behind him, a television flickers black and white images on a bare window.
“Too late for gas, Bud, we’re closed.” He brushes his wild gray hair back with the hand holding the gun, swinging the barrel toward the darkening Wyoming sky. “Damn insurance people don’t allow no gas this time of night. Can’t turn on the pumps so I can’t help ya, get it? We open at dawn if you’re still around.” He motions me away with the gun and slams the door.
Out front of the station, my new father-in-law’s Dodge Charger sits bone dry at a padlocked pump. I walk over to the highway, looking both ways into miles of sagebrush. No cars or even distant lights.
Becky waits in the Charger. We calculate that driving farther down the road was riskier than staying put. A gas pump, even locked, gives stranded motorists some peace of mind. I wander over to inspect a phone booth. Light broken. Pages ripped from the directory.
From the east, a car. Headlights in the dusk. It’s a beater, full of smoke and young punks. I count four. They pull along the Charger to stare at my new wife. A punk leans out an open window. I smell trouble. “What you doing here, man?” Testing me, the situation. I’m young but I already know the type. He fumbles for the door handle. Dark faces watch from the back seat. Seeing a stack of boards sitting right by the pumps, I grab a five-footer and turn toward the car. The passenger, half out of the door, eases back in.
“Don’t want no trouble, man.” The car rolls away. Face of desperation is what they saw. Not a thin young man with a board and a prayer.Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot
It’s almost dark. We sit in the Charger, wondering how far we could drive before it sputters to a stop on the highway. A Willy’s Jeep pulls into the lot near the phone booth. Young woman at the wheel, about our age. We stare at each other. Finally, we talk. Like us, she’s out of gas. She doesn’t need a telephone directory because she knows where to find her husband. She borrows a dime, then dials the phone and listens. “He says there’s a station just eight miles down the highway. Can you make it that far?” We did and the cars gulp gas. Our new friend invites us to the ranch where they live. Fueled up, our Charger following her Willy’s, down a dirt road far into the night.
Not any ranch, a big sprawling one, the corporate retreat for the Ringsby trucking company, those orange semi-trailers on the nation’s highways with a circle on the front. They’re the caretakers, young like us and lonely. They ask us to stay. A big event was planned for that weekend but canceled on Friday. Becky and I got married Saturday. It was Sunday night. All that food and drink, stocked for nothing.
Steaks fat as pillows came out of the freezer. Cold beer in bottles and cans, gallons of it. We cook up a huge dinner. Shoot pool. Tell stories, real or imagined. Somewhere near dawn they toast our honeymoon status and steer us to the executive bedroom. In the morning, these nice people cook ham and eggs. Implore us to stay a day, a week. Being young, we say no, worried in the daylight that we would put these new friends crosswise with their corporate bosses by eating their steaks and sleeping in the chief executive’s bed. We pull the Charger beside the corporate pump in the distant sagebrush hills of Wyoming to top off the tank, a mere gallon or so. I pay, we say goodbye, and roll down the dirt road on the assumption that the honeymoon trip requires another 500 miles down another highway, to another place and another time and another gas pump.
We watch our new friends disappear behind us, regretting our foolishness at leaving but driving away nonetheless.
Kevin S. Giles is an American journalist and author whose books have roots in his native western Montana. He published One Woman Against War in October 2016. Two other books take place in his hometown of Deer Lodge: a novel, “Summer of the Black Chevy” (2015) and the nonfiction work, “Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance.” (2005)