To the Bartender on the California-Nevada Line

KP Hartman
Sep 19, 2020 · 6 min read

What will be your Hallelujah Moment?

Photo by Daniel Vargas on Unsplash

When we crossed the border from California into Nevada, the first thing we realized is that gas stations are few and far in between, and by default, so is drinking water. The second thing we noticed is that each gas station doubles as a casino. Here is a short list of things I did not think about, at least not until I met you.

One: I did not think about how crude oil is extracted from the earth so I could take this cross-country road trip with something other than a bike or horse.
Two: I did not think about the effect fracking has on local water supplies because I did not think about Point One.
Three: I did not think about the very real lives of the people affected by this industry we all benefit from.
Four: As a result of the last three points, I did not wonder if the consequences outweigh the benefit.

It was well past dark when we crossed the California-Nevada line into the little square outpost your bar lived in. Burning mesquite and juniper hung heavy in the air and I took comfort in the deep red rocks rising around us and the howl of the coyote as I attempted to ignore the haunting, red lights of the fracking site off in the distance.

The only reason I met you is that the car needed gas and it was my turn to drive through the night, meaning I needed coffee. While two of my buddies stayed to fill the tank, Max and I slipped into your dimly lit bar. It felt heavy, weighted down by the force of stale cigarette smoke, desert storms, and time. Some large, others strangely withered, the men that lined the bar all held the gloom of lost dreams and lonesome lives. Each nursed their poison of choice, a nightcap before they would crawl into their trucks for a nights rest before chasing the endless horizon of the desert onwards. Mixed in with the truckers were the oil workers of the fracking site. Many seemed to have just gotten off their shift — still drenched in the sweat, oil, and stain of drilling into the earth.
There you stood, a lady of any age, with thin lips painted in waxy red gloss and bright pink blush resting in the sallow caves of your withered cheeks. You could have been thirty. You could have been fifty. And you took care of each one of those men with the kindness that goes far beyond pouring a drink. You called them darling or dear or honey. You made them feel loved and wanted, if only for a moment.

You were pouring whisky for one of the men. He startled me, turning his large, meaty head in my direction. In the slow and cumbersome movement of his body, the way his large hand cradled the glass with care, and the heavy draw of his lungs, there was something lonely, tender, tired, careful. For a moment, I felt the weight of my feminine curves, my two-day beard, my tattoos and piercings, and the way my body held both man and woman in its features. He didn’t look long. It seemed that none of it really mattered to him. I was just a white kid from out of town passing through.

“What can I get you, dear?” you asked me.
“Two coffees please.”
You nodded and turned to the pot that had been sitting on a warmer for unknown hours. Nothing to waste here. Everything usable was a scarce resource.
“Just passing through?” you asked as I handed over some cash.
“Yes ma’am. On to Arizona. The Grand Canyon.”
“Long drive. Big journey.”
I shrugged. “There’s enough of us.”
Max sauntered up at that point, gave you his best and most dashing smile, took up his coffee and together we walked back to the car. And that was it. The beginning and end our relationship. Except I couldn’t shake you.

We left the red lights of the fracking site behind us, greeting the dark abyss of the great expanse of desert in the night. The others fell asleep as I satisfied myself with the drive, the taste of burnt coffee, and the gentle hum of the high and lilting voices of Gaelic women crooning from the car speakers. Their song made me wonder what desires and longings hid behind their haunting voices. Their voices fit in the desert night just as much as they must in the Scottish Highlands. And I thought of you, would see you dancing just beyond the headlights, wrapped into the tender embrace of the night. I wondered about your life. I had so many questions for you.

Do you have someone to go home to? Do you have someone to wake up to? Do you have a dog you adore? Do you keep a garden despite the madness that is keeping a garden in the Nevada desert? Do you despise your job or secretly love tending to the weary and breaking men who come in? Do you call everyone dear? What is the name you reserve only for lovers? Do you have lovers? Or just one? Or is it just you? How many times has your heart been broken? How many times have you fallen in love? What do you think of this desert? If given the chance, would you go or would you stay? Do you hum the tunes your mama would hum as you clean up the sticky spills of whiskey? Does the fry cook in the back make the kind of jokes you like? I have so many questions for you but maybe the most important one is what would your hallelujah moment look like?

Think of all the stories, the stories our bodies would tell if given the chance, stories of the lines we draw in the sand separating us from them, me from you. Think of the poets who wrote prayers and odes to the desert arches, think of the saints who stood on canyon rims with prayers teetering from the cusp of wavering lips. Think of you. Think of the woman working the night shift with bright red lips to cast away the darkness. Think of the woman whose work-worn hands still felt soft as they brushed over mine in the exchange of cash and coffee. Think of the beauty in a moment. Think of the destruction. Can I ask another question?

Was your community lied to? What lies or half-truths were you told when the wealthy, oily, suited men came to scout the fracking site. Was it necessary? Or did these men mean work and work mean keeping house and home? Did it mean temporary stability?

What would happen to you if I had my hallelujah moment? What would happen if we took down the fracking wells and the logging and the mining companies? What would happen if we gave the desert and the forests back to the wild? What would happen to you?

The February sun began to rise, we needed more gas and I wondered if you had made it home yet. Did you crawl into bed next to someone you love? Did you feed your cat? Did you bring home water bottles from the storage room at work because you can’t drink from the tap?

Two days and a stop in Flagstaff later, we greeted the Colorado River. We had 260 miles, twenty-five days of river, and each other ahead of us. I held the privilege of escape that month.

I had gone to the Grand Canyon in search of the sacred and found the profane. In search simplicity, I found decadent abundance the urban world could never imagine or create. In search of answers, I realized I was asking all the wrong questions. In search of new questions, I found none. On the other side of the river, I didn’t have new answers or grand theories to save the world — yours and mine. I still don’t know what your hallelujah moment would be. I also don’t know what mine is anymore.

On the way back so many days and a little bit of forever later, I tried to find you. But the only place I knew to look was your bar but I couldn’t find it either. I swear it wasn’t there. Maybe it returned to its place in a Jack Kerouac book or took up residency in another mining or fracking site somewhere else in the vast abyss of the desert. Or maybe you went on to live out your hallelujah moment. If you ever read this, will you tell me what that is?

KP Hartman

Written by

He’s a bit of a walking contradiction and has never done anything quite in line with the rules. Find him on Twitter @kp_hartman or IG @mydarlingsimplicity

The Narrative

What’s your story?

KP Hartman

Written by

He’s a bit of a walking contradiction and has never done anything quite in line with the rules. Find him on Twitter @kp_hartman or IG @mydarlingsimplicity

The Narrative

What’s your story?

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