You can’t play Russian roulette with a cowboy gun. It plays by itself.
The two horsmen stopped on the ridge of the hill, just before it turned downwards into the valley.
They noticed me but they were attentively scanning the surrounding area. It seemed like a vision. The morning sun lighting the elegant dark horses seemed like a scene from an old western. Their companion – a golden, german shepperd looking dog – was staring silently at me and now, so were the riders.
After a long minute one of them lifted his hand in gesture of greeting. Being in awe of the scene I slowly waved back. The riders exchanged a few words, muted by the distance and chilly winds. They turned the horses toward me and descended, their dog silently folowing them, stopping at their side a few meters from me, but not coming close to smell me as dogs usually do.
The horses were magnificent, with carved leather saddles and on them the men, dressed in boots and hats like cowboys from another time.
I smiled, overwhelmed with childhood feelings, with images and memories of a fictional time.
“Hi, how are you?” I greeted with excitement.
The horsman closest to me smiled back and said something in Spanish, the second horsman staring at me with a stern, poker face.
“English?” I begged.
They gave each other a look, the stern horsman staying perfectly still, barely moving his eyes when exchanging glances with his smiling friend.
“You come Mexico?”
“Crazy Cook, on the border.”
The nice horsman kept smiling at me, clearly thinking what next.
“Habla usted Inglés?” he finaly said.
Why is he asking me whether I speak English… in Spanish? Something was odd, but I kept smiling and lifting my shoulders, saying: “English, Italian, poquito Español. I’m from Europe”
The smiling horsman again exchanged glances with the statuesque friend, who now seemed to be examining me carefully.
In normal circumstances it would have made me uncomfortable, was it not for the fact that I was more or less completely awestruck.
I struggled to say something in Spanish, but my head was empty, although my lips were moving.
We stared at eachother smiling for a litte longer until finally I decided I won’t be able to chat with them: “Ok, bye.”
They exchanged a final glance as in deciding what to do. The stern rider turned towards the valley and started moving, the dog following as if he was a disciplined soldier.
I muttered: “Buenos dias!”
The smiling guy turned arround, looked at me and greeted back in what seemed like the proper form, before riding to the valley.
Did I just not make a picture?
“Hello there! Are you walking the CDT?”
I was deep in my thoughts, descending from a hill when out of the blue someone startled me.
“What’s your trail name?”
I haven’t quite yet fallen out of the dreamy-surreal-odd mood I was in since meeting the horsmen and their dog.
“Wow, that’s a great trail name! I’m Kinsley.”
She was this sunny character, not making much eye contact at first, but speaking lucid, clear thoughts.
She propelled me back to a warm and welcoming reality which I got so used to experiencing on the trail.
“Are you also hiking the CDT?”
“Not exactly, I live in Silver City.”
That’s my next destination, so I asked for some restaurant recomendation.
“You should try the burgers at Burgers & Brownies & Beer, Oh my!”
I will. I asked her where she comes from originally. Boston.
“Boston? How come you moved to such a little town such as Silver City?” I asked.
“I came here so I could hike.”
I was surprised. It’s true I’m hiking the CDT, but someone moving from a city like Boston to a little town like Silver City…
“Are you going to hike Jack’s Peak tomorrow? If you are, I’m going to see you there!”
“I am,” I said, “see you on the trail!”
And just like that, she was gone, leaving a smile on my face while dissapearing behind the rocks in the opposite directions. I wondered if we’d really meet again (we did, not far from Jack’s Peak).
Approaching a parking spot under the mountain next morning there was a lone white car with darkened windows parked just next to the trail. Someone there was brushing their teeth.
I returned the friendly greeting.
“Are you from Silver City?” I asked while resting on my hiking poles.
“Oh no, I’m from Denver, but there are just so many people there I had to get out, I had to find some peace and quiet in the wilderness.”
When learning I was from Europe he cried: “It just feels like America is going to explode any minute now, the American dream is dead.”
That’s a bit dramatic I thought: lHasn’t America being on the verge of exploding forever now? Somehow it seems you always find a way of working things out. And sure, the Ameriacan dream has always been an illusion, but since coming here I find that it has had a visibly postive effect: people here seem to work hard and strive to do better so that one day they will get close to achieving that dream. And through that hard work they develop a healthy sense of pride.”
“That’s true, but it has gone out of control, people just want more and more and the young are different. They are becoming so self-entitled!”
Curious, I thought, that is a typically Slovenian problem where historicaly people have been given all these priviliges without having to earn them.
“I hold a small masonry business in Denver. My best workers are two older drunkards, but both have work ethics – the time I need them to work, they stay sober and they are brilliant at what they do. The young people I hire on the other hand are total beginners, but after two months they start asking for unreasonable rises and when they don’t get it, they dissapear.”
“So what is so wrong with America today?” – I knew this was an impossible question to answer.
“You know I like to smoke a little weed from time to time. I’m 72 years old, but I still like to work, I like what I do and I’m good at it. I’m not a brick layer, I only do renovations of historical brick works. But since they legalised marihuana in Colorado… I just don’t think that was such a good idea. Thousand’s of people suddenly started to move in to Denver to be able to smoke pot legaly which caused real estate prices to skyrocket. My landlord came to me and said: ‘You either pay a higher rent or you have to leave in two weeks.’ Just like that. But business was the same, I’m not earning more, so I was forced to move out. I lost my apartment and my workshop where I kept all my tools.”
His eyes grew sad. “It’s inhumane, capitalism has grown out of control. A person is just a means to achieve a higher profit margin.”
When the purpose of life is profit and richness, and people become means of achieving it – and not the central point of society’s endeavours – can we really blame the young for picking up the wrong ideas?
“I’m Bill by the way. Would you like some oatmeal breakfast?”
“I’d rather chat with you some more if you don’t mind…”
Sitting at the burger joint in Silver City that Kinsley recommended, I start talking international politics with Shevek, my waiter: “Can you imagine this Trump clown dealing with Putin? It really worries me it might end up in disaster. You know I’ve travelled the whole of Europe and Middle East, from Spain to Jordan, surviving by working for free in kitchens, learning to cook as I went. I’ve seen the world and I’m always keeping an interest in world events.”
This guy… A waiter?
“I used to own a fine dining restaurant here in downtown, just across the street where I was also the chef. Then the financial crisis came. And while big cities recovered, small towns still struggle and eventually I went out of business because people stopped going to good restaurants.”
(…A rude thought occurred to me. Maybe the food was to blame…)
“So I closed it down and opened a fast food joint and slowly business is getting better. This kind of food people can afford”
Being an European from a non-tipping country I’ve been asking people to try explain tipping to me, whithout much success. This time I got lucky.
“Waiters are paid the minimum wage which is ridiculously low. So that is why you tip, that is most of their sallary. I try to pay my waiters a normal wage and we also have a system of communal tipping which we split evenly. That way is fairer. You see, a waiter during weekends can earn much more than the waiter on thursday for doing the same exact same job.”
Something’s wrong with this town, I thought. In a capitalist USA in a republican leaning state I find a socialist jew just opposite of an cooperative grocery store? Is there some grassroots socialist revolution happening in the most awesome little town I ever visited?
Well, probably not.
It was time to visit the Silver City Bernie Sanders campaign store just across the street from my hotel.
“Is Sanders popular in Silver City?”
Alice, the store keeper and Sanders activist explained, that because of the ranchers and more and more non-mexicans moving into town, Silver City is becoming more and more republican, although New Mexico is considered a so called purple state (blue being democrat, red being republican): “When we held a democratic precaucus in New Mexico we did a so called straw poll where delegates first vote by just a draw of hands. Sanders won by such a majority that the Democratic party cancelled the official vote.”
The Democratic party’s only acceptable nominee in this elections is Hilary Clinton. Sanders is turning out to be a bad conscience, a lesson in the opaqueness of the democratic process. The final choice seems to lay with the elite.
After chating with Alice for almost an hour she decided that I should put a Sanders badge on my backpack, so she gave me two.
Then I remembered. The two horsmen have been bugging me for days and she might just be the right person to clarify what I experienced. I told her the whole story and she suddenly turned serious: “They were probably drug smugglers from Mexico and you were very smart to react the way you did because the situation might had gotten really nasty.”
“But then again they might have been cowboys.”
They were not.
P.S. I researched Shevek’s pevious restaurant. It did not go bust because of the food. It was one of the best reviewed restaurants in the region.