Cody, Wyoming — I’m riding a small and uncomfortable motorcycle across the United States on a jagged route that doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why I’m in Cody, eating Fruit Loops. I guess I just want to see places I’m usually too busy to notice, places there’s no real reason for me to ever go to. And doing it on a motorcycle takes down all the barriers between you and the world that you don’t even realize that a car throws up.
Me and Ronnie are sharing a bench in the morning. I am slurping my Fruit Loops from a paper bowl and he’s aggressively chewing a bagel. He’s telling me how he impulse bought 400 trees from some liberal in Colorado. Ronnie lives in Cheyenne. “How did you get them home?” I ask, thinking less about what I’m saying and more about why I don’t eat Fruit Loops more often. They are really good. Ronnie says he just had to figure it out. He’s a get-it-done kind of guy. He would like my dad, whose motto is “Git ‘Er Done." One thing Dad gets done a lot is cleaning bathrooms. And also watching NASCAR racing, he gets that done too.
Ronnie used to fly all over this big ol’ country when he was younger, an engineer, he tells me. Now though, he and his wife drive. They drive to see all the places that Ronnie used to fly way above, too busy to notice. He stops talking for a second to swallow a glob of masticated bagel, and the sun is low and early, stretching sharp dewy sun rays out across these high Wyoming plains. I say, “Weeeeelp,” and stand up, which is what you say in rural America when you’re ready to stop talking to someone but you don’t want to say, “I no longer wish to talk to you.” Ronnie stands too and grins and pumps my hand when I extend it. He likes me. And I like Ronnie. I look west and I see our shadows gripping one another’s hand, long and dark, so much taller than we really are.
Honeyville, Utah — There is a place a few miles north of Honeyville on State Highway 38 called Crystal Springs. Crystal Springs is a water park. It is what a water park would be like if you decided to build an awesome water park, but then the only money you had was what you could find in the couch cushions. Which, I assure you, is not very much. But sometimes enough to purchase two Slurpees from 7-11 as my friend Bing showed me when I was little. He also showed me that a good way to save money on Christmas gifts for your little sister is to steal one of her toys in October, then wrap it up and put it under the tree, and she’s just happy to have it back so she’s not mad at you for being an awful spendthrift.
We had a big family reunion at Crystal Springs when I was eight or nine. I thought it was pretty cool back then, because the only water park I had ever been to was my bathtub. And I guess once our downstairs toilet overflowed, and that was fun too, to run and slide on, but it smelled funny. But Crystal Springs was way better than that, and less poopy too. I just remember summer heat and the way your hair got sort of sticky and weedy feeling from the chlorine and sunblock. It was a glorious day a long time ago.
The truth is, I couldn’t have really told you where Crystal Springs actually is. When you’re a kid, your mental map consists of home, Mrs. Ortega’s classroom, the bike jump at the end of the street, and Taco Bell.
But there I was, riding my motorcycle in the slanted late afternoon sunlight on State Highway 38 a few days before I met Ronnie and rediscovered Fruit Loops, when I caught a whiff of chlorine and sunblock, and suddenly the mountainside and the shape of the green, leafy trees seemed overwhelmingly familiar, and I was trying to place it all in my memory bank when I rounded a corner and stumbled upon Crystal Springs, and then I remembered everything. I slowed down and breathed in those sudden memories from a long time ago, heard the kids splashing and shouting, thought about all the places I’ve been between then and now, wondered if any of them have been as good as Crystal Springs in July in 1988. Probably not.