I arrived in St. George, after seeing the Grand Canyon and camping on the edge of Zion, with no idea whether he was still there, or even still alive... though I figured his folks would be in the phone book. Was kind of glad when his mom answered the phone instead of his step-dad, and it's funny how, once you know someone, you just pick up the conversation where it left off years ago. It must have been fifteen or twenty minutes before I even asked if her son were in town and how he was doing.
To his folks' happy surprise, he lived with them for all of one week before finding a construction job and buying a used trailer. From our conversation, it was obvious that his folks still cared about him, and though his step-dad can be kind of a grouch he's good at heart. After a few months, he loaned his step-son a few thousand dollars to buy a space in a resident-owned mobile home park, which was where his trailer now proudly stood.
I hung around St. George that day, and after getting in touch with him he met me downtown and led me back to his place. I hadn't seen him in over a decade, but there was still that instant rapport that makes you feel that old friends are the best friends. His hair was full, like mine, but cut short and completely gray. He limps around a bit, having had a bad construction accident in the late '90s, after he'd gotten off drugs, that put him out of commission again for years. He says the job is hard on him, but he has to do it and feels happy to be working.
He still likes his beer, which in Utah is "three-two", an acronym I was familiar with from army days, signifying beer sold with only 3.2% alcohol content. We sat up drinking a lot of it on a warm evening, making no effort to muffle or excuse our occasional belches, talking of the Vroom Engine and many other things. As a young soldier in training I didn't much care for three-two beer, but to a couple of men in their fifties it's more about refreshment than about getting a buzz and it suited us fine.
It gets dark about 10 PM in Utah. With their contrarian attitude toward most things, from gasoline octane ratings to alcohol sales, they also do Daylight Savings Time a little differently. We hit the sack about then, as he had to get up at 5 AM to go to work. I crashed out on the sofa in his trailer, and in the morning excused him for forgetting to brew an extra cup of coffee for me. He had his daily routine and it was hard for him to change it.
I was on the road for the next couple of days. Western Utah was fascinating terrain, with back roads running through huge valleys--one after another--separated by low mountain ranges. I'd travel thirty miles or more without seeing another car in either direction. I followed the road map, looking for the most direct way to Route 50 and catching it just over the Nevada border, then staying on it the rest of the way. We'd called my brother from St. George, and he was almost as happy as I was that the trip had included a re-connection with a long-lost friend. After a nice visit in Reno, I'd be on the last leg of the trip, following the California Sierras south to the Mojave Desert and on back to San Diego.
On the trip I saw things I'd never seen before. I hiked the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I swam and camped along the Virgin River near Zion. I got some idea of what much of the non-coastal non-desert Southwest looks like, and was much impressed.
Don't know when I'll be out that way again. Usually a few days on the properties in Arizona makes me anxious for a shower, something cold to drink, and a quick return to San Diego. This time, it turned into quite a memorable vacation trip. Yet the most lasting impression--more than anything else I saw or experienced--was that guy's smile as we recognized each other, and the few hours we spent together talking about old times and the current state of our lives. I have no specific plans to pass through St. George again, but if ever I do I know I have a lifelong friend who lives there and thinks of me from time to time.