This story originally appeared in the December 2019 (48.3) issue of POWDER.
I couldn’t afford to fly to Jackson Hole. My college buddies were reuniting there on a weeklong ski trip, so I found a cheap flight to Salt Lake City and saddled up for the 5-hour shuttle ride north. I collected my gear from baggage claim and stood waiting in the crisp February air, squinting through the bright sunlight bouncing off a clear blue sky. Exhausted from a late night prior, I was ready to crawl into the back seat of the shuttle and pass out.
Fifteen minutes after my scheduled pickup time, a white van sped through airport traffic and pulled up beside me on the curb. A colorful, hulking mass of a driver was squeezed in behind the steering wheel wearing an electric blue sweater and what looked to be a bleached blonde wig. It was barely noon, but his five-o’clock shadow was already penetrating the thick foundation of makeup on his cheeks. I asked how he was doing. He sneered in a low, gravely cowboy voice, “Another day in Paradise.” He reached out an enormous hand with a French manicure and launched my ski bag into the back of the van like the catch of the day before gunning it for the interstate.
Minutes into the drive, his phone rang and we busted a sudden U-turn while his boss scolded him for leaving another passenger behind—a petite Peruvian man in a Canadian tuxedo with five US dollars in his pocket and a scrap of paper detailing the address of a sheep farm where he’d soon be employed. The man spoke no English.
The driver, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped talking since we left. He waxed on about the weather, speed traps, fast food, scenic attractions, music. “Did you watch the Grammys last week?” he lit up with excitement. “I got the top 100 Grammy-nominated songs on my iPod,” and began blasting his favorite pop artists over the fuzzy speakers.
It became clear I wouldn’t be getting any shut eye on this drive as he asked my opinion on every song he played. Personally, he was most excited about Carly Rae Jespen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Katie Perry’s “Wide Awake,” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” “I love how she just controls her own image,” he said while gnawing on a wad of Big League Chew.
On the floor next to the driver’s seat was a collapsible tool bag packed to the brim with king-sized boxes of Sweet Tarts, Rolos, Snickers bars, Smartees, and the biggest bag of Sour Patch Kids I’d ever seen. “You want a Twizzler Twist?” he asked while thrusting the red, gelatinous rope in my face, dangling it in the air until I accepted.
We burned rubber through flat country as the driver, who grew up ranching, flowed in and out of his life story and explained to me how cattle are raised. “It’s so dry out here,” he said. “That’s why my friend painted my nails to keep them from cracking.” He continued to weave historical context into the passing landscape that slowly gave way to the beckoning snow-capped Tetons.
After blowing by another roadside passenger-in-waiting, we pulled into a gas station in Jackson while he finished his explanation of a crock pot recipe for game meat.
After five hours of conversation, silently overheard by the Peruvian, it felt like we knew each other well enough to hug, but we settled for a handshake, my whole wrist disappearing into his palm.
At the gas station urinal, I thought about how what might have been a strange experience felt more like a pleasant encounter with a fascinating stranger who has a knack for storytelling and penchant for human conversation. Mid-thought, he crashed through the bathroom door, bum rushing the nearest stall and throwing his jeans down to his ankles with the door wide open.
He cannonballed onto the toilet seat and unleashing a catastrophic cacophony of gastrointestinal distress accompanied by the grunting, guttural noises of agony. I quickly exited the bathroom and climbed into my friend’s car, struggling to explain what I’d just experienced.
I don’t remember how the snow was in Jackson that week. But I will never forget how I got there.
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