June 28, Casper, Wy. – Sometimes your soul gets stuck in an unseen rut of fathomless depths. Next thing you know, you’re out on the road, going nowhere, wondering where you were going in the first place.
And so we’re still in Casper. I don’t want to think about how long we’ve been here. Five days. Couldn’t help it.
Came here Monday, worked out and showered at the Y (we repeated that yesterday). Haven’t accomplished anywhere near enough to justify the aimlessness of our stay.
We did a little hiking on Wednesday up on Casper Mountain. On the way up the torturous switchbacks, I remembered describing these hills as “squat and muscular.”
What the hell do I know? These are mountains, western mountains.
Big, granite slabs and outcroppings carpeted with lodgepole pine and rising 8,000 feet up in the clouds. Small for the Rockies, perhaps. Casper Mountain is crazy with wildflowers. Forget-me-not and columbine, bluebells and paintbrush, marigold and lupine.
Part of the problem: I didn’t want to leave before getting the oil changed. I was rifling through the glove compartment the other day when I found the receipt from Rick’s Muffler in St. Augustine, Fla. I was a little surprised to find we’ve gone more than 5,000 miles since Lil’ Allen changed our oil. I dearly wished Rick had opened an office in Casper.
The specter of automotive maintenance sends me spiraling into a funk. Finally I decided to take it to Gary’s Lube & Extras. It was at the end of the path of least resistance. I dropped Becky and Max at the Starbucks, turned right onto Cy Avenue and less than a mile later turned right into Gary’s.
Two bays, and I am third in line in for the right bay. I shut off the engine and walk inside. Behind the counter: an elfin who looks like she might be 58 but probably is 38, skinny as a cigarette. She says nothing but taps on a clipboard. I don’t get it. Oh, you want me to fill out a form.
I do. A minute later she’s back, looking over my chicken-scratch.
“What kind of oil do you want?” she asks.
What the hell? I’m thinking: “the oil specified in the goddamn manufacturer’s recommendations.”
But I’m saying nothing and looking stupid.
“Huh?” is what I said.
Because in the countless times I’ve taken a vehicle in for an oil change, I don’t recall being asked this question.
I work up the energy to mutter, “I’m not sure; 5W-30 or 10W-30, probably.”
We decide on 10W-30.
“You want Pennzoil?”
“What’s the difference?” I ask.
I meant: “Does it cost more?”
She says she doesn’t know what the difference might be.
“It call comes from overseas,” she says. “So who knows what it is?”
Jesus. I can’t help but think of the Working for Jesus 24/7 garage back in St. Augustine and poor Mark, the absurdly in-over-his-head mechanic.
I look through the window into the garage. Everyone moves with exaggerated slowness, dragging themselves from step to step. There’s an older guy named George. He’s got a beard and glasses that give him the look of a latter-day Jerry Garcia. He’s taking a smoke break in the middle of a lube job.
My flight receptor kicks into overdrive. I look out at the Behemoth, then gaze around at my surroundings. It would be the easiest thing to get in and drive off. I’ll never see any of these people again.
Mitigating factors: We need an oil change desperately. And they seem to be doing good business. I know they’ve been here since at least 2007, as I looked up Gary’s on the Internet earlier. And it’s just an oil change. How bad can they mess it up?
I look back at George. He’s listing to port. He’s gesticulating, involved in an animated discussion. There’s no one else in sight, though.
Now he’s yelling at one of the other grease jockeys, who derisively calls him “Grandpa.”
I take up a spot on the bench out front. A car is finished in the left bay, and George’s counterpart drives it out front for pick-up.
He gets out of the car, slowly, revealing a capacious belly. I mean to say he’s fat.
“Got air-conditioning inside,” he says. “Hot out here.”
When he opens his mouth to speak he reveals an empty reservoir of decay. I spot two teeth, arrayed roughly in the manner of a 7-10 split.
It’s feeling more and more like the set for a David Lynch movie. When the right bay car is finished. George climbs in and pulls it out.
The underground man comes topside. Maybe it’s Gary, maybe not. He looks like the Marlboro Man 40 years down the road. He’s thin as a femur. His his face is carved in a bewildering collection of lines, like a 300-year-old elm. He squints so tightly, I can’t make out if he even has a left eye.
At the entrance, between the bays, is a stop sign. He reaches behind it and retrieves a half-smoked cigarette. He is covered in grease, which I hope is a good sign.
I’m second in line now. The whole scene moves in surreal slow-motion, like there’s a gas leak below and everyone is being asphyxiated.
I’m next in line now. There’s a car behind me. I’m stuck now.
I’m rereading the opening of “Blue Highways,” which does nothing to alleviate my dark mood. The only thing I seem to share with 38-year-old Least Heat-Moon is a sense of being ill-at-ease, of not knowing where I fit in as the world closes around me.
I’m up. George opens the driver’s door and gets in. Or tries to. I look over. He motions toward me.
“I can’t get in,” he says. “You’re going to have to pull it in.”
I do so, heeding his directions assiduously.
I get out, linger for a second, in case there are any questions. Emphysema-addled Marlboro Man confers briefly with Jerry/George under my hood.
Marlboro Man turns and spits with disgust.
“Fucking Jap crap,” he says.
I walk out of the garage toward the street. Marlboro Man is motioning to the woman in the car in line behind me to cut her engine. She finally does, then gets out.
“You been here before?” I ask hopefully.
She says she has, although the cast has undergone a makeover since her last visit.
“But they must have more money than God,” she says. “They’ve been here forever.”
I take her to mean the woman out front and the Marlboro Man, aka Gary.
I put my nose back in the book. Least Heat-Moon tries to explain how an eighth-generation descendant of a British immigrant named William Trogdon goes by the name William Least Heat-Moon.
What does it matter? We should not expect things to make sense.
They’re done with the Behemoth. Jerry/George says I’ll need to drive it out, after I pay.
I smile meekly at my friend. We silently wish each other luck.
I ask the cigarette woman if she’s one of the owners.
“Richard,” she says, “he’s 99 percent the owner.”
I ask about Richard. He’s upstairs, she says.
I look at the ceiling with wonder. I wonder about Gary and his woman. They look so suspicious it’s like they answered a casting call for “Breaking Bad.”
They got too deep into Richard. Now he’s the owner. He sits upstairs, watching ESPN and cutting lines while they move through their days with the alacrity of turtles on trazodone.
For some reason I think of the name of the shop again: Gary’s Lube & Extras.
And it all seems to make sense.
Yesterday, we did accomplish a couple small things. Like workouts and haircuts.
As for the latter …
And after …