We left the Rancho in mid-morning and set our sights on St. George Utah. It’s a place we love and a place we lived from 2004 to 2010.
St. George is red rock mountains and Mormons, weak beer and Paiute petroglyphs. It’s a town full of friendly folk and vistas that can sooth or exhaust your eyes depending on where you look. It’s an unforgiving climate and splendid scenery.
It was night, ten o’clock, and Max was intent on his evening constitutional. The furbeast was right on schedule, you could set your watch on it.
We strolled outside the La Quinta hotel and went in search of the perfect place where a small white dog might relieve himself and perhaps gather some intriguing desert scents.
Notwithstanding the hour, the sweltering heat that defines summertime St. George still had lots of swelter. It’s that apocryphal “dry heat” to which people always refer when justifying life in a blast furnace.
We patrolled the hotel’s meager pet area searching for a spot for Max to squat. The short and scruffy grass was beneath the pup’s high expectations and probably not a worthy recipient for a Maltese nugget or two, or so he thought.
Max moved tentatively as if afraid he might scare up a scorpion, spider or other malevolent critter of the type never seen in the benign compound of his Rancho backyard.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed a figure at the other end of the property. The person – I couldn’t yet testify as to gender – was milling about on the fringe between the hotel’s landscaping and a renegade patch of jumping cholla.
Max’s body language stiffened when he noticed that the individual was accompanied by a small white dog.
Gradually, they came closer and details became clearer. The walker was a tallish, bearded man, a bit rounded at the shoulders. In the surreal light emitted by the neon hotel sign, I could see he had a swarthy complexion but couldn’t make out eye color.
He wore a cowboy hat but not the authentic kind; rather, his was a cowboy-ish hat of the kind bought at the tractor supply store not the tack shop.
His tee shirt had a pocket that did not lisp “Lands End.” It grumbled Hanes Beefy-T. His feet were clad in slip-on shoes without socks.
Did I mention wrinkled cargo shorts, because that’s what he sported. Khaki colored ones with one of those belts without holes. I would have bet my ass they came from the $16.99 table at Costco.
He strolled towards me in a leisurely fashion. Over the muted background sounds of 18-wheelers fueling at the distant Pilot 24-hour truck stop I could hear Max chuffing and kicking his rear legs and the faint tinkle of his dog tags.
The stranger got fairly close and raked his gaze over me from top to bottom. Max and I stared back and closely examined him and his pup, a white terrier, maybe a Jack Russell.
It was like looking at my twin, my doppelganger, my brother from another mother. His expression made it clear he also saw the resemblance. Old guys wearing the same fashion-free outfits walking tiny dogs late in the hot Utah evening. Parallel universes collide.
Then, it happened. As if on cue, we raised our hands and simultaneously made finger pistols at each other while giving “the nod”, that gesture all guys know how to do when greeting a familiar. The practiced raise of the chin, the slight lift of eyebrow.
It was the epitome of senior greetings and the single most “Dad” thing I have ever experienced. The moment reeked of bad jokes, riding lawn mowers and bbq aprons with silly phrases. Can you imagine…finger pistols from the old fartsters in cargo shorts. Only those who carry some years will appreciate all that. For the younger set, think of it as a Dad meme brought to life.
We quickly holstered out hands, no doubt sharing a similar degree of embarrassment and I mumbled low, “Travel safe, friend.”
“Vaya con dios,” he replied.