Late evening light has turned the red rock cliffs and sandy badlands out my left driver’s side window a spectacular orange color, and I’ve slowed down some to drink in the view. I have learned not to take my eyes off the road for too long in this area, because the tourists driving their huge rented recreational vehicles are notoriously bad drivers, having no real grasp of the dimensions of their air-conditioned rolling mansions, and will routinely drift over the center line, anxious that their right side wheels are going to slide into the soft red sand at the pavement’s edge and they’ll roll their rig. They prefer instead to hog part of the southbound lane I’m cruising down. They look in the big RV mirrors and panic when they see all that vehicle behind them. They remind me of a big ol’ chunky golden retriever we once had who didn’t seem to make the connection that his hindquarters were actually a part of him, and not some other bad dog sneaking up behind him, and he’d panic and snarl and start chasing his own ass-end around in circles until he grew tired of the chase, forgot what it was all about, or my dad would grab him and calm the big guy down. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, that dog.
My name is Dave, and I am on Utah State Route 191, approaching the entrance to Arches National Park, which is another good reason to stay alert. The tourists that swarm to Arches in summer can do the damnedest things, like suddenly entering the road near blind corners, or making slow U-turns behind rises in the highway that make them impossible to see, until some unfortunate comes flying over the rise and obliterates both vehicles so completely that no recognizable vehicle remains, only a debris field of metal and plastic and human remains that the highway department crew out of Moab will come out at all hours to clean up, picking up the body parts with a snow shovel. I love this area of Utah but detest driving this stretch of highway at dusk, when visibility is fading, but before many drivers have turned on their lights. I do not want us to be part of the carnage, so I’ve slowed down to 40 miles per hour, to enjoy the view of some of the finest desert scenery in the American Southwest.
I have also been working hard not to be distracted by DeAnne, the great-looking young 19 year old college student from eastern Colorado, who is asleep and snoring cutely, stretched out on the bench seat of the two year old Ford cargo truck that our river company owners recently bought. The decrepit, fifteen year old Chevy flatbed stake truck I’d been using to haul the company’s rafting gear to and from various wilderness rivers, in various Western states, had left me stranded on the dirt washboard road from the takeout at Clay Hills Crossing, on Lake Powell, for two full sweltering July days, until someone back in Durango decided that maybe there was some problem, and they should look for me, since I was 48 hours overdue.
I’ve been feeling proud of myself for not reaching down and touching DeAnne’s slightly sun-burned face, or stroking her auburn mane of hair. She has pulled her denim jacket over her. The jacket has a beautiful, hand-embroidered butterfly on the back. I am thinking that if this keeps up, I might get the reputation for being an actual gentleman, something I have studiously avoided all my young life thus far, along with any related faddish self-improvement scams, such as training in table manners, or ballroom dancing, and other dweebish crap like that. Also, I know that once I get started on DeAnne, I will most certainly lose my focus on traffic coming up the highway, and we will both end up being picked up with snow shovels by the crew from Moab. So I’m not gonna touch this lovely young woman, until we get beyond Moab, where the traffic will be thinner, at which point we’ll see what happens.
I am real tired, but DeAnne is utterly exhausted, and deservedly so. Our day had started 9 miles back up river from the takeout at the town of Green River, Utah, from our last river camp in the canyon. After we hit the BLM ramp near the town, we spent two hours unloading boats, washing coolers and gear, and packing everything up into our three trucks that shuttle drivers had left waiting for us since mid-day. After putting our clients, a family group from Sacramento, on board an air-conditioned bus and seeing them off, our other two trucks, loaded with gear, and a GMC Suburban carrying our river guides, had taken off back up to Vernal, Utah, to deliver most of our gear to a storage unit, to be used next week by another group of guides who would take them down the same beautiful river through Desolation Canyon. I have driven south with some rafts and equipment, stuffed into the back of this cargo van I’m driving now, headed for Monticello, Utah, where, in a few hours, about 11:00pm, I will leave the gear in a storage unit, so that another guide team can retrieve them for a trip our company is running on the San Juan River, in the southern part of the ‘Industry’ state. After dumping the gear, DeAnne and I will continue on to Durango, though I’m very dubious about this flaw in ‘da plan’. She will fly out the day after tomorrow, so we have some leeway. I am very tired too, but I coffee’d up in Green River, and wolfed down a green chile cheeseburger at our favorite cafe, and feel perked up, for the moment at least.
When we drove off from Green River, headed east on I-70 to Crescent Junction, I suggested to DeAnne that we rent a motel room on the company’s dime in Monticello, after dumping the gear, since I can’t see us driving all the way back to Durango from Monticello in the middle of the night; it’s a four-hour drive, which gets us into town at 4:00 am. I explain that Mike, the owner of our company, will cover the cost of one room, but usually expects us guides to bunk up together, to save money. The motel owner in Monticello, a good friend of Mike’s, is cool with us guides crashing four or five to a room, as long as we don’t raise hell. I’ve occasionally spent the night with six young folks stretched out on camp pads, after playing ‘odds and evens’ with our fingers to decide who gets one of the two comfy motel beds for the night. DeAnne kind of gently nixed the motel room concept, probably thinking it a poor idea to share a motel room with a 28 year old single guy like me. And, in fact, it probably would be a not-so-good idea, since I likely would be unable to keep my hands off this sweetie. This little issue of exhaustion and motel rooms and my libido is problematic, so I’ve decided to decide nothing, for now; we’ll just wait, and see what happens.
DeAnne finally crashed out on the van seat after we turned south at Crescent Junction. She held up pretty well up to that point, and we’d chatted amiably. If DeAnne has one deficit, it’s that she can be a little chatty, but she’s so sweet and cute that I am going to be a big guy and forgive her on this tiny peccadillo. DeAnne is, well, she’s just nice, a really nice young person. While her energy held up, I got a rundown of some of her life story.
Although she had always wanted to be a veterinarian, she had come to enjoy her work at the nursing home, a geriatric facility not far from her family’s ranch, so close in fact that she could ride her bike there after school. She really likes helping people. She’d always gotten outstanding grades. She received a serious scholarship offer from an excellent health sciences program at a college in California, giving DeAnne half a free ride on tuition and housing for her two year course of study, an offer she simply couldn’t refuse. She will graduate this coming December with an associates degree from the college near San Francisco, with a credential that allows her to take the state exam to be a physical therapy assistant. She will work for a year and save money, and, if all goes well, she’ll go back to school to become a full-fledged physical therapist. When I ask her why not just go for the PT degree right now, she confesses that her folks would have to pay her way in full, and that it’s a stretch financially for them, and she wants to take the money burden of her education off her parents. She doesn’t want to borrow money. She wants to pay her way herself. I’m thinking this is a pretty mature attitude DeAnne has, and it just impresses me even more, this concern she has for her folks finances, on top of the performance I’ve just seen from her over the last four days on the river.
Another thing DeAnne wants to pay for herself is some body art. Her best girl in California shelled out for a beautiful multi-colored butterfly on her lower back that extends down below her bikini line, and drives the boys just plain nuts. DeAnne is convinced that having her own butterfly just above her butt is gonna make her just about the coolest girl evah, so she can drive the boys just plain nuts too, but the tattoo artist who did her friend’s ink is not cheap, and she really doesn’t think it’s OK to spend any of the money her parents insist on sending to her on body art, so if she works for a year and saves a little towards a butterfly, she can hire the guy. Also, she likes his motorcycle. As she chats on about this butterfly thing, I’m thinking,”Oh man, please, honey, don’t do it”. I have no business judging her on this, and I find quality body art very sexy, but I have some paternalistic impulse going on here, and as I said, DeAnne is, well, she’s just nice, a really nice girl, and I don’t want her to be any less nice, and some tattoos are, like, bogus and poorly done, and that makes me think less of the women who are going to carry this bad ink around on them for the rest of their lives. I’m also thinking, “What the hell is my problem here?”
Also, DeAnne is worried about her high-school sweetheart, a young cowboy type back home in eastern Colorado, where her Dad raises quality beef critters, the best beef critters anywhere, even if his business has never really paid that well. Her boyfriend is a great boy, really a great boy, but since she moved to California to go to school last year, she has met a lot of super-nice boys, and even has dated a couple, although they seem to expect something from her after the second or third date that she’s not quite ready for, and those California boys lose interest fast when they can’t get past second base with DeAnne. As she chatters on about this, I’m thinking, “To hell with them, sweetheart, keep those jerks out of your pants.” And I’m thinking, “How the hell is this my business, and why do I care?” She finds her cowboy sweetheart back home a little, she doesn’t know, suddenly a little dull, and she has come to realize that his prospects for the future are cloudy, him being a cowboy type and all.
She misses her family and friends in Colorado, but she lo-o-o-ves California, even though the girls there are so much better dressed than she is, and so much better looking than she is (“Huh? Are you freaking kidding me?” I’m thinking) and some of the boys are kinda fatheads, but some of them are gems, real gentlemen who go to church now and then. But you know who she really misses? She really misses her miniature Siberian Husky dog, her name is Glacier, and she’s the love of her life. When she gets her own place in San Francisco, after graduating and getting a job, she’s gonna bring Glacier to live in California. She’s absolutely sure Glacier will love California, especially the beach, and if she meets some guy who likes her, but he doesn’t love Glacier, then he’s outta there!
Her Mom is the love of DeAnne’s life too, and would do anything for DeAnne, but she’s determined not to take anything from her mother, who’s had a kinda hard life. Her bio Dad is her Mom’s second husband, her first husband being a complete loser, and fortunately he’s locked up at Walsenburg prison for something he did up in Denver, something her Mom just doesn’t want to talk about. Mom’s first husband, the loser, will be in Walsenburg another six years, and then, if he comes back to their hometown in eastern Colorado, her Mom and Dad may relocate, but that’s way far off, so they’ll just wait, and see what happens.
DeAnne’s family owns a beef operation that they acquired at a great price, when she was seven, after the previous rancher went belly up. The former owner had succumbed to the lure of greater profits that might be his if he began running a new breed of genetically-engineered steer on his acreage. This new breed was larger, stouter, and meatier than the standard breed, and the rancher had done some figuring and arrived at the conclusion that the greater yield per head was his way out of trouble, as he’d over-leveraged the operation. So he liquidated half of his current animals and bought a herd of the new, improved model. The next spring, when newborns began dropping in the pastures and feed pens, a large percentage of the calves were born with numerous defects: half a face, three spare legs sticking out of the side, two heads, weirdly twisted torsos. Some of the poor creatures looked like a large meatball. When beef buyers saw these deformed animals, they simply refused to buy any cows from the operation, worried about their liability if these animals were pushed into the food chain, and the genetic defects spread into people, an unlikely scenario, but one that spooked them. After digging a huge pit, and shooting the cursed animals, and burying the carcasses in the hole, the rancher, unable to pay his creditors, was forced into bankruptcy. All her life on that ranch, DeAnne’s Dad had forbade her to even walk on top of that pit mound. He fenced it off and never ran a single head on it, assuming that some poison in the ground might rise up through the soil, and curse him and his family too. This weird story that DeAnne spilled out kinda sorta freaked me out, and I changed the topic pretty fast.
Last winter, DeAnne decide she wanted to work on the river in the coming summer, cuz she went on a river trip two years ago with her church friends, which her Dad paid for, which was, like, so cool of her Dad, and he’s the love of her life. The river trip, and especially the women guides, who the great-looking male guides called ‘the goddesses’, so impressed her, that DeAnne decided that she wanted to be one of them, although she had no actual rowing skills, or wilderness guide skills. DeAnne faxed out resumes in March to a lot of Colorado-based wilderness companies, touting her new skills as a therapy assistant, and her years of experience working in the nursing home, helping out seniors, when she was a teenager, and still in high school.
The owner of our river company, Mike, initially tosses DeAnne’s fax into the circular file, but then retrieves the resume, un-crumples it, and puts it in a folder on his desk. A month later, a former river trip customer from Sacramento, California calls, and gives Mike an assignment: he wants the company to put together a slick-ass, luxury ride down through Desolation Canyon for his family. He really doesn’t want his family to work too much, he wants his family to be free to spend as much quality time together as possible, because he wants to bring his 75 year old mother, who has serious arthritis and other health issues. He wants his mother and her grandchildren to have a great experience together. Mike reads between the lines: the client, Edward, knows his mother is in rapid decline, and he wants her life to go out with a bang, and he wants his kids to remember their grandmother, not as an invalid in a hospital bed, but sitting in the sun, and soaking in the river, in a fabulous Utah river canyon. Ed is a very successful entrepreneur, and is very affluent, and when Mike talks about expenses, Ed politely cuts him off in mid-sentence and says “I don’t care what this costs. I want the food to be excellent, I want extra guides to take care of the work load, and I want a personal guide assigned to my Mom. See if you can find the right person, a woman, who can take care of my mother.” Mike immediately grabs DeAnne’s wrinkled faxed resume; he interviews her twice by phone, and decides to take a chance. Although DeAnne has no real boating skills, doesn’t have wilderness rescue or wilderness first aid training, and doesn’t have the Utah boatman’s certificate, things which he requires all of his guides to have, she has great references, she has a lot of experience helping seniors with their mobility issues, hygiene, medications, and more, and her upbeat and cheery voice on the other end of the line impresses him, so he hires her. She will be paid the same as any other guide, and he will pay her travel expenses to Durango. After he hangs up, Mike has some momentary doubts about his decision, but he blows off his worries, and decides to just go with it, and wait and see what happens.
On the first day of June, DeAnne flies from California to Farmington, New Mexico, then takes the airport shuttle to Durango, and spends the night at Mike’s house in Durango. Mike and his wife enjoy DeAnne that night, and are so impressed with her, that any doubts Mike may have had are resolved. Mike’s wife thinks that DeAnne is, well, she’s just nice, a really cool girl. The next day, Mike and DeAnne have breakfast at the diner on Main Street where she meets his guide team: four women and five guys, including myself, strong boaters all. The next morning at 5:00am, the trip leader, Andrew, a big man and a great guy, the other guides, myself, and DeAnne, take off for Vernal, Utah, where Ed and his family have arrived by air-conditioned bus, and are staying at the Holiday Inn. The group includes Ed, his wife Jean, his youngest son, a gawky, awkward 14-year-old who has yet to fill out his frame, his two twin 15-year-old sisters who sport substantial braces on their teeth, two teenage female cousins with substantial braces as well, a round, cheery family friend, Dolly, who is Ed’s mother’s lifelong best friend, and Elaine, Ed’s mother. One family member not present is Ed and Jean’s oldest son James, who is attending the summer session of college in California, coincidentally living near San Francisco, about thirty miles from DeAnne’s school near San Francisco. Elaine is cheery and bright, but hunched over, and walks with two canes, and with great difficulty. Some of the guide team and DeAnne spend the night at the Holiday Inn with Ed and the family, where they enjoy a fine meal. Ed is regretful that James cannot be here, but James needs some credits to graduate in December, then want’s to attend law school. Jean pulls out snapshots of her eldest child and shows them proudly to DeAnne, who can’t help but notice how good-looking a guy James is. James’s twin sisters squeal out that their oldest brother is ‘to die for!’ Some of the guides have gone down to the river ahead of the others, to rig boats, load gear, and prepare for the family’s arrival. The next morning, the family and remaining guides arrive at the river, and, after the usual inspection by the BLM river rangers, the group loads up, shoves off, and floats into the glorious and majestic Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River, one of the great float trips in America.
This four-day, three-night river trip happens in one of the classic American river canyons. Desolation Canyon is a deep, magnificent fissure in the Uintah Plateau. The canyon walls rise thousands of feet above the canyon floor. The brilliantly color-banded cliff walls reveal a chronological history of the mountain building, block-faulting, subduction and overduction processes that formed the Rockies, the intermontane basins of Utah and Nevada, the red slickrock canyons of the Arizona strip, etc. Numerous excellent camps, with sandy beaches shaded by copses of tall, drooping cottonwood trees, make for an excellent and easy float trip. The rapids, although easy for the guides, provide plenty of excitement for the teenagers, who are on a smaller raft and working together as as paddle team, without scaring the older women too much.
The first day on the river, DeAnne takes up her position next to Elaine, never really leaving her side for any real time. When Elaine needs to get in or out of the raft, DeAnne handles her expertly. Elaine is wearing a harness that enables DeAnne to keep a firm grip on the older woman. DeAnne recognizes that Elaine is fragile, and she goes out of her way to protect Elaine from any falls or hazard. By the time the group arrives at the first camp, a long sandy beach below an exciting pour over, called Chandler Falls, Elaine and DeAnne have become fast friends. Ed’s whole family is impressed by DeAnne because, well, she’s just nice, a really sweet young woman. DeAnne is working so hard to help Elaine that she doesn’t have any time for herself, is missing out on meals, barely taking time out to pee, and can hardly manage her own personal gear. Watching this performance, Andrew is very impressed, and he quietly takes the guides aside and tells us to do everything we can to assist the girl. Ava and Ben, our two camp chefs, make sure that food is kept hot and set aside for DeAnne, since the young woman is so busy helping Elaine that she isn’t really able to eat on the groups schedule. Ed and Jean have started to watch DeAnne’s efforts with Elaine out of the corners of their eye, and exchange glances, silently communicating with each other that this attractive, cheery, hard-working ranch girl from Colorado, with her gorgeous mane of rich auburn hair, is really something.
That night, myself and Paul, a real fine boatman from Wyoming, set up a big, spacious tent that we called ‘the Superdome’ for Elaine and Dolly to sleep in, with a camp latrine inside the tent, so that Elaine, helped by Dolly, can take care of her needs without walking down the beach in the dark, to the group latrine we’ve set up in a sheltered, discreet location. Throughout this trip, whenever she hears Elaine and Dolly get up and move about in their tent at night, DeAnne, sleeping in a small bug tent close by the two senior women, gets up and checks in to see if she can help. Elaine keeps telling DeAnne what a nice young man her grandson James is, and that she wishes he were here, so DeAnne could meet him.
DeAnne’s performance is so impressive that Ed’s kids pick up on what’s happening, and start doing everything they can to help her out, maybe feeling a little guilty about their early impressions of the young woman from eastern Colorado, who at first seemed a little rural, a little funny, to the teenagers from California. DeAnne quickly grows in stature, and gains the entire group’s affection, so much so that a shift takes place among the experienced river guides’ whole attitude. Andrew recognizes that DeAnne is the linchpin, that her service to Elaine is the critical factor in determining whether or not this family trip will be excellent, just OK, or even a bust. By nightfall on the second day of the trip, we are all basically working to support DeAnne.
I’ve been guiding the teenagers as a paddle team, which gives them plenty of exercise and excitement. As the young paddlers gain confidence, they start taking responsibility for themselves, needing less and less commands from me. They start to see what needs to be done, are recognizing the water dynamics ahead of them, and are learning how to run the rapids. This immersion in the sport of river running is a great learning experience, and I see them grow a little day by day, right in front of me. Ed is seeing this too, and, in a quiet moment, takes me aside and voices his appreciation for my efforts. This trip is turning out to be exactly what he dreamed it would be. The teenagers are having a blast. The senior women are having a blast. The food is great. The weather is perfect. Ed and Jean are overjoyed to see their family having this experience together. And Ed and Jean are enjoying each other, sitting in the shade of the cottonwoods holding hands, cooling off in the river with their arms around each other, enjoying scotch on the rocks each evening, sitting in low-slung beach chairs with their feet in the water, down by the beautiful rushing current.
On the third and last night of camping on this trip, the teenagers are having a water fight in waist deep water in front of the circle of camp chairs we’ve set up for the family every night, by the water’s edge. Elaine, sitting comfortably with her own scotch-and-soda, suddenly looks at DeAnne and says, “ I want to get into the river with the kids; think we can do it?” DeAnne helps Elaine to her feet, then carefully supports the 75 year old arthritic as she takes mincing steps into the water. The teenagers stop their water fight so as not to soak Grandma, but Elaine begins vigorously splashing at the kids, who counterattack gently. Elaine is laughing joyously, and Dolly decides to join the fray. Dolly charges into the river kicking water at the teenage combatants. Ed and Jean, up by their tent under the trees, are drawn to this commotion, and they rush into the water to get their own licks in. At this point the entire family, lit by the evening sun low on the horizon, is howling with laughter, splashing each other. DeAnne, who is supporting Elaine from behind, is getting pretty wet herself. Suddenly, Ed, Jean, their children, the cousins, Dolly, and Elaine are embraced in a group hug. I’m not sure if the water on Ed’s face is river water splashed on him by his adoring family, or if it’s tears he’s shedding. His hand slowly reaches out from the family clusterbunch and grasps DeAnne by her right arm, and he gently draws DeAnne into this group embrace.
Next day, we shove off late, about 10:00 am, after an exceptional breakfast and a lazy morning swim. Andrew knows that we don’t have far to go, and wants to stretch out this day on the river, and let the kids wring every last drop of fun out of this, the best vacation of their lives. Also, he puts DeAnne in his rower’s seat, and coaches her in rowing skills for two hours. This is the first time DeAnne has ever rowed a raft and, predictably, her first mile is spent spinning out of control, getting pulled into eddies, brushing rocks, and in general chaos. Andrew patiently commands her to “pull on the right, good, now pull on the left, no-no, not too much, look up ahead, read the water, keep us right in the middle of the current, good, that’s right, perfect…”. DeAnne is looking intense and concentrated on her lesson. The rest of us guides, on our own boats, are watching her become a river goddess. When we have beached the rafts on the BLM boat ramp at Green River, a cheer goes up from the entire group, startling some fisherman on the other side of the river, and they wave their hats and cheer too.
An hour later, the air-conditioned bus that Mike has lined up for the family arrives. After a last swim in the cool river, the guides, the family, and myself crowd around each other, shaking hands and giving hugs all around. After DeAnne has helped Elaine into her seat, giving and getting one last strong embrace, DeAnne steps off, and gets surrounded by the entire family for a minute. She get’s strong hugs from Ed’s whole family. Then most of the family files up the steps and onto the bus. The rest of us guides have returned to the equipment chores, deflating and rolling up boats, clearing out coolers, loading gear into the trucks, etc. Ed, waiting patiently at the foot of the bus steps, lingers next to DeAnne and seems unable to break off, holding her hands between his. He’s leaning forward and speaking quietly to the young woman from eastern Colorado, this sparkling diamond of a ranch girl who fell out of the sky and into his family’s lives. Finally, they hug, he kisses her on the cheek, then climbs the steps.
As the bus door closes, and the rig slowly rolls forward, Ed’s family are all waving goodbye to DeAnne, now standing alone and waving back. DeAnne watches the bus roll away until it is completely out of sight, and then a moment longer. Instead of turning around and getting back to work with the rest of us, she walks off up river into the beautiful cottonwood grove, and disappears for a few minutes.
A little later, as cliffs all around us turn orange in the evening sun, we saddle up and ride off in our vehicles. Andrew and the others head north, and will bunk out in Vernal that night, at the Dinosaur Motel. They will eat ‘Brontosaurus Burgers’, and have a few drinks together on a motel room balcony, watching the geology of Utah slide into night. DeAnne and I grab a bite in Green River, use the restrooms, then blast off east, down I-70.
It’s now 10:30pm at night. We stopped briefly in Moab and used the restrooms at a convenience store, where we have bought popsicles. Something about the look and smell of the coffee that’s been standing all day on the filthy heating coil at the back of the store makes me realize I don’t really want coffee after all. A little while later, riding southbound in the dark, DeAnne, who has become quiet and pensive across the bench seat beside me, shifts in her seat, and looks at me, and we start to speak.
“Wow, you know Dave, those people were the nicest people I’ve ever met. I can’t believe how nice they were to me.”
“Uh, and you’re surprised or something? Jesus, DeAnne, you really made it happen. Seriously, you were great.”
“Oh, wow, thanks, yeah, I gave it my best shot. I love doing this, this whole rafting thing, it’s the best.”
Silence for a moment. She speaks again.
“I don’t know what to do about something, I mean, I’m not sure sure what to do.”
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Ed asked me to visit them in California at the end of the summer, which is just great, I mean, I’d love too. Haha, I think they want me to meet their son James.
I’m thinking, “Ah, yes, way to go, Ed, smart man, smart man…”
I say, “And this is bad?”
“No, no, I mean, I dunno, haha, I guess I’m getting set up or something.”
“So this is a problem?”
“No, not that, that all sounds pretty cool, really. It’s just, when we were talking outside the bus, Ed gave me an envelope with some money, he gave me a big tip.”
“Well awwwright girl! Way to go Ed! Glad to hear it!”
“I think I should share this money with the rest of you guys, I mean, after all, you worked so hard too, and, I dunno, I should share it.”
“How much dough are we talking about here?”
DeAnne pulls the envelope out of her shorts pocket, and pulls out a serious wad.
“I think there’s over a thousand dollars here, but I’ll have to count it again.”
I am stunned, and my chest hurts where my jaw just hit it, and I say “WHOA! Are you serious? Ed dropped a grand on you back there?! WHOA!! Way to go, Ed!…Whoa!”
DeAnne peels off a hundred dollar bill, and offers it to me, “ Here, take this.”
Rarely, if ever, have I turned down free money in my life. This river rat life doesn’t pay much, and I could always use a few extra bucks, but, for some reason, my hands never leave the wheel. I look at DeAnne, and just shake my head.
“No way, DeAnne, not a chance.”
Her hand is still outstretched towards me, and the hundred dollar bill is hanging there in the cab of the truck, just dangling between us. Then, for some reason, I erupt, and kinda start yelling at the startled girl.
“No friggin’ way, no way, you just keep that dough, DeAnne. You earned every dime of that money, and you don’t have to share that with anyone! And you stop worrying about that money right now, you hear me? Ed’s got deep friggin’ pockets, sweetie, and he ain’t gonna miss that cash at all. He’s not hurtin’ for bucks and I know that for a fact! Damn!”
DeAnne is a little stunned by my outburst, and I am too. There’s a lull in our conversation for a long moment, then DeAnne speaks, quietly, almost in a whisper.
“This is the most money I’ve ever actually had in my hands…the most money anyone ever gave me, I mean, you know, that wasn’t for school, you know?”
I say nothing. A very long moment passes. She speaks again.
“We’re poor, Dave, I mean…my family…we’re poor. My folks haven’t got a dime. I don’t know what they’re gonna do…they give me everything I need, everything I want…I mean, they pay for my school, they gave me Glacier, they actually paid money for a dog, I loved that dog the instant I saw her…they never keep anything for themselves…they’re just…we’re just…poor.”
I speak,” They’re the coolest, and you are too, that’s for sure!” She looks at me and smiles.
We are both totally exhausted. We continue on, and in another hour, we roll into Monticello, right past the motel, and I turn in at the storage unit. After I dump the gear, we hit the pavement again, and I drive the truck back towards the motel. DeAnne never speaks, though it’s obvious we’re gonna grab a room. It’s 11:30 at night.
I go into the motel office, deal with the night clerk, then DeAnne and I drive around to the back of the building. We grab our daypacks and walk up to a motel room door, which I open, and I step aside to let DeAnne in. When she is inside, she stops and looks back at me, still on the sidewalk, outside.
DeAnne, her eyes red from tiredness, looks kinda quizzical at me, and says, “Aren’t you coming in? What’s going on?”
I simply say “Goodnight, DeAnne, my room is just two doors down. Goodnight”, and I close the door. I’ve given DeAnne the room that is on Mike’s company dime. I’ve paid for my own room out of my own pocket, and as I crash on the bed, utterly and completely spent from this very long day, I think to myself:
“If this keeps up, I might get the reputation for being an actual gentleman. I’d better be careful, better watch my step.”
And, as I drift off into sleep, I think, ”Very cool, Ed. Very, very cool.”