4/6/2022 – Crossing the Rockies
It is three in the afternoon, and the observation car is packed—with good reason. The scenery through these windows is nothing short of spectacular. The Colorado River surges down a twisting, technicolor canyon next to us, vermillion brush lining its banks, ash-grey cottonwoods not yet emerging from their winter sleep, buttes and bluffs like battlements airbrushed by ceaseless winds in shades from buff to brown to tarnished bronze, redolent with splashes of red earth, strewn with geology’s grand and granular handiwork everywhere we look. And in the distance, only seen in tantalizing glimpses, are snow-capped crags that seem—through a trick of light in the thin mountain air—at once impossibly far away, yet close enough to reach out and touch.
We feel not just invited to watch, but compelled to, as if failure to bear witness to such beauty cannot be countenanced. Cattle laze in winter pastures that don’t yet show the first green of spring. Herds of elk flow gracefully over the undulating landscape, heedless of the passing train. A lone moose ambles across a pristine field of snow. Horses caper in their corrals. Mustangs, bound only by cliffs and canyons, rivers and ravines, appear to be the epitome of freedom. Yet, their lives here on the knife edge of nature cannot be easy, or long. Like all freedom, it surely comes at a cost.
The Last Professional is exactly about that freedom, exactly about those costs— questions I grappled with while riding the rails of my youth. Now, from the comfort of this streamliner, I get to contemplate how my answers have played out all these decades later. For me, this has always been more than a book tour.
* * *
Jan and I took the train from Reno to Glenwood Springs for two nights at the lodge, and two delightful soaks in what, we understand, is the largest hot springs pool in the world. From the hotel I did a virtual book event—Covid has made these commonplace over the last two years—with the good folks at The Kings English bookshop in Salt Lake City, grateful for the chance to connect with their customers when a physical stop did not work out. And I gave a long phone interview to The Galesburg Register, in advance of our reading at The Wordsmith Bookshoppe there next week. Our days are falling into a rhythm; an interview, a reading—and when we stop for the night, a chance to explore and get know a place, at least a little, before we move on.
One thing we got to know about Glenwood Springs is that, unless you’re driving or taking one of the two scheduled trains per day, it can be a hard place to get out of. That’s not a bad thing—and actually sounds like a delightful vacation! But it proved to be a little inconvenient when we needed to get back to Grand Junction for a reading at Barnes & Noble yesterday, before heading on east. Fortunately, though their website said they had no availability, the manager at the local Enterprise Rental outlet found a car for us. Turned out he was a train enthusiast. When we got to our hotel last night Jan sent him a thank you note, and a signed copy of my book.
The crew at Barnes & Nobel was stellar, the event casual, relaxed, and fun. They sold a few books, which made it worth their while. We made a few friends, which made it worth ours. Technically I suppose that “acquaintances” would be more precise. Yet there is a quality to the in-person connection an author makes with a reader when inscribing a book for them, a recognition, that transcends acquaintance. A bond sealed with a signature. I feel enriched by the accumulating value of these bonds—earnings in human interest—with every book I sign.
When we boarded the train in Grand Junction this afternoon headed for Denver, Tony—our sleeping car attendant—greeted us with a big smile, a warm welcome, and an obviously sincere desire to make our time in his car, and in his care, as enjoyable as possible. Jersey, who waited on us in the dining car, served infectious good cheer along with excellent meals. “Are you always this happy in your work?” I asked him, as I took his photo. “Depends on which foot I get up on in the morning,” he said, his eastern European accent as charming as his version of the idiom. “I am in this job many years now, and mostly, it is the good foot.”
This Great American Whistle Stop Book Tour has gotten off, as our new friend, Jersey would say “. . .on the good foot.” As our train winds its way slowly toward the Continental Divide, and the six-mile-long Moffat Tunnel that will take us under it, I am filled with gratitude for all those who have made it possible, and who are traveling with us in spirit.
It promises to be a great ride!