Reflections Blog

Meeting Willie Nelson in the Desert

I met Mick at the high school graduation party of the daughter of some good friends, Kathryn and Martin.  Mick is Kathryn’s younger brother.  He lives in Portland and had blown into town on his Harley.  He rides the back roads, he told me.  More solitude off the beaten track, and he always rides by himself.  All kinds of lonely, which he prefers.  But when you ride by yourself you have to carry everything you need in case of trouble, and there are some long stretches of nothing between Portland and southwestern Colorado.  A tire goes flat in the Mojave Desert, you’d better be able to fix it.

Mick is one of those guys who seems to know how to do anything and fix everything.  But you’d never hear him brag about it.  A free spirit.  Quietly competent.  The soul of self-reliance.  He is who he is and knows who he is and couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks.  As much as anyone I’ve ever known, Mick seems to embody the Emersonian ideal.  In his essay on self-reliance, Emerson wrote, “You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”  That’s Mick.

On one of his trips to Durango, Mick had crossed the back roads of Nevada and come into southern Utah on one of those dry summer days when the air is as hot as the pavement and the dust, fine as talcum powder, seeps into your pores.  He rode into the only gas station in a place that would be a ghost town if the few people there had had the sense to leave.  While he was gassing up, a pickup came to a stop on the other side of the gas pump.  When the driver’s door opened, a dog jumped out and ran about a dozen steps and peed.  Then the driver emerged.  He wore old jeans and a pair of shit-kicker boots, a red cotton shirt, faded from too many washings, and a red bandanna wound tightly around his head.  His face looked like it had been etched with a putty knife, and he had long braided gray pigtails.  Damn if it wasn’t Willie Nelson.  Here in this spit-in-the-road-of-a-town in southern Utah.  Damn.

So what do you do, Mick thought, when you’re in the presence of a legend?  Ask for his autograph?  Find somebody to snap a picture of the two of you in front of your Hog?  Nah, not cool.  But it’s Willie.  Even Mr. Self-reliant can’t pass up the moment.  What Mick says is, “Mind if I pet your dog?”

Willie said, “You havin’ dog withdrawal?”

 It was that unmistakable voice that Mick had heard so many times in the movies and on the radio.  A voice like nobody else’s.  Willie Nelson.

Mick nodded, and Willie called his dog to come over.  The dog ambled up to Mick and then rolled over and showed his belly. 

As Mick reached down to pet the dog, Willie chuckled and said, “You got the belly offering,” which made Mick special.  Willie's dog didn't roll over for just anyone.

“What are you doing out here?” Mick asked.

“I’m working for the government.”  Willie Nelson?  Working for the government?  Mick thought, maybe he’s still paying off that tax debt.

“What are you doing for the government?”

“Well, I’m not working for the government.  I’m working with the government trying to help the people out here.  They’re getting’ screwed up one way and down the other.  Goddamn bureaucrats.  I spent all day yesterday on the phone with one piss ant after another.”

“You making any progress?”.

“Nah, hell no.  Not much,” Willie replied.  “They don’t listen to me.”

Mick found that hard to believe.  “Why not,” he asked.

“Cause I’m an extreme desert lesbian.”

“You’re a what,” Mick blurted out. 

“I said I'm an extreme desert lesbian.  They may not wanna listen to me, but they’re damn sure gonna keep hearin’ from me.”

No, you’re Willie Nelson, Mick thought.  The singer.  The outlaw.  The legend.  Willlie.  The jeans.  The boots.  The bandana.  The craggy face.  The nose.  The braided hair.  That voice.  Like no other voice.  Willie Nelson. 

But without the white whiskers.

Mick never did get the lady’s name.  She went on about her business while he finished gassing up and straddled his bike.  He sat there for a moment, trying to clear his head.  She was as close to a spitting image as anybody he’d ever seen.  Willie, he thought, if you ever need a double, I know where you can find her.

Mick always brought his iPod on road trips but rarely remembered to listen to it while he role.  Hearing the wind whip by over the roar of his engine was its own sweet song.  But on this day, as he rode east over the lonesome dirty black roads in southern Utah, he put his ear buds in, turned his iPod on, and listened to . . . you got it, Willie Nelson singing “On the road again.”

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