High Plains Drifter
By Timothy Michael Shey
The big Kenworth roared west through Wyoming.
"So how long've ya been on the road?" the truck driver asked.
"A day or two," the young man replied.
"Where'd ya start out?"
"Western Nebraska. I was working on a ranch for a couple of days and got sick of it. I have a friend in California I want to see."
The truck driver was heavy-set and wore a short-cropped beard and baseball cap. The young man was slender and wore glasses. His only possessions: a backpack and sleeping bag.
"Ya got a long ways to go," the truck driver said. "I'll get ya to Salt Lake. Then I'm headin' north."
"Thanks for picking me up. It was cold standing out there."
The rugged, rolling terrain of Wyoming. The sagebrush. The dry air.
"So what'd ya do before the ranch?" the truck driver asked.
"I was in school in Manhattan."
"Where ya from?"
The young man looked over the horizon to his right. There was silence for ten minutes except for the noise of the engine and the bounce of the tractor-trailer.
"So who's this friend of yours in California?" the truck driver asked.
"She's a poet."
"She?" The truck driver smiled and looked at the young man.
"I've never met her before. I've read a couple of her books and we've exchanged a few letters, that's all."
"She has a daughter going to school in Santa Cruz that I thought I might like to visit, also."
"I don't know much about poetry. Is it like drivin' a truck?" the truck driver asked jokingly.
"Exactly." Exactly. Poetry is breath and fire and pain. Poetry is getting drunk or stacking hay on a ranch in western Nebraska. It is holding a beautiful woman in your arms; it is holding a baby in your lap. It is dropping out of high school because of the shallowness and stupidity. Exactly. Poetry is hitchhiking all the way to California to see a brilliant woman who loves the letters you write.
"So where'd ya stay last night? It got pretty cold out there."
"A rancher picked me outside of Laramie. He drove me to Rock Springs where his parents live. They let me stay overnight. Wonderful people. Gave me supper and breakfast."
"It was pretty incredible."
"I'll say. All a person hears about are people gettin' robbed or killed on the road."
The big Kenworth was going 80 miles per hour, passing cars and trucks. The speed and the power, the stress of steel and bolt, piston and axle and 18 wheels. Going west. Going west.
"So where you going after Salt Lake City?" the young man asked.
"Headin' north of Pocatello. Then I'll head back to Denver with another load."
Fire and breath and pain and heading north to Pocatello. Pocatello of your dreams. Pocatello of your nightmares. Six men die in gun battle with federal marshals at the Pocatello Corral. Southern Idaho desert. Dry heat, dry grass, dry blood on dry earth. Exactly. The breath of the moment, the heat of the battle--firefight in the Pocatello Corral. One federal marshal wounded. Dry sun on another horizon. This is not Kansas. This is not Nebraska. This is Pocatello. Pocatello of your nightmares.
"This sure is wide open country," the young man said.
"It's a wasteland. Desert."
"I like wide open spaces."
"Then ya won't like California. Ever been to L.A. or Frisco?" the truck driver asked.
"Where does your poet friend live?"
"Never been there."
California of your nightmares. Big Sur of your dreams. Fire out of Kansas. Wheatfields and golden landscapes and dry air and blue sky and. Words, ink on paper, meter and fire. The anvil and the hammer and the fireblood of a wounded heart. Laceration and pain. Fire. The wordsmith labors and sweats and bleeds and brings forth new life. Anvil and hammer. The hot steel is shaped. Blow after blow. Sparks fly in the hot and dry air of Kansas.
"So how old are ya?" the truck driver asked.
"So what do ya want to do with your life?"
"I want to be a bounty hunter or President of the United States."
The truck driver smiled and chuckled. "Sounds good to me. Ever see High Plains Drifter with Clint Eastwood?"
"I am the High Plains Drifter."
Flame out of Kansas. Riding west to the gold rush of your dreams. Desperate, unshaven, sunburned and hungry. Big Sur on your mind. Leather boots, leather skin, the stink of horse sweat. Shot six men in Pocatello just to watch them die. The bullet wounds of your heart, the anguish of the moment. Six men in Pocatello. Just to watch them die. You cinch the saddle down tight and ride west with the hot wind of Idaho at your back. You will ride west where the Pacific meets the edge of the Universe. There you will grow new muscle and ride a horse of a different color.
West. Flame out of Kansas. Exactly.
The big Kenworth rolled west through Wyoming and eternity.
Iowa State University
[Republished by Digihitch.com]
Book Review: High Plains Drifter
Clint Eastwood's film High Plains Drifter (1973)
Meeting a Former Editor from Warner Brothers