Wayne’s World - Back to the future
In the 1970’s a good friend and I used to compete in desert races on our motorcycles. We would practice in the deserts and mountains of Arizona. On one of our trips we ended up in Cleator, out of gas, and about ten miles from our camp site. This story of my last visit in 2003 to Cleator should bring back some memories for Wayne.
As I rounded the bend and got my first glimpse of Cleator I realized it had not changed much in 30 years. It was a mild June day, about 110 degrees and that too was familiar. I was hoping to run into some of my old friends—the guys that hated Wayne and I that day 30-some years ago when we stepped into the bar wearing our motorcycle racing gear and holding our helmets in our hands. We were dirty, dusty, and nasty looking after a full day riding the nearby mountains, washes and desert. That day we even encountered our first experience with quicksand, a 400 pound prospector expert that told us how to escape the quicksand, a tattooed lady, a homemade 4-story high gold shaker with a Ford Falcon engine, and it was the day I drank my first cup of coffee. But I digress.
As I got closer to downtown I saw the familiar bar in the distance. My mouth was dry and I was really looking forward to drowning the dust with a cool one. In the back of my mind I was wondering who would be in the bar and who would be bartender.
It was about 10 in the morning and there were no vehicles in sight. As I got out the sign was beckoning me, “COLD BEER”. As I walked up to the door of the bar the padlock hung on the door in a discouraging angle. Even so it did not stop me. I pressed my face against the windows and peered inside. I could see the bar, some chairs, and that was about it. I was reliving my last visit here when I was shocked back into realty by a loud deep voice.
It went something like this “Want a beer?” “Yeah”, I said and I turned to face a 6 foot 3 inch, 350 pound monster that looked like he could rip my head off with his bare hands. Monster motioned me towards the building next door. I was not sure if I should follow him or not but my thirst got the best of me.
As I entered the door I had to step over the Threshold. Did I mention the Threshold was a 200 pound nasty dog that looked like a cross between a wolf and mastiff? I take that back, Not a nasty dog, just nasty looking.
If you are familiar at all with some of the out of the way places in the west you should realize that conversation does not flow easy when a stranger is in town. That is me, I am the stranger. You also need to be aware of what you say, how you say it, and expect really brief answers. Mostly yep and nope.
I walked up to the bar and said, “Give me a Bud.” The Monster reached in the cooler and handed me a cool one. No glass and he didn’t even open it. You have to learn to be self sufficient out here. Especially cause it was just the Monster, the dog, and me in the bar.
I drank in silence as he restocked the cooler. I was a little nervous because I had noticed the 9mm he had strapped on his hip and more importantly the AK-47 he slipped under the bar when I stepped over the threshold. I finally got up the courage and ventured a weak. “What’s the gun for?’
“Shooting things” Monster said.
Again nervously I ventured, “Like what”?
“Two things.” he said.
Well, he had my attention and interest and I was still alive, so I said, “What two things?” Monster pointed to the ceiling and said “Them.” When I was done scanning the walls and the ceiling and done counting the rattlesnake skins, I said, “That’s really quite a collection.” He responded with, “I stopped skinning ‘um at 15 cause I was running out of places to hang ‘um.”
“Where did you get ‘um all?”
Monster was starting to warm up to me a little bit so his answer was a little more detailed. “I shoot ‘um in the mornings when I open up the bar, they have a habit of crawling in here at night to cool off by the water, beer coolers and refrigerators. I just blow ‘um away and drag ‘um outside. Sometimes I eat ‘um.”
I quickly looked around to see if I was near any water, beer coolers or refrigerators and then I casually got my feet as high off the floor as I could.
I was feeling pretty good with the progress Monster and I were making in reference to conversation so I said. “Well, you told me what one thing is you shoot, so what is the other thing?”
Considering I was alone, unarmed, and 75 miles from any hospital, I immediately choked on my beer, scanned the ceiling and walls again and even went to the bathroom to check the walls and ceilings in there. No human skins. There was the typical sign, “If it is yellow let it mellow, if it is brown flush it down.” I let it mellow.
When I collected myself I slowly sat down at the bar again and got my feet up off the floor. I didn’t want to make any sudden moves for the door so I ordered another beer.
The Monster must have sensed my nervousness as he said, “Didn’t mean to scare you, stranger, but I used to be a bartender in Phoenix and I got tired of being robbed so I started to wear the gun for protection. Sort of became a habit. When I bought this place, I just kept wearing it”
The conversation was flowing freely now and Monster told me about being a gunsmith, all his certifications and his firearms. He even claimed to be a master gunsmith. Hell, I wasn’t about to argue. Turns out he was a real enjoyable guy. Never did get his name. You just don’t ask things like that. Turns out the AK-47 I saw belonged to a friend. He had been fixing it, the guy showed up and he gave it to him.
He bought the old bar I had been in 30 years ago and had his business there for several years until the floor gave out so he moved into the building next door. He lived across the street.
Wayne, you were right. Raymond and Charlie are long gone. Charlie just got up and left one day. Raymond wasn’t around for a few days so the town started to worry about him. After several hours of discussing possibilities they decided to send out a search party so all 8 of them split up and started looking. About 2 hours later they heard his dog barking, old Threshold, and went to look. Sure enough, the dog was laying along side old Raymond. He had been on his way to get water and died of a heart attack. Old Threshold had stayed by his side for two days.
After spending several hours drinking and talking I did get into the old bar. We had one of the locals watch the bar as he unlocked the old place for me.
Not much had changed as I stepped inside. Yes, it was dusty but it didn’t take long for the images from 30 years ago to come into sharp focus. The bar to the left, the wall and the chairs to the right, the back bar still standing. The silence reminded me of the day we first walked into it and all the locals moved back from the bar, sat in their chairs and stared at us. Hard to believe we stopped in that place with pocket change, barley enough to buy a couple of beers, and we left with full tanks of gas, half blotto, enough stories to fill a book, and most of all a whole town of new friends.
I couldn’t resist one last time walking up to that bar and leaning my elbows on it. To hell with the dust.
If you get a chance you have to go there.
The true story of Monster -- http://www.azcentral.com/travel/articles/20131018david-rhodes-cleator-life-celebrated.html