If there ever were a key to Ben and my friendship it is laughter. We laugh. When we haven’t seen each other for a good while the next morning always brings a sore face and an aching stomach from all the laughter. We laughed in-between dry heaves at the Grand Canyon; we laughed when we found love and we laughed when we lost it; we laughed at our good fortune and our bad, at our friends and our enemies, but most importantly: we laughed at ourselves.
At how funny life is.
We laughed down the next nine miles of winding downhill that graced us with enough momentum as to require our legs never pedal once. All the way from the ice gripping wind down to the warm heat and sun of the valley we laughed. We laughed all the way to Packwood.
Washington is to the West Coast as New Hampshire is to New England. It is the neglected bastard child that isn’t invited to parties and is overlooked during the census and considered an oversight of red in a sea of blue. Seattle is not Washington just as Nashua is not New Hampshire; they are aberrations and deviations from the norm and it should be known that they exist as their own autonomous villas. The real Washington, we found, exists in the small towns settled alongside a deserted stretch of state highway in-between glorious landscapes of eternal snow. I prefer Washington to Oregon as I prefer New Hampshire to Vermont; Ben, being a pinko-commie, is of the opposite opinion.
Packwood sat in a little flat valley in the shadow of Mount Rainier. The first restaurant we came upon was a glorious diner — and this is how it should be in every town. Ordinances need to be passed. It doesn’t matter that you have a Taco Bell or an Olive Garden or a Dick’s Last Resort. Upon entering the city limits, there should first be a diner. Period. End of discussion. No negotiation. And there, in Packwood, was our diner. Diner, diner, diner. And it was there that we stopped and we knew, immediately, that Packwood was the kind of town you could call home for at least for an hour or two or until the scary locals began eyeing you sideways-like and asking you when it was the last time you saw a bull-steer mount a breeding dummy.
We ate an inappropriate amount of food as if we had never eaten or were afraid we would never eat again. And this may have been the case. We each had two full breakfasts with waffles and strawberries and whip cream and muffins and toast and eggs and potatoes and more eggs and more waffles and a salt shaker and one half a wet napkin. After three hours of feasting, our bill came to a total of $9.56. I don’t know if basic arithmetic works differently in Packwood as it does in other towns, but I don’t care. It was glorious and it was cheap, which made it more glorious.
Afterwards, we found that there was a library in town and that the library had computers and that the computers had access to the internet and, for a beautiful moment, life had become simple again. It was as we had expected it to be. The morning’s madness had already been forgotten: the hunger, the cold, the frozen buttocks and wet jerseys — it had all been replaced by Packwood. A little riding; a little mountain-viewing; a little diner food; a little internet and movie watching. All where we needed it one step at a time. We trotted to the library — but found it closed on Friday.
Ben lay down in the grass and announced:
“It is time for a post-prandial.”
He went comatose.
I lay there, looking up at the sky, but I couldn’t really relax. I hadn’t been able to get in touch with #6 yet — I was only able to leave her a voicemail with, what I considered to be, fairly explicit instructions: Rainier is out. Stop. Go to Mount Saint Helens. Stop. More later. Stop. Please come. Stop. I mean it: please. Stop. I am begging you. Stop.
The moment Ben and I had stopped moving my mind began. It began to turn and pulse and reach its terrible tentacles into the nether regions of my heart and groin and twist them to the casual winds of worry, which slowly built to hurricane force gale winds of concern. A worry-storm oh so loud as that it almost drowned out Benjamin’s deep breathing.
Was it real? Had I imagined it? Did #6 even exist or was it all a fitful dream induced by intense egg consumption? It seemed to be impossible but the calendar claimed I had only seen her the morning before and that just over twenty-four hours had passed. Just twenty-four hours! My god! How time had crawled by. What if she hasn’t checked her messages? What if she left early? What if she wasn’t leaving at all?
I gave up the post-prandial and went to try the pay phone again.