On the red, red road

A day’s drive across Nevada and Utah leaves me parched in Evanston, Wyo. I find a hotel, then head for a nearby bar and grill, Lottie’s Lounge.

Lottie’s is cool and dark. When I walk in, shafts of light blind patrons.

“Shut the door!” someone yells.

The vinyl on the bar stools is torn. AC/DC blasts from a jukebox. A sign over the bar reads: “Limit two energy drinks per customer.”

Behind the bar, three bottles of Jagermeister are “on tap.”

“Chilled to an ice cold five degrees,” boasts bartender Billy. He’s a lanky guy in Wranglers who pulls beers out of plastic tubs of ice.

He puts one in front of me along with a plastic shot tube.

I look at the tube. Baffled.

“Happy hour—buy one, get one,” says the girl next to me. “That’s your free drink.”

She’s a waitress, off-duty, playing a video poker-style game. Not for money. “Just for fun.”

What else do folks do for fun in Evanston? The waitress motions across the bar.

“You’re looking at it,” she says.

I’m driving, for the first time in years, from Reno to southern Wisconsin to visit family. Just sucking up gas, driving past all the new Wal-Marts and McDonalds that homogenize the nation. You don’t get much sense of a region’s culture at Burger King. That’s why I’m here at Lottie’s.

At my left is an older cowboy—close to retirement, I’d say—drinking Bud Lights. He’s in town drilling a new well.

Business is OK in Wyoming but not booming like the 1980s.

I say I know a bit about booms, coming from Nevada.

His eyes brighten. He’s worked on drilling projects around Elko—and antipicates more work near Ely.

“I love to drill in Nevada,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to be up against.”

He introduces me to a truck driver, a middle-aged father of three who treks across the nation with chicken (going west) and Idaho potatoes (going east) while listening to National Public Radio and radio preachers.

“You like NPR?” I ask.

“I know they’re a little bit liberal,” he says, apologetically. “But I feel like I’m getting the news, you know, the facts.”

Billy flies around the bar, depositing more plastic tubes in front of patrons.

“Guy over there bought drinks for everyone,” Billy says, cheerily.

The oilman raises his bottle to the Buyer of Drinks who recognizes him and comes over.

When I say I’m a teacher, the drink-buyer, also an oil guy, explains his view of education.

“I’m a high-school dropout, and I make half a million a year,” he says.

He describes a recent lucrative trip to Kazakhstan, drilling for oil in the Caspian Sea.

The oilmen like Bush. We needed to get “Saddam Insane” out of Iraq. Now there’s a democratic government, so mission accomplished.

The truck driver isn’t a Bush fan. Iraq is a mess, he says, and so are Bush’s domestic policies from No Child Left Behind to immigration.

Immigration? Bush’s proposals disappoint Oil Man. He theorizes that illegal immigrants come here to work just long enough to quit and collect unemployment.

“They can’t—not if they’re illegal,” Truck Driver says.

“They can—and I know they do,” Oil Man says.

The driver happens to be married to a hard-working Hispanic woman whose parents were hard-working illegal immigrants.

Before I leave, the Oil Man explains why we ought to bomb Iran.

The driver listens grimly, munching on salty snacks proffered by Billy.

“You just keep drilling,” he mumbles. “We’re going to need that oil.”