Title: West

Author: Laurie Duggan

In: Sport 8: Autumn 1992

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, March 1992, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 8: Autumn 1992


On the Best Western bus
—a guy with iguanas in his bag.


At breakfast, a cowboy tells the cashier:
'I'm pretty sure that's not the design on my tie, I think I dribbled.'
The accents out here differ from the midwest twang;
the place slower, though no less businesslike.

The Boulder bus skirts the edge of Denver
—its streets deserted, Friday after 9 am—
traverses a wasteland of metal bridges and factories;
toward the Rockies, a sign: STORAGE TEK;
in the smooth fawn hills, rows of bunker-like structures.


Motel rooms can have all the 'homely' aspects in the world, but you can
never quite belong in them. The furniture suggests uses it will never have,
the utilities are, like the politesse of waiters, threats of extortion.


page 86

Up Pearl Street for coffee in the cool air.
Indian corn, orange pumpkins and all things wooden
fill the windows of a yuppie shopping mall.
Pinball palaces silent under the Rockies;
the main street vacuum clean,
within touching distance of the mountains.

West across a canyon, the first of the steeper ranges
—the Rockies proper—covered with snow. South of Boulder,
the 60° angle of the Flatirons, Table Mesa.
A large installation tests 'atmosphere conditions',
monitors winds, connects somewhere to star wars.

Rainy night. In the Mexican restaurant bar—as everywhere else in town—
the 16-year-olds try to get drunk.


I go down 28th for breakfast at the Last American Diner—a chromium masterpiece with waiters & waitresses on rollerskates. Pack & walk up to the bus terminus on 14th & Walnut. En route for Denver, notice that last night gave the front range (beyond the foothills) a coat of snow. In Denver get a cab to the Regency Best Western. My room, on the loth floor, looks over industrial waste—the South Platte River buried in there somewhere— probably a putrid creek at this elevation-and out to the west & southwest, the Rockies.


In the last 20 years Microchip City has swallowed Kerouac's town,
its tall buildings, a whole lot of them, half-empty;
the big boom didn't materialise.
But the place has pretensions, is 'go-ahead',
number 6 on the 'most likely' list.
The charm is its failure to measure up.
     Across the tracks,
over the river, Denver goes Mexican.


page 87

Downstairs in the Stuff'd Shirt Bar—the TV news.

Provinciality measures itself by the degree to which role models-TV announcers &c—approximate to the metropolitan ideal: the accent mightn't have the same sharpness; the fashions date a little—but a straining towards the model is always perceptible. The 'cast of thousands' common to contemporary news programmes complete each other's sentences—in the process denying any personality they presume.

The languages of America are seductive. It's a pleasure. But maybe it's more so because it comprehends a limited duration.

The prevalence here of cowboy hats.
And the stretching of vowels: 'The house shar-blee.'
Someone asks for a doggy bag for drinks.

I think I like the west a lot.

One for the room.

The barman answers the phone: 'Stuff'd Shirt?'


The cab driver, a WW2 vet, ex-postmaster,
reckons his CIA file is an arm long (anti-Vietnam activities).
He figures Reagan has been dead some time
& what we have up there is some kind of robot.


Union Station is filled with railroad memorabilia
—the rail, ceasing to be functional, becomes an 'experience'.

'You must have shoes on at all times while travelling in the train.'


The chief steward is called 'Noel, that's K.N.O.W.E.L.L. ... I wear my Amtrak identification badge over my heart—where it should be ... and I page 88 walk numinously down the train.' As the journey progresses, Noel turns out to be a pain in the ass. At regular intervals the PA gives out a fake old-time engine whistle before his recitals of geological litanies in language even a moron could understand.

The train winds up the foothills & crosses the continental divide 9,500 feet up, in the Moffat Tunnel. Somewhere behind me in the compartment, a 22- year-old woman & an old man discuss human nature endlessly.

In the evening we enter Utah through Ruby Canyon. I dine with a young gay from Salt Lake City ('Are there many gay people in Australia?') who spills his salad dressing; and a good humoured black woman from Cleveland. When he describes life in Salt Lake, its restrictive liquor laws &c, then talks, of the large size of Mormon families, she says, 'At least they're doin somethin right.'

Salt Lake Station around ii pm mountain time
—even the stacks appear hand polished.
Don't think I'd like it here much.


Wake up around four or five, Pacific time,
watch the saltbush of Nevada grow light after Winnemucca.
Sparks & Reno, 8-8.30 am, the poor man's Las Vegas;
then up into the Sierra Nevada and down slowly to Sacramento
—mullock heaps still visible in the mountains.
Across the American River the country flattens
      —flood plains all the way to Martinez
      (home of Joe DiMaggio, John Muir, & the martini).

The East Bay houses a mothball fleet
and the largest importer of Japanese cars;
the bombs that fell on Pearl Harbour
     were made largely of US scrap metal.