Like most of my days now, this one began in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I woke up bleary eyed and stiff and everything seemed normal… Until I looked out the window and saw someone looking back at me. I bolted upright, still mummified by my sleeping bag, and the figure outside hurried away. I slowed my racing heart and fixed my gaze outside. For some reason there were hundreds of cars parked around me.
I took me a moment to piece together what happened. Sometime during the night, or early morning, a bunch of cars for sale had been brought into the parking lot and they now surrounded me. I guess nobody wanted to disturb the man sleeping in his dusty and dated 2003 Saturn Vue. Thirty yards away from my spot of slumber was a group of car salesmen, making jokes and inflating balloons from a helium tank.
I unfolded myself from my car’s backseat as elegantly as I could and half-fell out of the car. A couple who were looking at the new cars walked by and stared at me.
“Not quite spacious enough for me.” I said, as if I were a potential car buyer.
The car salesmen ogled me as I re-entered my car (this time in the driver’s seat) and drove away.
I stopped by the hostel to meet the owner. While I was there I talked to a Colombian man named John. He said he had a friend getting into town at 5 p.m. and asked if I could take him to the bus station to pick him up. Psh, I had nothing better to do so I told him of course. He said thanks and told me I was welcome to come to the barbecue they were having at the hostel that evening.
I left the hostel and went to the library. On my way I saw a little fair happening in the park and decided to check it out. And when I say little, I mean little. I unwrapped a Clif bar when I entered it, and by the time I saw the last booth I was taking my last bite.
Eventually five o’clock arrived and I headed back to the hostel to grab John before we went to the bus station. We picked up his friend, another Colombian named James,* and returned to the hostel to get the barbecue started.
I talked to a Brazilian woman named Deborah as we sat around a propane fire and drank beer. It was relaxing and fun until we found out about the food. Deb had bought frozen garlic bread for the barbecue but John had left it out on the counter for the last three days. There was also a batch of chicken legs and wings that were meant to be cooked but they were still thoroughly frozen.
John, who headed up the actual act of barbecuing, didn’t find it as a problem and threw it all on anyway.
While Deborah animatedly berated Jon for his food preparation oversight, I was not bothered in the slightest. I had a beer, it was a nice evening, and I was sitting somewhere that wasn’t inside my car.
As the food cooked more people started to filter in. Over the course of the evening we had another Colombian man show up, another Brazilian woman and her boyfriend, and a young girl that lives down the street.
This was one of those surreal traveling moments that I never could have predicted. Here I am, in Salida, Colorado, sitting with a group of people who are talking emphatically in Spanish and Portuguese and I have no idea what’s going on. It was great.
The food finished cooking and we went to help ourselves. I approached warily, but it all looked fine to me so I dug in. Eating chicken wing after wing and devouring drumsticks. This is the first hot food I’ve eaten in awhile. And to wash it down with a beer?! Heaven!
Then a car pulls into the hostel and three guys get out. They look vaguely familiar and then I realize… these were the car salesman who saw me this morning.
Apparently they were staying at the hostel, and they’re now joining us in the beer drinking and food eating. I wait for one of them to say “Aren’t you the guy who lives at the Wal-Mart parking lot?” but the words never come. Eventually I introduce myself and learn they traveled from Texas to sell some of the excess cars in stock.
The barbecue wound down and I took my leave, returning to the Wal-Mart parking lot and finding a spot far away from the rows of new cars. I was full, I was socialized, and I was content. I fell asleep quickly and happily. But it would not last long.
I woke up the next morning (this time without car shoppers peering in through my window) and began journaling about yesterday’s events. Then it hit me. My stomach began cramping. Hard. It sounded as if I swallowed an airliner jet and it was about to take off.
I hurried, but yet still with an air of elegance and calmness**, into Wal-Mart and located the bathroom. Without getting too graphic or detailed I let loose, and my thoughts returned to those frozen chicken legs and the soft (yet still burnt) garlic bread I ate.
Then, while creating a mitten made of toilet paper, I saw some graffiti on the TP dispenser. It said “F*** FOOD”. (That of course has been edited.) Never before had I agreed so strongly with graffiti. While sitting there I thought of the car salesmen who were working in the lot right now. The same salesmen I had met and ate with last night.
I couldn’t help but laugh. I bet I knew the guy who wrote that.
*Pronounced Ha-Mes. And that’s not his real name. I just forgot it so I’m naming him after the famous Colombian footballer James Rodriguez.
**But not really