The parking lot was still pretty full, so I was telling folks to find a place to park before they paid the fee.
I was contemplating the trees when Tan Man walked up to pay me. He was at least 60 years old and was not wearing a shirt. His skin was darkly tanned and beginning to look leathery. I didn’t really want to look at his saggy nipples, so I tried to avert my eyes while taking his money and writing his day pass.
There was a guy with Tan Man. The second guy was tall, with a belly so large it held his orange t-shirt away from his body. I was sitting in my chair, and from my vantage point, I could see the expanse of his belly exposed between his t-shirt and his shorts. I didn’t really want to look at that either, so I was glad when they went off toward the trail.
Some time passed, but I’m not sure how much. I’d been reading my book, writing day passes, collecting parking fees, not really paying attention to the time. I looked up, and Tan Man was standing in front of me again.
He asked me if I’d seen the guy he’d been with earlier. He said they’d been separated.
I said I hadn’t seen him, not adding that I’d had my nose in my book and hadn’t really been watching the pedestrian activity.
Tan Man got very animated. He told me he’d lost the other guy. He told me that he’d left the trail and hadn’t been able to find the other guy when he returned to it. He told me the other guy was from New York City and really stupid. (Tan Man had some sort of East Coast accent himself, but I didn’t really want to talk with him, so I didn’t ask him where he was from.)
He said he’s been back to the car and the other guy wasn’t in the car. He asked me if he should drive off and leave the other guy. It seemed like a weird question, but I thought he was just joking or being melodramatic.
I said, NO! That would be really mean.
He said he thought maybe the other guy had hitched a ride out of there. He said he thought he (Tan Man) should maybe just leave without him.
I told him I doubted the other guy had hitched out. I told him if the other guy had come to the parking lot, gone to the car, and found no one there, he probably would have asked me if I had seen his friend. I also said that if he’d hitched out, he probably would have asked me to tell his friend that he was leaving.
Tan Man seemed reassured and calmed by my thoughts on the matter. He thanked me for the advice.
He told me that he’d made friends on the trail, that he makes friends wherever he goes. He told me that someone had filmed him on the trail.
About that time, a young man walked up to put trash in the garbage can. Tan Man told me this was the guy who’d filmed him. Tan Man greeted the young man, and when the young man responded, I heard that he had an accent. I couldn’t tell where he was from by his accent, but I guessed that he was from somewhere in Europe.
Tan Man asked the young European man where he was going next. The young man named some places, ending with Las Vegas. Tan Man told the young man how much he was going to like Vegas, then asked the young man how old he was. The young man said he was almost 16. Tan Man was concerned that the young man might not be allowed in casinos. Then Tan Man started telling the young man about some amusement park ride in Vegas that he would really like. The young man was grinning, but I couldn’t tell if his expression was one of amusement, discomfort, or confusion. Finally, Tan Man ended the conversation (which was more like a monologue) by telling the young man If you like women, you’ll like Vegas.
Tan Man told me he was going back out on the trail to look for his friend, to tell him to wait at the car if I saw him.
More time passed. I heard yelling but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I identified the yelling voice as Tan Man’s. He was yelling the words, Stay right there! Stay right there!
Tan Man came running into the parking lot. He said he’d found the other guy on the road. He thanked me for my help. The last I saw of Tan Man, he was zooming out of the parking lot in his car, racing to pick up the other guy.
The next day I was telling my co-worker about Tan Man. I wasn’t far into the story when I realized Tan Man was chemically altered! I don’t know if he was jittery on coffee or tweakin’ on crank, but in retrospect, I don’t think he was in his natural state. The main indication that he was not in a rational state of mind was his quickness to decide to leave the person riding in his car 40 miles from the nearest town just because they’d been separated on the trail. That’s not a reasonable decision within the time frame involved.
I’m glad I was there to talk some sense into Tan Man. The guy with the big belly probably doesn’t even realize how lucky he is that I was there. It’s not like he could have hailed a cab to take him back to his hotel. If I hadn’t been there, Tan Man might have left him stranded in the forest.