Esteban Writes from Yellowstone

Esteban Writes from Somewhere

Hey, long time no see. I’ve had a couple of busy couple of weeks (as in “I’m not working and don’t want to open my computer” busy). I’ll start by letting you all know that, if you haven’t seen it, my Comedy Central set came out last week. You can watch it here. They edited out the part where I riffed on forgetting a joke, thank god. Overall I’m happier with it than I thought I would be. I received so much feedback from friends, family, and strangers. It was overwhelming and great. Damn, those social media hearts, they get to you. Thank you to all of you who reached out or watched it!
The ads I made for Pringles are also out. There are four of them with different topics: pugscoffee dateemotional cheating, and wine. The concept is a bit dumb (it’s an ad, after all), but I had fun doing them and was happy to see several of the lines I wrote or improvised in the ads.
We’ve had a couple of social weeks! We spent an entire week with our dear friends, Beth and David, in a cabin up in Wyoming, near the Bighorn National Forest. Days of regular showers, a full kitchen, great conversation, and just hanging around, sharing food and drinks. The days are accompanied by the sound and feel of the creek that overlooks the property, and I spend a good amount of time walking up the river, jumping from stone to stone. The prehistoric Netflix. I could watch a river streaming for hours.
We also wade in a beautiful swimming hole down the road. The river opens up right under a big clay wall that has several natural holes. David and I create a game that consists of throwing rocks into these holes, to see if we can make the rocks stay there. We feel like we’ve invented something totally original, until I realize it’s just a giant, natural version of skeeball –without the tickets.

After a week we say goodbye to Beth, David, and hot showers, but we stop by Thermopolis, a town with hot springs. They’re so proud of it they painted an entire mountain to say “World largest thermal waters”, with an arrow pointing at the town. We swim in their free pools. They smell like sulfur, so I come out smelling like rotten egg for a couple of days. This is a preferable alternative to my natural smell, to be honest.

On our way to Yellowstone we spend a night in Cody, WY, a town founded by Buffalo Bill, whose real name was Cody. In an attempt to recreate his sense of entertainment, this town has a theatrical shootout in the street. At 6 pm they roll out into the streets 3 shacks that represent a saloon, a bank, and a jail, and 5 characters that represent Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Wyatt Earp, and two unnamed women. All of them, buildings and characters, very stiff and badly constructed. The old-town bank shed had letters badly painted on it that say “ATM inside,” with an arrow. Whether this was a post-modern addition to add some humor or a graffiti by a local vandal was not clear.

Before the start of the scene, the emcee, a slow-moving man who has to read from a piece of paper the list of sponsors -the city of Cody and the local Chinese restaurant-, asks everyone to stand up for the national anthem. It surprises me how quickly everyone rises up, as if showing allegiance to the country seems natural before some street entertainment. I immediately feel bad about thinking that an act of patriotism before a shooting seems ironic, considering the latest news. Apparently I’m the only one who’s confused about it, as everyone is singing their hearts out. Why? Is the amateur production of an outlaw shootout what the forefathers meant when they were talking about freedom? I know Lincoln wouldn’t appreciate the sound of a gunshot during a play.
The emcee then introduces the characters, who shyly proceed to their marks. They seem a bit old and they’re exhausted by the time they greet the audience. The first act gets on their way: Cassidy and Sundance are playing “Go fish” in the saloon. When one accuses the other of cheating they both stand up, ready for a shootout. At least that’s what the script must’ve said. Before standing up they grasp the table in place and move the props carefully. Sundance Kid takes a cautious step back, unholsters the gun, peeking at it as trying to make sure it’s ready.
“No one calls me a cheater,” he says, while taking a couple of minutes to pull his gun out. But the gun malfunctions and doesn’t fire. In the confusion Butch Cassidy takes out his gun and after some hesitation he hands it to Sundance Kid, who shoots him. The moment the gun is heard I realize I’ve had enough of Cody. I’m not sure how the play ended, but if you hurry they may still be at it.

We head towards Big Sky. Our friends Holly and Brian have invited us to a music festival there. I’m not much of a concert-goer anymore. For me, listening to music has become a very private act. But being there I’m reminded of how fun it is to go up front and just feel the music pulsating through you, your friends, and a bunch of weird, fun-loving people. What a cool thing to show someone from another planet: a group of human bodies moving to magnified vibrations, raising hands and screaming at command, trying to sync up to these beats. “How come” the aliens would ask, “a ridiculous hat and a flashy scarf is cool as long as you’re on a stage, holding a guitar?” and I wouldn’t have an answer for them because I would be too busy clapping for Clay Johnson on drums or whatever.

Before heading into Yellowstone we stop at a free campsite where I meet Chris, Bob, Andrew, and Mike. We’re all strangers but we’ve come from our campsites to see Andrew’s rig. It’s impressive. A giant school bus covered with home-made modifications to be turned into a 2 bedroom apartment that San Francisco residents would envy. It has two bedrooms, a compostable toilet, a fully-equipped kitchen, a small living room, and a small garden with herbs, along some hanging plants. The most noticeable aspect of the bus is the second floor: they’ve taken a classic Volkswagen van and put the top half of it on top of the bus.
We tour the place, amazed at how big and cool a school bus can be without kids. We go up the stairs (it has stairs!) to the VW. The back window of it opens up into an 8×8 deck. In front of the VW there are several solar panels. Bob, an old man with a southern accent who tours the bus with me, Andrew, who bought it from a family some months ago, and me, sit at the deck and do some wonderful small talk: from camping, to full-timing, to vans, to Volskwagen, to Hitler, to socialism. When I find myself uselessly trying to convince Bob that Nazi Germany was not Marxist I realize I should just let it go. We’re just two strangers in the roof of someone else’s modified bus, this is not a place to discuss politics. Later I learned Bob just got a divorce after 41 years of marriage and has decided to spend his half in a class C camper and go see the country.
Later I meet Mike, who tells us he’s moving to a new town and a new job, arriving late as he had to take care of family issues. His brother had died a week ago, unexpectedly, in a McDonalds, suffering from a condition he may also have.
Another camper, Chris, is sitting by the fire after e come down, so I start talking to him. He’s a young guy, with a shy smile and big eyes. I immediately feel comfortable with him and start talking. He seems open to people, and tells me how happy he is that I decided to come join them. He speaks slowly and stares intensely but warmly. He’s nice but there’s a sense of feebleness and defeat in his voice. When I meet Haley, his dog, he tells me how much she means to him. “She helps me in my dark moments,” he says.
Chris lives in a modified pickup truck, and has been living there for 3 years. “It’s a small space, now that there’s two people in it.” I didn’t see anyone else. “Tanya is accompanying me,” he tells me. She’s a Finland native who’s been traveling with him for the last two months. Chris looks at the fire, and understands the weight of the words he’s about to share with me. “I just want to show her a bit of this country before time comes. She has brain cancer, and doesn’t have long.” She sleeps most of the day, I learn. Her memory is fading. She repeats herself and gets disoriented. “But it’s nice to share the road with someone.” Tanya comes out later. She moves slowly and her difficulty communicating could be because of her English vocabulary or her condition. She tries to go into the bus as if it’s her house, and asks about the showers. “No showers here, Tanya,” Chris says, leading her back to bed.
“This is our last stretch,” he tells me later. “She’s starting to forget things, and I’m not qualified to take care of her.” As the night falls the conversation among all of us goes to more expected places: work, travels, etc. And despite the intensity of Chris and Tanya’s story, and Bob’s, and Mike’s, we fall back to small talk. What else can you say to strangers who hold inside of them unspeakable feelings? Let’s just talk about the weather, campsites, or fascism.

We spend a couple of days in Yellowstone. Fire and water are in constant struggle here. These multicolor pools and their violence are like a prehistoric soup, cooking unicellular organisms and the secrets of geology since forever. We hear about the horrible burns and deaths of dozens of people who have fallen in these pools, and the rangers in charge of retrieving the bodies.
It’s a land of altitude and earthquakes. Despite of how different the landscape is I can’t help but to feel a connection to my Andes. The rock formations, the sharp silver edges of the volcanic mountains and the sudden waterfalls all remind me of home.
Yellowstone is a beautiful park, but it’s also a great example of what I call the tourist paradox: there’s so much people you can’t really enjoy the place that much, but you are also part of that problem. In those cynical eyes I see every tourist as an idiot, and I’m sure I’m seen the same way. If an alien sees us collectively, humanity may appear as a mass of bodies standing in the way of each other for the chance of a photo opportunity. But if that same alien takes the chance to meet me individually they’ll find a charming, interesting human who is mindful of his surroundings and knows how to use his car blinkers. In any case, it’s beautiful, and everyone there deserves to see it. Even if they’re carrying selfie sticks. Ok. Maybe not.

Where we are: Grand Teton National Park
Where we are going: Colorado! We’ll be in Denver and Boulder soon. If you know a place we can park our camper please let us know!

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