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Monday, 19 September 2011

The Best-Laid Plans... Interlude in Chadron with Poe Ballantine and Badger Bob

I am forced to conclude that if things went to plan life would be a dull old business. Originally I was coming to Chadron to hear Yvonne Sandoz’ talk. Then that got shifted to Crawford, 25 miles further west. I arrived there good and early. I have to say that Crawford doesn’t look like much at all from the highway, nor indeed from Wagon Wheel Road, but it has a beautiful city park with mature shade trees, well-watered grass, a fountain and the usual picnic tables. I’ve spent many a relaxed lunch-hour in such places, and camped in plenty of them; they are the great uncelebrated facility available to all travellers through the smalltown West. Try stopping off at Nenzel some time: population 13 - it was 2 the first time I drove along Hwy 20: picnic table, barbecue stand, drinking-water supply, toilet, shade tree, well tended grass… bliss.
I brewed up coffee on my spirit stove, sat and drank it in glorious late summer sunshine, then went to the meeting place to be greeted immediately by Yvonne. ‘Jeannie told me to look out for a tall guy,’ she said, in perfect English, then introduced me to her cousin Joy. Now I hardly spoke to Joy, but I have her photograph. In profile she is the spit and image of Mari.

Well, Yvonne’s talk was interesting, but I’ll get to that another time. The important news from my point of view was that (a) she was taking off directly to her cousin’s place for two nights and (b) would be repeating her talk in Chadron library on Tuesday – so I needn’t have dashed out there after all. I suspect that what’s happening is that she’s getting new invitations all the time and, because this is a vacation from her work as archivist to the city of Basel and time is tight, she’s going with the flow. She agreed that we would catch up on Tuesday night at Jeannie’s place.

That means two more nights at the Olde Main, which is an unexpected expense but no hardship. One keeps such good company there. I have been given one of the suites on the third floor: quiet, comfortable, and last night I slept like a dead man. But all that came after a hitch. I arrived at the hotel to find Jeannie out.  I couldn’t get her on the phone either. I was an hour, pacing up and down, finally calling in at the police station to see whether they had another number for her. They didn’t. That was when I hit on the idea of looking for Ed Hughes, aka the writer Poe Ballantine, who lives around the corner facing the railroad tracks. This is what I meant back there about life, and plans and so on. On the back of having to re-schedule half of this week and feeling somewhat rattled, I spent a delightful hour or so drinking his beer and chewing the fat about writing, writers, the literary establishment (we’re agin `em) and certain other orthodoxies. What good company – and I strongly recommend his autobiographical works. This guy can write, he’s lived, and he speaks with the wisdom and understanding that an astute observer will gather along the road.

I need to cut this short. It’s 1130 and I haven’t eaten yet, having been detained in the Bean Broker by yet another fascinating character – Badger Buckley. I’ll try and write about him tomorrow – and about a happy half-hour I spent in the bank, listening to tales about his adventures.