From Moab, I traveled south and east to Durango, Colorado. Along the way, I drove through Mesa Verde National Park which was one of the most mind-blowing things I’ve ever seen. Mesa Verde is an archeological site where Ancestral Pueblo people lived for about 700 years beginning from about AD 550. They first built “pit houses” dug into the earth. Then, around AD 1200 they began building villages beneath overhanging cliffs. They shaped sandstone into rectangular blocks and mixed dirt and water to create a mortar. They were excellent builders, farmers, hunters, and basket and pottery makers. Seeing what was left of their villages was remarkable.
From Mesa Verde, I made my way to Durango. I hadn’t looked into where to stay, so as I drove through the town I was just hoping to find something, much like I did in Moab. Making my way through Durango wasn’t as straight forward as it was driving through Moab where you literally just drive through town as you’re going down the highway. I had to make a few jogs and turn onto another highway which was congested. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going and somehow ended up driving down the main street of the historic town which was busy with cars, pedestrians and bicyclists. After a few blocks of that, I decided I need to pull over, figure out where I was and have a destination in mind. So, I looked on my phone for RV parks. There were none right in town but there was one just a few miles north along the main highway, and fortunately, they had availability. After talking with the lady at the RV office, I was informed that there was a trolley that does a loop from the RV park into town..
The next morning, I got an early start and decided to take the trolley into town to check it out. When I got on, there were already four people aboard, none of whom were sitting together. I picked a bench in the middle. There was a heavy-set guy with black rimmed glasses in a yellow t-shirt sitting in front of me to my right who was talking to a heavy-set older woman in front of me with straggly brownish-gray hair. It sounded as if he had picked up a conversation where they had left off. I didn’t pay close attention at first, but then in a teasing, light-hearted way he said something like, “What? Why are you smiling? Why are you looking at me like that? You look like you’re thinking something dirty!”
Huh?! My ears perked up. He laughed. The woman may have muttered something, but I couldn’t hear her. Sitting in front and to the right of her was a Mexican dude who sat leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and every so often, he’d nervously look around at all of us sitting behind him. After a minute of silence, yellow t-shirt man said something similar again to the woman. She replied, but she spoke softly, and her words were slightly slurred and incoherent. I looked back at the young Asian girl sitting behind me to my right. She was looking at me and giggling. I must have stepped into the next bus headed to the Twilight Zone.
Eventually, the giggling girl and the soft-spoken woman got off at their stops. So, I guess that left me as yellow t-shirt man’s talking companion. Thankfully, he just made casual conversation – no references to dirty thoughts. He asked if I had checked out the college on the hill. I told him I hadn’t. Paranoid Mexican dude soon got off as well and on came two couples who sat directly across from yellow t-shirt man. They were now his focus of conversation. Whew! Finally, it was the end of the line for me, and I hopped off the trolley. I soon discovered I was about an hour early until all the shops opened. So, I found a little café with an outdoor patio and tootled on my phone for the better part of an hour. Once 10am rolled around, I strolled down Main Street which had a Western flare to it and a healthy mixture of cafes and restaurants, clothing boutiques and other random stores.
This was pretty much how I spent my two days in Durango. There were apparently bike trails in the area but not accessible without a car and there didn’t seem to be any suitable guided tours. The following day, since I had nothing better to do, I headed back into town on the ‘ol trolley. When I got to the trolley stop out in front of the RV Park, I saw someone’s pack next to the bench. It was a smaller camo pack with a sleeping pad rolled up and attached to it and maybe one or two more items. The owner of the pack was standing in the shade across the street. “Morning,” I said, waving. He waved back. “Good idea standing in the shade,” I said.
“Yeah,” he agreed. We both paced there on the street for about five minutes, waiting. I couldn’t tell if he was homeless or just traveling really lightly. His clothes were baggy and the same drab camo colors as his pack but they looked clean and not tattered. I saw the trolley start to come around the bend. He had his back to it so he couldn’t see it coming.
“Trolley’s coming!” I yelled to him.
“Oh, thanks for the heads up!” he said. We both got on, I sat in the middle again and he chose a bench in the front. A few stops later, a tourist-looking gentleman with a map in hand got on. Almost immediately, camo-guy struck up a conversation with tourist-guy. At first, tourist-guy obliged and answered his questions but soon I could see he was not interested in keeping up the conversation. Camo-guy mentioned he’d traveled to Durango all the way from North Carolina and how it had been a long and hard trip but was happy to finally be here. Then he asked tourist-guy a most absurd question, “What’s your name?”
Tourist-guy took a breath and looked away as if wondering if he should share this sacred bit of information about himself.
“I’m Paul,” camo-guy offered up his name first after a long pause of silence came from the other side of the trolley. Tourist-guy finally succumbed and revealed his precious name.
For the majority of my trip which has now been one month, I constantly find myself in situations where I’m in close contact with other tourists and sometimes locals. And it’s almost more uncomfortable to not strike up a conversation than it would be not to. Usually, not always, I, or the other party happily start up a casual chat by asking where the other person is from which tends to steer the rest of the conversation in some direction. I have had many pleasant encounters with people and I feel good when I do have these conversations.
(I’m going to fast-forward in time here to where I currently am, which is Telluride, CO.) A few days ago, I rode the gondola here at least 10 times which means 10 different conversations with strangers. And they all were lovely. I got in a gondola with a set of parents and their daughter who was probably six. Right off the bat, the woman made some sort of comment about being nervous about the gondola ride. “Claustrophobic?” I asked.
“No, a fear of heights.” And she wasn’t kidding. She could not look outside the gondola and just kept staring down in front of her as we talked. But the crazy thing was her husband was just as scared. They both gripped the seat under them and carried on a conversation with me, staring at the floor. I felt bad as the gondola shook and rattled as it transitioned from one set of pulleys to another. Meanwhile, their young daughter climbed every inch of the gondola like a monkey. We talked about mountain biking and backpacking. I told them about the big celebration Telluride puts on every year for the 4th which I had heard about from someone I had stopped and talked to on a trail that morning. They had no idea about the celebration, so they were very excited to be in town for that. When we got off, they thanked me for the conversation and for distracting them.
What is it about certain situations and certain people that make us want or not want to engage in conversations with others? I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve shied away from derelicts who have tried to talk to me. Or, cut conversations short just because I felt I didn’t have the time. If I engaged with this person, it would throw off my whole schedule. And maybe that’s just it. Many of us are always on a schedule and feel we can’t afford to have a kink in our daily routine. Sure, some days I’d prefer to shut myself off from the world around me and be in my own little bubble. But since I’ve been on this road trip, I’m essentially free from a set agenda and I’m more open to conversations with strangers and less worried about how long a conversation is going to take and how it’s going to impact my day. Maybe I just need to get my head out of my ass and not be so hung up on time and agenda. And just be in the moment to learn a little about someone or something.