One day I found myself standing in the hot sun, taking in the quiet street scene in front of the Greyhound bus station of that small town in the desert. I was well-travelled and dressed like it, wearing colorful shorts and a polo-style shirt and I probably stood out like a tourist or some sort of strange anomaly amongst the bleak and dusty small town landscape.
As I stood there alone in the hot sun, looking up and down the vacant streets, a leather-faced older gentleman hiding beneath a large cowboy hat came slowly walking up the sidewalk towards me. As the steely eye gentleman approached, I noticed that he was wearing cowboy boots, faded blue jeans, a pin-striped white shirt, and a belt buckle with a rodeo scene on it. As he walked towards me in a slow bowlegged gait, I felt compelled to see what he wanted. From beneath the brim of his large white hat, the older cowboy caught my gaze and then grinned at me. As his steely eyes met mine, he slowly raised a finger to the brim of his hat and tipped it upwards. I wasn’t sure why this leather-faced older cowboy with a steely eye grin was bothering to inquire how I was doing, however I felt relatively safe in the vicinity of the greyhound bus station.
We quickly struck up a simple but amiable conversation about the weather, and soon I felt more welcome in that small town than I had felt since I had moved there several months prior. Then, the old cowboy asked me to go out and have a beer with him later in the evening. I felt so comfortable having a conversation with this local gentleman that I was accepted his offer to pick me up later that evening and go out for beers. I gave him the address of the apartment building where I was living and he told me that he’d stop by around seven to pick me up.
This seemed to be a sign that things were changing for me. That an old cowboy of that small conservative desert town was willing to take an awkward college student out to go drinking had seemed like an impossibility just hours before. It was as if I had finally stumbled upon a warm and friendly side of that usually cold, collected, town in Eastern Washington.
Just after the sun had gone down the older cowboy arrived at my apartment building, just as planned. I had imagined that he might show up driving an old 1950’s red pickup truck, but instead he was driving a 1970’s square four-door sedan that was a soft beige. The old cowboy was still wearing the same outfit he had on when I met him earlier that afternoon, on that downtown street, however he looked more comfortable in the cool evening air. When I came out to I meet him in the parking lot of my apartment, I was still wearing the light-blue polo-style shirt that I had on that afternoon only now I had on a pair of blue jeans. I asked the old cowboy where we were going to drink beer that evening and with a smile, the he explained in his slow and steady voice not to worry about that since he had brought a twelve-pack of beer that he had in his trunk. He then walked around to the back of the car to open the trunk and show me a cooler filled with beer.
The sun was setting and darkness was slowly pushing back the colorful sunset that still rested on the horizon as we drove away from the large parking lot of my apartment complex. As light brown dust from the road blew across the headlights, a cool evening breeze entered the car though open windows, pushing away the heat that rose off the pavement. The old cowboy drove through the small town as though he had lived there his entire life and knew every turn in every road. Yet, as we drove farther from the college where I was living at that time, everything I saw and everywhere we went seemed new and interesting.
Then, with both of us quietly sitting in the car enjoying the ride, I noticed that I had not seen any other cars on the road in some time. I suddenly realized that road we were on was also not lit by street lights and in fact I had not seen a ranch house along the sides of the rural road in some time, either. We were now surrounded by rolling hills covered by rows of fruit trees. I began to looking more closely and noticed that on the green trees closest to the road, I were large green apples. I glanced around and saw in the distance an apple processing plant that was undoubtedly working its machinery and employees around the clock since it was Spring, and harvest time.
An uncomfortable quiet fell upon the car and it was on that dark and remote road that the old cowboy began to slow the car and pull to the side of road. We were so far from town now that when he turned off the car’s headlights, the only light to see by was cast by the bright stars and the full moon now high in the sky.
I began to become suspicious about the intentions of the old cowboy, so I asked him again what he had planned for us to do. I wondered, were we there to enjoy the scenery? Or pick apples, maybe?
The old cowboy sat motionless behind the wheel of the car, his hands still gripping it, and then looked over at me with a smile and exclaimed, “Let’s have a beer!”
The night air was still warm and yet a slight breeze blew amongst the rows of apple trees that spread out in all directions. The sky was now filled with stars that pieced the darkness of the night sky as well as a moon so bright that it had a hallow around it. As both of us got quietly and slowly out the car and began to walk toward the trunk of his car, out shadows were cast across the road by the intense moonlight. On the nearest trees among the endless landscape of rolling hills covered with large ripe green apples, I could see that their branches hung low to the ground under the weight of the fruit on them.
“So? What are we doing out here, anyway? Are we going to pick apples?”, I asked.
“…That an goin’ streaking!”, the cowboy exclaimed.
This kind old gentleman, who was a stranger to me until that afternoon, was now asking me to take off all of my clothes and go running among the apple orchards with him. I was naturally taken aback by this comment, as I had expected that this local cowboy had simply been offering to take me out for an evening of drinking. Now, I had forgotten about the beer in the trunk and was instead thinking of a desperate way to divert the conversation away from our original plans. He was now leaning back against the trunk of his car and smiling at me with that steely eyed look and I began to hope that the leather faced old cowboy would be satisfied with just picking apples with me.
Standing there on the side of that dark road next to his car I looked up and realized that the fruit in the trees of the orchard were close enough that I could pick the apples easily and without having to climb. So, I reached upwards and quietly began picking apples. Quietly, I went from tree to tree grabbing apples as I walked along the roadside near the car. Soon I had more apples in my hands than I could carry. So, I pulled my polo-style shirt out of my pants and began using it to support the ripe apples that I had.
Reluctantly, the old cowboy shrugged and also began reaching up to pick the large green apples from the low-hanging branches. Slowly, he walked over to me in his bowlegged way, and deposited the few apples that he had picked into my shirt that now curved downward in front of my chest to cradle the fruit that I had so far collected.
Then he looked at me, smiled, and asked me, “You got enough now?”
I shrugged and told him that I really like green apples and that I could use as many as I could carry. Before long, however, the brink breeze that had been blowing through the orchards was cold enough that we both had goosebumps on our arms. Eventually, we both looked at each other and silently agreed that it was time to return to town. As I got into the car, still holding a couple dozen large green apples in my shirt with both arms, the cowboy leaned over and asked me one more time, “Ya’ sure you don’t want to go streaking in them orchards with me?”
I smiled back and then politely declined.