Moab teams with men drunk on gasoline.
Tourists fill every square inch of available sidewalk and restaurant. Strip malls extends for a few miles in either direction from an intimate downtown, butting right up against a healthy flow of Colorado River in this stretch of Utah, while toggling on and off its slow disappearing act as US 191 rolls south through the desert.
As enthusiasts desperate to vanish into the haze of wide open lands in their 4x4s flock to the area, so does the opportunity for any travelers who haven’t planned months in advance their visit to town dissipate. Burly men with Jeeps outfitted with tents on their roofs, hippies looking to find themselves lacking in cognitive ability by the end of the night and a good tree to call home, and the thick wallets of more conventional vacationers all stuff the city limits like a Thanksgiving dinner in Jack Sprat’s belly.
Intimidating, yes. A couple ventures out one night to one of a only a few pubs in town, finds a spot at the bar to call home, and are immediately greeted by two men.
The first, fresh into his thirties and sporting a well-worn red and white trucker hat, greets them with what seems to be normality. Handshakes and hellos, welcome to the area, tidbits of small talk.
The other, a fat old hippie with less teeth than syllables in his slurred words, is on the other side of them. He looks to the more feminine side of the couple, and professes, “You are a beautiful person. I can tell you are a soul of beauty.”
He continues, “Both of you. You are good people. You make me smile.”
He rants a bit about Humboldt County in Northern California. About how he arrived in Moab several years ago, and makes it a pilgrimage of sorts every summer to return. The younger man in the trucker hat interrupts, all of them travelers, and they cohort their conversations about miles traveled, where the closest town in Colorado might be to buy some recently legalized marijuana, and everything else travelers who meet in bars tend to discuss. Then the old hippy, three shots deeper into a bottle of Jack Daniels, begins his transformation.
“You are so beautiful,” he is speaking to both members of the couple, they still sober and simply looking for an hour or two out on the town, “you are so fucking beautiful.”
They thank him, “Aww, that’s so sweet,” and in an attempt to continue their conversation with Trucker Hat, only half turn away.
“No, don’t you turn your,” he continues to use expletives of a carnal nature throughout his conversation, heavily, “head on me you…” The boyfriend in this couple then changes his sideways glance to a full on stare at Old Hippy. Boyfriend is not yet intoxicated enough to have lost his senses, so he attempts to keep his composure and see how the night proceeds. Girlfriend is, only inches away on the next barstool, immune but not oblivious to Old Hippy’s words.
“I’ll kill you,” Old Hippy says to Boyfriend. “You two are so beautiful you make me want to live my life. Live like I never have lived before. I just want to thank you,” he extends his arm, looking for a fist bump. While his words may seem like sarcasm when written down, the inflection in real life was one of deepest sincerity, whether he’s spewing phrases of hate or adoration.
“I came from Humboldt, I’m from Humboldt,” another shot, surprisingly, is delivered by the barkeep. “I know something beautiful when I see it,” he puts the liquid back in a swerving but quite fluid motion, “and I see you.”
A pause, he looks toward the door just behind him. “You are an asshole!” He’s addressing Boyfriend. “You are both assholes!” Girlfriend, now completely engaged in the conversation with Trucker Hat, diverts her attention back to Old Hippy and Boyfriend.
Boyfriend looks to Trucker Hat, to the bartender. Old Hippy seems to be well-known, almost like that guy who comes to the bar, is a real dick, but is completely harmless. Boyfriend would like some clarification on this point, because as he’s ordering his second beer, is ready to just about smash the first pint glass over Old Hippy’s face.
The conversation goes on for awhile like that. It soon becomes clear that Trucker Hat is tweaking on meth. Not only because his eyes are twitching, and he keeps wiping sweat from his brow in a downright frigidly air conditioned bar, but because he says, “I am tweaking,” a wipe of his brow, “on meth.”
Moab is a fabled land for travelers. But it is a cesspool more than a haven. Something ugly has grown there, and while a happy-go-lucky eye could spot more than a moment or two of joy, one might consider finding the grocery store and liquor store, stocking up, and making their way immediately into the wilderness.
And there is plenty of wilderness to be had. Arches National Park is a hop, skip and a jump, not more than a mile, from where town and the Colorado River intersect.
For those more interested in exploration than tourism, though, continue your route north, turn left when you see the signs, and appreciate the splendor of Canyonlands.
While traveling hippies and weekending tourists are not inherently bad, they have come here for Moab. Moab is a town born from the wilderness. If you come for Moab, you miss the entire premise of why the town exists in the first place. Stock up, look around, and escape. You will be happier for it.