Sunday morning found me standing at the south facing window of Twin Rocks Cafe, with only two panes of glass and a thin layer of air between me and the outside chill. As I stood marveling at the numerous multicolored hot air balloons floating over our small community, I could feel the cold penetrating the glass and reaching through my light jacket. In the background Sirius Radio wailed out Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street .
In the song Rafferty sings, “He’s got this dream about buyin’ some land. He’s gonna give up the booze and the one night stands. Then he’ll settle down. It’s a quiet little town. And forget about everything.” Baker Street is a song about a disillusioned man who wants to move away from his neighborhood and buy a home of his own; a man who wants to reinvent himself and establish a more peaceful existence.
The restaurant was empty, awaiting the flash of customers that would arrive once the balloons landed and were safely stowed in their trucks, trailers and RVs. The cooks and servers wandered about the place aimlessly, anticipating the crush, but not knowing what to do with themselves in the interim.
To get a better look at the pilots who flew north and west of the building, I pressed my face against to the window and was reminded that the thermometer registered significantly below freezing. The pilots were, however, warmed by their burners, which created lift for these wonderful beasts and shielded the flyers from low temperatures.
Melvin Gaines, our neighbor and friend of many decades, shuffled over to his trash barrel and placed a sack of refuse into embers that still smoldered from the night before. After many years on the County Road Crew, using his long, narrow back to complete difficult tasks, Melvin is permanently bent forward about five degrees. This is a working man’s working man. It has always been interesting to me how this industrious, softly spoken, unassuming man commands the respect of virtually every citizen of Bluff; an extraordinary feat in a town where intelligent minds question every motive.
As the trash flared, Melvin trudged back to his front door and disappeared into the warmth of his modest home. Watching this elderly gentleman engaging in the simple task that would be frowned upon or altogether banned in a more developed environment, I was reminded that our isolation allows us a freedom unknown in more populated areas. For a moment I drifted back several decades to a time when Bluff was even more wild and free; when Melvin was a young man, when I was a boy and when Navajo people still traveled in horse drawn wagons.
Loud hisses of blazing propane punctuated the frigid air, bringing me back to the present and causing the balloons to rise and fall on invisible air currents. This was the final day of the 13th Annual Bluff International Balloon Festival, and the balloonists had been hoping to fly in nearby Valley of the Gods. Bad road conditions in the valley had, however, forced them back into town for a third day. Since it was my turn to man the cafe, I was secretly thrilled with what was otherwise considered bad luck.
As the haunting saxophone solo of Baker Street faded, the balloons sailed around eroded monoliths and kissed red rock cliffs; brightly colored silk juxtaposed against buff colored, desert varnished sandstone. Not long after Gerry Rafferty finished his lament, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came up on the playlist; yet another song about someone wishing for a simple, more meaningful life away from the city lights. “Was this a sign,” I asked myself, wondering whether the music contained a secret message.
My mind began to question, “Should I too be looking for a more simple existence? Since everyone else seems disenchanted, shouldn’t I be as well?” “No,” I concluded, “This is that quiet little town away from Baker Street, where you can forget about everything. This is a place where balloons carry warm, friendly, trustworthy individuals who make young people like Kira exclaim, ‘I love those people!’ It is a place where I can look out from my counters of turquoise and silver, from covered porches where sand tirelessly accumulates, and see Melvin tinkering diligently on his trucks, tractors and generators.” Bluff may very well be the dream at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, the anti-Baker Street in an otherwise chaotic world.
With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.