Two wrinkled strangers
We trade motel pleasantries
They are old soulmates.
I drove, in summer of 2015, from Jackson, Wyoming to the Hill Country west of Austin, Texas. I left Jackson one late afternoon. I had three companions that day: a badly written spy-novel audiobook, a beautifully desolate high-desert landscape, and a warm sunset on my right shoulder. I progressed as far south as Evanston, WY, near the Utah border. There I spent the night in a Super 8. Free HBO, complimentary breakfast. It doesn’t matter how warm the milk, cold the coffee, stale the Frosted Flakes, dubious the waffle batter: free motel breakfast is winning the lottery.
Next morning I sipped concentrate orange juice near the buffet. The day began clear and cool and bright. I studied a map, hunting for a hiking trailhead in the nearby Wasatch Mountains. The sun quickly warmed the Super 8 lobby. An elderly couple entered, sat down to their free breakfast. I like to think that they were retirees from Nebraska, westward bound to visit their newborn granddaughter in Boise.
Their wore warm, sincere good-morning smiles. The husband poured two cups of steaming coffee. I wondered if he’d find it as watered-down as I did, then I wondered if he wondered if I was a snob, sulking over my styrofoam cup while longing for a latte. He sat down to the newspaper. The man’s wife arranged breakfast for two at the buffet. He served the coffee, and she the food. This was the morning ritual, and it did not change just because the place had.
I split the next five minutes focusing on my map and their meal. As couples do in quiet moments, they conversed but barely spoke. A nod, a grateful smile, pointing to a newspaper article, raised eyebrows in recognition.
I was moved. I wanted so much to celebrate their casual grace, their collective dignity. But the moment’s beauty was of course its quiet. I rose from my table and left a moment later. We exchanged glances and farewell nods. He looked sad, the young man alone with his map.