Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

September 18, 2005 Moab.

From Idaho I headed to an even drier and more fantastic part of the country, the incredible national parks of Utah. I wanted to visit all of them, but the reality of geography, schedules, and gas prices set in, so I based myself in Moab in order to go to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, foregoing Zion and others further away.

Moab is one of those towns to which people gravitate, people who want to be in the landscape and will take any kind of day job if it will let them live in that unreal landscape. I stayed at a hostel there, which I heard about from someone I got to talking to in a local coffeehouse with free wifi. The hostel was staffed by four or five men who looked to be in their forties – not young kids, these fellows. One, whom I’d met in the café, had been in Moab for several years. He’d lived in other parts of the country, worked at a variety of jobs, but in his middle age he was more interested in being in the mountains and redrock canyons of southern Utah than he was in any kind of work. So he was willing to spend his days doing laundry, taking small sums from hostellers, and living in a dorm

room in the hostel in return for quite modest pay, stunning views, and clear skies all year round. Another fellow – a fellow burner, in fact, though he had passed on Burning Man this year – was all full of creative ideas. We chatted a lot, he was an outgoing guy and fun to talk to about all kinds of things. But when he told me authoritatively that it hadn’t been a plane that hit the Pentagon on September 11th, I kind of lost it, and asked him if he also didn’t believe the Holocaust had happened. After that he wasn’t quite as nice to me, and I kind of felt bad about my sarcasm, but I heard that plane, I saw the damage it did and the fires it created, and I just couldn’t handle that kind of nonsense. Am I getting too intolerant of people who are different from me? After all, I did go on the road to meet people who are different. Hmm.

When I’m in small towns I like to read the local newspapers and find out what’s going on in the area. I picked up one in Moab, the Canyon County Zephyr . It was quite interesting, actually – had a long article about the strategies of conservation groups in the region, which sparked a huge debate among the paper’s readers. The best part of

it, though, was the ads. In a way they were the usual small-town newspaper ads, for local restaurants, hardware stores, realtors, and the like. But with a difference. Someone on the newspaper staff is a clever cartoonist, and for a small extra fee he’d draw cartoons of the business owners to include in their ads.

They were delightful; careful sketches of local people, dotted with wisecracks about their businesses and commentary coming out of their mouths. I wish I knew the people, I'm sure that would make them even more satisfying. But even better, popping up in the ads throughout the paper were drawings of Karl Rove - seeking sanctuary at the a rafting outfitter’s, as a hand puppet trying to get into the local café, the locals assuming he must be lost in Moab and trying to send him to the

courthouse. It made the newspaper wonderfully funny and silly in its political digs at the right, belying the strident tone of its articles. The New Yorker might have some competition here!

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All text and photos on this site ©Joy E. Hecht. Ads are scanned from the August-September, 2005 issue of the Canyon County Zephyr.