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  • The onramp came on quickly - I had to slam on my brakes, feeling the nag to get to work less late than I already was, feeling the pressure of traffic and turn signals, and the premonition that none of it really mattered.

    There he was, the tarmac cowboy. Backpack, illegible cardboard sign, sharpie fading and crumpled like a well-loved bear. As I fumed at the intersection, waiting for a tanker to squeeze onto the interstate, he had already sized me up - a lame commuter with no time for small talk or small change or small smiles.

    The tanker wasn't moving any faster, so I rolled down my window. He came up to the car, grey hair standing up, looking sleepy and resigned. Backpack mended with baling twine, a kaleidoscope of colors, a web of summers in the west.

    "Got a cigarette on you?" Gravelly voice, well seasoned, smoothed by the incessant crashing waves of life.

    I fumbled around for the half-cigar, half-forgotten.

    "Yeah - somewhere - got a cigar"

    "Oh, that'd be fine, fine..."

    A car honked behind me - I jerked back to the intersection.

    "You going someplace?" I hoped he'd say no. Hoped like I wished he'd say yes.

    "Wyoming, but I gotta re-stock - know someplace'll take food stamps?"

    He bundled his bag into the back seat - I scrabbled the trash off the passenger side.

    He was headed to Wyoming, to work on his brother's ranch. No license, no Greyhound ticket, no cash. Ticket never came. Stuck in a backwater town, looking for the launch, the long haul trucker driving through the fly-over.

    I dropped him at the market, with best wishes, a light and a half-cigar.

    And hope. Maybe.
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