Critical Mass

On the Road in Rock Springs

By Jane Ciabattari

I’m driving east from the Pacific to the Atlantic this week. I left Wells, Nevada, a sad town halfway to ghosting with closed-down casinos and motels Saturday morning, ate lunch in Park City,still glossy with Redford-generated income, and ended the long day in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where the temperature had hit 102 degrees and a hot wind was blowing. In the distance, a train that seems miles long was lumbering along. The downtown looked terminally scuffed. Below the tracks was a 21st tent city. 

Time to reread “Rock Springs,” the title story in NBCC awardee Richard Ford’s iconic collection of stories set in the West (mostly in Montana). I’ve taught “Rock Springs,” off and on, so the first line stays with me: “Edna and I had started down from Kalispell, heading for Tampa-St. Pete, where I still had some friends from the old glory days who wouldn’t turn me in to the police. I had managed to scrape with the law in Kalispell over several bad checks—which is a prison crime in Montana.”

I’ll look for my paperback copy once I get back to the humid East. I Googled the last line of the story from the motel room. ‘‘And I wondered, because it seemed funny, what would you think a man was doing if you saw him in the middle of the night looking in the windows of cars in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn? Would you think he was trying to get his head cleared? Would you think he was trying to get ready for a day when trouble would come down on him? Would you think his girlfriend was leaving him? Would you think he had a daughter? Would you think he was anybody like you?’’