“WARNING TO TOURISTS. DO NOT LAUGH AT THE NATIVES.”
The large, all caps message plastered across a yellow, tarpaulin background was the last trace of civilization before entering Wyoming. The sign baffled Bill and I, as many questions arose pertaining to its origin.
What happens to those who laugh at the natives? And being that they had to put up a sign like that, I assume that there was once a major problem that got out of control, resulting in the sign’s placement. I mean… if people are laughing, the natives must be funny right? And why is that a bad thing? I kind of like it when people laugh at me, unless I do something embarrassing, which in that case, that’s my fault, and in the end, can’t really blame somebody for doing so. And if I saw somebody walking around with a T-shirt that said, “WARNING, DO NOT LAUGH AT ME,” I guess I would be sort of curious as to why, with possibly an intention to provoke to find out exactly what would happen, depending on how nerdy they looked…
The wondering went on for several minutes. “What exactly would happen if later that day we found ourselves in a situation where a couple of natives caught us laughing? What would be the consequences of those actions…? Would they yell at us…? Kick us out…? Fine us? Could they put us in jail for simply laughing? What about beating us up, or even worse, sentencing us to a long and painful death…?” None of the punishments seemed to fit the crime, nor did they even seem legal. Regardless of what happened to the poor souls who got caught laughing at the natives, we figured we’d refrain from any type of laughing for the rest of the day, no matter how big the temptation, or at least try. No reason to cause unnecessary trouble if at all avoidable, unless they actually did something that was considered to be really funny. In that case, we’d have no choice in the matter.
Besides, the words Taylor said to us before leaving Boise still ran fresh in our heads, and the last thing we wanted to do was stand out and look like a couple of stupid tourists! “And you know what, I betcha they’re the reason why there’s been so much trouble!” No way we were going to be associated with them, no matter what! We even held our tongue at the local saloon in Alpine, Wyoming when our pizza came out a few minutes undercooked and underwhelming in size!
In all honesty though, there wasn’t much that constituted the signs placement, at least between Pocatello and the Gran Tetons, and the drive through the Palisades Reservoir, a long and thick lake augmented by the ingenuity of man, was especially exceptional. The route lead up into a valley lush with timber, spanning the length of the sparkling lake; truly a gem hidden along the Southeastern border of Idaho, one that if the logic of Idahoans prevails, will be kept secret for a long time.
“Hey, do you mind if we listen to something else?” asked Bill.
“What?” It was hard to hear him over the music.
“I said ‘Do you mind if we listen to something else?’”
“Do you have a problem my music selection?”
“Well, it’s just… although I found blasting Kanye West for the last 40 minutes slightly thrilling—“
“Okay okay, thrilling, it’s just that we’ve already listened to ‘Yeezus’ once already—“
“And?” Man, was the guy trying to break the world record for consecutive offensive comment or something? We barely made it out of Idaho and already he’s starting to piss me off!
“Well, we are playing the music kind of loud, and… and in the spirit of the natives, maybe we should play something a little more subtle… you know, a classic of sorts…” I remained silent for the time being. The kid kind of had a point, but I was still a little steamed to admit it. “…For Taylor…”
“…What did you have in mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The Beatles? Maybe?”
“I always liked the Magical Mystery Tour…”
I took my time shuffling through the music selection waiting for the album come up on my console display. Bill nodded his head in approval as Yeezus came to an abrupt stop and the Magical Mystery Tour faded in—Of course he did!
“Hey, does something feel weird with this album to you?” asked Bill.
“…Now that you mention it, something is a little strange with it…” Both of us were right; there was something very peculiar about the album as we climbed up the grade and into the reservoir, like it was trying to tell us something. “But what?” Whatever it was, neither of us could quite put a finger on it…
Then, Paul McCartney’s graceful voice appeared…
Day after day
Alone on a hill
The man with a foolish grin is keeping perfectly still…
My jaw hung agape, as did Bill’s. We both turned our heads a quarter turn towards each other, letting our dropped jaws naturally form a grin. We both knew it and reveled in the moment, the culmination of magnificence exposed before us through song and sight. The brilliant blend of McCartney’s lyrics with the intermittent wood flute solo served as an omen, one that most Beatles fans, including us, had taken for granted all these years!
“McCartney… he knew, all along,” said Bill.
“I can’t believe it…” Both of us waited a moment as the first chorus played.
But the fool on the hill
See’s the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See’s the world spinning ‘round…
“Ben Woodward!” Both of us shouted it at the same time. We broke our no laughing rule and burst into uncontrollable hysteria. The CD replayed itself several times over the rest of the drive to Jackson Hole. The description was just too perfect.
We entered Jackson Hole to a much expected scene given the knowledge Taylor had passed down to us; a quaint little town plagued with an overabundance of tourists who sucked its natural resources dry as they crept about like zombies from one square to the next, preying on as many native relics they could infect. Unfortunately, some of the town’s business folk had given into the demands of the mob, catering to their urbane addictions with premiere hotels and resorts that included hot tubs, swimming pools, continental breakfast, and cable TV among other unnecessary amenities. So much for being one with your natural surroundings…
Not us though. We knew better… much better. We cruised through town, vowing not to act like the rest of the ignorant populace that had invaded such a small town. “God knows I won’t be caught dead associating myself with this madness,” I told Bill.
So we headed north…
The plains were endless along the highway towards the Tetons, a blanket of grain strewn across in all directions with only a line of asphalt dividing east and west. A long string of automobiles of all shapes and sizes stretched across the road, further polluting the prestige of the sacred land, of which we were regrettably a part. Then, within a moment, the curtain of nature unveiled itself to the prize we had waited for ever since we left Pocatello—a row of mountains, sharp and pointed towards the clear blue sky, a solid row of grey pencil heads with white graphite, each varying in its own unique shape and size, yet all standing as one wonderful miracle of nature. We had arrived at the Gran Tetons, and the sight was well worth the drive.
And I don’t know if it was a trick of the brain or what, but on the highest peak, I swore I saw a figure, a man towering above the others with his pecks swollen with pride, as he was the true dominion of nature and all those who failed to conquer her. I felt him call out a name—my name in a derogatory form. His strawberry hair, his Alpha Male stature—It was Josh Ulrich. It had to be.
He was out there. He’s always out there, watching us, belittling us… making us his bitch. And he’s still out there… somewhere…
“Hello, welcome to the Gran Tetons,” said the park ranger at the park’s gates.
“Hello, we’d like a single day admission into the park.”
“That’ll be 35 dollars please—“
“35 dollars! I mean…” I recomposed myself. No need to make a scene. Not at the Tetons. “Um… I’m sorry. Due to our time constraint, I think we’ll try our luck with another hike.” No way I was paying 35 freaking dollars just to see a couple buffalo! I don’t need to spend that kind of precious money to enjoy nature. What a crock. What a travesty!
A stop at the information center sent us off onto another path that overlooked Phelps Lake, one that didn’t cost the preposterous amount of 35 dollars to hike; anything to get away from the swath of tourists cluttering the gift shop. Bill and I again scoffed at the number of grown men and women rifling through the piles of overpriced stuffed animals and children’s books. It was ridiculous! At least we had enough dignity to study the art, old paintings, and history on display for a little bit at the Visitor’s Center. The amount of knowledge on display that was being ignored was at the very least off-putting, and the worst repulsive!
At the edge of a trail two miles from our car we came to an opening, a small window into a hidden pocket of nature that rested along the southeastern side of the Tetons—Phelps Lake. Only visible from the point of which we stood, it glittered in response to the sun’s rays, untouched by any foreign body and creating a barrier between the Tetons and the plains they overlooked. Away from the crowds, fanfare, and commotion, we were overcome by a wave of serenity… a calming sensation of tranquility. Bill and I looked out at the lake, and then back at each other. The hike was well worth it, especially the part when we got to mingle with the babe of a park ranger.
“You know, I think we did this right,” said Bill as we hopped into my car for the drive back towards the main road. “I kind of wish we had enough time to hike down to the lake and jump in though.”
“Well, the way I see it, all we would’ve done was introduce an impurity. So I think it was for the best.
“Oh God,” Bill Scoffed. “Such an Ulrich thing to do!”
“Agreed. And get this. For once, we resisted every tourist trap thrown at us!” It was true. It was damn true. We didn’t give into any of the temptations. And perhaps the biggest accomplishment of all, we didn’t laugh at any of the natives!
“Taylor would be proud,” said Bill with a nod of approval. “Taylor would be damn prou—“
“Look at these A-holes!” A row of cars lined the side of the road that was clearly not meant for parked cars, (not that we were surprised at all by the human ignorance). “What is going on?” I vented, throwing my hands up in the air and shaking my head, hoping to make the dozens of kids running dangerously across the road with their heads in an uncontrollable shake and arms flailing about feel like garbage, as well as the parents who obviously did not have a handle on their children. I for one surely did not appreciate the slow down, or having to deal with the slew of stereotypical tourist clogging the road, and believe me, by the end of it, I would make sure each and every one of them knew.
“Oh look, it’s a moose,” said Bill, pointing towards the marsh to our right before shrugging it off. “They’re a lot bigger than I thought they’d be.” I turned my head slightly to verify the observation.
“Oh,” I said. Indeed there was a moose, up close and personal standing in the marsh. “No wonder everybody is stop—whoa, that’s a moose—HOLY CRAP, NOW THAT’S A FREAKING BIG OL’ MOOSE!”
My car came to a screeching halt, skidding 10 feet across the gravel road and sending a wide flume of dust into the air. “Hurry, where’s my phone??? Give it to me, quick! NOW!” The door swung open. Bill threw me my phone. It hit my hand, then juggled, and then… gone. It disappeared, lost in the cloud of dust.
“Where did it go? I can’t—”
“Zack, come back! You forgot to put it in park!”
“Hit the brake! The brak—forget the seatbelt, the brake!”
“The brake I said, not the gas—No, don’t go in reverse!”
“We’re gonna miss it—“
“You’re phone! You’ll run it over! Get out and—NO! PARK! SET IT IN PARK!”
The door swung open once more and out I rolled, unable to gracefully untangle myself from my seatbelt. My body combed the ground, my arms waving frantically across the gravel, searching desperately for my phone, that one device that was essential to our survival. It had pictures, Google maps, music—everything! On my hands and knees I crawled, scouring the ground for any large abnormality, for it was impossible to see as more dust kept accumulating and accumulating! I just don’t understand how physics and nature works sometim—“Found it!”
I scurried up to the crowd covered in streaks of dirt. There she was, mama moose just minding her own business in the middle of a marsh and chowin’ down on some grass. In one swift motion and a swipe of my finger, I whipped out my phone and snapped a picture. “Perfect. Bill, look at all the cool shots I’m gett—“
There was no Bill; just a Black E350 Mercedes-Benz, with its hazard lights on, parked in the middle of the road, stopping the flow of traffic, 7 cars deep, beginning with some babe in a Jeep Wrangler, a babe looking onward with disgust—looking onward at a dingus; a dingus in a matching pair of Gucci shoes and sunglasses, wearing a tank top from Urban Outfitters and a fresh pair of skinny jeans cut-offs, running back to his car, all covered in dirt. Not even the most innocent of nods could win back her grace… So I drove. I drove and absorbed the look of disapproval from each of the 7 cars plus 2 more by the time I put the Benz back into drive. Bill’s head was lowered deep into his chest cavity.
At least we got the pic.
“That’s probably gonna be a 10 liker on Instagram at least.” It was the first thing that was said since leaving the Gran Tetons. Bill took his time with a response.
“Who knows?” he said to me. I gave him nothing in response. “Is it too late to go home? I don’t know if this was such a good idea after all…” Again, no response was afforded to him. “Good thing Taylor wasn’t with us today.” I just shook my head in disgust. My lips were sealed.
A familiar song came on the playlist… perhaps a little too familiar.
Day after Day
Alone on the Hill
The man with a foolish grin is keeping perfectly still…
I saw Bill out of the corner of my eye; there was a foolish grin on his face, I just knew it. I punched the mute button on the stereo system.
“Hey, I was listening to that song—“
“Shut up Bill.” Another long period of silence commenced.
“Man, I don’t know if Ben Woodward’s the Fool on the Hill anymore. I think we may have a new—“
“I said shut up…”
https://www.vintag.es/2021/01/stinker-station-signs.html. Here is an explanation of the history of the “Laughing at the natives” signs. Quite Interesting!