Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Jackson Hole, New Years Eve, 1980

My memories of Dirty Jack’s are all sunny and warm, since the theater ran only in the summer. But I spent a few winters in Jackson Hole, and the they can be brutal. It is 6,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains, after all, and it can get COLD.

I sometimes click on the link to the Jackson Town Square Webcam over in the right-hand column on this page. It looks pretty damn cold lately. Gray and chilly. The sidewalks look slippery, too. I don’t miss that part of it.

After the 1979 season at Dirty Jack’s, Prudy and I moved to Michigan for a year. She was a school social worker and I caught on selling hifi equipment in a shop across from the campus of MSU. Nine months of that was enough, and we moved back to Jackson Hole.

I got a job as the manager of the Pink Garter Lounge in Jackson. They wanted to start featuring live bands and I had some experience in the music entertainment biz, so there we were. I hired all kinds of acts and the joint was eventually jumpin’.

Anyway, this story is about WINTER and COLD, so let’s focus on New Years Eve, 1980. The temperature plunged to 65 below zero. That ain’t the wind chill, that was the temp! About 2:30 in the morning the power went out. Nobody’s car would start. All the bar workers around the town square were stuck. We all gathered in the lobby of the Wort Hotel, a grand old inn and bar across the street from the Pink Garter Plaza. It had a gi-normous old stone fireplace that warmed us all as we drank schnaps in the firelight. It was nice.

A few days later I was driving home after work along Highway 89 south out of Jackson. I lived along the Snake River near Hoback Junction, maybe 8 miles out of town. My car was a Baja bug VW (!), a relic from my days in Phoenix. For some reason I don’t recall the car broke down. I don’t remember if it was a flat tire or if I slid off the road or what, but I had to get out and walk.

It was way early, like 4:00am. The sky was a complete white-out; with a soft glow of light that illuminated the landscape like the midnight sun in the arctic. And it was cold, baby! Around 40 below. I had to hump it about 2-3 miles to home.

So I cinched up my big parka Prudy had given me. It was one of those Kmart specials, fringed with faux fur, extending from my knees to the hood I wore on my head. The hood was one of those snorkel deals: You could zip it so that it covered your face and left you looking out a hairy protuberance. That’s what I did. I set off down the road.

There was no traffic at all. The wind was steady and the air was REALLY cold. The parka wasn’t really up to the task of holding back THIS weather. I was getting cold, and I was starting to worry. Of course, I was drunk, and I realized I may have made some really stupid – even deadly – choices along the way that night. Driving home was stupid. Stumbling along an empty road at 40 below in a white-out at 4:30am is really fucking stupid.

I made it to the house, but not before promising myself I would stop drinking if I survived. I kept that promise, but it was 25 years later. In other words, I actually broke the promise every day for a quarter of a century.

I write this in my home in California, the sky gray and chilly (but about 90 degrees warmer than that night in Jackson Hole). I have been sober for one year now. Promise finally kept. I won’t freeze to death today, and I won’t drink.

Happy New Year to us all.