Day 31: The sprinklers at Dodge City

by James

We sat like early-rising catatonics, watching Animal Planet at 7AM in Gene’s house and eating fruity pebbles while the kids climbed on us. We packed up the bikes and said our goodbyes.

We biked through towns with behemoth windmills and curious roadside decorations. We stopped at a place for lunch with homemade pies where we talked briefly with two waitresses1.

Weird roadside monument
Names like Dante, Clinton, Agamemnon...
Much of this

Our destination for the evening was Dodge City. We made the trip there pretty easily and without event; I think there was one flat.

On the edge of town, we rode a few miles through gray industrial grit. We rode past uninviting wire fences and grain silos that looked like soundless, ivory memorials to strange years long dead.

Nobody home

We passed historic storefronts that looked like leftover props from The Magnificent Seven.

Dodge City looks like it’s run by crooked cowboys gone yuppie. I liked it because it was a new flavor of the west for me.

Mike split off to go find postcards at an antique train station while I began to set up camp in the McDonald’s. I pulled up to the golden arches and hunted around for a booth next to an outlet. I came up short and settled for a booth near the corner, where the last remnants of daylight came in through the window beside.

Later, Mike arrived with postcards. We picked three or four items from the value menu to pay our unofficial fare for loitering, then took turns walking across the street to order take-out from Taco Bell.

We sat eating tacos in a burger joint and trying to contend with the noisy kids ten feet away playing tag around a plastic wagon-train.

Soon, the sun through our window started to fade and the city lights punctured the resulting darkness like a bunch of expensive stones laid on a piece of dark marble. We packed up and left to go sleep in the city park.

Dodge City lights
Dodge City Lights.

Mike got a flat on the way out, so we stopped by an old train and I milled around while he went to work.

Old train

After Mike finished up, we biked through the mostly-empty streets, and even saw a few kids in tight jeans and plaid pearl-snaps standing outside a bar. Of course a crooked-cowboy town has hipsters. The streets were windy and cool. We ascended a few hills heading north.

Along the way, Mike slipped his completed postcards into a post-office dropbox.

To the city park

We got to the city park in a residential part of town. The park was a large span of grass with a good-sized playground at one end and a roofed picnic area toward the center-rear. We glided the bikes over to the picnic area and began to set up.

Little did we know
The hovel

A Hispanic family was playing quietly in the park, and they began leaving with casual slowness when we showed up. I thought about going up to them, telling them we weren’t crazies, but I figured that would only make them even more suspicious that we were crazies. They strolled up the hill with their kid in a wagon.

Just as we had our bikes locked and packed away for the night and our sleeping equipment laid out on the sheltered concrete, claps of thunder, wind, and lightening began to stir in the sky above.

There was no rain, but the wind gusted through the little hovel, rustling our sleeping bags and moving any small, loose objects. Separate patches of lightening lit up the clouds above with startling frequency. The sky looked like it was full of broken, strobing florescent bulbs. I’m pretty sure the whole thing was directed by David Lynch.

I laughed a few times at the absurdity of the situation and got my phone out and tweeted like hell. I tried to video the storm, but all the camera picked up was black. It was about midnight.

I laid between the two picnic tables in the hovel, my bike rested against the picnic table to the right of my feet. Mike laid behind the picnic table to my left, beside his bike, which was also leaned up against a table.

I laid on my back, zipped up in my sleeping bag and excited at the unruly weather. I felt the satisfaction that accompanies watching a pissed Mother Nature from the comfortable safety of human shelter. I closed my eyes and drifted off…

Until I heard a crash. I dunno how many minutes had passed, but I looked over at Mike and his bike was on top of him. “You okay?”

“Yeah. The bike just fell on me.”

The wind had knocked his bike over. He scrambled up, pushed the steel frame off of himself, then moved his sleeping mat and bag over next to me, between the two picnic tables.

The wind was screaming now. I’m not sure what the speed was, but sometimes I felt as though I’d be picked up and carried off into the field, sleeping bag and all. Someone was still fanning the big lightswitch in the sky, but we hadn’t felt any rain so we were happy. I closed my eyes and drifted off, thinking of apple pies and women past and the coffee machine at home…

Until someone was pouring, POURING, water on me. I snapped my head up and a current ran through my body that tried to get me out of the downpour. The dousing stopped. I looked around. No rain. Sprinklers. A sprinkler system!?

Mike got it the worst. He jumped up from beside me and moved his sleeping mat to the front of the left table where, ostensibly, he’d be unreachable by the sprinkler.

He was wrong. Wave two came funneling in and got Mike good. He cursed and jumped up and moved his mat diagonally across the shelter to behind the picnic table to my right.

He settled down and I felt no more wetness, so again I drifted off into warmth…

Soaking. I came up for air from the depth of sleep and I was absolutely sopping wet. My bag was covered in water and the waves were coming in more frequently now. I jumped up, completely unsure of what to do. The entire concrete floor of the shelter was under a pool of water.

“The hell can we do?” I thought. Going to a motel was nearly out of the question: even setting aside the cost, it’d take us at least half an hour to get packed up and biking in this weather was a bad idea. Plus, our stuff was drenched.

The sudden exit from the fog of sleep had me frantic. Trying to think felt like running a marathon with a suitcase full of bricks.

Mike had moved back to his original spot beside his bike, completing the horrible game of musical beds. My last option was to try to get behind the right picnic table and hope to God that was out of the range of the active sprinklers.

I laid my mat down in that edge of the pool and saw that the mat itself was covered in water. My sleeping bag looked shriveled and felt soaked, but I crawled in and covered up and felt my chest tighten. After a quick coughing fit, I resigned myself to a sleep in the artificial rain. I looked over at Mike, who was just a dark bundle, and assumed he’d also given up.

The bag was wet but reasonably warm. I fell asleep with my head in the shadows of the hovel, just missing the brightness thrown down by the towering park lights. The storm had settled but the occasional wind gusted, just to keep our worn hubris in check.

It’s no cakewalk being a vagrant in Dodge City.

  1. don’t get any ideas; they were mother and daughter2.

  2. don’t get any ideas about that one either3

  3. God I need an editor

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