We had two hours on our own in Jackson, Wyoming, the town which is known for the surrounding valley formed by the majestic Teton mountains. In Old West parlance, a valley was known as a “hole” so the area would be referred to as Jackson Hole.
Our Tauck tour bus was parked in a public lot not far from various shops and bars. One of the latter was called the Million Dollar Cowboy, where the bar stools were topped with saddles. We had to settle for a table. Our drink choices included a “Cowboy Mule” or a “Cowgirl Cosmo,” both made with Huckleberry Vodka. Had there been more time we might have split a “Million Dollar Bison Burger,” perhaps with an order of “Bovine and Swine Beef Sticks,” but the clock was ticking.
A friend had recommended that we stop by the Wort Hotel, an Old West establishment where the cattle barons must have made deals in the lobby. We were able to find the hotel after a few wrong turns; then we looked for a gift shop before deciding to spend the remaining time on a bench in a nearby park.
When it was getting close to the return time, we thought we knew a shortcut, so we went in that direction.
You might think that in a town with a population of only 11,000 there should be no chance of losing our way, but the population size doesn’t matter as much as the street names. In Manhattan (which has 148 times the population as Jackson) the streets are numbered in sequence. So, if you’re on 34th Street and you’re looking for 37th, you know how to find your way. Also, there are landmarks including towering buildings. In Jackson there is no notable sequence to the street names and the only towers are the Tetons in the distance.
Concerned, we stopped at a corner, looked around, and faced the realization: We were lost. We’re usually better at preventing these type situations, but the circumstances were not in our favor. Earlier that day we had taken a raft trip down the Snake River (full disclosure: a wimpy raft ride, not white water) during which we saw several eagles and, most of all, a moose. We snapped pictures with my i-phone obsessively, so that by the afternoon the battery was drained. We found out later that Halsey, our tour guide, worriedly tried to call us. She could have solved everything, but of course our phone was dead. If only we hadn’t seen the moose.
I had hoped to see a friendly police officer pass by, but the force might have been out chasing cattle rustlers. There were none to be spotted. Peggy noticed a gallery across the street and went to ask for directions. I stood at the corner hoping for help.
THEN, SOMETHING STRANGE HAPPENED. A convertible sports car came racing up the street, turned the corner and stopped near me. The driver hopped out of the car. He was a hunk; a really handsome guy dressed in a suit. Then he asked me a question that was unbelievable. “Are you on the Tauck tour and lost trying to get back to the bus?” I was stunned. There was nothing on me that said “Tauck.” I guess we looked a little like tourists, but not so much, plus there were plenty other tourists in town.
He told me to go down the side street for one block, then three blocks to the right. He then hurried back to his convertible and sped away. It happened so fast I did not have a chance to ask him questions such as, “Who are you?” “How did you know?” And, “Why are you wearing a coat and tie?” (I reckon he was the only person in Wyoming wearing a suit that August afternoon.)
Having gotten no insights from the gallery, we set out following the convertible drivers’ instructions: One block straight ahead, three blocks to the right. As we reached the third block, we could see a figure in the distance standing on the corner, waving her arms. It was Halsey.
We were like sailors adrift on a raft suddenly spotting a seagull in the distance and knowing that land was nearby.
It must have been around 4:25 when we got in the bus. I apologized to the fellow passengers for being late. They were good natured about it, perhaps reasoning, incorrectly, that I had too many “Cowboy Mules.”
All was well, except I could not forget about the man in the car. How did he arrive at the corner where we were at that very moment? And instead of my telling him our situation, he told me.
One thought was that maybe Halsey knew him and had called for help. Over breakfast the next morning I confronted her, eyeballs to eyeballs, and asked her if she knew who he was.
“I have no idea”, she responded. Neither did the bus driver.
When I told the story to our fellow travelers someone would usually suggest, jokingly, that maybe he was a guardian angel.
That of course, is nonsense. We are talking about mythical spirits versus rational analysis and reasoning. Besides, angels do not drive sporty convertibles.
Or do they?