Cass Lake Minnesota winds along in a gentle bustling flow of summer life. Wood and bait is sold, pontoons and boats transported, campfires made and deer spring alongside the roads and sometimes into them. I went to use the laundry service at a casino truck stop, the woman serving behind the counter looking shocked and nervous. She told me a deer jumped right out in front of her car on the way to work, she had wounded it, but not killed it, and had to call someone to dispatch it for her, couldn’t just leave the deer there suffering. Tears were in her eyes. Behind me a man waited, sullen faced and moody, for us to stop talking about deer and sadness and how you just can’t help it when they jump in front of you like that. I could feel his resentment rising from him. He wanted us to shut up. I don’t even think he wanted to talk to her, because when I left, carrying my soap and my softener, he still stood there scowling at us and the empty screen that was playing silent advertisements on an endless loop of exhortations to bet the farm on a game of blackjack. Cass Lake moves slowly, even in winter, molasses drips through society like a blessing or a curse, its inhabitants fighting to shake off the malaise.
Another gas station, a different time, some place close by, I went in to pay for gas. It was my job – Billy drove, I went in to pay – some hell or high water, bad towns and worse situations, I was the one who went into the gas station while he stood waiting to pump dollars into our ten mile to the gallon tank. Two men stood behind the counter. I went up to an empty space and asked for twenty on pump number 4. Behind me some kinda sketchy deal looked and sounded like it was going down. I stood there, quietly, determinedly ignoring these men and their show-off display of masculine bravado. Instead I spoke to an elder, who was working there. He asked me where I was from. Behind me motormouth was revving on about nothing in particular, while a scuzzy white blonde girl was tugging at his shirt sleeve, begging for a taste of something sweet. I told him where I had come from, and where I might be going to. He told me that he had left Minnesota once. He went to Arizona. I asked him how he liked it there. He told me “well I came back” as if that told me everything I ever needed to know about Arizona. I suppose it did. He would rather freeze in the artic frigid winters than be comfortable in the desert. I understand, I’m not a desert person either. Never will be. As I went to leave, taking a handwritten receipt with me, he called after me, “Hey! I hope you choose to stay the winter!” I told him I wanted to, but it wasn’t up to me, it was up to the man driving the house. The elder understood, and looked sadly after me as I left the store, trailing the couple, who by now were jostling and fighting over whatever they had bought in the store behind the candy bars and cans of soda and jars of dried buffalo jerky.
Gas stations rarely give you the gas you pay for. You put in twenty, knowing what twenty in the tank looks like on the fuel gauge, and tut or cheer accordingly to the portion given. Gas prices aside, we were cheated out of gas more times than I care to imagine, throwing money down the highway like we were rich or something. We were not rich. His pension and my meagre savings barely kept us in camping and food and gas. Sometimes, gas at around $3.20 a gallon, a twenty would barely make a dent on a quarter tank. You get to know which gas stations are fair and which are putting their thumb on the scale. Life is a constant struggle against The Man. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose, said Dylan. He lied. There is always something more to lose, and when you got nothing, they try and take that too.