"I saw the whole relationship right there," he laughed with her as I sat down coffee in hand, "But that's okay, it was a good breakup. I got the place, you got the instruments and the dog. Even though it was my dog..." His grin opened up from the long white mustache and goatee. Old laughter, lascivious once, now a joke on itself.
On the outside, it was just an old hippie, better than sixty and sharing laughter with a couple twenty-something kids in a small town coffee shop.
He had been sitting there on the couches when my friend and I walked in. Back to the window and drinking coffee, paper held open to the crossword. An old flat brimmed hat, and a canvas musette bag beside him on the deep cushions of the couch. His hair, white and long, but clean shaven from his cheeks and sides of his jaws, and back lit. Old clothes, but clean, with a well cared for leather vest, and lots of shined silver and polished stones around his neck. Another of the peculiar creatures that lurk the coffee shop, an unknown who looked somehow so right for the place.
My friend and I, lost in our conversation and food sat opposite him in the same corner circle of lounge chairs and couches. Our talk ranged music and tattoo's, she was wearing a fresh one, and life in general. We sandwiched on turkey and avocado, drinking coffee and lemonade.
The gent opposite continued his crossword for a time, and then rustled to life in a creak of leather couch, folding of newspaper and shaking out of his tobacco pouch. I watched him with interest, his leathery hands sunk into his makin's with delicacy. Pinching and distributing just the right amount of fine tobacco, and gently rolling the fragile paper with an unconscious competence of practice. I smiled, thinking of my father and all the men I had grown up around, and of the pouch in my pocket, full of hand rolled cigarettes and makin's. "Someone who stills rolls his own" I said, unaware of where those words would take me.
The next hour was filled with story telling, rich with mirth and memory. A wanderer from time to time and place to place, he told us about old girlfriends, houses, gigs and rooms full of drying peyote. He laughed at those girlfriends who had gone straight, become soccer moms and grandmothers. About this town, thirty years ago, and the "hippies and Techies" running wild and painting the town green for St. Pats. He showed us a picture of his own grandkids, from Philadelphia, a place distant in both miles and time, and talked about his daughter. How he'd reassured her that she was no wilder than her mother had been, a young Sicilian girl rebelling against Catholic school and marrying a nice Sicilian boy. "But you ain't supposed to run off with the hippies, ah no... So that's just what she did," he paused, "She was wild, and ran like the wind..." and he smiled to no one in the room.
The old hippie continued, and somewhere his history with Socorro county became the topic, his coming full circle again to old places, and busking in front of grocery stores. And then he let drop a gem.
"When I first got here, I ended up out on the other side of Ladrone mountain, down by the Salado."
This man, this stranger from far and wide, kids in Philly, and friends in the Pacific Northwest, had uttered the name of one of the most personally sacred places to me in whole world. Riley, the little ghost town on the Rio Salado, where I've been to a lifetime of matanzas, fiestas, weddings and funerals. I saw Riley every day as a kid, on the 45 mile drive into town for school. It's about as middle of nowhere as anywhere on the Earth, in relation to anyplace ever called "somewhere".
He spoke of the old hippie place, and the travel trailer with the metal siding (that's still out there) that had been his, and of the people.
"Did you know the Bustamante's?" I ask
"Herman? Oh yeaah..." and the names went on.
"The ranchers, they didn't much know what to make of us, but those guys, they thought we were all right."
And he told us a story of one of the old men out there, a name I forgot to remember, "The hippie girls, they go down there in the river for mud baths, and he rides down there and sees them. Of course, 'bout the only woman he's ever seen naked is his wife, and he just wants to get outta there, man. But the hippie girls, 'Oh hey man, can we pet your horse? He's soo pretty', they wanna pet all over that horse. And all of a sudden, the sky is real interesting, and that cactus over there, never noticed it, I'll look at it, and anything but them naked hippie girls."
After another forty-five minutes of talking and laughter, I finally got his name; Tommy. We shook hands, and he made a mental not to himself, "Morgan the Blacksmith, and Rebecca the... artist people, band posters."
It wasn't long after that we parted ways, shaking hands with Tommy and going on our way, bellies full of food, coffee and laughter.
Tommy, who dried peyote in that little house on California that never got torn down during the renovation of Socorro's main drag. Who dated a girl that wrecked her van in a canyon in the northern reaches of the state, and lived down there for a year, and then ran into this girl 30 years later here, and could only laugh at her minivan and pearls. Tommy, "the old hippie, crazy guy", who played Arlo Guthrie songs for an autistic girl in a home, and got the first reaction anyone had ever seen her give anyone, singing "...bringing in two keys, don't touch my bags if you please, Mr. Customs man." Tommy, the random coffee shop encounter with memories, and a shared past. Well, Tommy, The path is strange and twisted, and I'll see you out there.