My Letters From America – “I’m Always Within Five Feet Of My Gun”

Toward the top of Interstate 14 in Bighorn National Park at 3,000m the present Mrs Ives declared the need to stop for what our American friends would describe as a ‘bathroom break’. There was nothing around other than a wide open road. In fact we’d only seen mountains, cows and the very occasional car on the long climb up from Greybull. However, sweeping down another long straight The Elk View Inn came into view and amongst some rental log cabins and a lot of small All Terrain Vehicles was a wooden building claiming to be the bar and restaurant. I parked up and Anna dashed in.

We felt obliged to have a drink to repay the bar for use of its facilities and ordered a Coke and a Bud Light. Sadly, as I was driving I was the soft drink consumer. Our barman, Ramón, looked out of place in this isolated location, of Latino complexion and sporting metal rings through his bottom lip and inevitably in his ears he was no cowboy. Our interrogation started with “where are you from?” Ramón was originally from Portland, Oregon but left as he felt the place was ‘moving in the wrong direction’? He’d first ended up in Vegas working on the strip as a barman. The shifts including 8.30am to 3.30am were gruelling but he was earning good money. Covid ended all this and he had to find another job.

He’s in his very early thirties, stylish in his own pierced way, gregarious and articulate. It came as no surprise he’d ended up in management and he ran this bar. However, why Wyoming? In short he was ‘conservative’ and wanted to be in a place with space and no big towns with their own unrepresentative political centres as he described it. Given the recent anarchy in Portland you might easily understand what he was fleeing. I could empathise with this as I’ve found rural America and its people bear little or no resemblance to the ethnic diversity, pace, needs, crime, preoccupations and seemingly perpetual conflicts that swirl around major cities. Of course rural America has its maladies but they seem to me less in number and different.

He mentioned gun legislation in many States was a determinant for his move as he always wanted a firearm to hand. Now Ramón certainly didn’t seem a member of the NRA but he listed the four guns he currently owned! We were astonished. A bit like my selection of bicycles: each gun had a particular task, whether it was personal safety from other humans or shooting animals that threatened his safety on the trail. He turned to show us his girlfriend, a dark slim attractive girl finishing her lunch. She worked at the hotel as the housekeeper. He’d bought her a hand gun and went on to say he was additionally looking at a rifle to stash in his truck. Changing subject (!) I asked if Wyoming had been his first choice? No, Alaska was but he couldn’t fly with his guns there as they passed over Canada.

Frankly the desire to bear arms is vital to millions of Americans. How any politician could meaningfully dismantle the law seems impossible when they truly believe that the ownership is integral to their safety. Gun ownership seemed no solution to me as to personal safety but created a perpetual cycle of fear and an increasing desire for ownership and apparent accumulation.

Anyway we thanked Ramón and paid. I had little change for a tip but found a dollar. I apologised for the size of the gratuity. He noted, genuinely kindly, as we sidled toward that door, that tipping wasn’t a thing they did in England. On that we could agree Ramón.

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