Barked commands emanate in a strong East coast accent from the common room next door.
It takes a moment for me to realise it’s an automated travel information service. I enter the room to see Don Atkins strutting back and forth with irritation, head down, mobile phone gripped to his ear.
Standing at around four foot five, Don’s nasal voice with heightened volume more than make up for his stature. He wears a blue checked shirt tucked in, beige slacks and sandals. His paunch belly pulls his belt low at the front although the suspension holds firm hoisted high up his short back. Oversized 70’s spectacles almost hide the squint and astigmatism in one eye. He has patchy dyed brown hair, fuzzy and lifting at the sides with a small bald patch on top.
Finding the scene before me bizarre I look for collusion with another guest seated at a table. Bob, a tall friendly Christian in town for a Jesus convention, raises his eyebrows, smiles and nods in confirmation.
I return to the front desk. A short time later I again hear him shouting at the shared, ageing computer “Come on! Come on!”.
I hear a deliberate sigh of defeat and Don trucks over to me with short steps. “I just don’t know, I can’t read my email on that computer.” he says shaking his head.
I walk with him back to the computer whilst he explains too loudly about how he’s “not sure if it’s the computer or the internet”. Leaning over I see an error message stating Yahoo is having problems. “I just don’t know” says Don, “Is there a public library around here?”. Don delivers all his sentences with firm and equal emphasis on each word, almost as if I were hard of hearing, or perhaps he were. I give directions to the local library.
I stand and turn to him, now curious “Are you from New York?”.
He blinks at me, registering me fully for the first time, and I’m embarrassed as I track his eye movements rapidly appraising me from head to foot.
“Yes, the New York area. There are three great cities in this country.” he declares in a way that feels rehearsed, “New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. You want a good meal in one of those cities, walk into the nearest restaurant.” He blinks again at me. “I like the sun but I have no time for Florida. My mother lives there. She’s ninety eight. It’s a place for old people and immigrants. They roll up the sidewalks at five thirty.”
He’s pleased with this line I can tell, and he’ll tell it to me again before he leaves. When he does check out, it’s only after another round with the automated rail information line at full volume. He takes time informing me that the Amtrak headed East has been delayed in Flagstaff for two hours. As he leaves I update the hostel software and notice his email address is railenthusiast07.