Andy the Indian

1974. I was nineteen, living in Radium Hot Springs and working in a bar in the National Park Hotel, which is gone now but stood at the junction of the highways where a trucker had let me off—I’d hitchhiked down from Golden. It was a bar frequented mostly by loggers and hippies, and people like me who didn’t know where they belonged. I walked into the worn hotel lobby, where an Indian man—that was the right word back then—was sitting on a wooden bench beside the front desk, also the Greyhound station, looking down at the ragged old carpet. He raised his head, looked up at me with a shy, toothy grin. “Hey, little big fella!” he said, and laughed. “Hi,” I said, wondering what he meant. “That’s Andy,” said the crippled man behind the counter. “Don’t mind him. Don’t you have something to do, Andy?” Apparently not. Andy worked for Kirk’s Christmas trees, I later learned, and there was no work for him right then so Andy was killing time in the hotel. I landed a job, and saw him often after that, in the lobby, the bar, the café. Andy hardly ever spoke. On a Friday or Saturday night if he was liquored up and I was liquored up we exchanged laughs and jokes—“Why is under a bridge the best place to fish when it’s raining? Because the fish go under there so they don’t get wet.” What a groaner.

Andy was the love interest of a waitress who worked in the coffee shop—waitress was the right word then—and she lived up the street in one of the motels. Hummer, as she was called, though her name was actually Maureen, was a small and chipper woman, nuts about Andy, and she wasn’t about to let anyone else wait on him, either. There she was with the Pyrex coffee pot the minute he sat down. There she was straightening his collar, and offering to do his wash, and she was a little suspicious of Andy and my exchanges.

I had just turned nineteen. Had never hitchhiked so far; had never worked in a bar; had never met an Indian. I liked our casual friendship. He called me “Jilly Con Carne.” He didn’t want anything of me. He was so shy, doubly so when he was sober. In retrospect I see how vulnerable he was, how damaged, gentle, and completely without malice toward anyone. He’s stayed with me all these years.