El Paso

Tan Humvees crawl eastward along the freeway, their squat profiles reminiscent of river toads. Small knots of white-haired retirees have gathered on overpasses stretching from Tucson to the defunct cow-town of Benson, waving enormous American flags at the puny convoy. How did you spend your Thursday morning?

"Hi, my name's Ben. I'm a has-Ben!" The museum in Wilcox is small and quiet, like the town itself, except for the few moments when the Union Pacific's shrieking air horns and clattering boxcars shake windows and force Ben to cringe and adjust his hearing aids. Wilcox, like Benson to the west, was a mecca of ranching as the 19th century melted into the 20th. The steel rails across the street from where Ben sits used to carry locomotives here to load up thousands of cattle for slaughter in California or the Midwest. Now, of course, the train does not stop and Ben fiddles with his hearing aid as the bleached green China Shipping cars rattle into the distance. Amateurish paintings of solemn Indians vibrate on the walls for a few seconds after the train has ceased to be audible, then they rest.

A bowl of butterscotch candies sits in warm sunlight on the dusty desk by the window. Ben has been retired twenty-five years, married sixty-eight. Growing up on a ranch, he says, he knew what it felt like to be alone. And he didn't want to feel that way ever again. He graduated from high school in June of 1942 and was married by July. It was the obvious thing to do, hardly a choice at all. He's never had a hard time making a decision—period—and he won't budge from this stance. Eighty-eight years and no hard decisions.

Ben has been blown out of rooms by natural gas explosions on two occasions. Despite this, he still speaks glowingly of the natural gas company he worked for. Staying with them was also an easy decision, despite the risks. He would do it over again in a moment.

I think he is telling most of the truth.