By Tom Mattson: The amazing characters and places described in my book Meeting Strangers, Making Friends “are fictional,” hearsay I imagine was mentioned on social media by a skeptic of all things literary. I’d prove the skeptic wrong by finding someone who would take off on a 4,000-mile motorcycle journey, locate a number of characters, and document their living status with photographic evidence.
Upon my failure to locate a documenter, I took the challenge myself. So off I took as “the traveler,” and now report my findings to you.
Right off the bat, the traveler searches the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Indian Reservation in South Dakota for a “Chris Frost” (pp. 165-66 of the book). Following perfect directions from a yard sale customer in Eagle Butte, he knocks on a door along a gravel road outside town.
“Chris is my stepson, he’s living hours away in Rapid City; he has a really good job there,” says the woman who answers the knock. From the kitchen table, a cousin phones Chris. The motorcyclist soon barrels through Western-fire smoke, strong winds and 104-degree heat to Rapid City.
Chris now eagerly reads the story, “Eagle Butte, Where a Book Isn’t Judged by Its Cover.” Chris and the traveler, who originally met on Eagle Butte’s main street for 20 minutes, chat about their lives over dinner.
Next up are the stools at the Busy Bee Café in the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming. The author can’t locate “The Cowboy You Meet on the Next Stool” (pp. 145-49), but does check into Ernest Hemingway’s room for a couple nights at the historic Occidental. Unlike Hemingway, the traveler spends an enjoyable evening visiting with readers at an appearance organized by the Buffalo Public Library. What the book says about Buffalo rings true with the readers!
Now it’s south through the Rockies—Casper, Rawlins, Telluride and Rico—to Mancos, Colorado. Returning to the Mesa Verde Motel comes none too soon, and the next day the beautiful Mancos Public Library purchases both of the author’s books (on the representation they’re non-fiction).
Hours later, the traveler gives his book to the Navaho Nation Library in Window Rock, Arizona, pointing out his account of the Navaho Nation Fair (pp. 159-160). And over in New Mexico, he gifts a book to the Zuni Pueblo Museum since the book describes his earlier multi-day visits to this historic Zuni land that once stretched for 200 miles, and has been a source of nutritional and spiritual nourishment for at least 7,000 years.
In the direction of Albuquerque stands a circular mesa. The book tells about the pueblo of Acoma that rests atop the mesa, continuously inhabited for one thousand years. The story “A Glimpse Above” (pp. 196-201) recounts that a member of the Eagle clan invited the traveler into the family home on the grandest feast day of the year, celebrated for centuries.
And what about the Eagle clan’s Anthony Egleston today? The traveler finds Anthony in the city of Grants. They visit for hours, each learning more about the other’s life than they possibly could on the bustling feast day. For example, Anthony didn’t know what kind of work career the traveler had. But he could guess.
“Tom, I’d say you were in construction. You look like the type. Or engineering. Or documenting.”
“Documenting what, Anthony?”
“Well, Anthony, I was a lawyer.”
“Snap? What’s that mean?”
“You baffled me, Tom. I wasn’t expecting lawyer. Pretty cool.” A while later they head in their own directions. Until next time.
Days later, the traveler re-discovers the high plains New Mexico ranch where his motorcycle tire once went flat. He knocks on Leroy and Esther’s door—with a book that details the emergency visit (pp. 181-82). They sit for hours in the living room below the head of the oryx, accompanied by the author’s newfound friends Richard and Debran of Las Vegas, NM, who suggested he hop in their pickup so they could search for the remote ranch together.
So the story goes. The traveler documents that the book’s favorite small town in the West does indeed exist, highlighted by the delectable-filled 4th Street Diner and the Saguache Crescent, the world’s last newspaper that sets type on a 3,000-pound Linotype machine, invented in the 1880’s (pages 172-73, 186-89, 193-96).
As if to prove the whole point of the trip, the Crescent’s front page on the 4th Street Diner’s info table tells readers that “world traveler and author Tom Mattson will speak and answer questions” at the Saguache Public Library the very next day. (“Snap!” traveler exclaims, “I arrived in time.”)
To top off the Saguache visit a couple days later, the motorcyclist meets Garret Boyles and his Minnesota girlfriend Trinity. True to real life described in the book (pp. 186-87), Garret, a mechanic and asphalt maker, shows up for the evening visit with asphalt-black hands and an authentic, unwashed work shirt. (Fiction writers swear only they could make something like this happen.)
The mission? Perhaps unlike any mission others have pursued, this one proves a book’s characters and locales are not figments of an author’s imagination. The people are as real as any in the world. The traveler may meet them again on future adventures to the American West. Perhaps a few readers will also search.
Point! More photos proving that Meeting Strangers, Making Friends: More Surprising Travel Adventures from the Minnesota Storyteller is non-fiction are easily seen by checking out the author’s Instagram and Facebook pages (tomsglobe for both of them), and by visiting the website www.tomsglobe.com.