The big “HOTEL” sign hung above the roofs of the town, bright red against the smoke grey sky and thick snowflakes. Beneath our feet, the asphalt was wet and black, and even now there were patches of stiff white as the puddles froze.

 

“Any word?” I asked Mitch as he walked back to the car.

“They’re waiting on word from the road crews on the pass,” he said. “It’s coming down pretty hard up there, I guess.”

I sighed, looking up at the thick white clouds hanging heavy right above us. “Well,” I said, “looks like we might as well get some food. I’m pretty hungry, anyway.”

Mitch nodded. We turned and scanned the street. Our choices were pretty limited—there were only a few streets in town, and most of the buildings looked closed up in the face of the oncoming storm. Mitch turned and pointed to a bar in one of the old wooden buildings. Like most of the other buildings on the street, it looked like it could’ve been plucked straight out of a western. But the lights were on, and the music coming muffled out of the windows seemed nice enough. So we headed over, and we opened the door.

Inside, it was busy. Surprisingly busy. Tables filled the floor, stuffed between the wood-paneled walls and the antique fishing poles and skiis that hung above them. We had to wind our way through a few full of loud, happy people to get to the bar. The waitress—a short, middle-aged woman with a mass of curly blond hair—smiled at us as we sat down on the worn wooden bar stools.

“Be right with you,” she said, bustling off with a tray of beer. I looked around at the crowd as Mitch grabbed a menu from the holder on the bar—a single sheet of laminated, much-used paper. The bar was full of people. No particular theme; just people, out for the night. Dressed in simple winter clothes, warm and well-worn. Not like the crowds you usually see just over the pass. No expensive ski-gear, no loud, drunken tourists. Just people, happy, out for a drink.

The waitress came back around the bar. “Good evening!” she said. “Can I get you two something to drink?”

I nodded and asked for a beer. Mitch just wanted a glass of water. The waitress smiled, and pulled out two glasses. “You from out of town?” she asked as she poured.

“Yup,” I said. “We’re from Denver. We’re waiting to see if they’ll open the pass.”

“Well, you picked a good place to wait,” she said. She whistled a few notes to herself as she set down our drinks. “Anything to eat while you wait? Or do you two need a minute?”

“I’ll take a burger,” said Mitch. “Burger sounds good to me,” I said.

The waitress nodded and walked off.

We waited, sipping our drinks. Mitch watched the old TV that hung over the bar in the corner. I watched the people in the room, looking from face to tired, happy face. It was a look I hadn’t seen much recently. Nobody angry, nobody sad. Nobody looking at their phones. The waitress moved from table to table between them, stopping here and there to talk with a particular customer, or to take an order, or to tell a joke. On the upturned face of everyone she spoke to was the same calm look. Contentment, I realized.

The food came, big juicy burgers and hot crispy fries. We ate in relative silence, chewing slowly, enjoying every bite. When we finished, we paid the check at the bar.

The waitress yawned as she ran our card. “I heard that the pass is clear,” she said, looking at us and smiling again. “James over there just came in from the highway. You guys are good to go.”

“Good to hear,” I said. “Thanks.”

The waitress handed back the card. “Drive safe,” she said. “Stop in if you come back this way, okay?”

I looked around at the bar, warm, tired, and—I was surprised to find—happy.

“Thanks,” I said, smiling back. “I think we will.”