Late afternoon sunlight snuck around the drapes hung over the frosted windows. The rays fell across the plank floor, landing on the jukebox in the corner. Decorated with colored glass, brightly backlit with incandescent bulbs and dating from the early 60s, it was filled with 45s of country classics and a smattering of flower-power rock and roll. The room was quiet, the bartender sitting silently at his station watching a midday gameshow with the sound off. Dust particles floated in the sun rays around a hand full
of tables, adorned with Tabasco, napkins and bowls filled with peanuts. Mismatched wooden chairs were tucked haphazardly under the tables waiting expectantly for customers. Overlooking the scene were neon signs advertising Hamm's, Busch and Pabst, left behind by traveling salesmen who no longer included the tired tavern on their weekly rounds.
The sound of footsteps crossing the wide rough hewn boards that made up the front porch forced the bartender off his perch as the door swung open to three young men. Lean and dressed identically in green work pants, gray uniform shirts and stacked heeled, black leather boots, they filled the room with unexpected energy. Before they had a chance to shout for the usual the tender began to draw three pints of lager. Collecting the beer with thanks and comments about the dry, hot and dusty day they settled at the table closest to the jukebox. The tallest set a handheld radio on the table and adjusted the squelch to silence, while another pumped quarters into the jukebox and selected songs.
As Marty Robbins began to sing about heartbreak and death in El Paso the three started telling stories about wildfires from their past. The first spoke about bravery in the brush of California, the second described forests in the Sierras exploding in flames, while a third spoke of close calls and near disaster. The stories were handed around the table, songs came and went on the jukebox, and the level of beer in their glasses subsided as they made plans for an evening off.
Hands went up for a second round just as the radio squawked out a code followed by a roll-call of responding stations. As their location was called, a siren screamed from the fire station located directly across from the bar on the country two lane. Chair legs scraped on the wooden floor, pockets were emptied, dollars dumped on the table and goodbyes yelled as the three sprinted out the door.
The bartender watched the door swing shut, plunging the barroom back into twilight. Looking at the half filled glass under the tap, he pushed the handle closed and took a sip as the last of the jukebox selections faded to an end.