Day 25: Riggins, ID to Boise, ID

Wednesday, September 23

Part I: Escape from Riggins

Anticipation makes me wake up early, and on Wednesday I woke up a little after 5:00. Steve arrives today. After ten days alone I was very ready to have company, and I was very glad Steve was it.

Steve and I started hanging out in 1997 when we were sophomores at the University of Pittsburgh. As a freshman I always noticed him as I passed through campus on my way to classes. In a sea of ill-fitting clothing and bowl cuts, Steve’s pea coat, Doc Martins, and pompadour always caught my eye. (I later learned the pompadour was an effort to cultivate a Morrissey mystique. I guess it worked?) By early in our sophomore year we’d encountered each other at a couple of parties hosted by a mutual friend and had chatted a few times. We both liked The Velvet Underground. Surely we’d be some kind of friends.

One autumn night we both found ourselves in a space informally called The Ashtray, a sad pad of concrete that connected underclass dorms with other campus buildings, a bleak hangout for young smokers and friends of smokers. We sat next to each other on the cold ground and started talking. Maybe we’d planned to get dinner or find other friends to hang with at some point. Certainly we didn’t intend to sit there till early morning, but it turned out we both had so much to say. The conversation — about our families, our lives, our shared belief in the superiority of dark denim — was exhilarating the way I imagined all of college would be, and I went back to my dorm thinking, FinallyFinally I’ve found a real friend for this phase of my life. 

What I’d actually found was a second brother. There has never been romance between us, only platonic love. I have now known Steve for longer than I’d been alive at the time we met. He and I have lived together three times. We’ve traveled around the American south, west, and northeast, to Germany and France, to Canada. We’ve written hundreds, possibly thousands, of long emails to each other, and we still email every week. We also see each other almost every week. I can’t overemphasize Steve’s importance in my life. In many ways we’ve grown up together.

And yet none of the above gives much of an idea about who Steve is. Most of the people reading this already know him. But I hope I’m able to convey some amount of Steve’s essence in describing our time on this trip together. I haven’t done it for the people I’ve written about to this point — Andy, Becca, Adam — and I wish I had. But I really do intend to follow through on this project’s larger aspirations, as unlikely as it probably seems to everyone at this point. The book will be different; it will be much more about my friends than this endless solipsism.

* * *

In the meantime…

Breakfast often highlights the loneliness of travel. In hotel breakfast rooms in this part of the country, I usually saw a handful of construction workers, nice-seeming guys with gritty exteriors, Mike Rowe types. Sometimes I saw businessmen dressed in belted khakis and a polo shirt, bellies bulging. Sometimes I saw a man wearing a suit. Sometimes I saw a woman, but female travelers were scarce. If people were together I’d try to listen to their conversation, but often the only sound in the room was the acerbic blare of Fox News.

The Riggins hotel’s sole appealing feature was the breakfast room’s lovely floor-to-ceiling window, which framed a large rock formation. I ate alone at a table, and two men (one construction, one business) ate alone at two other tables, and I looked at the calming rock and watched the sun rise as I ate, feeling too conspicuous to take a photo. This would be my last lonely morning for a while.

A few hours later, as I pulled out of the hotel and bid Riggins a hearty farewell, I got a text from Steve that read “Hipster Boise” with a link to a list of places to visit. Steve devised the “hipster [city]” tactic of finding things to do on a prior trip, and it has proven to be a reliable starting point. Some judgemental gerbils might whine that this is an inauthentic way to experience a place, that it leads to experiences too comfortable and familiar, too “Brooklyn.” But it’s a reliable way to find good food, and if you chat with staff while you’re there, you usually end up in less talked-up places.

Most travelers want to find whatever “gems” a destination has to offer — places that have been around for a while, that haven’t been carefully designed to elicit particular moods or sensations; places that have invisible “Locals Only” signs out front. We want places with character and with characters: the dive bar, the crusty diner, Pat Garrett’s Sheepskin Outlet. Institutions that have crept ivy-like through time, seemingly without intention, quench the soul in a way a flimsy faux speakeasy never could. The sensitive traveler appreciates the layers of history, culture, idiosyncratic psychology that make such places into themselves. You are this traveler. I am this traveler. But I am also a traveler who misses home sometimes and who wants a mescal cocktail. I get something out of the pretentious places — I get something out of all places — because there are always people to look at and thoughts to think. And if you’re with people you love, even a shitty T.G.I. Friday’s or Hooters can stand out in your memory as special. (See future essay on Atlantic City.)


By Emily Flake, a friend of future featured traveler Liz. For the record, I pay my own rent.

* * *

My phone had recently begun rebooting itself spontaneously, and it would go through a process of “optimizing apps” before letting me back in. Optimizing apps generally took about one dumb hour.

I’d just made it to Boise when my phone decided to optimize apps. I needed to get to the airport, and I could tell I was close to the road that would take me there, but I didn’t know where it was exactly. I circled around the same mile of highway-adjacent wasteland four times in disgust and mild panic and eventually pulled into a supermarket parking lot to regroup.


In 2016, dark denim is no longer cutting edge


Taken to pass the time as I waited for my phone to fix itself

After a stupidly long time I remembered that I had real maps — maps made out of non-rebooting paper! I felt an unmerited pride in solving this problem.

My phone finished fixing itself right as I got to the airport, and despite some mild miscommunication, the Steve retrieval went fine. We headed to our Airbnb, a lovely small house in Boise’s friendly North End neighborhood, and immediately felt at home there.



Selfie faces. We took this to send to Ben. (I feel like you can tell I’m kind of sick here because my eyes look watery and heavy. Or maybe this is just how I always look now in my advanced age.)

We settled in to our temporary home. Soon we would head out into the Boise evening. Riggins was far behind me now. My whole future lay ahead.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Day 1 of Steve, featuring Steve.