By Christie Buchele
After the bar owner paid me less than he promised for doing 45 minutes of jokes, I tipped my head back and spilled my last shot of tequila down my throat. I stuffed the cash in my pocket and dug through my jacket to make sure I had my phone and wallet. On the surface I tried to look calm, but inside I was frantic to find my keys so I could make a quick exit.
As I turned to leave, the bar owner smacked my ass.
“You’re lucky my wife is here or you’d be coming home with me tonight,” he said, gesturing to the woman behind the bar serving drinks. After witnessing her husband’s display of unwelcome affection she leaned over the bar with an angry frown on her face.
“Helen,” she said gruffly, reaching her hand over the bar to introduce herself. “You’re gonna have to pay for those drinks. We didn’t make enough money to comp them for you tonight,” she informed me.
I was on the last night of a run of comedy shows in Rawlins, Wyoming. It was as bad as I expected, and worse than I had hoped. Folks at my last show in Laramie had warned me that it would be easier to find meth in Rawlins than it would be to find fresh water. They weren’t wrong. Most of the audience members were missing teeth, and a table of young white men kept calling each other the N-word in the most confusing display of ignorance I’ve ever seen.
I needed to get out of this shit hole.
I paid Helen and felt a rush of relief as soon as I heard the jingle of my keys in my left jacket pocket. I immediately made a fast break for the door. As I passed the bigot-rednecks playing darts, one of them drunkenly caught me by the wrist. “Where you going, baby?” he slurred. I felt my hand tighten around my keys, edges cutting into the soft of my fingers, preparing to use them as a weapon. He was too drunk to hang on and I freed myself with a quick twist of my arm. “Don’t leave, funny lady!” he called.
The man lumbered after me. I began running to my car, my key pressed between my thumb and index finger, because I’d been trained early that women should keep their keys readied before walking outside. My hands shook violently and I scratched the car’s gray paint as I tried to fit the key in the lock. The man’s footsteps were getting heavier and louder. I pulled open my car door and threw myself into the front seat, slamming the door behind me and hitting the lock just as he approached.
His eyes were glassy and vacant as he violently tugged at the door handle. My keys fell to the floor as he hit the window so hard I thought it would break. I desperately felt around in the dark for my keys, shoving them into the ignition, and throwing the car into drive. The tires spun over the dirt parking lot before gaining traction and lurching the car forward, its tires screeching as the man’s beer bottle smashed against my trunk. I blew through the only stop light in town, and turned down the main road out of Rawlins, Wyoming.
I was ten miles out of town before I loosened my grip on the wheel, my breath finally returning to a relatively normal rhythm. Feeling safe, I turned on the radio hoping music would calm my nerves. I felt an ache behind my eyes and resentment in my chest as I remembered the many times male comedians had told me that being afraid was silly. “Bad things only happen if you seem scared…Act brave and no one will fuck with you,” they’d say. Men didn’t understand that women were taught to be afraid every waking moment. It’s a defense mechanism. We must be afraid so that we can spot danger.
To my dismay the only radio stations were country, and after the third Toby Keith song I turned off the radio. How did I even know it was Toby Keith? I’d been on the road in these shit towns for too long. My fear of not paying rent overpowered my fear of dangerous men in Trump Country. There are plenty of scary men on every corner of the Earth, and there’s no reprieve if you’re living on the street.
No one told me that comedy wasn’t made for women when I started almost ten years ago. And now I lack the skills and resumé to retreat back into a corporate day job where I would go home every night to a dog and a boring fiancé with a salary job. I was stuck with living as a comedian, the kind of life I didn’t understand when I chose it.
I settled into silence and felt relieved that I’d be back in Denver before the sun came up. Just as I went to look for my phone to plug in directions, I felt the car choke and spit, slowly losing momentum. I pulled over, confused as terror filled my chest. In the panic of a quick exit I’d forgotten I needed gas. I let out a strained exhale and remembered I could call AAA.
Headlights popped up over the horizon, traveling towards me in the rearview mirror. Fuck. Those men had followed me. My hands shook as I realized my phone was no longer in my jacket. “Shit!” I whispered to myself, confronted with the fact that it had fallen out during my sloppy escape. I didn’t want to be in the car when the truck reached me. There’d be nothing but a window between me and him and I knew he’d happily break the glass to get to me.
I grabbed a napkin out of a fast food bag, and with a pen in my glove box scribbled “Went for gas. Be back soon.” I clicked the dome light off so it wouldn’t light up when I opened the door. I pinned the note under my wiper and headed into the darkness of the brush along the road.
I ran about a hundred feet when I tripped and fell, scraping my face on a rock as I hit the ground. I heard the truck approach as I crawled to a fallen tree big enough to hide behind. I tried to keep my breath quiet. I could hear the truck come to a stop on the road near my car. The engine cut, the door swung open and slammed shut. I took in what information I could with my ears. After about a minute I heard the door open and close again, feeling a wave of relief, hoping the man had decided to head back to Rawlins.
I lay there waiting for the truck to leave when a flashlight tore through the darkness in my direction. My heart slammed into my throat and I began to cry. He was headed towards me. I froze as I heard footsteps getting louder. In a panic, I clenched my keys tight enough to draw blood, and then suddenly felt what seemed to be a garter snake glide across my neck. Unable to sit quiet any longer I jumped up, throwing the snake towards the light and yelling “Leave me alone! Please just leave me alone!” The tone of my voice resembled a bullied child rather than an adult woman. As the tears blurred my vision, I watched as the light stopped about fifteen feet from where I stood.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” I heard a woman’s voice say. A woman—not the scary heckler man. I slowly opened my clenched eyes to find the bar owner’s wife staring at me in complete confusion.
“Uh—um—I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else,” I said as I wiped the tears from my eyes and the blood from my cheek.
“Those boys are too drunk to come after you,” said Helen. “I hid their keys from them hours ago. You dropped your phone on your way out the door, and I thought I’d be able to catch you. I didn’t think I’d find you out here trying to get eaten by coyotes.”
“I ran out of gas,” I explained, trying to regain my composure.
“Well let’s go,” said Helen.
I felt foolish as we headed back to town in her old pickup truck. Toby Keith played on the radio and a red Make America Great Again hat rested on the dash. I guess those kind of white women did exist. I stole a few glances of Helen as we drove back to town. I realized then that she wasn’t scowling earlier. She wasn’t angry—she was tired.
We didn’t exchange any words on the way back to Rawlins. When we arrived I filled a gas can and went into the tiny station to pay. It wasn’t until we turned back out onto the main road that Helen began to talk.
“I’m sorry those boys scared you. They don’t mean any harm. Boys are just being boys,” she said.
That’s exactly the kind of thing I’d expect a Trump supporter to say, and I replied, “That’s not really acceptable behavior. I was really afraid.” I said it quietly, but sternly, wanting to express my disapproval but not wanting to alienate my unlikely knight in shining armor.
“I know,” Helen conceded, “but there isn’t much that women can do to change the behavior of men. God wired them that way—it’s biblical. Best to just keep your head down,” she said, as if this was fact and not opinion.
I didn’t respond, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to convert this Trump supporter into a feminist in the seven miles between here and my abandoned car. When we reached the car, Helen and I both got out of the truck, she carrying her flashlight in order to aid the process. I thanked her for her help.
“I never heard a woman talk like you did tonight,” Helen cut in unexpectedly. “That was really cool.”
“Oh thank you,” I said, surprised, not expecting this Trump supporter to like my jokes and ideas.
“Yeah, I never tried to be funny or talk like that in all my life. You’re really brave. I could never do that,” she said with a faint smile.
“I’m not brave,” I said. “I ran into the bushes like a scared cat.” We both laughed.
“Thank you for helping me tonight,” I added. “I might’ve died out there if you didn’t find me with your flashlight. I really appreciate it,” I said sincerely.
“No problem,” she replied. “I’m glad I caught you. Those iPhones are expensive. I’d have to drive all the way to the Walmart in Laramie to get me one of those.”
We both sat there awkwardly for a moment as my car idled on the dark road.
“Well you better get back to town for more gas. I’ll follow you until you reach the station,” she said reassuringly.
As Helen started to head back to the car I yelled out to her, “Hey Helen! You can share your thoughts and ideas too. You don’t have to be a comedian, and you most certainly do not need to be brave.” I tried not to sound too preachy.
She looked at me for a moment with her signature scowl, and then a smile spread across her face. “You’re right. If a scared little girl like you can talk to all those men like that, I certainly can too.”
As I headed back into town I considered the evening. The show was shit, the pay was shit. Those men had terrified me and now I was definitely too tired to make it back to Denver by morning. But in the end I realized that between me and Trump, at least one of us was actually making America great again.
Stand-up comic Christie Buchele made a name for herself by the heart-wrenching and hilarious realities of being a woman with a disability. Christie has been featured on Viceland’s “Flophouse,” and “Hidden America with Jonah Ray.” Christie co-hosts a witty relationship advice podcast, “Empty Girlfriend,” and is one-third of the all-female Denver comedy powerhouse, “The Pussy Bros.”