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From the Zephyr Archives. December 2004

Just out of college, more years ago than I care to remember, I was wandering about the southeast regions of the State of Utah with my dog Muckluk, in my barely operational Volkswagen bus, searching for Home. On this particular morning, Hanksville, Utah was home. I’d camped out on the desert that night, just a few miles from town, and now I’d sought out some civilization at a place that was then called, “Jim n’ Elle’s Cafe.”

I was sitting inside, drinking coffee, when this guy walks in. He looked vaguely familiar. Although he was dressed in typical cowboy garb, there was something unusual about the man. Something regal. (I can still recall with precision, his outfit—beat up straw hat, red snap-front shirt, faded Levis, pointy-toed engraved cowboy boots.)

(This is exactly what he was wearing on that fateful morning…photo from National Geographic)

He asked the waitress a question then turned and strutted out the door.

It couldn’t be, I wondered. Then I saw the waitress swooning and clutching her heart and slowly descending to the floor. I jumped up to catch her but she had already settled onto the carpet. I looked down at her…

“Was that Robert Redford?” I asked.

She nodded as she continued fanning herself with a menu.

I stepped outside and there was all kinds of activity going on. Several of Redford’s associates were scurrying about. I have no idea what their purpose or function was but they all seemed to be in a state of agitation.

Redford was talking on a pay phone, just 50 feet or so beyond my VW. Muckluk was asleep beneath the rear wheel, unmoved by anything but the cool morning air and the bright desert light. I decided to check my oil.

I had barely pulled out the dipstick when I heard Redford say, “OK…see you in a few days,” and I saw him hang up the phone. For the love of God he was coming my way. I was breathing heavily and my heart was pounding as the Great Actor approached. I hesitated…

He walked by, on his way back to the diner. I knew this was it. Perhaps my only chance in a lifetime to converse with Robert Redford. Maybe he’d be impressed by my knowledge of environmental issues threatening SE Utah. Maybe he’d invite me back to Sundance for the weekend. Perhaps he might see a certain je ne sais quois quality in me that made me perfect for a supporting role in his next film! This is the kind of seminal moment that can change a young man’s life!

“Excuse me! I blurted. I saw him hesitate.

“…but aren’t you Robert Redford?”

He stopped dead in his tracks, spun ever so gracefully in a 180 degree arc on his Justin boots, crouched slightly as he addressed me head-on and said, “I sure am.”

There he was…Robert Redford. He smiled at me slightly, but it felt menacing. As if he was calling a bluff in a gunfight.

Ok…buddy…you got my attention. NOW what are you going to do?

It felt like hours that I stood there flat-footed and in deep fear but it was probably only a matter of seconds. I shifted uneasily from foot to foot, racking my brain for the one line that might turn this improbable moment into my Hour of Destiny. I cleared my throat, put my hands on my hips and said with great authority and conviction:

“Next to ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ is my favorite movie.”

I knew I was finished. I thought of trying to crawl through the dipstick hole on my VW but it was too late to hide. I saw Redford’s smile tighten and disappear, even before I’d spit out all the words. He just stood there with an expression that combined the best aspects of disgust and boredom. He looked at the ground.

But maybe there was time for recovery. “So what brings you to Hanksville? I asked.

“I like it here,” he replied curtly.  It seemed to me, he was turning a tad taciturn. (I later learned he was in the canyon country, doing a cover story for National Geographic)

(photo by Charles Kreischer)

Meanwhile Muckluk had stirred from beneath the VW. She crawled out from the shade and walked toward Redford. Muckluk was a magnificent looking animal–half Husky, half Shepherd–with knowing eyes and a certain insouciance that belongs usually to cats. Redford seemed interested; perhaps my dog will save the day. By now Muck was standing directly in front of Redford but facing me. Redford said, “Nice looking dog you’ve got.”

He bent over and reached out to stroke Muckluk’s back. But before he could ever touch hand to fur, Muck simply walked away from him.


He was left stroking air and that was enough for Robert Redford. He couldn’t even bear to look at me again and he said, “See ya,” to the sidewalk as he turned and disappeared inside the café.’

I got in my car and drove away, toward Capitol Reef, crushed. Muck assumed her position in the passenger seat, her head hanging from the window, her long tongue flapping in the hot wind. I scolded her for ruining my chances for stardom. She acted like she didn’t hear me, but the truth is, the damn dog just didn’t care.

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  1. brohm said

    Damn dog.

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