John works for the railway. He points out one of the bar's windows to a crane in the distance. Being mildly drunk, this is something he does twice in a space of half an hour.
"See that crane?" he says. "It's got a boom on the end of it, and there's that semi next to it, and the train wagon behind. I'm a foreman, and me and my team, we go along the track fixing it. Clean out the mud from under the track, and fill it with stones. That wagon out there is full of stones."
Why do you need to clean out the mud, I ask.
Apparently the mud builds up there and then the heavy coal train weight makes the track kind of "spongy" (John's word), which can lead to derailments. When the track rests on stones, it's more stable. Makes sense to me.
John's wife Shelley turns to tell me that there are only coal trains on this track -- no passenger trains. There's one every fifteen minutes through the day. Each taking coal from Wyoming to the east. Each train several dozen cars long -- approaching a hundred cars, it looks like. I can't even begin to calculate how much coal that is, but it's one hell of a lot. John asks me, pointing to the train that's going past right then: "Over there in Wyoming, how big a hole do you think that produced, huh?"
A big hole. And each train is in the business of producing such a hole. Every 15 minutes, 24/7. Pretty soon, it occurs to me, the whole state of Wyoming will have been transported east.
Shelley tells me about an Indian couple who were her neighbours in Chadron, north of here, going to school there. "I'm not going to say this right," she says, and tells me their names. From what she says, I can identify Premila, surname probably Talati, but I can't figure the husband's name. They had two kids, whom Shelley used to babysit every now and then, names sound to me like Inoo and Minoo.
Suddenly, Shelley says, "Oh, oh, wait, they used to feed me this really great thing made of potatos and other stuff, fried and spicy, what's it called?" From her description I'm guessing the Talatis made her pakoras. That word isn't familiar to her, but perhaps she's forgotten. Vada? Not familiar either.
The Talati parents once came to visit once, and Shelley says they were such nice folks, mom always dressed in beautiful saris. But she thinks they must have been really wealthy back in India.
Why do you say that, I ask.
"They just looked wealthy," she said. "You know, all over the world, there's a certain look that just says ... wealth. Don't you think? That's what these guys had."
Still, wealth or not, the younger Talatis often told Shelley that the student housing they had in Chadron was better than wherever they had come from in India. Growing up in India, they had never had so much space.