”Everyone in Shelton does at least one drug,” 15 year old Colton told me in the local Safeway, ”this is mine.”
He pulled a can of chewing tobacco out of his hoodie pocket, flashed it at me, and hid it just as quickly. I was in the rice aisle trying to find red lentils in a sea of slow-cooking beans. Colton was waiting patiently to walk me to the freeway and, hopefully, a place to camp for the night; in between excited fits of conversation, he called out to friends and passerby: ”this dude is walking to Mexico and I’m going with him!” One teenage girl looked over disinterestedly, torn away from flirting with an older boy: ”Good. Later.”
Colton wasn’t put off. As we walked to the highway, he talked about his girlfriend, Sarah, who he’d been with since he was 9, about his passion for golf and car racing, and about the circumstances that broke apart his family. Each admission created a wilder, more grandiose, and increasingly unbelievable tale, but the spirit and good nature didn’t leave his eyes in the mile or two we chatted, and I couldn’t help believing it all. ”If you had your skateboard and I had my racecar, we’d get you to the campsite in, um, about 5 seconds.” Having walked more than 15 miles that day, I really wished that was true. Instead, we trudged along together, side by side in the dying light, sharing a pretty cool moment of what seemed like mutual inspiration.
”I’ve tried every drug there is,” he said, and in Shelton, a depressed town in a depressed region in a depressed country, I couldn’t help believing that too.