Down the Highway with an Imaginary Robert Redford and the Very Real Ramblin’ Jack Elliot

... Butch says as he comes to the Kid’s rescue at the beginning of the

Earlier this week my driving job took me from my home base in Elko, Nevada to Gillette, Wyoming. I had the good fortune of good roads there and back, with only a little snow in Rawlins, Wyoming Wednesday night. That night I hunkered down in my cab’s short sleeper with the engine idling all night to keep the heater going. On that trip, I ran on I-80 most of the way until I had to head north from Rawlins. The stretch between Salt Lake City, UT and Evanston, WY, there’s the Wasatch Mountains, with Parley’s Summit to go over. It’s a fairly long, steep grade on the west side of it, with the east slope taking interstate traffic through Park City, where the Sundance Film Festival was taking place this week.

My Imaginary Redford Encounter

The local public radio station had an interview with Robert Redford, whose character in the Newman-Redford movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid inspired the festival’s name. I listened to it as I was driving back Thursday night, trekking back through Park City, ski lifts aglow. I began to imagine meeting Robert Redford in line at a convenience store in a truck stop, going through all the fan boy rituals of shaking hands, asking for an autograph, as well as taking the obligatory selfie with Mr. Redford’s permission. It was a pretty cool day dream. I normally have imaginary run-ins with traditionally supporting actors like Bruce Greenwood (who is just plain cool) or Steve Buscemi (also very cool), so naturally, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to imagine meeting the legendary actor/director of Jeremiah Johnson fame.

Good times are always had when one day dreams about meeting famous people. So, in that same vein, it was quite a shock to hear from a tow truck friend and former co-worker of mine (we will call him “Jim”), who texted a photo of an autographed CD he received from a towing customer on Thursday, in town for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The (very real) customer not only gave Jim the CD, he also incribed a short message and signed his name on it. The fellow’s name: Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. If you know who this musician is, then you are probably a fan or a student of good music. If you do not know who Jack Elliot is, then you’re in the same boat as my towing friend Jim was Thursday when he towed the musical legend’s vehicle.

Who is Ramblin’ Jack Elliot?

Mr. Elliot is a peer of Bob Dylan. Check that, Dylan is a peer of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. In the 1960s, they both played in some of the same circles in New York City. More perspective, before Dylan was strumming and singing Woody Guthrie ballads and before Dylan’s self-titled debut album Bob Dylan, Elliot was out there balladeering.

Jack & Bob Dylan, Greenwich Village, early 60
Dylan and Elliot hamming it up in the good ole days

I shrieked with school boy glee and a little envy when I saw the photo Jim texted me. I called him up and basically told him he better turn around and get me an autograph as well.

Jim laughed and said, “Oh so you know who he is, huh?” I died inside.

“Yeah, yeah I do! The guy is a living legend! He has played music with Peter Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez and others. He’s Ramblin’ Jack (freakin’) Elliot!”

“Well, then,” Jim replied, sounding a bit lofty, “you must be a little envious.” I died a little more.

“Meeting Jack Elliot for me, Jim, would be like you meeting Luke Bryan.” He laughed and then had to get back to work. But before he hung up he added, “Well, I might see that cool old man again later at the Stockman’s. He invited me to come have a beer with him. Maybe I can get an autograph then.”

At least I have my fabricated meeting with Robert Redford. No one can take that away.