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Empty chair, #1

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Walking Coal Country. 5 of 7 // "Do you want to come inside and cool off?" That's what the woman asked the moment I showed up at the guard shack of a coal mine. It was just past noon and 86 degrees, already the hottest day of the year. The sun hung high in a clear sky. The woman was standing out back having a smoke, and she stubbed out her cigarette and led the way in. "Grab that chair," she said, pointing into a side room with lockers, "and roll it in here by mine." I did. She took a small styrofoam cup from a stack and held it out: "Help yourself to water." I drank three cups and we talked about my kids and her granddaughter, about the walk I was making and the years she spent shuttling engineers and conductors to and from idling coal trains. Now she minds the gate of the mine's main entrance – 12 hour shifts, three and four days a week, depending. As we talked, a steady stream of visitors pulled up to the window. One guy with a face caked in dirt from spray-washing excavators. Another here for a meeting. A tractor-trailer delivering something for down in one of the active areas. A pickup carrying a guy to fix the Internet. Each time, the woman slid open the window and traded a joke or laugh for information – company, name, reason for visit. I had already walked 11 miles that morning. She told me to settle in and wait out the heat of the day. So I leaned to the cooler and refilled my cup. She took out a computer tablet and played Candy Crush. I wrote some notes and idled in an air-conditioned daze. She told me about a plan the U.S government has to institute marshall law in seven states starting July 15. "You can't believe everything you read on the Internet," she told me. "But this…" We sat in silence for a while, then talked about the drive she makes to visit her mother, who is 93, but lives alone two hours away. A little before 2 o'clock, she spun from her chair and turned to go outside again. "Time for another cigarette," she said. "You can stay here and rest." #walking #wyoming #travel #journalism #instaessay

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