I knew that place. I remembered it as a nice town, friendly people, rained a lot. I stopped there once on a motorcycle trip from Seattle to San Francisco, and felt good enough about it to stop again on my way back north.
I called a barber from the motel but it was five o’clock and he was closing his shop. I explained to him that I needed a shave, badly, and a haircut, just as badly. I had to lose the beard before tomorrow. The barber understood and said he would wait for me.
Afterwards, I rode the Fat Boy to a Mexican restaurant close to the I-5 and my motel, where I could have a couple Bohemias without too great a risk of going off the road later. The food there was good and the people welcoming. I felt right at home. Safe, comfortable.
Now, so far from there, I read on my iPad that a young man in that nice town killed ten people he did not know. Nor did they know him. It happened on the campus of a community college.
The shooter was one of a heavily studied generation, which when asked by researchers to list their goals, mostly said, “To be famous.” It became known as “The Kardashian Syndrome.” This generation wanted to be noticed, widely, and for anything. The shooter, after a previous random slaughter in a different nice town by a man not unlike himself, wrote online, “A man who was known by no one is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet. All in the course of one day.”
Was the shooter proving a point? Did it matter?
In their grief the people of Roseburg wanted to take something away from the killer, but what did he have left? “Don’t say his name,” they told each other. They agreed that his name would never be spoken again in their town and would never appear in print.
I sold the Harley not long after that trip. I would never go back to Roseburg to see if the promise held.
I’d been reading about it on my tiny balcony in Paris, but when evening fell I turned off the device and looked down at rue Delambre.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” she asked, crawling out of the window with my bourbon on the rocks in one hand and her red wine in the other.
“Rien,” I said. “America. Encore.”
She nodded. She didn’t need to hear more. We clinked our glasses together.
“Today brought us nothing,” I told her, “but let’s be grateful it didn’t take anything away.”
She spoke English but not well. She sat next to me and put her shoulder under my arm.