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ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD

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At the State Line, the homemade chili goes for $1.95 and a Sloppy Joe costs $2.50. The Navajo blankets in the corner are on sale for $11.75. They haven't been moving lately; neither have the tree-stump statues Durst buys from a local craftsman who carves them with a chainsaw. "The truck drivers used to buy them for gifts," Durst says. "Of course, sales of that went `pffftt.'"

Gibson, who lives in an apartment off the kitchen, keeps the cafe open every day except Tuesdays, when she goes for groceries. The slot machines were long ago removed from Jim George's hardwood dance floor, but the room has lost none of its charm. The five tables are covered with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths. Fresh-baked muffins sit on the counter across from the "Free Maps" sign, and an old Schaefer freezer advertises "Schwan's Delicious Ice Cream." And outside the bay window, trucks keep roaring by, grinding their way up into Wyoming.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Gibson's lunch rush consists of a tight-lipped businessman from Laramie who tells Durst he almost missed the turn coming in. "It's got atmosphere," he says of the place before leaving. Durst watches the day's sole customer pull back onto the highway. "When you're remote like this, you don't get a noon rush or a breakfast rush," he says. "It's staggered. And now it's really staggered."

Robert Boyd says he still comes by in the summertime, "when we have cattle up that way." He and Gibson always seem to have some catching up to do. "I've known Jackie for years," says the rancher. "And I'm just acquainted with the place."

But the State Line may not be around when Boyd starts running cows again next spring. The cafe and the ten-acre parcel on which it sits have been for sale for six months now, asking price $180,000. "There's been some interest, but nobody wants it without a second driveway," says Durst, who finagled a permit for a second entrance but gave up on building it when the state insisted he put in a culvert at his own expense--and then told him he might have to close the new driveway if it generated too much traffic flow.

Frustrated by the lack of interest, Durst says he has decided to put the State Line up for sale at public auction on October 20. It would make a good home for someone, says Durst. If the state had any sense, he adds, it could buy it for a year-round rest stop and tourist information center.

Gibson, who hasn't drawn a salary for months, says she doesn't know where she'll go if the State Line shuts down. The Conoco minimart 25 miles south has offered her a job, and the wife of the Wyoming state trooper who patrols the highway has offered her a room in the couple's Laramie home. Either way, she says, it won't be the same. Durst is spending most of his time in the farming town of Ault, where he's working on his latest restoration project, a historic hotel he plans to convert to apartments. "After this happened out here," he says, pointing to the realigned road, "I lost all interest in this place."

One of the people who initially considered buying the State Line was Waldene George, whose daughter now lives in Laporte. But in the end, George opted against it. "It's just probably the wrong time of my life to do that," she says. "It's too far away if you fell over and got hurt. But I would love to do it. I think I could run it the way my dad used to."

Truckers will miss the place in the winter if it does close, says State Trooper Elder. "But I don't see it being the end of the world to anybody," he adds. The Colorado State Patrol is careful these days to coordinate road closures with its Wyoming counterpart so travelers don't get stuck up at the state line, Elder says. If the State Line disappears, says the trooper, most people won't even know it's gone.

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Andy Van De Voorde