I headed west across the curiously named “Confusion Range” towards Nevada. Right after a gas station, there was an ominous admonition posted: “l25 miles to the next service”. Doesn’t logic suggest that a warning be posted before one approached the “last chance for gas” opportunity? About halfway across the flat, unforgiving stretch, there appeared another cautionary sign: “60 miles to next service”. Now that sign seemed even more ludicrous…if one didn’t have the sense to fill up when there was the chance, why post a mileage marker to remind one of his stupidity. I knew everything was copasetic, but I still involuntarily check the gauges. The morning sun has been behind me, but as I reached Ely, Nevada, it was time to take another respite at a congenial city park. A motel across the street afforded me water for my gallon jar of sun-tea. The lady proprietor was watering the landscape, so she was easy prey. Towards sun-down, I headed west to Austin, across treeless mountain ranges and sparsely vegetated plains, where human beings seem to be an afterthought.
Excuse me while I make the transition from my 1946 Royal to a resurrected 1965 Smith-Corona electric, a hand-me-down from Mom. Yes, I’m second-hand Bill, the guy who gets the throw-aways, and scavenges the Dempster-Dumpters. I’m the Luddite who is going, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century without a laptop. An early 1970s Puch 12-speed bike and a 1940 Pontiac are my two cherished restorations – built when things were made to last. And that was the main attraction of Reno’s classic car extravaganza.
Nearing Reno on I-80, a 1958 Bonneville passed me as we exchanged “thumbs up” signs. The anticipation was starting to mount. Once inside the city limits, the magnificent machines were everywhere, making driving and gawking simultaneously a little difficult. I finally found a curbside parking space, naturally under a shade tree, and watched the parade of glitzy Detroit Iron roll by. I was wishing that I was behind the wheel of a certain Pontiac. The sun was receding behind the Sierra Nevada, so I climbed up to Truckee to meet Blaine at his brother’s house on Donner Lake. Bill Botkin and his wife Lynn were converting their house into a veritable hotel for several nights. Besides Blaine, they were accommodating four friends from back east – specifically, two couples who were long-time, bosom-buddies of the Botkin family in Harriman, Tennessee. After eight days of being on the road virtually alone, it was great being among friends.
The home-town Fearless Foursome had been trekking through the wild west, including such natural marvels as the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Being their first time west of the Mississippi, I sort of regaled on their impressions of what they had seen, especially since I had already experienced the same venue several times on previous wanderings. The culmination of the conversation came when good ol’ boy Bob exhorted: “Hell, we got mountains pretty as those back in Tennessee”. I had to bite my lip. Notwithstanding that inane remark, we had a raucous tine, congregated on the porch under a beautiful August night. It was after midnight when I finally slid under the covers in the back of Ol’ Baleau, and gazed up at the galaxies through the silhouetted pines. It was comforting to know that my host had not been embarrassed by not having any more “beds at the Inn”…everyone had their place inside, and I had my place “outside”. I thanked God for getting me there safely.
The next day, Blaine and I drove down to Reno for an incomparable “Blast from the Past” experience. We cruised the main drag, Virginia Street, which was bumper-to-bumper with the grandest and gaudiest parade of American auto engineering one could ever imagine. Of course, everyone was driving with their windows down, so exchanges of admiration caromed from car to car, while the stereophonic sounds of the local “oldies, but goodies” radio station blared out memorable tunes such as Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” It was a state of euphoria where even the dreamboats themselves seemed to have a chromium smile. We decided to ditch the wheels in favor of finding a vantage point where we could watch the motorama roll by. We finally found a space in the “remote” parking area behind the hotel/casino. We had to wend our way by foot through the reserved-parking area, and almost got sideswiped by an over-zealous valet parking attendant in a BMW. With a rush of irrational brain waves, Blaine and I were concocting an ingenious scam: we would feign a hit-and-run by one of the valet attendants, and sue the casino for 50 mil. We had a good laugh over that ludicrous idea…but we were thinking.
We perched ourselves on a grassy knoll, perfectly elevated for a grand view of the glittering, pastel-colored rocket ships with 38D cups, as they audaciously glided by on Virginia Street. There was a preponderance of models from the “art that imitated life” decade of the 1950s, the curvy, bosomy, and brightly-colored metallic and chrome anomalies that beguiled the American public at the time. We both felt that we were aficionados of that particular automotive age, so we were in seventh heaven, as we tried to intimidate each other as to who could be the first to identify a certain model as it came into view. There was such a pleasurable countenance in all the occupants of those magnificent machines…like it was a supreme relief to get in that car and have a vacation for a while. And that was what the whole celebration was all about. Sitting there among the crowd of spectators, I realized that panning the American car had become a pastime that threatened to replace baseball as a national sport. It was tantamount to aphrodisiac on wheels. And we loved every minute of it.
The next day, was spent at the Reno Convention Center where the granddaddy of all Classic Car Auctions was being held…a couple of thousand of the sweetest-looking internal-combustion machines ever to come out of Detroit. The whole scene seemed to epitomize a hedonistic era when cars were buffed to a sheen so a narcisstic nation could admire its reflection. Nostalgia was running as deep as the Mariana Trench, as prospective buyers perused the showroom for a certain model, one that engendered their most memorable experiences. As in the parlance of auto owners, “Yeah, I cut my teeth in that ’48 Olds”. Well, I found myself in the same syndrome, looking for a 1940 Buick Special 4-door sedan, a 1954 Olds Super 88 Hardtop, a 1963 Pontiac Tempest convertible, and a 1966 Chevy 4-door Impala Hardtop, none of which I was able to find.
However, since there was an overkill of 1950s Chevys, it wasn’t hard to find my 1955 convertible. Of course, Corvettes were evident everywhere, with their drastic plastic charisma layered on with a trowel. It didn’t take long to find a white ’61’ Vet with a red interior that replicated my halcyon days of the 60s and 70s in Dallas. Meanwhile, Blaine was enraptured with Henry J. Ford products, from the 30s to the 60s. Ah, friendship enabled two people to walk in different directions, yet always remain side by side. I needed to give my dogs a rest, so I found a seat in the bidder’s gallery, right down in the middle of the money pit. It was quite entertaining, listening to the staccato, tongue-twisting hawking of the auctioneer, as he tried to up the ante: “Do I hear nineteen-five, going once, going twice…” The cash transactions for that weekend must have been well into the millions. No, there was no 5.5% financing…a wad of C-notes did the talking. Big-time business!
I wasn’t about to leave the Donner Lake, “another day in paradise”, habitat without accomplishing two things. First, I just had to put Bill Botkin’s knives to my whetstone. For a man who loved to cook, his cutlery was disgustingly dull. I left a precautionary note advising my host to be aware of the razor-sharp edges on their knives (they had left earlier for their permanent home near Santa Rosa). My second surprise was a front elevation sketch in ink on a 6 X 9 index card of the Botkin’s “retreat”…a sort of a delineated “thank you” note in return for their generous hospitality. I would hope I might receive a reproduction of said drawing from Bill and Lynn in the form of a Christmas card, or whatever occasion might move them. Having accomplished my two feats, I left Blaine to enjoy his long-awaited solitude for several days (he had endured the living room couch as a bed along with the rabble of all the guests). It was a memorable time, indeed.