The Summer of 1998 Part XIII

I spent the night curbside in front of the Chevy Dealership in Reno, in hopes I would be first in line to get a tune-up. I was up and ready at first light, but to no avail – they were back-logged for two weeks. I headed north on U.S. 395 towards Susanville in the unaccustomed early morning light. I was shaking my head in amazement, remembering what had transpired the evening before. I had parked in front of the service door, and was wandering around the showroom, when I encountered good ol’ Charlie, one of the salesmen. I told him of my plight, and he bent over backwards trying to help me. In his accustomed, loquacious manner, he advised me where to park, what eateries were near-by, what time the service doors opened, and so on and so on. In a somewhat oblique way, he was trying to be very helpful. But, in the realm of auto service shops, there seemed to be one common trait: the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. In other words, ol’ Charlie had no idea there was a backlog on the service calendar. I didn’t have the heart to blame him. He was just being himself in the obtuse world of selling automobiles.

Just after crossing the stateline, I was relegated to stop at one of those California state inspection stations (they make you feel like you’re entering a foreign country). “Have you got any fruits or vegetables?” is the standard question. “No, there wasn’t anything worth while in Nevada to bring into your state.” I proudly handed the inspector my previously punched-out inspection sticker. He glanced at it, then, in somewhat a state of shock, asked, “Where did you get this?” By his tone of voice, he made me feel like I had obtained my pass illegally. I replied, “Look where the hole is punched. I’ve been staying at Donner Lake (you dumbo).”

With that, he waved me on through, as I was shaking my head, thinking about that stupid question. The minimum hours of sleep the night before were starting to exact a major effort to keep my eyes open. I wasn’t crossing over the center line, but I was obviously weaving just enough for CHiPs to pull me over. I immediately had a sinking sensation that the first question was going to be: “Have you been drinking?” I was right, so I launched into my explanation of why I was driving a little impaired. That spiel was about as convincing as telling him pigs could fly. He ran me through the gamut of sobriety tests (count backwards from 75 to 49, recite the alphabet, walk a straight line, etc.), all of which I successfully passed. Still not entirely convinced, he did a minimal search of the van for any illegal substances. What a farce that was. Finally, I was free to go, but not before an admonishment to get some sleep, soon. I exhorted, “Alturas is just down the road, so I’ll find the city park and catch a nap there.” To ensure the safety of oncoming motorists, he all but tailgated me the entire route into town. I tell you, I never knew ten miles could take that long to drive. It was excruciating, to say the least.

By the time I found the inevitable city park, I couldn’t begin to take a nap. The encounter with the California Highway Patrol had wired me up beyond any sleeplessness. A scintilla of paranoia crept in, as I envisioned the patrolman lurking just outside the city limits, like a snake in the grass, waiting to see if I would hold true to my promise. So I bided my time, running barefoot in the park, scraping bugs off the windshield and grille, taping on my recorder, and what not. Some of the time was spent just sitting and thinking, a pleasure we enjoy not too often. I was in deep August, that time of year laziness finds respectability.

After three hours of “hiding out” in the park, I was back on Route 395, hoping I might catch a glimpse of Mr. CHiPs and give him a little wave. I never did see him…guess he had bigger fish to fry. Just before crossing the state line, I pulled off into a rest area overlooking Goose Lake, an enormous body of water situated practically in the middle of nowhere. Its size was comparable to that of San Francisco Bay (I verified that on my Atlas). There was one of those information boards, on which was an outline of California, its uniqueness being it displayed the incredible waterway system that encompassed the entire state.

I was so impressed that I was awestruck. I had not realized how self-sufficient the Golden State was, with its exemplary utilization of natural lakes and rivers working in harmony with strategically placed dams and aqueducts. It would have made the turn-of-the-century naturalist, John Muir, ever so proud. Incidentally, the one exception is the Imperial Valley, which is irrigated by the mighty Colorado (at the very southern tip of the state). Nevertheless, I drove away with a new sense of appreciation and admiration of this diverse state, so often ridiculed for its uncontrolled misuse of its environment, in particular, that insensitive megalopolis known as Los Angeles.

Fifteen miles into Oregon, I pulled in front of the Safeway Supermarket in Lakeview. It was dark and I mandated myself to find a resting place. Directly across the street was the fire station, so I ambled over and inquired within as to where a legal place to park overnight could be found. The courteous firefighter directed me to the proverbial city park, only a few blocks away. I found a big oak to park under, and reclined in my easy chair, reflecting on what a long and eventful day it had been. I laughed inside, reminiscing about the confrontations with Mr. Inspector and Mr. CHiPs, which now seemed like just part of the adventures of driving. I’ll have to admit, that patrolman had me shaking in my sandals, but I just told him, “You make me nervous.” Oh, that feeling of being “safely home” was so comforting. I had no trouble falling asleep that night, thanking the Lord for a safe trip all right.

Little Lakeview, Oregon, population of about 3,000, turned out to be a serendipity. The park had a tennis court replete with a backboard, which I took full advantage of, banging balls off the boards for more than an hour. Then I took a casual bicycle ride around a town that seemed fossilized since the 1940’s (or even before). It was so reassuring to see a town, isolated as it was, still so viable, with no boarded-up store fronts…it was alive and doing well. The common denominator of all small, out-of-the-way towns nowadays is the antique business. Well, I perused the entire mother lode of antique shops in search of one of the last three remaining license plates not in my collection, but to no avail. Ah, but ol’ Lady Luck must have hitched a ride with me. As I was biking back to the van, I noticed a pickup (with embossed plates) parked next to what looked like an abandoned shop.

Upon further scrutiny, the entire end of the block appeared derelict, including an adjacent house. Another stroke of luck – a postman just happened to be making his appointed rounds. I intercepted him, and asked, “Have you made any deliveries to those last two houses recently? I’m looking around for some property to buy (what a blatant lie), and I noticed you didn’t make any deliveries there. Do you know who the owners are?” He obligingly said, “I haven’t dropped anything off there for three or four years. I can’t recall who was living there. Wait a minute, I think it was John Smoot. The last I heard he had moved over to Paisley.” Well, that was all the information I needed. With WD-40 and a slotted screwdriver, I stealthy removed one prized Oregon plate from a pickup.

The fact that I had both fabricated a story and pilfered a piece of discarded metal within a hour bothered my conscience for about five minutes. Hey, the truck was obviously abandoned, sitting there axle-high in weeds with way over-due registration. As I was rationalizing my unabashed heist, out of nowhere appears a guy with everything he owns either on his back or packed on his bike. He politely asked, “How do I get to Colorado from here?” At first, I was dumb-struck. Even I, the wizard of geography, had been caught flat-footed. I actually was unable to comprehend where I was in relation to Colorado. I finally regained my composure, and instinctively pointed to the southeast, saying succinctly, “It’s that way.” Off he pedaled, and I thought, “Now there’s a guy who’s really wandering.”