For the next two days it was pure leisure time, which translated into no driving and all biking, even a twelve-mile round trip to Truckee for groceries. I toured the neighborhood checking out the new houses being built and talking to contractors and carpenters about any innovative construction methods that have cropped up lately. There was nothing new about the overdesign of most of the structural systems, that is, the excessive use of timber – a leitmotif of California construction. They used lumber like there was no tomorrow.
However, at one site I learned they were using “engineered lumber”, sized members made entirely out of compacted shavings from crushed up trees, thereby utilizing 100 per cent of the tree instead of the standard method of ripping a trunk (length-wise cuts) and discarding the unusable limbs and branches. At the very least, the innovative process was making some compensation for the extravagant use of timber elsewhere. At another site, they had employed a polystyrofoam cavity block filled with concrete for the garage walls that supported two levels of living space above. The builder obligingly gave me a tour of the inside, and was quick to point out the “overkill” of timber in the exposed roof beams. “A lot of this is only for show. It’s a waste of wood, if you ask me,” he lamented. I totally agreed.
I pedaled over to the marina several times just to relax and read some outdated U.S. News & World Report magazines from the Botkin’s coffee table. It’s amazing how much information is still useful and entertaining in a year-old publication. I’m not kidding. Try it the next time you’re in a dentist’s waiting lounge. I talked with an elderly fisherman who had three 12-inch trout dangling in the water on his catch line. “They may not be big, but they’re healthy and fightin'”, he proudly said. Then there was the three stud muffins securing their sailboat on a tow rig in the parking lot. I approached one and asked assertively, “You guys ever thought about trying to get those abominable jet skiers banned from the lake?” He said, “We hate those bastards, but there’s nothing we can do about it.” Too bad. I hated those machines, as much as I despised snowmobiles and ATVs. “What can one do about these hedonistic polluters?”, I wondered.
On the evening of the last day, I did a quick sketch (on a 6 X 9 index card) from my vantage point at the dining table of the scene looking down the street at an endearing little house at the vanishing point. I slipped the drawing in with the prints as a “surprise package” for Bill and Lynn. I updated my journal while listening to smooth jazz. The TV reception was almost nonexistent, but it didn’t matter. Out of sight, out of mind. I was enjoying the simple pleasures of life. I called Mr. Watson, now with the luxury of a residential phone without being surcharged by A.T.&T. Notwithstanding missing each other in Pinetop, we had a congenial conversation. I ended, saying, “Hey, Gene, it just wasn’t meant to be. I’ll catch you next time.” After hanging up, I felt relieved that I had expunged those “if onlys” that had bugged me back in Flagstaff.
The next morning, I took a much-needed shower after finally figuring out how to turn on the hot water. As I was leaving, I noticed the 8-foot high snow poles had already been placed in their sleeves on the edge of the streets… a portend that winter was not far away. After all the years up there, I actually discovered a new route to Lake Tahoe – CA 267 out of Old Truckee and over Brockway Summit (7,199 ft.) to Kings Beach on the north shore – a savings of about five miles. I never tired of driving around probably the most picturesque lake in the country. On a less attractive note, Tahoe was a haven for the Mafia back in their “glory” years, and I wondered how many unfaithful mob cadavers were at the bottom of the lake wearing cement shoes. I had picked up an informative Lake Tahoe map at the train depot in Truckee with all sorts of facts and figures, like maximum depth (1,645 ft.), annual snowfall (216 in. or 18 ft.), and so on, but there was no official body count available at the time.
I found my favorite `”reserved” spot behind Harrah’s, straddling the state line where I could sleep with my feet in California and my head in Nevada (I know, you’ve heard that before). It was Labor Day weekend and the parking lot was filling up fast. Okay, so I spent three days in sybaritic indulgence at the gaming tables and slot machines. It was not anything to write home about. The real pleasures were biking around the beautiful area, listening to Giant and A’s baseball games, and chowing down on Hot Wok take-outs until my eyes started to slant. The one diversion was meeting an old cadger in a camouflaged ’83 Chevy van in the back parking lot. There was one discrepancy in his madness – the wheels were bright white. I watched him roll a cigarette while we indulged in the usual van talk. I had never seen a guy “roll his own”. “It’s a helluva lot cheaper this way,” he said. But, he was paying another price – he had a terrible smoker’s cough.
By Monday, I had had enough of the casino scene. I headed back to Donner Lake via the California side around noon, and amazingly, there was hardly any traffic at all. All the way back, the shoulders were packed with parked cars. It was obvious that everyone had already gotten to where they were going for their Labor Day excursion. One of those ominous signs appeared that read: “Fire Hazard Alert – Extreme”. I had seen numerous other warnings along the way back in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The West was evaporating! Well, at least the Truckee River was still running. I stopped at the River Ranch to watch the rafters drift by and dip my feet in the water. It felt great, but not as exhilarating as those ice-cold creeks in Colorado.