Summer Odyssey – 2002 VIII

I was listening to another great Oakland A’s game on the way into Truckee. The purported strike had been averted, and now the season was back in full swing. The A’s were trying to win their eighteenth straight ballgame when I pulled into the Safeway parking lot. A man was sitting in his car next to me, probably waiting for his missus to come back with the groceries. I somehow intuitively felt he was listening to the A’s game. I got out and approached him, saying, “I bet you’re listening to the A’s game.” He said, “You got that right. Isn’t this winning streak something else?” You know, the game of baseball is much more enjoyable on radio than on TV. Good broadcasters fill in the gaps between pitches with entertaining comments, while on TV all you get is the panning of pitcher’s and batter’s portraits (and a manager chewing and spitting). I got back into the van just in time to hear the A’s win with a ninth inning rally. This was great. I honked my horn. The gentleman gave me a “thumbs up” gesture.

I pulled in at W. Tamarac with the odometer reading 202, 856, exactly 2,000 miles from whence I had left Dallas, with only 200 miles on the interstates. I liked those figures. I called brother Franz in Santa Cruz to see if he could make it up to Donner Lake the next day. Unfortunately, he had to say it was not practicable for him to do so, business-wise. I understood. Now it was time to choose a way back. Would it be north through Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming? Naw, it was too much out of the way. Would it be south to Las Vegas and Carefree? Naw, it was too hot. That left either I-80 or U.S. 50 due east from Reno. I had about enough of the two-lane roads through Nevada, so all that was left was the interstate. So what? I was about ready for some leisurely driving for awhile. Gosh, it was great, sitting at the dining table listening to smooth jazz and having the freedom of choice of where I was going. Then I thought about that poor sole I saw shackled at the rest area in Nevada. It sure made me thankful of where I was.

I headed east on I-80 past Mustang, another notorious “recreational area” where the ladies of ill-repute plied their trades. Only in Nevada. The sun and wind were at my back, making the drive seem almost effortless. Near Winnemucca, the wind was kicking up quite a dust storm, practically blotting out the sun. The dryness of the West was getting to be like an epidemic. I pulled off at a rest area just west of Battle Mountain and eased under a protective tree next to an old Ford van. The cargo door was open, so I ventured over (it was dark by now) and peered inside. I said, “Excuse me, are you staying here overnight?” A man in his sixties appeared, saying, “Yeah, I’ve been here for three nights. Those sprinklers come on at midnight, so better make sure your windows are closed.” He went on to say, “I’ve been down in Yuma and trying to get back to Cody (Wyoming) to try to find some work.” I learned that he had spent some time in the field back when the oil-shale exploration was taking off in northwest Colorado. I said, “Yea, I was working in Denver when the bottom feel out in ’82. We were about to design a facility for Exxon when they decided to put a cap on oil-shale.” I was able to catch the Rockies ballgame from San Francisco before retiring. It felt good having a neighbor.

The next morning, I biked over to the other side of I-80 (by way of an underpass) just to scope out the area. Beside the gas station/restaurant was the Golden Motel Beauty Rest, a rather seedy-looking, four-room structure with three cars parked in front. Another red-light establishment in the middle of nowhere was all I could surmise. Back at the rest area, I noticed a lady asleep in a Honda Civic. Gosh, talk about cramped quarters! I went over to say goodbye to the Cody man. Seeing him in daylight set me aback a little. He was balding, pot-bellied, and red-eyed. The inside of his van was a mess. He said he was going to hang out there for a few more days. As I drove away, I just shook my head, thinking, “Geemonee, what in the world does he do all day?” I kinda felt sorry for the old guy, wondering if he would ever make it to Cody.

I-80 was getting to be a drone, so at Wells I hooked a right onto U.S. 93 and headed south towards the Great Basin. I was blessed with a cloud cover. Now I was running parallel to the cordillera for a change. About sixty miles down the road, I stopped in Currie, now a bona fide ghost town (the grocery was for sale) with the exception of one trailer home where a couple of urchins were toddling around. I asked one little girl, “How old are you? Where’s your mommy and daddy?’ She held up five fingers and mumbled something indiscernible. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the little girls, being raised in such squalor and isolation. What did the future hold for them? Che sara, sara.

At one time, Currie was a viable little community, a whistle-stop on the spur line from Wells to Ely. Now, the tracks were rusted with weeds sprouting between the ties along side a dilapidated shanty, once a working depot, now only a mute testimony to days long gone. Even the lonesome signal standard seemed to be listing. And get this… there was even a Currie Hotel across the street from the depot, now only a broken-windowed, two-storey wooden vestige of past halcyon days. It was unimaginable that back in the Golden Age of Railroads, people actually got off a train and stayed in a hotel there. I photographed the depot and then walked through the little “house”. It was obvious that someone had lived there because of the remnants of a kitchen inside. I fantasized its heyday with people waiting for the incoming train. So much for the nostalgic falderal.

I made a gas and grocery stop in Ely and headed for a favorite rest area high in the Humboldt Mountains. Ah, it doesn’t get any better than this. I sat at a picnic table writing in my journal under a panoply of stars. Unbelievably, the portable radio was picking up the A’s game from Oakland and I was able to hear them win their 20th straight (that was after blowing an 11 to 0 lead!). It was like all they had to do was throw their caps out on to the field and they would win. The cottonwood I parked under looked the worse for wear (I remembered it much fuller a year ago), another sign of the western drought. As I sat there on the eastern edge of Nevada about 1500 miles from Dallas, I felt so far, far away from home, yet I was at peace with the world

I headed east on U.S. 50, passing the “Last Chance” gas station at the Utah state line. An ominous sign read: “Next Gas – 83 Miles” as I entered the Confusion Range (I loved that appellation). Nearing I-70, I encountered another dust storm and thought. “Was there any end to this drought plague?”. I picked up a station out of Salt Lake playing strictly Classical Country. That was fine listening. I-70 east in the middle of Utah took me through some spectacular scenery, an amalgam of mesas, canyons, and rock formations nonpareil. I stopped at a scenic overlook where a Navajo woman was displaying her wares, you know, the usual collection you’d find at a curio stand. I talked with her a few minutes while watching her thread the beads on one more necklace. She had a regular assembly line going, but it was still quite a fine art.