Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 12: Green River, WY to Elko, NV
I began the day in a mood of grim exhilaration: the route promised the most daunting driving yet. The locals have accustomed themselves to it, no doubt, and developed methods of timing their drives and breaks and fill-ups. My frame of reference is a trip from my adolescence, and on that trip, I concerned myself primarily (and intensely) with confining Mr. Stupidhead to his side of the back; let Dad contemplate the prospect of the fam ten miles from Tumbleweed Heights, huddled in the meager trunk shade of a rented Town Car, hydrating with a single box of grape Ssips!. I would hide in a Bill James Abstract until California, thanks anyway.
Nowhere to hide today. The map was terrifying on the subject: Wyoming; Salt Lake City; beige areas reserved for the armed forces and their tests of unpredictable weaponry, and nothing else. I zoomed the area on MapQuest, and again, and again, and I got two towns, and no guarantee either would have gas. Wendover and grab my ankles.
But how wonderful that there's a place with nothing. Well, not "nothing," of course. It's stunning to see; I said "wow" all day, and sometimes I had to take a breath in the middle of it to get the whole "wow" done. "Wooo-aaaaaa-oooo-[hihhh]-oooow." Driving out of Wyoming, around the Uinta Mountains and into a notch in the Wasatch Range, down into Salt Lake City, is not "nothing." It is white knuckles in a few spots, for starters, and then, in its way, it explains everything, like why the Mormons hung in with it, for one. I had always found that completely inexplicable, especially after Missouri — the guy maybe has good intentions, but he is going to get most of you killed, and there's nothing to drink! Quit on it already! God will forgive you; God has used deserts as punishments since He was in short pants, so let's assume He gets it. Sit-down strike — tell a friend and/or horse. Come on.
I couldn't imagine what they must have seen, back then. The delicious mirages shimmering away into the foothills, yes; the wind farms that, from a distance, look like a heavenly citadel, probably not. The vastness, the relentlessness of the landscape must have proven something to them, though, about what made the land and why it made it this way. Coming out one side of the Bonneville Salt Flats will make you believe in something — Jesus Christ, diet Coke, Amtrak, humidity, call it.
I knew what the May 2011 Judgment Day billboard had believed — that they didn't need to save enough money aside to have it taken down after, say, June 15.
One rest stop, I think still in Wyoming, must have dated back to the original build of the Eisenhower system, when people were shorter — or more pervy — because the stall partitions were only chest-high. Coming into the room and seeing only the heads, I started giggling; nobody else thought it was funny. Really? That "Dilbert"-y cube-farm prairie-dog effect in a highway restroom? …Okay then.
Delle, UT. The last services for 66 miles. The sun was making its quota. Past the parking lot — not so much a lot as a paved area that the desert is coming up around at the corners — kids on ATVs surfed the sand. The woman at the register could have sworn I came in already today. Not another big blonde with short hair? "No no — I'm sure it was you! Or your twin!" I don't have a twin. "It was your secret twin, then." Oh, you believe in that too? "Everybody got one." I agree. I've seen mine — my junior-year math teacher's niece — and she's probably not blonde now, or driving across the country by herself, but you never can tell.
In the Flats, a towel sari'd over me because mere Hawaiian Tropic is no match for a Utah sun, I entered a sort of trance. "Ahead" never quite came. Squiggling pool after squiggling pool squirmed away to each side. I didn't turn the wheel or touch it in any meaningful way for 45 minutes. The scorched landscape and the hum of the engine cleaned my mind.
Then came a slight bend, and then a mild rise, and then Wendover, and what should snap me to (besides having to pee) but a usage error! I will not name this perpetrator either, because I love him on the internet and on podcasts and he is a brilliant writer, and he is not the only one who mangles the expression into "mano Y mano," but that is not the expression. It is not "hand AND hand." It is "mano A mano." Hand TO hand. You are welcome.
Elko. The sun had dropped a bit and a ribbon of cool curled through the window now and then. I went down for an early dinner, another weird pasta (carrots and potatoes? in a primavera?), and a couple of glasses of beer, the first of which I drained in two gulps, because it was that kind of weather and that kind of day. At the next table, a ten-year-old read about a man-sized portion of something he wanted on the menu, but worried, "I'm a boy, I'm not a man." Then he asked what tiramisu is, and I wanted to call over that it's proof that God cares about our happiness, but I kept it shut instead. What did neighboring tables think of us, 25 years ago, playing the "Can You Get Mom To Look At This Ordinary French Fry" game? (Try it; it's pretty fun. After a few days, you will have to resort to shit like grabbing your eye and writhing around in your chair all "MOM MOM OW HELP ME," then holding up the fry with the other hand and adding, "…to LOOK at this FRENCH FRY!") (Understand: cars did not always have DVD players in them. We did what we had to do.)
I sat in the parking lot and enjoyed wearing a sweater in the sunset and talking to AB Chao. Elko is of a certain size, with many lofty signs that call to travelers, and when the darkness began, the yellow rounded M was the first one to go on.
Tags: AB Chao Big Country Little Car Tour Bill James diet Coke the sweet mead of life Mom Mom Mom hey Mom hey look at this French fry Mr. Stupidhead our friend English secret twins