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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 12: Green River, WY to Elko, NV

Submitted by on August 7, 2011 – 12:53 PM8 Comments

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.

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  • TC says:

    I grew up in Elko, and I can tell you it was significantly smaller 25+ years ago. Since it is a small town in the middle of nowhere, Salt Lake was a day trip for many reasons. My mother actually drove back and forth every week for a grad program at the U of U (over on Tuesday night, back on Wednesday afternoon). I can't even begin to estimate how many times I have done that soul numbing drive.

    Obviously no one clued you in to take a drive-by of the brothels, or you would have mentioned it. Yes, prostitution is legal in Elko County.

  • Melanie says:

    Ah, gads, road trip back seat – the only times in my life that a stack of books and uninterrupted time got wearying. Fortunately, we had "he's on my side," as well as the licence plate and alphabet games, and the one where we had to guess most accurately when a mile had passed. And Murder in the Dark, which my own kids now bemoan because: only 2 of them, and there's just no mystery about whodunit that way. I ought never to have told them.

    They don't do the french fry game. They do the "get Mom to say 'what?' " game. "Hey, Mom?" "Yes?" "Hey, Mom!" "Can I help you?" "Hey, Moooooommm?" "Is there something you need?" "Ugh! Hey, Dad?" "What?"

    Potatoes in pasta is unnatural. Pick a starch, guys. Both excellent with butter, salt, and cheese, but with each other? Nope.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    The salt flats. I read about them in the Little House books (natch) and the Great Brain series, which was the first and sanest encounter I had with the Mormon religion.

    But I will always remember the passage in LH where a character is describing driving his wagon train through the Badlands, and how eerie and Not Right it was, how they had to go so slowly because they couldn't risk a broken wagon axle, and how the towering piles of unidentifible things seemed to watch them as they wended their slow way. One line in particular: "I think when God was finished creating the world he threw all the leftovers into that hole."

  • Cora says:

    Kind of unrelated, but if you have to prove the "mano A mano" thing, you could always use the John Oates song of that name from the Private Eyes album. The refrain, sung by Daryl, is "Mano a mano" and then John sings "Hand to hand," so it works well as a teaching device. And then of course you can dance around to the title track, which everyone says they don't do anymore, and everybody else is LYING.

  • Joleen says:

    My kids don't play the "mom/french fry" thing thank goodness but my husband, their dad, does this realy annoying and stupidly funny thing where he says "guess what? I just found this" and once someone says "what?" he will flex his arm to make his bicep bulge. My older daughter and I have caught on but the little kid stills falls for it every time!

  • Krista says:

    My brother lives in Logan and we've driven all kind of ways across Utah to get there. Utah is so breathtaking! After one trip driving through Wyoming, my sister has maintained that it is the most boring state ever and she will not visit my brother if she has to go through it.

  • FloridaErin says:

    "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."

    Love this! Tiramisu is one of the only deserts that does not get split between us when out to dinner. If the other half wants it, they have to get their own damn tiramisu, or there will be blood.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    You write so beautifully. That is all.

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