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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 16: San Francisco, CA to Elko, NV

Submitted by on August 13, 2011 – 2:02 AM5 Comments

Couch Baron and I parted ways at around 10:30 AM, he to the airport, I to find a post office that, if it exists, is in a Macy’s and I never found it. Back to the room to contain the thermodynamic expansion of my belongings; downstairs to retrieve Campbell from the valet and get restaurant recs from the guy on duty; once again into the breach.

The driving felt different right away. I hadn’t thought about it until the temperature started inching up through Oakland, but going east, away from the sun, really helped it feel less oppressive inside the car. (That, and round-filing a hotel banana from four states ago that got over the wall of the cooler, then died a country-song death half-under the passenger seat.)

And I felt less intimidated. I had the same exact forbidding terrain to cover, and in less time — Boulder by Thursday, damn the Campedoes — but this time, it was terrain I had gone through, and not run out of gas in. The unknown is great, except when it operatically is not, and when you drive a cherry with wheels, any widening of the margin of error is welcome.

It was a weekday, so the disordered driving had settled down, and I could enjoy the climb into Tahoe National Forest, then back down into Nevada. I had 500 miles to kill, and I listened to podcasts for a while, and then I tried to finish the Zodiac audiobook but I couldn’t keep my mind on it, so I turned off the AC, dropped the windows, and put Halen on as loud as I could stand it, which is pretty loud (Cam has a few issues, but her sound system isn’t one of them). Halen, Boston, the Donnas, loud, loud, loud.

The dusk came up. It’s my favorite time of day, and northern Nevada does a fine one, but like a lot of things out here, the splendor is in equal proportion to the danger. The western night sky is almost indescribable; ditto the things that go on beneath it, because we can only guess at them (or don’t have to guess). A retired trucker named Pat Carnes pulled his car onto an off ramp, locked it up, and walked into thin air with his dog. Nathaniel King’s devout “family of origin” seems to think he’s near the I-80 corridor, but they haven’t heard from him. An older couple vanished near Green River, WY a couple weeks back. Who is the “Secret Witness”? When did “Nathan” start hustling the rest stops? What will lay bare the shallow graves — coyote or flood?

I brought rings with me, a fake engagement setting and wedding band, just in case, but I haven’t worn them. I keep forgetting, or I can’t get used to them so I take them right off again. I might as well mail them home already; they can’t ward off disappearing, and anything they could ward off, I could ward off my own self.

The Budget Inn in Elko looked like a converted dorm. The towels were washed to a t-shirt thinness. The smell of mothballs was appropriately retro, and comforting, but I shoved my suitcase against the door anyway, just in case.




  • Bristlesage says:

    Scary things happen everywhere, of course, but growing up out there I always thought it appropriate that the non-Maine place that consistently comes up in the oeuvre of Stephen King is middle-of-nowhere, NV.

    I expect, when I make it to Maine, for it to be just riddled with creepiness.

  • Cyntada says:

    Precisely why I haven’t seen my parents much since they moved, even though we’re only a few hours apart… because there’s no air service to their part of Nevada, the train stops there at 1:30 in the morning, and driving involves crossing hours worth of California desert in which people also vanish into thin dry air. I love them to pieces, but driving alone? Nope.

  • Driver B says:

    I know that post office, and it is indeed a pain in the ass to find. In the basement, to the right around the back of the escalator. You can’t miss it! :p

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    It’s so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that someone could choose to walk out of their life into air, into thin air. It’s bad enough when kidnapping/so much worse is suspected–at least then you know that the person was planning to stay in their life, in the world, and was violently yanked out of it, and also that someone out there knows your loved one’s last resting place. Even if that person is a Dexter-like serial killer, the knowledge is contained in at least one mind.

    But when someone just walks out, leaving a locked car and no answers–well, how do you take it, how do you stand it? Even if clues emerge later: you find out he was sick and “didn’t want a fuss”, he lost his money, was just plain weary of the whole damn thing, well, finding out the Why doesn’t soothe the ache when the How Could You question still hangs in the air, midleap, never landing, hovering over your life.

  • Georgia says:


    Parts of Maine are lovely — rocky beaches filled with swimming kids and people eating lobster rolls and blueberries. And then there is Route 9, a road so unnerving that even my parents were frightened as they drove my sisters and me through on the way to Prince Edward Island. If James Dickey had set Deliverance in the north, rural Maine would’ve made a fine setting.

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