Friday, September 9, 2011

On the Road in Tonopah

It was on the road to Tonopah that I first knew I’d only be here once, maybe twice and I’d never be a Nevadan. Land is cheap here, and there’s lots of deserted houses to buy. Still, I didn’t think I’d be in the market. And it wasn’t just the miles of empty desert that had got me thinking that way.

The road wandered east, then north, then east, even though the signs said we were going south, promising Las Vegas in 250, then 150 miles. The hot September sun kept us warm, and maybe a bit disoriented, as we roared along the desert roads. Back a hundred miles, we went through a national forest, and once in a while, there were some scraggly dried up Joshua trees. National forest, huh? Or was that a joke of the Nevada highway department, keeping us entertained as we loped over ridge after ridge of basalt and colored rocks, and flat alkali flats, shimmering in the midday sun. Or, maybe this was just the great Nevada vortex, and we’d never escape, and never be found again.

If I’d been a pioneer here, on the way to California, I’d have died on the alkali flats on the other side of the ridge, my bones bleaching white in the summer sun, or maybe I’d have frozen to death on a cold winter night when only the coyotes howled against the moon, looking for a bite to eat. I’d have been that big bite, alright.

We rolled into Tonopah, looking for some food. We could have stayed at the Clown Motel in town but Vegas was where we were wanting to be. The big four story brick Mizpah Hotel was closed, in about 1960 it seemed, named after the big, and now closed silver mine that had made the town. Closed seemed the operative word of the year here, and maybe for the entire 21st century, as we headed down the main drag, looking for anything alive. Even the few pickups parked on the edge of the street looked tired and old.

I’d read that Tonopah got its big start when its founder was out in the desert looking for his ass,
and found a pile of silver ore, along with his long lost donkey. Tonopah wasn’t the ass’ name, but I like that for an animal name. I guess it means hidden spring, and given the absence of anything growing here, the name seems to fit.

Now the big attraction is the nearly bombing range, and the mountain where some folks want to bury all the country’s nuclear waste, and the tourists stopping by, thinking they’d missed the sign to Vegas, or Reno, or even Winnemucca, or maybe even their ass.

Our bellies empty, we were nearly through this town last really alive in the 20s, or maybe the 50s, which century we weren’t too sure. And the Clown Motel still didn’t make us change our mind about dinner on the Strip in Vegas Town.

The only place alive was Mickie D’s, Tonopah style. Not even a Safeway was around, or anything looking like a cafe. The golden arches clashed with the aquamarine tile trim, but we went in anyway, our empty bellies leading the way. Sunburned cowboys nursing their Friday night going to town hangovers had taken over the booths. The only folks in line were tourists like us, wanting only a little food so we could get back on the road and head out of town faster than we headed in.

A few blocks away, the high school gym wall was all painted up, a tough looking miner kind of guy, evil in his eye, looked over the town. He was the town mascot, and their claim to fame.
“Home of the Muckers” the letters blazed.

In my home town, we were the Cheesemakers, also known as the Mooks, the last syllable of our town’s own Indian name. There was another town, in Wisconsin, and they were “Cheesemakers”, too. But, we were the only “Mooks”. “Mooks” was bad enough, I’d thought, especially after listening to all the would be poets find their rhymes at all the high school games, until I heard of the Muckers. Not much challenge there for Nevada poets in waiting. No wonder there wasn’t much business at the Clown Motel, or anyplace else around here.

The clerk kept asking us if we wanted to eat in or have our grub to go. After the fourth parley, my buddy got a little firm with her, and asked for some bags. She finally figured it out, and we got back in the car, eager to hit the road, but more eager to just leave the town to the Muckers.

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