We decided to nix Zion and Bryce National Parks after visiting our kids in Las Vegas, Nevada in early February.
“It’s 10 degrees outside,” I said as we checked out from The Clown Motel in Tonopah. Under a brilliant blue sky, the iced covered ground glared back at me. The clown at the entrance of the motel is a beacon for travelers. One never knows what to expect from a clown, but our room was clean and comfortable. David had stayed here during one of his motorcycle jaunts. (He didn’t tell me it had a reputation for being haunted.)
“It’ll be warmer in the car,” David replied. Our car is an older luxury car equipped with a decent sound system and custom weather control. Heat in our cushy leather seats, and personal climate knobs both on the driver’s side and passenger’s. Green digital numbers illuminate the speed limit on the windshield beyond the steering wheel. It also tells the driver when he or she is about to reverse into something. It is fancy.
We continued on Route 95 towards our new home just before Reno. Although not warmer by degrees, the drive was gorgeous, giving me a view of America that I hadn’t experienced before. David remarked that he had never seen it as pure. The entire desert had been snowed upon, leaving not a rock uncovered.
A couple hours into the drive, we passed beautiful snow frosted mountains over a flat area of land. David pointed out some low bunkers in the middle of this vast nowhere.
“What do you think those are?” he asked, my attention zoomed to rows of low shapes in the snow.
“I dunno,” I answered. “What are they?”
“Those are ammunition storage bunkers. This is the largest ammunition storage depot in the country.”
“OHHH-KAYYY,” I mumbled with trepidation.
As if he had read my mind he said, “The last explosion was in the 50s. They’re all separately stored, so it won’t cause a chain reaction if something like that happens again.”
As if that would change my uneasy feelings about being there at that very moment.
As uncomfortable as I felt, I kept my sanity and sat perfectly still as we drove through Hawthorne, the town nearby. I kept my obnoxious thoughts to myself. The town had a population of 3269 in 2010. According to the Internet, the population had grown 4.4% in 2014.
Houses throughout the neighborhood surrounded its Army presence—barracks, office buildings, machine shops, etc. Further on, the town itself had many empty store fronts. We stopped for gas and a restroom visit. I relaxed a bit more as we drove out towards Walker Lake. I kept thinking of the chicken pot pies we planned to pick up at a bakery in Yerington, not far from there but still a bit from our home in Carson City.
Up ahead, the lake’s surface made neither a flutter or a ripple. Tall, red, rocky cliffs lured over the highway as we drove pass the little residential area on the lake front. I imagined at one time, this area could have been another ‘Lake Tahoe.’ “But not today, Cleo,” as David would have said.
On the two lane highway, we both noticed what looked like a dirty piece of ice on the road in front of us. It didn’t seem very big. David drove over it rather than swerve to avoid it. Then we heard the “ice” bounce a couple of times and hit the bottom—of our car. Within seconds, David steered off the road to a lookout overlooking the placid lake.
“That’s it. We’re not going any further,” he prophesied.
He shifted the car in “park,” and got out. He knelt down to peer under the car, then stood up without an expression. He sat back into the driver’s seat and explained our situation.
“We’ve got a pool of oil coming out of the pan.”
“What do you mean?” I asked dumbfounded.
“That ice that I drove over? Evidently it wasn’t,” he said, in deep thought. I translated his momentary silence as pretty serious.
We both sat there for a while, thinking of what to do next. We were about 150 miles from home, and the nearest town was behind us. But thank goodness for cellphone reception. He searched the Internet for a towing service to get our car back to Hawthorne. When he found one, the dispatcher said it would be around 45 minutes before anyone came to rescue us.
Luckily, it was high noon, the sun was out, and the weather was calm. A police officer drove by, stopped and picked up another small rock that was down the highway beyond us. I wondered if he had picked up that rock we had just met. David, the social moth that he is, walked over to talk to the officer. When he returned, he told me that the wild goats on the cliffs above tend to loosen the rocks as they graze. Thus the sign that warned, “Falling Rocks.” Funny how I hardly gave those signs any serious thought, until now.
An hour and a half later, assistance arrived and towed us back to town. The tow service also had a repair shop, but couldn’t help us because his mechanic was out sick. He recommended another repair place that might could fix our car that day. He drove us there, David paid him, and he left.
All kinds of cars obviously needing repair, were strewn all over the outside area; every vehicle covered with slushy ice.
We walked into a disheveled office. I immediately noticed fast food cartons overfilling the trash can and baby furniture dominating a corner. David tapped the ringer, and in walked an unhappy person coming from the repair area. David explained our situation and the unhappy person brought him to the back where he spoke to someone else, evidently the expert mechanic. I wasn’t happy myself by this time.
The mechanic explained the situation, that he couldn’t repair the car until the part came in to replace the damaged one, which would probably be the next day at the soonest, and oh yes, the part is gonna cost a bit over $400 plus labor estimating at around $800.
David and he squabbled over the cost of the part. The mechanic could most likely find a part for $70 over the Web, but it would take days to get to Hawthorne. There was one bus that could get us back to Carson City, but then David would have to return to get the car. There were no car rentals in the town either. The owner of the repair shop offered to pick up the part (ordered from Reno) in a nearby town the next day since his wife had a doctor’s appointment there. This way, he guaranteed it would be at the repair shop the following day.
With all this weighed, David agreed to the owner’s suggestions. The unhappy person then volunteered to drive us over to a motel, a half block from where we were. I could even see the pleasing signage of the motel from where we stood. The Sand and Sage. It was even poetic.
We walked into its narrow reception area where the desk person with no teeth begrudgingly took David’s credit card and gave us a room key.
“I’ve stayed here once before, in room #112,” David volunteered.
“Well, I can give you room #115 today,” the toothless person answered. In the meantime, he couldn’t process David’s American Express Card because their one phone line was in use.
“I’m sorry, I’ll sign you in as soon as the phone line is free, OK?” the person said.
I looked out the window just then and saw a young man with a lit cigarette between his fingers beckoning his two large dogs into one of the corner rooms.
I turned to the desk person and asked, “Is our room nonsmoking?”
“I usually open the door and window after check-out time in the morning to air out the room,” he answered, pleased with himself.
“What about pets? Do you allow pets in every room?” (I didn’t want fleas in my bed.) He leaned over to me and whispered, “Why? Do you have pets with you?” I believe he would’ve waived the $10/per pet fee for me.
“No. I just don’t want a room that had animals in it before,” I said and turned away.
We walked out of the office to locate our room #115, which was no where close by. We walked around the corner, upstairs on the spongy second floor balcony, and around to the back. I was about to lose my composure as I wound my way back to the office, having already lost sight of David. Suddenly, he called out to me, and he pointed to our room, located in back.
I entered the dim, dingy room and immediately noticed the broken night stand, the drawer’s face practically falling off its hinge. I lost my cool.
“I am not staying here, David. Look at this place. This is a dump!” I didn’t even sit on the bed, I was afraid of the unseen filth.
“Well, you do something then!” he barked back. By then, I felt sure he was going to leave me there—forever.
He went to the heater and turned a knob and then another.
“I’m going to the office.”
David returned shortly with the desk clerk. He fiddled with the knobs, too. The heater made a noise.
“There, it’s working,” the clerk said.
“I’m not staying here without a decent heater. It’s 10 degrees outside, and I’m not paying for a cold room,” David complained.
The desk person mumbled something under his breath, and David demanded, “Don’t charge my card, do you understand? We’ll go across the street and get another room.”
We picked up our backpacks and walked across the street.
“Do you think they’ll charge your card,” I asked.
“They can’t,” David replied. “I didn’t sign it.”
The motel across the street was freshly covered with adobe red paint. A typed sign tacked on the front door said, “Closed due to tornado damages in the office.” A tornado in the office?
We stood in the snow in the advancing afternoon, looked around, and saw an America’s Best Inn sign further down the icy street.
“Let’s go there,” David suggested. “We’ve stayed in those before, right?”
I nodded. We had stayed in those chains in Lake Havasu, Arizona and in St. George, Utah. They were decent, not fancy, but decent. Anyway, what other options did we have?
We checked in at the America’s Best Inn. It cost more than the room we had in the Linq hotel in Las Vegas where we were just a couple days ago. It was modern and very comfortable. This room, however, was adequate, clean, and very non-smoky with no pets allowed.
Sighing with relief, I flopped on the bed and put my feet up while David explored the room.
“Jackie, look at this,” he said as he pointed to the black and white photo on the wall. I got up to look and realized it was the very place where our luck had turned, the very spot where we hit the rock.
Images of zombies appeared in my head. I immediately returned to the present when David commented, “You know, by the time this is all over, we’ve had spent a thousand dollars. Consider the rooms, food, tow, repairs and fuel. That’s how much we’re spending on this trip.”
“Shoots, we should have gone to Zion like we planned,” I answered. But because of the weather we decided to cut our road trip short.
“Let’s go get something to eat. I don’t want to be walking after dark with ice on the ground,” he said.
“Yeh, OK,” I said, zombies after dark returned to my mind.
We walked down the isolated street to a small Chinese Restaurant where David had eaten before. He remembered the proprietor of the restaurant being very nice to him. Only one other couple was eating as we walked in. A petite Chinese woman greeted me with a folded take-out paper menu.
“Hello, how are you?” she asked. The gap in her front teeth was prominent.
“I’m fine, thank you,” I said.
“You order. Then I bring to you,” she said. I looked through the menu and ordered a bowl of wor won ton soup with vegetables, and a plate of kung pau chicken. I was about to stash the menu in my purse for later reference when she said apologetically, “I’ll take the menu, please. We use it again.”
“Oh, OK,” I smiled. Chinese are very frugal.
David was outside on a phone call when the food arrived.
“Do you want me to bring the food later? I’ll keep it warm,” she gestured to David.
“Oh no, that’s OK. He can eat when he comes in,” I said. I took a sip of the soup, and then tasted the chicken. I waved to David to come in.
We loved the comfort food that this woman had prepared. I felt all-of-a-sudden relieved of all setbacks and zombies.
She came and poured more water and asked where we were from. I learned that 20 years ago she had moved from Reno and set up her restaurant here. I asked if she ever wanted to go back to a big city, and she said no, she was very happy where she was. I commented her on her cooking, and she was pleased.
We ordered sweet sour pork to take back to the motel room. She bid us goodnight as we left, she bowed and smiled widely and thanked us for coming in. We thanked her too.
The next day, we went back to her restaurant for brunch. I mentioned that we might be back if our car wasn’t repaired. She laughed. She’d be glad to have us, but she hoped our car was fixed.
When we arrived at the repair shop, there was no one in sight. Our car wasn’t in sight either. The door to the shop was locked, and when we phoned in, no one picked up. David was very positive about the entire situation, though. He said that our car was probably on the lift, and that the owner hadn’t returned from his wife’s doctor’s appointment yet. He figured it would be about 2:30 p.m. before the car could be worked on.
We walked around town a bit more. I think the whole downtown was made up of four or five blocks. I was getting frazzled. Then I had a great urge to write. This one time, I didn’t bring a journal with me. We searched for a place where I could buy one, and came across a hardware store that sold spiral notebooks. Who knew? I picked out a yellow one to keep my spirits alive, and I felt very relieved.
By the time we returned to the repair shop, the owner was there working on the car. In about 45 minutes, the repairs were done, and I had filled five pages in my clean yellow notebook.
The owner was very apologetic about the delay, and wished us an uneventful drive home. Funny how a bit of courtesy can change a grouchy individual’s attitude. (Mine.) I felt I could trust him if we ever have a mishap near there again.
At the crossroads to Reno and Carson City, we realized that we had missed the turn to Yerington where the chicken pot pies were. Oh well, we’ll get them next time.