Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rachel, Nevada

“I’m the nice guy in town,” answered the little boy at the one-room bar/restaurant/front desk/casino/gift shop of the Little A’LE Inn. My son couldn’t figure out what to do with the three quarters the little guy kept forcing upon him, so my husband asked why he wanted to give away his quarters.

My husband gently slid the coins into the denim pocket of the kid’s shorts.

“Why do you want to give it back?” he asked.

“Because I’m a nice guy, too,” my husband answered. “You’ll need this to play video games.”

I’ll always be thankful that I didn’t follow the first instinct I had upon arrival in Rachel and curl up in the fetal position, screw my eyes tight and wait for it all to be over.

If I had, I never would have met the nicest guy in town. I wouldn’t have met the bartender, Tracy, who happens to be from my neighborhood in Hampton, VA. And I wouldn’t have had the chance to talk to the mother of the resident nice guy who informed me that her 5-year-old son—she referred to him as “the town’s ambassador”—is also its youngest citizen. The boy’s 82-year-old grandmother, co-founder of the town, is the oldest of Rachel’s 76 “full time” citizens.

I nearly missed all this when I momentarily went into shock upon our arrival. While unloading my luggage from the van, I witnessed the flight of a drunkard sailing over a saw horse while I listened to my husband explain that I’d need to select videos from the “Evidence Room” if I expected to see anything on TV.

You know those motels you see from time to time with the sign that says COLOR TV in multi-hued letters, and you think. “how quaint, of course they have TV. It’s the twenty-first century, after all.”

Well, Rachel is at least twenty years from erecting such a sign. In compensation, they offer guests a VCR and “The Evidence Room”, a lending library of homemade videos. Unfortunately, they haven’t extended that type of forward thinking by offering complementary sundials to keep guests abreast of the time, as in-room time keeping devices are not standard.

I entered the half-trailer where we were to spend the night separated from our neighbors by a shared bathroom that also housed the microwave and mini fridge. My son was shell shocked and rendered incapable of commentary.

By the time my husband entered the room, I was encasing the bed in my personal set of blue striped sheets that my sister gave me to replace the one I lost. I packed them to use on the air mattress during the camping segments of the trip, but quickly deployed them upon sight of tired-looking linens.

Fortunately, my husband coaxed me from the room, and my trip was made richer for it.
Even though I’ve been having great fun seeing the country, I’d been feeling for a few days like something was missing. Earlier, I mentioned Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie, an account of the cross country trip the author made with his aging poodle.

Thinking about the book, I realized that Steinbeck talked a lot with folks as he traveled, and I realized that we haven’t been doing enough of that. Sure, we conversed with the proprietors of the cheese shop, and there were the nice park rangers we chatted with at Yellowstone. And, of course, there was the artist at the sculpture park.

But you don’t really get to learn about the country until you meet the people that inhabit it, and I realized as I chatted with the colorful citizens of Rachel, NV that I need to make a point to talk to as many people as I can.

On the way back to the room, we stood in the wide open expanse of desert. Wind whipped across our faces and lightening streaked across the sky. To our amazement, we realized that we could see the Milky Way.

This is the kind of stuff you miss at the Best Western.


Total states: 16
Highest gas we've seen (AND paid for): $3.89
Creatures: fox (living), wild horses

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