Fri – February 25, 2005
Herewith, a Musing cast as a travelogue:
It was a good trip up and back, and I’m glad I went – even if the idea didn’t give me shivers of anticipation earlier in the week. Southwest Airlines of course, because the price is right. Nothing but the best for our boys in blue, so long as it comes in at the lowest bid. Having to line up at the wrong end of cattle row “C” with all the rest of lés malheureuses was only the rubbed salt in the festering wound of the by-now accustomed indignities of 21st century air travel. One goof ball with bad hair gets caught trying to light a fuse in his Pro Keds and each day for the rest of eternity, millions of American citizens have to kick off their shoes in front of the unblinking, unsmiling, and (occasionally impertinent) shock troops of the TSA . I am certain at this moment that nothing in this world is more tedious than dealing with a martinet with just that little bit of power.
Got into Reno just before a tentative, uncertain sunset – more of a gloaming than a going down of old Sol, obscured as he was by the low, overcast clouds. I’d been feeling pretty sorry for myself of late, as we in Sandy Eggo have been inundated by more rainfall in the first two months of this year than is normal in an entire twelve month period. Those feelings of petulance were immediately washed away by a hard, flat, spiteful rainfall in Reno. This was a rainfall which appeared to take great pleasure in seeking out the seams of my outerwear, and then eagerly tunneling with cold, clammy hands into my secret places.
And you can thank me for that image later, if it do ya fine.
Getting out of town and on I-80 towards Fallon, I ran into rush hour traffic. Which, if you’ve known Reno for very long, you know is a phrase calculated to cast doubt upon the speaker’s sanity. Oh, it wasn’t San Diego 5/805 merge type traffic, but it was much denser than the “Biggest Little City in the West” was ever prone to in my previous experience. It turns out that the vertiginous escalation in housing costs in Oakland and San Francisco have pushed mere mortals over the Sierras into Reno, searching for that 3BR/2BA American Dream, priced at less than $300k. They’ve poured over the mountains like fire ants boiling out of the nest, with the result that the city fathers are dealing not so much with growing pains as growing convulsions. These latter worthies have responded by throwing casino-financed bulldozers at everything resembling a public thoroughfare, with the only drawback being that, in their eagerness to improve services expeditiously, they’ve pretty much shut the city down, whenever two or three shall meet.
But eventually I broke free, and started my journey into the Nevada wilderness east of Reno. The rain was still coming down pretty hard, and as the temperature started to drop down towards the freezing level, your humble scribe got just a little thoughtful. Which is not to say concerned. Not as who might say, “actively” concerned. Even while knowing that while there are worse fates than skidding off a freezing mountain road, through the guard rail, down the embankment and into the turgid Truckee river all unnoticed by fellow mankind, there are not that very many fates which are all that much worse.
But the truck’s interior was warm enough, and the windshield wipers kept up their rhythmic thumps as if to say that, there-there, all would be well. I passed by the hard-scrabble company towns, full of miners and factory workers in their bread box houses hard by the river’s edge, some of them no doubt watching with anxious eyes the rise of the river through their kitchen blinds. Closer to the highway’s edge, an Amtrak train wove soundlessly and sinuously ’round the foothills. In the falling, monochromatic light, its silvered car tops looked like the segmented carapace of some some alien sea monster, full of malignant purpose and unknowable desire.
The miles clicked by, and soon I was passing the optimistically named “West Fernley,” and getting off on the exit to the appropriately (if somewhat unimaginatively) named, “Farm District Road.” East Fernley flashed past like greased lightning, leaving me to wonder whether Central Fernley was ever going to get any billing whatsoever, and whether there were life-long rivalries attending to growing up on one or another side of a town with a population of very nearly 8500 people.
Once past that particular metropole, the rain let up and I was moving quickly past miles of grey and dusty farmland, illuminated now by the harvest moon. Desert farmland, the kind of land where livelihood, and even lives themselves, are measured in acre-feet of government water. Where people have been shot over water rights.
Soon I was moving through the little hamlet of Hazen (elevation: 4000 feet, population: 30), and sensed more than saw the rising terrain just east of the single country store that was the center of that unincorporated village’s social life. On that promontory I knew could be seen, by the light of the day, a white letter “H” painted against the brown dirt and scree. This seems to be the custom of towns and cities all over Nevada, no matter how large or small – a demonstration of local pride perhaps, or a protestation against something less noble even than mediocrity.
Finally down the back roads to the base itself, a place I lived for nearly two years in the late 90′s. The steering wheel seems to turn almost of its own volition, finding the lesser roads – away from the town of Fallon, its fast-food restaurants, casinos and speed traps.
I unpacked my bag in the BOQ room. Inside is one of those little cards from the TSA, notifying me that my gear has been searched. I seem to get those every time, perhaps my bag is inherently suspicious. Something new this time though: The card was placed on top of my khaki hat, and in the margin at the top was a scrawled note, reading, “Thank you for your service to the country.”
Which I thought was nice. He didn’t have to do that.
The next day to work for a two-day conference on the weapons acquisition roadmap. Good, clean work with men who know and love the trade, my brothers. Many important capabilities are in the offing, most are entirely unaffordable. It has ever been thus.
We muddle through.
After work, a four mile run before heading to the club for dinner and an adult beverage. The air is as cold and sharp as surgical steel, and two minutes into the run I glance down at my heart rate monitor and am momentarily stunned by the number on the dial. Then I remember that we’re at 4000 feet above sea level, and ease it down a notch. Because you want to make sure you get there, to the turnaround point. FA-18s and F-16s rend the sky overhead, and the thinness of the air combined with the rising terrain lend the screaming of their engines a new urgency. The sun sets and the majestic Stillwater mountain range turns breathtakingly purple. Above the fruited plane. Just like in the song.
Later, at the club, I’m with old friends from happier days – back when we were all still flying. We’re all talking the fighter pilot talk, the words come back to you like your mother’s lullaby. We’re using our hands to show just how the bandit sat, and how we shot him. Remembering past victories, and the ones that got away. If ever we have been shot ourselves in simulated combat, you would never know it by the dialogue at the club. At the club, the talk is all of victory, and the few that got away.
It’s the same with you: We are all the heroes of our own tales.
Leaving Fallon now, heading home. I’m reminded of what a quirky place the American West can be. The desiccated gentlemen who unabashedly wear their cowboy boots and hats, keeping the latter on even in the restaurants. They’d stop in an instant to help a lady fix her tire, line up in rows to help her out. For a man, on the other hand, they probably wouldn’t stop at all. Unless to heap scorn and derision on any that might need help. Real men do it themselves.
On two lane roads traffic will bunch behind the elderly gent doing 60 in the 65 mph zone, waiting for their chance to pass, usually dissuaded by the high speed traffic in the oncoming lane. Eventually the road will widen to a four lane for a bit, to let the faster traffic pass. At which point, of course, everyone floors the gas. Including the guy who’d been holding up traffic.
Back to Reno, more navigating through the wasteland of civic construction. And more jousting with the TSA. Shoes please. Of course.
Airborne again, and home again in time. SNO picked me up at the airport, his university being closer than our own lodgings. He took me down to NAS North Island to pick up the car I’d left at work. I offered to buy him dinner at McP’s , the SEAL bar in Coronado (it’s 20 days ’til St. Pat’s, by the by). Being a college student, and treasuring sleep perhaps more than breakfast, he readily agreed. When his burger came, it was largely left to me to carry the conversation while he attacked his dinner with single-minded zeal, eyes bulging. We had a chance to laugh a bit after, in an easy way.
Then he his way, and I mine.
Home again, and of that I shall not share more tonight.
Have a great weekend!