On the road again: The beaten path to Yerington
May 17, 2007
Last December my 1990 Jeep Wrangler took sick and I decided to take it to Cramer’s Auto Service over in Yerington. The Jeep runs perfectly except that sometimes it just up and stops. Just the other day it conked out so back it went.
“Could you pick me up sweetheart…I have to take the Jeep back to Cramer’s .”
Orllyene, my wife, likes to greet the day with a long soak in her bathtub with a good book and I don’t like to disturb her. Plus, she and the Jeep aren’t on real good terms right now since she’s had to follow me in more than a few times. After a few choice words and a look that made the bath water boil, she said OK. I fled.
Yerington was bereft of life. It was Sunday and Cramer’s was closed. After slipping the keys under the front seat, a sudden urge came over me and I decided to hitchhike back to Smith Valley.
I should probably tell you that I had just finished reading “Tales from a Female Nomad” by Rita Golden Gelman. Rita spent 15 years of her life constantly traveling. Her kids were grown and her marriage had fallen apart. She lived among stone age people in the jungle of New Guinea, got chummy with peasant women in Mexico who finally accepted her when she started dressing like they did and mastered Thai cooking when a Thai family adopted her. A technique she used to cozy up to folks was to jump right into a conversation. She’s start talking about real personal things, tell them why a middle aged woman was traveling around the world alone, talk about her family and keep asking all kinds of questions. Before long, she’d hitched a ride or moved in with someone, whatever was needed. She went out of her way to be trusting and good things invariably happened.
So, following in Rita’s footsteps, I struck out for Smith Valley, 18 miles away. I noticed that the good folks of Yerington were on their way to church; the bad folks were at home watchin’ Tiger Woods. A car approached and out went my thumb. Here I was. A grandpa to six grandkids, married 45 years, the token Democrat of Smith Valley, stickin’ my thumb out there big as life. It was like walking on the moon! I bounced. So what if the cars didn’t stop. Another car…another and another. I must be invisible. Past alfalfa fields, farm houses, finally planting myself on the shoulder of Highway 339. At the side of the road, a barbed wire fence keeps trespassers away from a huge abandoned copper mine. A current investigation is underway, something about Radon. Amateur stuff. We lived in Las Vegas in the ’60s… “Whoops, there goes a big one” we’d say as the windows rattled and a mushroom cloud headed for St. George, Utah. Those Mercury Test Site fellers were at it again.
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I wondered at my technique…smile more, look pitiful, walk as I thumbed? Drivers and passengers just stared straight ahead. I really couldn’t blame them. The time I picked up a hitch-hiker was in Mexico. I was deep in the hills outside San Miguel. A man and his son stood meekly beside the road. I stopped. His wife, daughter and toddler then rushed around from behind a big rock. Five of us jammed in the front seat of a Jeep. Possibly the best drive I’ve ever taken.
Zonkers, I had a ride. A compact car of indistinct color and heritage pulled over. I jogged forward and jumped in. Manuelo was Mexican, had a scraggly beard, cigarette dangling from his lips. He seemed to be nesting in his car. As soon as I hit the seat I started spewing out information, my Jeep’s sick, I live in Smith Valley, where you from, anything I could think of. I even hustled out a few words of Spanish. Manuelo took it real well.
“Are you working today? It’s Sunday,” I offered. Manuelo was on his way to open an irrigation gate on Snyder Lane but, and get this, he then offered to drive me home to Smith Valley. I declined but thought, “Rita has something.” Being open and honest was paying off.
Back on the road, I was now in Mason, a gathering of houses that had sprung up where ever they had a mind to. Scrawny trees, dirt roads, bushes gasping for a drink, and a fence built of sheets of plywood. Yellowish hills heaped on another, evil looking brush jabbed into their crusty hillsides; not exactly a Thomas Kindcade effort. A frenetic Mongolian Golden Rooster startled me as it came barreling around the corner of a wooden slat house demanding satisfaction from a bruiser Rhode Island Red who had laid claim to his harem of hens. Oh dear, sex and violence in the hen house for sure.
I realized I’m nowhere near a public phone and feel a little self conscious. “I was one of those people,” a person without a car, in America and no car. I wondered if there was a Molokai for people without a car. A station wagon sped by, the driver insidiously grinning. The car was filled with rambunctious, frothing canines. Obviously he felt he was doing me a favor by not stopping.
It can be very quiet on a secondary Nevada highway. I looked at the sun baked ocher hills, the verdant plain where the river flows and kept walking. A sound, I turned, a gold metallic truck came into view; up went the thumb, swish it went by and then pulled over. It was one of those $50,000 trucks, bristling with chrome.
Ken looked like he’d stepped out of Vanity Fair. A youngish looking 45, his quiet demeanor that of a country squire. The cab of the truck almost imploded with luxury; faux beryl wood dash, space ship instrument panel, leather seats. Without missing a beat, I started spouting information; live in Smith Valley since ’99, teach ballroom dance classes and have a Stretch-A-Size class in Betsy’s dance studio. Ken sized me up cautiously, slowly warming to the mountebank sitting next to him. I told him that Orllyene was planning to pick me up at Cramer’s because my Jeep was sick and then it was his turn.
“Do you know how many recitals my two girls have been in at Betsy’s?” Small talk flowed as easy as syrup on pancakes. Then as if he wanted to get something off his chest, “You know something Ron, I’m a red neck rancher and I never, never pick up hitch-hikers but today I decided to go to Yerington to work out a schedule for my drivers and the reason I went is, I believe, God sent me to pick you up…I believe in that sort of thing.”
Well, that caught me off guard, but for sure got my attention. It was as if a bolt of lightening hit the cab. “Hey I believe in that sort of thing too,” I flustered, feeling more than a little perplexed and just a little bit special. Then repeating his words, “Yeah, I’m sure God sent me to pick you up today,” as if that was the end of it, done, finished, completo. Heck, I didn’t even know God knew I was out hitch-hiking!
Just before Wilson Canyon Ken asked, “What’s your phone number?” and called my home. No answer but seconds later who should appear coming our way? Orllyene in our blue and white town car. “That’s Orllyene, my wife…oh, oh, she’s on her way to Cramer’s.” I guess I looked pretty concerned because Ken said “Don’t worry, this baby’s got 400 horses,” pulled over, spun around and in moments we were chatting in the middle of the highway.
So what does this tell us? Would I have ever heard the words, “God sent me to pick you up” unless I had followed my impulse to have an adventure? I think not and I didn’t have to go to Timbuktu either. Adventure came to me and it’s sure nice to know that God’s keepin’ an eye on me.
— Ron Walker is a Smith Valley resident.