I am going to publish several pieces of writing in relatively quick succession, because I am behind but want to share thoughts and experiences from this RV adventure.*
We have so far gone from Seattle to Olympia to Portland to Sheridan, OR to Crater Lake to Bend to Boise to McCall, ID back to Boise to Hawthorne, NV (for one night) and finally Los Angeles (well, we are staying in San Dimas, but we are here for LA).
Driving through Nevada was just hundreds and hundreds of miles of desert hills and sage brush. Unforgiving terrain. Big billowy clouds with a dark underlining. We are more than we seem. There were often fading fences alongside the highway, leaving us wondering what was being fenced and why. It is the stark landscape of the open road, and a landscape of untold stories I was longing to hear.
At least 50% (and that’s a conservative estimate) of the buildings we drove by were abandoned. It makes a certain amount of practical sense, since we were in the middle of the desert and there was nothing around but dirt and rocks. But why is this stretch of nearly a thousand miles of highway such a failure of human imagination? What happened here? Most businesses have died, and dwellings are boarded up, have broken windows, or are barely half standing. It’s like a ghost town that extends across an entire state. What happened to these people? Where did they go?
We stayed at an RV park called Whiskey Flats in Hawthorne, NV, a spot straight out of the wild west. Nothing but sage brush as far as the eye could see, if you don’t count the highway, and oh the largest weapons depot in the world, courtesy of the U.S. Army, right across said highway. There was even a saloon nearby, the façade of which looked like a set from HBO’s Deadwood. What struck me most about this place, though, was how much friendlier people were than they were in Bend or McCall. I felt so much more comfortable in small-town Nevada than in small-town Idaho, even across the highway from all the Army’s weapons and knowing how much red-state-ism Nevada harbors. It may have been because Whiskey Flats is, for most, a stopping place on the way to somewhere else, so there aren’t as many suspicious glances or distrusting eyes, as if we had invaded their territory. Nobody need feel ownership of a stopping place.
You are not welcome. We distrust outsiders. This was the distinct energy I got from the people around us in McCall. The people wearing American flag shirts with American flag chairs and several kids and dogs, who never even looked up when I walked by and never responded when I smiled or waved. How do they know? I wondered. I wasn’t wearing any political attire, and we don’t even have political stickers on the trailer. Is it my tattoos? The audacity of my being a woman existing? Showing my bra straps? I guess I should be flattered that no one could possibly mistake me for a conservative, and I am, but I was uncomfortable there. Uncomfortable in the way that makes you feel unsafe. When I see an American flag it represents violence to me, especially now. And I know these are the people most likely to commit violence. And they’re armed.
And to be clear, a shit load of American flags was certainly not unique to McCall. This seems to be an integral part of RV culture, everywhere. (More on this stuff in an upcoming post…)
There’s something about Nevada though. If Las Vegas is Sin City, Nevada is the state of sin, and there is acceptance and tolerance in the legalization of “sin” that sets it apart from a place like Idaho, where the government and many of the people have a false sense of (and severely harmful definition of) a higher moral ground. You can see it on people’s angry faces: Fuck you and your liberal ideas, I’m keeping my guns. Want to question me? I’ll shoot you. But praise Jesus and cops are always right and don’t let them queers near my kids.
Idaho with its high and mighty rightwing Christian bullshit can eat my nuts.
But Nevada. Nevada I understand. Nevada I feel compassion for because Nevada feels compassion for me. Nevada understands struggle, hardship, and survival. Nevada says, Come on in, darlin. It also has a lot of assholes. So does Seattle. Wow does Seattle have a lot of assholes.
I am obviously speaking in giant sweeping generalizations inspired by 16 hours of driving through the giant sweeping desert of Nevada. This is not about Nevada’s government or the corrupt white men who run the city of Las Vegas. I have no love for either. Let that be acknowledged. Let it also be acknowledged that Idaho contains impeccable beauty, and McCall is a gem. Boise is a pretty rad city where some of our closest loved ones live. I would live there were it not for the rest of the state, which can eat my nuts.
*My family (my partner and myself, our two children, and our dog) is spending a year living in an RV and traveling the U.S. Smart decision? No! Adventurous decision? Yeah.