The Loneliest Goddamned Road in America
The expansive barrenness of US-50 in Nevada
This article was originally posted onto the blog section of my website on 8/3/2021.
July 24th, 2021
Below I recall one of the most stressful days from my 68 day road trip across America. On this day in particular I found myself driving west on US-50 in Nevada from Baker to Reno.
February 18th, 2021
The absolute expanse that is Nevada is truly unbelievable. It goes on for what feels like eternity. The road is so straight and narrow that it seems to eclipse into the sky as the road slowly gains elevation across the expanse that is the Great Basin. And also, there's nothing to do on US-50. Just drive. A few hours out of Ely I was starting to get hungry and was struggling to find a camping spot that wasn’t iced over or closed for the season. I started to get closer to another self-proclaimed ghost town called Austin. Austin isn't a true blue ghost town like Shafter in Presidio County, as there's still about a hundred or so people that live around Austin. There's one restaurant in town, an old saloon called the International Cafe. This building looked like it had been hit by a tornado of kitchen appliances. Ovens, refrigerators, lawn mowers, furniture, small engines, you name it, they had it out front of the establishment. I walked into the “cafe” and I stepped into a real life Coen Brothers movie. The old, greasy wooden floors of the saloon barely had any space between them left, as I was able to see into the basement. The bar of the saloon was older than the state of Nevada itself. There was an old, thin and wilted man eating a hot dog in the corner of the dimly lit place, watching a ball game on a TV screwed into the wall. He probably had a Colt revolver as old as the Confederacy was dead. “Take that fucking mask off.” he muttered at me. “We don’t wear those things. You don’t need it here boy.”. Of course, it’s the dead middle of COVID in America and this crusty fuck of a man is asking me to take my mask off. “You’ve got to be kidding me, the only restaurant for literally hundreds of miles and this is what I get.” is what's running through my head. “No problem at all sir.” I say back to him as I take my mask off. I know I gotta keep this cool cause Christ knows what could happen to me at a place like this. “I’m looking to get something to eat.” I said to him, “Go to the other side of the bar, over there.” He pointed with a jagged finger while keeping his eyes locked on me. I walk over to the other side of the bar, through a small corridor into a diner that's attached to the building on the other side.
The diner was manned by the most imposing woman I had ever seen in my life. She was at least 6’5” and as wide as a barn door. She could smell the fear on my breath and I knew it. Sitting at the bar of the diner was another woman as well, who told me her name was Nikki. I strategically picked my seat at the bar to keep myself as far away as possible from both of them yet still close enough to not make myself seem standoffish. Nikki on the other hand was eager for human interaction, and boy did I hear her entire life story before I left that diner. At this rate I was trapped. There was no saying “I don’t like this menu, I’m going somewhere else.” while sitting inside the only restaurant for a 145 mile radius. “I’ll have a grilled cheese sandwich.” I told the barmaid. That was the most basic thing that they could make, and the quickest thing that I could eat. She walked into the kitchen to put in my order when Nikki decided to open the Pandora’s Box of what was her life story. Born in a town in Oregon that’s name I can’t remember, she went to school in Portland and got married, had three children, and proceeded to divorce her husband. She lost everything in the divorce and moved into her Subaru. She lived out of her car for a while and then she “...heard about this wonderful ghost town called Austin, Nevada.”. I had been blindsided by my stress and started to calm down a bit more and take in my surroundings incase this would be the last time I would see the light of day again. She then proceeded to pull a large trapper keeper out of her backpack and put it down onto the bar. She opened it and it was absolutely crammed full of drawings. The drawings were quite reminiscent of the art that you get on the front of a Magic the Gathering card, but less refined. Comic book shop type of stuff. She started to hustle her drawings to me and the barmaid. After a bit of hassling the barmaid finally agreed to let her sell her art out of the diner. Nikki gave me a little drawing that was drawn on an index card and laminated shut. The drawing was of a poison bottle. Foreboding much? At this point my food had arrived. One golden grilled cheese sandwich and nothing else. I started to decompress my brain a bit as I ate the sandwich, as I came to the realization that I've been in this room long enough to either contract COVID from one of the two people next to me, or pray to God that they don't have the virus. This is also when I started to become more suspicious of Nikki. I began to realize how truly disheveled she was and her behavior was quite erratic and her mood shifted as easy as the summer breeze.
"So where in town are you staying?" I asked her. She automatically deflected the question, "Oh just up the hill.". If I recall correctly, there wasn't much but a few derelict houses up the dirt track that was "up the hill" from what I saw I drove into town. She's gotta be squatting somewhere. It all makes sense now. This lady has some true blue problems. I waited a few minutes and asked her again, "Where up the hill are you staying?". "Where are you headed to today?". Deflection again. She's definitely living in a burnt out house up the road. "Reno." I tell her as I finish the last bit of my sandwich and throw a $5 bill on the bar. "Keep the change, I've still got 3 more hours to drive. Hope y'all have a good one.". I left them no time to give me parting words as I leaped for the door like a frog on hot asphalt.
Three more god forsaken hours to Reno. I really did want to camp off the highway up on a Forest Service road, but the ice from snow storms prior was starting to melt, leaving the roads a slushy mess that my little BMW would surely not survive. Not to mention the fact that my brain was melting like a Yankee Candle from the bizarre series of interactions that had happened to me. "I just need to find a goddam hotel in Reno. Hell with camping I need some security for a moment." I thought to myself. After four more hours of driving and getting utterly lost in a truck stop complex in Fernley, I finally made it to possibly one of the gaudiest hotels on earth. The Peppermill Casino. This would be the first time in about a week since I had a real bed to sleep on, but I was not prepared to deal with a casino, let alone the largest one in Reno. I really wasn't too prepared to deal with the entire state of Nevada at all. As I called room service up for dinner I did have a minor realization about the day. About 90% of the interactions I had in that ordeal would have been mostly normal if it was not for COVID. If it was another time before COVID and I went there it would have been lower stress. Mind you, the International Cafe is still a sketchy establishment, in a sketchy town. The type of town where all eyes are on you until you leave. Although, I do regret not just walking out of the place on the very first interaction. It would have saved a lot of adrenaline. But hey, at least I tested negative in Pasadena not long after.