Friday, May 20, 2011

TWO DESERT STORIES

The day Elaine and I left San Fransisco and headed towards Salt Lake City started out cool and clear skied.  That morning I had driven her down Lombard Avenue also know as the crookedest street in the world before we headed to the Bay Bridge.

It was early and we drove through the financial district of San Fransisco during rush hour which allowed Elaine to continue her habit of complaining about my driving.  As we crossed the Bay on the lower deck of the bay bridge the traffic lanes seemed to close in together making it a very nervous ride across the bay until we finally reached Oakland and the rest of the East Bay.

Once out of the east bay we headed across the mountains to arrive in the desert on the other side of them.  It was my first time to drive through the desert and I wasn't sure as to what to expect.  The desert turned out to be just like it looks in the pictures.  It is barren with very little plant life and vast spaces between areas of human habitation.

One of the first stops we made in the desert was to stop and fill the car with gas and get some coffee.  There was a typical little area in the desert that looked like a little oasis in the middle of nowhere.  There was a small gas station on one side of the highway and a McDonald's on the other side of the road.  We had set up rules for gas stops that consisted of me driving and when we stopped for gas Elaine would fill up the car while I got away from the car for a quick smoke or simply to stretch on my legs.

On this stop it happened to be the first of the morning and we both needed coffee and so I hiked over to the McDonald's to get two coffees while Elaine filled the car with gas.  When I walked into the McDonald's I was stunned.  The place was packed with people.  Where had they all come from?  There was barely room to stand and lines were indistinguishable from those who had already ordered.  There were people who looked like they were locals, a few passers through like myself and a few county sheriffs.

I picked a place that looked like it was part of a line and stood waiting.  I continued to wait and to wait.  Finally the lady behind the counter asked if she could help me.  I ordered two large coffees and she punched it into the register.  I paid for the coffee and she wrote a number on my receipt and told me that my number would be called shortly.  I stepped back and stood next to a couple of the sheriffs and waited for my number to be called.

I started comparing numbers to the number on my paper and could tell when I was getting fairly close to being called.  I started to get anxious as I watched people walk by with great smelling breakfast sandwiches and pancakes among other mouth watering items.  Finally my number was called and so I held my ticket up in the air and made my way to the counter.

The lady looked at my ticket and then casually reached under the counter and handed me two cups.  She then pointed around the corner and said the coffee was over there.  Now I am thinking that I have stood in here for fifteen minutes waiting to get two empty cups to fill with coffee by myself.  As I made my way around the corner to where the coffee was my mind was running over what had just happened.  When I had paid my tab, the same lady could have just reach under the counter and give me the cups then and I could have been gone long ago.  I walked outside with the two coffees and hiked across the highway to where Elaine had been patiently waiting.  I explained what had taken so long and she understandably laughed before questioning me on whether I was telling the truth or not.  She has problems believing me sometimes for some reason.  I eventually convinced her that it indeed was a true story before we got back into the car to head for more adventures in the desert that day.

As we headed back into the desert we would have a few adventures that I will write about later because they deserve a spot of their own.  As we drove through the desert I noticed things of nature that were fascinating.  Tumble weeds would blow across the highway.  Little dust storms would blow across the landscape and there were even little dust twisters that you could watch travel along the desert floor.  They looked like little tornadoes and there often were several traveling together across the desert.

Then came the second part of this short story.  The only signs on the highway were speed limit signs and once in a while you would see a junction with another highway but those were few and far between.  As I said the desert was flat and barren and it was hot out there

Suddenly off in the distance I saw a large set of buildings that were white.  It must have been more than a few miles away still but I started wondering what it could be.  We continued to drive and get closer to the facility.  Suddenly there was a sign that wasn't a speed limit sign or a littering fine sign.  It was a warning sign.  It said simply something to the effect of warning: prison area do NOT pick up hitch hikers.  So that is what the complex was that we were coming up on.  It was a state prison.

As we neared the prison it became obvious that it was a pretty secure prison..  You could see the razor wire shining in the sun.  There must have been three to five rows of razor wire on top of a fourteen foot tall chain link fence.  Then there were about three rows of chain link fence each with it's own load of razor wire stacked up on top of them.

As we got to the prison there was another sign indicating that it was the Nevada State penitentiary.  I slowed the car a little and took a good look at the prison.  You could see some of the prisoners out walking here and there but I didn't see anyone challenging the razor wire.

The sign indicating that the prison was a prison was the last sign we saw regarding the prison.  I drove on for a while with something in the back of my mind bothering me but I couldn't figure out what it was.  I tried to dig out of my brain what it could be then it hit me.

There had only been one sign warning us not to pick up hitchhikers because there was a prison in the area.  That sign was at least five miles before we came upon the prison and the sign was telling us basically not to pick up hitchhikers that were heading the direction we were going, which was directly towards the prison.  I don't think there would be too many prisoners hitchhiking from five miles away from the prison towards the prison.

It made me wonder if people going the other direction would pick up hitch hikers heading away from the prison since there wasn't a warning sign on that side of the prison.  I suppose it works though.  I haven't heard of too many prison breaks in Nevada much less anyone picking up a prisoner hitchhiking and being taken hostage.  So I guess it is a prime example of if it ain't broke don't fix it, even if it doesn't make any sense.

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