[Warning: I’m not specifically aiming to talk about politics today. If you want that, go somewhere else.]
Many years ago was on a motorcycle ride across the American west. After doing my time on the Interstate I hung a left and roared off to the middle of nowhere. I took one of my favorite roads that leads to one of my favorite pieces of nowhere. I felt home.
Johnny Cash knows all about my favorite road:
“I was totin’ my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road
When along came a semi with a high canvas covered load
If you’re goin’ to Winnemucca, Mack, with me you can ride
And so I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside
He asked me if I’d seen a road with so much dust and sand
And I said, ‘Listen! I’ve traveled every road in this here land’…”
A weight lifted from my shoulders and I sung the song into my helmet. (It’s a good song!) In Johnny’s song he was travelling south. I was heading north. In my eyes that’s the superior direction. I’d spent a sleepless night in a smoky shithole hotel attached to a noisy shithole casino. Time to shake off the florescent lights and jangling gambling consoles.
Just north of Winnemucca there are sand dunes. I stopped to check ’em out. Why not? Some folks stop and smell the roses. I stop and sift the sand dunes.
An hour later, somewhere around the border between Nevada and Oregon, I stopped again. (You do know that Nevada borders Oregon don’t you?)
In a little gravel spot, I stopped to take a swig of water. After checking for snakes I laid down in the shade of my bike. I fell instantly and deeply asleep.
As a man gets older he gathers memories. A first kiss, birth of a child, whatever. I’m here to tell you that an hour’s nap in the shade of a motorcycle on the dusty Winnemucca road will be remembered as one of the most stress free moments in my life. Perhaps some men never experience such peace?
If I could have, I’d have never left. But of course life isn’t like that. After an hour or so I got up, brushed off the dirt, and rolled on. Soon I arrived at one of my favorite little towns; Burns, Oregon.
I like Burns. It’s far enough from Boise to be unaffected by city issues. It’s far enough from the wet, feverish, hippie infested Oregon coast to avoid most of the bullshit. Nobody passes through Burns by accident. Americans generally stick with Interstates which keep them 135 miles to the east or 220 miles to the south. It’s pretty but the dial is turned humbly below the high wattage scenery that attracts rich people and real estate developers (I’m lookin’ at you Jackson Hole).
Speaking of gorgeous places that foul their own nest; Bend is 131 miles to the west. When you’re ready to buy a $30 t-shirt and slurp fat-free frozen yoghurt, Bend is waiting to entertain you. Fifty years ago Bend was probably just like Burns. That time has passed.
You can ride the empty road from Winnemucca, tank up on gas and coffee at Burns, and then roll on through to Bend for 350 miles of peace. Keep an eye open for antelope.
If you haven’t done it, you should. What better things are you doing with your time?
Ninety miles west of Burns is a semi-abandoned “town” called Brothers. There’s not much there. I dimly recall a few collapsed buildings. There’s maybe a dozen residents and twice as many jack rabbits. There is always a cop at Brothers. The cop is always manning a speed trap. Once you pass the cop you’ve passed the first attempt to “harvest” you (or at least your money). Whether it’s a speed trap or a freak selling organic granola you’ll be “harvested” all the way to the Pacific. Hold your wallet tight.
Now for the news. Unless you live under a rock, you’re aware there’s a standoff in Burns. It started January 2nd and continues to this day. I don’t have a dog in that fight. I don’t know if the law enforcement officers are saints seeking peaceful resolution or tin horn tyrants on a rampage. I don’t know if the ranchers are selfless patriots or twitchy edge cases. I’m not there. You aren’t either. Maybe the standoff is the amalgamation of all human aspirations and frailties; good and bad.
What I do know is there’s a reason it didn’t pop up in other equally rural places. Stowe Vermont or Hazard Kentucky remain unnoticed. Most of the land in Burns is tied up. Maybe it’s for ducks or maybe it’s for grazing or maybe it’s because we in America worked out only the shakiest compromise between “privately owned land” and “a zillion acres of sagebrush”.
The people there, who are few, must jostle against and work with the government which is (obviously) run by the many, for the many, all of whom live far away. Who is surprised that friction develops between locals who are bossed around and management which is beholden to distantly removed places? I see no clear winner in that. City folks obviously have a say; them that pays the fiddler picks the tune and their income taxes finance duck projects they’ll never see and grass for cows they don’t own. But given that awesome power what informed notions could they have? How can a banker in Boston relate to a man who’s business model collapses when someone draws a line on a map and demands a fence be built there? Perhaps the banker just likes salmon dinner and means to make wise choices? Who doesn’t like salmon dinner?
I don’t know the solution. Maybe there isn’t one. But I sure like Burns and wish it well. I hope the situation mellows. Reticence and caution when pushing around other people is wise. That goes for everyone. Locals are in the thick of it but also involved are Subaru driving vegans who are in the habit of noodling about in peoples lives, however indirectly, from a thousand miles away.
P.S. The Brothers speed trap has never caught me so don’t accuse me of sour grapes. I just resent revenue generation operations. It’s personal. I grew up during the collective insanity of the 55 MPH speed limit. I’ll never see a speed trap without feeling a brief surge of venom.