The Last of the Americans

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the car began to shake and tremble. I slowed down some but the convulsions only seemed to get worse. Panic is rarely any help. I pulled into the right lane. Something seemed terribly wrong with this Honda. I put the hazards on and drove about 40 miles an hour. A black Jaguar zooms up behind us and decides to pass us in the gravel on the right while blowing his horn. I thought if anyone would understand car trouble it would be someone with a Jaguar. As the Jaguar cut back in front of us from the right a semi also passing us but from the left  cuts into the space in font of us. Just as the Jaguar and the semi moved into the same lane in front of us 2 feet away from smashing into each other—which would have inevitably led to a 3-car pile up that included us—the Jaguar and semi bounced apart as if they both had a force field around them. Nancy yells, “Fucking Hell!” as my hands clenched the steering wheel of a possessed Honda that definitely wanted to be in control.

We took exit 221 off the I-15 that led us onto a gravel path to an abandoned gas-station-turned-market. Behind the counter of the Market was a man with  long wild hair that looked like he cut it himself. He was wearing a T-shirt and jeans and had a big smile. We were waiting for Triple A to come and let us know how fucked we were and if we would be sleeping in some strange desert hotel or our car. I took 2 waters to the man behind the counter with the wild hair. He  stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Eric.” I gave him the money for the  2 waters and he said, “It might take me a couple times to give you the correct change because it’s after 4:20.” We laughed.

There was an unopened bar in the next room with gear set up for a band to perform. I thought to myself, what would Keith Richards do in this situation – if he was sober? So I asked Eric, “You have live music here?” He said, “Yes, do you play?” as he brought me out his guitar from behind the bar. We sat around playing as customers came and went. I played a little Spanish guitar and a  John Lee Hooker song while we waited for Triple A. A guy came in with a beard and long hair. He looked like Osho or some Desert Guru. He took a couple pictures of me playing. The owner (Jim) came in and invited me to come by and jam with him and his desert band any time. The Desert Guru (Andrew) said they had a 1600-watt PA system and he could hear the band clear across the freeway in his trailer. We were having so much fun we lost track of time… before we knew it, Triple A was attending to our car.

The front left tire had an interior break that had caused a bubble. They put the donut tire on for us and said we would be able to make it to Vegas if we wanted to. Andrew said he wouldn’t advise us to do that and that in Baker we could get a tire at any number of places and gave us details on each place and how to get there. Then he said there is a Mom and Pop tire place next to the old Denny’s at the first exit in Baker. I asked how late they were open and he said, “Until sundown.”

The car was gliding along smoothly on our donut tire. I saw a sign that said Death Valley.  We took the first exit in Baker. In between a Denny’s and a Valero with a Pizza Hut and a Subway inside sat a garage with no lights on. A man was standing in front of the building and waved at us when we pulled in and said, “I got what you need.” Preston said he had a tire for us and took about 20 minutes to put it on as the last of the sun set behind us. When he finished we asked how much and he said, “Forty dollars”. That’s forty dollars for a tire and putting it on the car. As we paid, another car pulled in with a donut tire. Driving away I looked out the passenger side window and saw Preston changing the tire with a flashlight in one hand. Nancy said, “That guy’s a bad ass.”

The Sahara Hotel and Casino that Frank Sinatra used to hang at closes in May 2011. The sign will become part of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.  The rest will be trashed. Change is the only constant. But maybe there are some things we should try to support and hang on to. The people and  business owners   that will extend a helping hand beyond the confines of their job description and the bottom line. The last of the Mom and Pop businesses that stay open until the sun goes down or until the job is done.  The last of the Americans. The last of America left standing between the corporate franchises in the dust of the desert.

I’d like to keep the Angels of  Death Valley out of the Museums and in my world.