Driving Under the Influence

This is not one of those “You had to be there” stories.  It is one of those “Have you ever taken a wrong turn?” stories.    I was in a hurry, so I turned off at Golconda and took the Midas road to Tuscarora.  While I was driving I was listening to one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, read her book, Plan B–Further Thoughts on Faith.   

To understand what happened,  you probably need to be familiar with Anne Lamott and her nonfiction work.  Bird by Bird is considered to be one of the best how-to’s on writing. An Amazon reviewer said, “I’m hooked on Lamott.  She slaps me in the face with her startling revelations, nudges me in the ribs with her unpredictable humor, and prods my frozen little writer’s hands back into action with warm compassion.”  Another favorite of mine  is Operating Instructions, a hilarious, honest account of her son’s first year and the underside of motherhood.  Most important,  I was attracted to her combination of reverence and irreverence  in her spiritual journey.  As a reviewer said about her  book, Traveling Mercies:  Some Thoughts on Faith:  “We see a woman grasping for faith and hope in the midst of a crazy life full of heartaches.”  I could relate.

 Plan B–Further Thoughts on Faith had mixed reviews.  One reviewer described the book as “ a spiritual antidote to anxiety and despair in increasingly fraught times.”   Another said it was written “during the beginning of the Iraq War…a left wing Christian…who is turning fifty and her son is becoming a teenager.”  In retrospect, I’m inclined to agree with the reviewer who said, “after reading this book…and her endless tirade on George W. Bush… I felt totally depressed about the state of the world.”  But that’s hindsight.

 At the time, it was like taking a road trip with a nonstop talker, a girlfriend  so needy and neurotic and funny that I could not bring myself to eject her from the cd player.  The consequence was that I took a wrong turn, practically ruined my new Subaru,  caused my husband to go a little berserk, and  did not have the  conversion experience I was hoping for.

 Here’s what happened.

 It was Memorial Day weekend, 2006.  I was trying to get to Tuscarora for the Tuscarora artists open studio weekend.  It was a big deal; lots of advertising, even a Nevada Arts Council promotional grant.  I had collaborated with my friend Joan on an art and poetry project.  While I was still in California,  she and her husband Stan  opened up my Tuscarora place for the summer   to be part of the tour of art studios.

 I spent the previous night at my son’s house in Carson City, and, when I took off early Saturday morning, my car was loaded with suitcases,  groceries, books, writing materials, and even a case of champagne, a wedding present to be delivered to a family friend in Elko.  I was positive I would be in Tuscarora by noon.  I bought the audio version of Plan B a month before and saved it for my road trip.  Once I turned off  Highway 395 at Fernley and onto Interstate 80, I inserted the first disc.

When I passed Winnemucca and noticed that Golconda was ten miles away, I realized I had to think about something besides Anne Lamott, her teenage son, George W. Bush, and/or Jesus.  I had a choice to make:  should I turn off at Golconda and take the shorter but unimproved Midas road?  Should I stay on Interstate 80 all the way to Elko, and drive the fifty-two miles to Tuscarora, paved except the last seven miles of well-maintained county road?

 I pulled into a rest stop a few miles before the Golconda exit.  The invigorating  high desert air and the untroubled  blue sky encouraged me. The mountains seemed familiar in a  primordial way.  Actually, this particular range has always scared me a little.  I didn’t  know the  name.

 Taking the Midas Road was the more adventurous choice, and I ignored the voice that sounded like a tiny husband sitting on my shoulder saying, Everybody knows you’ll get a flat tire if you take the Midas road.  Don’t do it!

 It’s not like I stood there thinking, “What would Anne Lamott do?” or, for that matter, “What would Jesus do?”   However,  I was becoming a bit peevish that I didn’t have a personal savior like she did to help me through my neurotic, worrisome days.  I inhaled the Nevada air and found my inner ranch woman who said, What the hell.  Take the Midas road.

 I buckled myself back into the driver’s seat, inserted disc three and headed for the hills.  You are probably guessing that I took the wrong road.  Yep.  All the time I thought I was on the Midas road to Tuscarora, I was on the Eden Valley road to Paradise.  Spoiler alert:  this was not a metaphysical journey that ended with enlightenment.

 When I made the wrong turn, I had a cd going.  I can’t  remember  Anne’s issue, but, at the same time,  Joan  called  on my cell phone, wondering where I was.  She was impatient. A bus load of people from Reno on a Nevada arts tour were wandering around Tuscarora.  “A bus load,” she said,  “in Tuscarora!”  You probably need to know Tuscarora has a year-round population of eleven; about twenty-three of us in the summer. Ordinarily, the only things you can buy are stamps at the post office.

 “I’m coming,” I said.  “I’m taking the Midas road.  It’s quicker.”  At the moment I was talking with Joan and listening to Anne Lamott, I was turning onto a gravel road running parallel to the no-name mountains.  Straight road, intimidating  mountains.  I know where I’m going and I know who’s going with me.

 I must have clipped along for at least thirty miles, glancing at the mountains every now and then, thinking there was something wrong about them, and looking for a sign that I was on the right road.  Yes, God and Jesus play such a huge role in Anne Lamott’s life that, after the second disc, “sign” was beginning to have a double meaning for me, too.

 I could easily have gone the forty-four miles to Paradise Valley, Nevada without passing a soul on the road.  Fortunately, I saw the dust of an oncoming pickup.  I stopped, rolled down the window, and waved.  “Hi!” I said. “ I’m trying’ to get to Tuscarora.  Am I on the right road?”

 “Nope,” said the driver, a ranch hand or a miner.  “This is the road to Paradise.  The Midas road is on the other side of the mountain.”  The other guy in the truck looked straight ahead, suppressing a smirk.

 The driver told me what I had to do, but I knew anyway–eat his dust all the way back to Golconda.  By this time I was well into the third cd.  I may have turned Anne Lamott down, but I never turned her off.  She needed me.  She was on a cruise obsessing about cellulite and her body in a bathing suit.

 When I got to Golconda, I had a choice to make:  get back on Interstate 80, two hours to Elko and an hour to Tuscarora.  Or take the Midas turnoff.  I could  see the sign I had missed before:  Midas 34 miles.  My car was dirty; the windshield bug-smeared.  Tuscarora seemed closer, now the mountains were on the appropriate side of my car.  Yep.  I took the road less traveled and regretted it.

 Although I was pretty sure I was on the right road and there were signs pointing the way, my inner ranch woman had developed Lamottian insecurities.  The signs became less frequent and weren’t confidence builders–little US Forest Service markers pointing  to obscure destinations.  I expected to see Slough of Despond any minute.  I was squeezing the steering wheel, but still listening to Anne Lamott.

I was getting weary of her fixation on George-the-devil-incarnate Bush.  I started talking back to my cd player.  But the next thing I knew I was laughing as she described shades of feeling towards her teenage son, from unconditional love to murderous rage.  Okay I tell myself.  Stick it out with Anne.  Trust you’re on the right road.  You’ll get there.

 Suddenly I saw Willow Creek reservoir.  Like an Old Testament wanderer in the desert, I saw the oasis appear before me.  It was  a miracle!  Actually it was like that.  I drove for about forty miles on a gravel road road through a valley that’s not “Paradise” adjacent to intimidating, no-name mountains, which were now on my left, as they should be.  Then I drove through an eternity of undulating sage-covered hills.  The road became narrow, rutted, curved.  I couldn’t get distracted because an idiot in a 4×4 truck or a hapless idiot like myself in a Subaru  could be barreling around the next curve and I would  die in a head-on crash in the middle of nowhere, and  Anne Lamott would be whining about trying to teach Sunday school.

 The end was near.  There were signs I recognized. I was glad the road was rutted.  It’s always rutted on the other side of the Willow Creek reservoir.  Everybody knows that.  I was even excited about the swathes of Mormon crickets that made the road crawl at various intervals.  Yes, I said to myself,  we, too, have  endured a plague of crickets.  I half-expected to see seagulls swooping down.  The bad news was that I’d had it with Anne Lamott. She had gone from being my best friend to another one of those people in my life who nev-ver listens!

 Then I hear something–a pop and a hiss.  “Fuck!” I said to the steering wheel.   Anne Lamott also says “fuck” when she is anxious or frustrated.  Jesus doesn’t seem to mind.  I stopped the car.  Fortunately, I was not in a Mormon cricket zone.  My first thought was that the rough road caused one of bottles of champagne to explode.  I checked the box in the back seat.  Nope.  I got on my hands and knees and looked under the car.  Nothing was hanging loose.  No oil pan in the dirt.  I wanted to ask Anne Lamott if 2006 Subarus had oil pans, but, no, the car door was open and she was still going on about herself.

 Then it was  over.  The fifth cd ended. The car was quiet.  My steering seemed difficult, but the ruts were deep.  I saw a familiar ranch and it was on the correct side of the road.  I knew I was only five miles from Tuscarora, and I drove like I was  chased by the hounds of hell.

 The sun was over the yardarm.  The bus had taken the art-loving tourists back to the Red Lion Casino in Elko.  As I pulled up, I saw Joan and Stan sitting on lawn chairs in my yard, drinking gin and tonics.  I could tell they were glad to see me.    As I got out of the the car, Stan raised his glass,  “Want one?” and  pointed with his drink to my left front tire. “Flat tire,” he said.

I realized I had been riding the rim for the last ten or fifteen miles.  My interior monologue went like this:  Okay.  This shouldn’t’ be a big deal.  I got a flat on the Midas road.  So, I didn’t listen to the tiny husband on my shoulder who now seems like a not-so-jolly green giant standing with his arms crossed and really pissed because everybody knows about these new AWD cars and you don’t get one flat tire you have to replace all four and you never, ever drive on a flat because that throws the finely calibrated steering mechanism out of whack and you might as well drive the son-of-a-bitch into the Willow Creek reservoir and go buy a new car.

Here’s how the story ends.  I didn’t ruin the car.  I did have to buy  new set of tires.  The rest of the weekend was really fun.  I did not have the religious conversion I was hoping for, in spite of all the signs.  You know, headed for Paradise and then finding out you’re on the wrong road.



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