Saturday, August 01, 2009

Reno or Bust, Part 1: "Road trip! Road trip!"

At the beginning of July, I applied for a journalistic embed in Iraq in order to study that country's superlative archaeological digs. "We no longer have any bases near the ziggurat at Ur," the US military press coordinator in Baghdad replied. So much for going to Iraq. After the recent handover to the Iraqi government of most of our military outposts and FOBs (Forward Operating Bases), there's pretty much no place to embed with the military in Iraq except for on the huge mega-bases -- and if you've seen one mega-base, you've seen them all.

Mega-bases are totally coolness places where you get to see the cream of America's military hard at work and you get to eat really good food at the KBR dining facilities, but on this trip I really wanted to see Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad and scenic old-timey Ur. However, spending $2,000 on airfare and then spending 22 hours clutching my armrests in terror on a jet plane just to see almost the same thing I could see by just driving over to Travis AFB didn't seem very cost-effective.

I think I should go to Reno instead.

July 10: Me and my daughter Ashley wanted to take baby Mena with us to Reno so that she could meet my 95-year-old Aunt Evelyn but her mother said no. "I don't feel comfortable with you taking Mena across state lines," said Mena's mom. Hey, it's not like I'm gonna let her gamble or nothing. It's not like she's Popeye's nephew Sweet Pea and knows how to pick winning numbers. Or is she? Hmmm.

But then I checked on the internet for hotel room rates in Reno. Too expensive. We had better not go.

July 20: I got an idea. We could camp out! But all the state park campsites were all booked up. So for just $25, I reserved a camping spot for one night at a state-run boat dock near Auburn, on the way to Reno. Then I reserved one night at the Ramada Inn in Reno for $44 over Expedia. We could afford that. The road trip was back on!

Ashley got some days off from her job at Ciao Bella. Her boyfriend Hugo got some time off from his job. And I'm gonna take time off from my blog.

July 24: We're on the road! The bumper stickers that you see while driving through California's central valley are truly different from the bumper stickers that you see around Berkeley. We saw "I miss Ronald Reagan" and "Obama: A change for the worst!" and "I still hate Commies: Even after they changed their names to Liberals". And we also passed a used car lot that had a big sign saying, "We'll buy your car -- paid for or not". And then we got lost in the Sierras. Those GPS thingies are worthless.

"Where is the Auburn Recreational Area?" I stopped and asked locals again and again. "We have reservations at their boat-in campsite." Well guess what? When we finally found the place, we couldn't find any campsites.

"The camp you're looking for is on the other side of the lake," said one guy who had a really big speedboat hitched to a trailer behind his really big pickup. "You gotta have a boat to get over there." Major head-slap. Duh. When they had said "boat-in" on their website, they were serious. Needless to say we had no boat. So on to the next question.

"Where's the nearest Motel 6?"

Then we drove another 50 miles further up the county road, further into the Sierras, entering into what appeared to be redneck country. Mini-rednecks. Middle-school rednecks. At a cross-roads market on a one-lane road in the middle of nowhere, Ashley and Hugo went inside to buy sandwiches and I plopped down on a picnic table outside and admired the view. You could see mountains off in the distance below for almost a hundred miles. And then some teenage redneck types came over, sat down beside me and started lighting up their Marlboros. Then Hugo walked out of the store and came over and sat down next to me. And his face was all clouded over and he was silent.

And then Ashley came out of the store and sat down next to us. "Sorry to have troubled you, Ma'am," said one boy as the kids left.

"Sorry for what?" I asked Ashley.

"The Mexican slur. Didn't you hear that?" Actually, no. I had been oblivious as usual, had only noticing Hugo's stony-faced look. "They yelled, 'F*cking Mexicans, they're everywhere,' when Hugo came out of the store. You didn't hear them?" But I guess that the kids left because they probably realized that a Mexican-American and a former water polo goalie and a little old lady in a Marines T-shirt could have taken all six of them on and won.

Then we drove up the street to the town's only gas station -- and then when the kids biked by several times more, I started to feel sorry for them. Here it was, Friday night out in the middle of nowhere. Nothing here but a mini-mart and a whole bunch of trees. They must have been hecka bored.

"What in the world do you guys DO around here on weekends?" I asked.

"We party!" said one of the kids. I just bet they did. That, and try to pick fights.

And speaking of partying, that reminds me of beer. And beer reminds me of how Obama recently asked Gates and Crawley to the White House. Well. Now that the wingnut talk shows have made such a big deal of that, they have logically closed the door on their accusations that Obama is a Muslim. Sorry, guys. You can't have it both ways. Muslims don't drink alcohol. That is a Christian thing to do. "And as for Gates allegedly getting a bit testy with the Cambridge police," I told Ashley, "another factor that hardly anybody mentions is that Gates had just flown back from China. That's a hecka lot of jet lag! Can you blame him for not being his usual suave self? Jet lag is a bitch."

"Mom, you gotta stop being so political," replied Ashley. "Leave your blogging at home. We're on vacation." Ha! One can never take a vacation from injustice!

"There's another campsite up the road another 15 miles," said a lady at the mini-mart. "You could try there." Sunset loomed. There were no cheap motels in sight. So we headed back up the road. But at the Sugar Pine state campgrounds, 10 winding and scary miles off of the county road, the "Full" sign was out. It was almost dark. We had nowhere else to go. So I found the nearest park manager -- and cried. And the nice man found us a day-camper picnic site overlooking a beautiful mountain lake in the forest. Thank you!

Then we roasted marshmallows. Face it, guys. The best way to cook marshmallows is to set them on fire and eat the mushy, burned-out remains. I was a Girl Scout. I know this kind of stuff. Then we sat around the campfire and gazed up at a million stars. And I was happily getting ready to sleep on the ground in front of the fire when a park employee (they don't have rangers no more, everything is contracted out) came by and said there were bears in the area. So I moved my sleeping bag up to the top of a picnic table and spent the whole night wide awake in terror of being eaten by bears. I am that much of a wuss.

To be continued....