Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Twilight at the Post Apocalypse Motel

We drive through the high desert, a sagebrush sea. We slip below the Abert Rim, the state's only saline lake a broad brush of blue paint in a brown landscape. Little communities pass by our mirrors, forsaken trailers hunched in a treeless void. We are driving through the Great Basin, a land of both monotony and surprise.

This drive to Carson City will take us through the only town I truly hated living in, a place where I learned that being alone and loneliness were not the same thing. The loneliness I felt there was a pure form of suffering that only the hidden aspen canyons could alleviate. The pain of living in a place where nobody is like you can drive you to all sorts of things, but where it drove me to was Alaska, and the importance of Alaska in my life cannot be discounted. Like other runaways, I went to Alaska without a plan except to escape.

There is a tendency to discount both the highs and lows in your life: it wasn't really that bad, you think, safely removed by ten years. But there is a fist in my stomach as we pass through this town, not an iota changed. Yes, it was that bad.

But we have wheels and are just passing through and so we head south into a harsh land. Winter scour, sun bake. It's easy to imagine the pioneers just giving up as they traversed this endless basalt rim-sagebrush steppe, but it is also a strangely fascinating place if you take the time to look. Wanting to break up the drive we stop in another little town, the kind where you wonder what people can possibly do here, both for money and for fun.

The horizon stretches. We arrive at what we term the post apocalypse motel, a Mad Max setting if I have ever seen one. The owners have big plans, but for now doors bang open and shut in the cooling breeze of the high desert. Tarps flap. Random scaffolding sits abandoned. It is spooky and highly entertaining.

That's what I like about random road trips on two lane highways. Something odd catches your eye: a green sign reading "airport" and pointing out into the sage. A shoe tree miles from anywhere. You wouldn't see this stuff on the interstate.

The post apocalypse motel has one thing going for it, a hot springs pool we share with some teenage girls who talk about who has been grounded lately. The owner tells us the water has lithium in it, something we can't dispute. Maybe I could live here. Maybe.


  1. That is exactly how I feel about Oklahoma, the only place I've ever lived that I truly hated. The weather, outdoors options, and the people made me feel so unwelcome. And I usually can see through the bad to the good in things, so that's saying a lot.

  2. Great essay. My place, the place where I was most unhappy, is Idaho Falls, Idaho. It wasn't necessarily Idaho Falls' fault; I actually consider the town a great location and a decent community. It was just the point where several things in my life came together to make me feel suffocated, lonely, and restless. A couple of years ago, en route from Missoula to SLC, I dropped in for the afternoon to have lunch with a friend. I was struck by how much just being present in that town churned up old, sad feelings. It is interesting how much we come to associate places with emotions. I still think Idaho Falls would be a decent place to live, but I don't think I could ever live there again.


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