Volume I, Edition VII



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Hellooooo, Chieficionados!

It sure has been quite the trip since last we chatted. In the span of about a week, The Chief (tm) found himself immediately down at the border with Mexico, and then all the way up in Blaine, WA, just a few yards (metres?) from Can-er-da! YES!

Let's back up a bit.

In the biz, there are federally-mandated rules of hours of driving per day (11) and per 8-day period (70). Once you get close to the 8-day number, it sometimes makes no sense to accept another load dispatch because you will likely not be able to reach your destination before you hit the limit. When you do, you have to wait 36 hours, to “re-set”, before you can drive again.

Recalling the load of hay bales brought down from northeastern Utah, after the dropoff in Calipatria, CA (south of the Salton Sea), there were only about four hours of service still available for driving time. Unless there was a load that could be picked up very nearby, and brought, say, to the company terminal in Riverside County, The Chief (tm) faced the possibility of needing to shut down for a day and a half almost literally in the middle of nowhere. A quick check of the map, though, and the proposal was floated to HQ to shut it down in Calexico, CA, literally on the border with Mexicali, MX. And that's exactly what happened!

A duck into Mexicali revealed a surprisingly gritty part of town. While there is some notable wealth in the city (population: 1M+), it is clearly NOT right on the other side of that fence. A railroad track that ran directly down the center of the main boulevard, and which in days past would lead right into the US, was perhaps a sign of foregone times. But there were pockets of beauty and history, the quiet and reverent peace within the Catedral de la Senora de Guadalupe, and a bustling one- or two-block stretch of indoor/outdoor food counters and small businesses. No tourists here, none at all: but The Chief (tm) followed his nose and enjoyed the fantastic output at a tiny carne asada hut built into the front porch of a billiard hall. Let's put it this way: there will be a next time.

The next load pickup, from the Swift international trailer yard in Calexico, saw us hauling (among other things) 1.3 million taco shells up to Klamath Falls, OR! And along a route taken several times previously in The Rig (tm) on summer trips up to Alaska. From there, after a pickup/dropoff near Tacoma, WA, an emergency call went out to grab a trailer from a driver who was having border crossing issues with Canada, so up we went. THAT load was going all the way down to Las Vegas, and the route took us southeast out of Oregon, into Idaho, then down through eastern Nevada.

Eastern WA and OR are very mountainous; slow going on the climbs, but very scenic. Even after flattening out, on Interstate 84 in OR there is a lengthy, twisting climb exiting the eastern side of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Then you dive into a narrow canyon for about an hour and, in this case, it was night-time. Pitch black! The lane markings and reflectors barely helped. WAITAMINNIT -- Dim lights ahead and a shape looming -- is that a vehicle stopped on the pavement? Is this an imminent emergency event? No! It is a freight train moving slowly on the invisible tracks alongside the road...and for a few seconds the train's headlights actually help to illuminate the road ahead!

Idaho flattened out, but just north of Twin Falls, a great bridge crosses over the Snake River Canyon, and the eponymous river below. Perhaps channeling their inner Evel Knievel, young adventurers parachute off the bridge into the gorge below! Observed in person! Pictures taken! And not by coincidence do we invoke the memory of the 1970's daredevil; it is only about a half-mile to the west that Knievel attempted his infamous rocket-powered jump across the canyon, and physical evidence of the launching area still exists.

The town of Jackpot, NV -- literally, non-existent before the '50's -- welcomes travelers exiting Idaho, and about two hours south, past Wells, said travelers enter the Great Basin. Totally worth reading about for the unfamiliar: an absolutely gorgeous several hours' worth of travel, down Rte. 93 and to NV 318, await. Timeless natural scenery, rock formations, canyons carved from long-since dried-up rivers, etc. Ghost towns. Tiny non-ghost towns just dripping with history. McGill, NV, having its annual Labor Day Weekend town dance, right there in the main “business” district, i.e., two or three blocks along the road. So much to see. So much to want to return to...

Just past a giant truck stop at the southern end of NV-318, you turn right onto I-15. And less than ten minutes later, you crest a hill between two ridges and suddenly, there in the distance, is all of Las Vegas!

By this time, The Chief (tm) needed another 36-hour reset, so he managed to snag a room at the Lucky Club Casino in North Vegas. The Labor Day weekend drove up the price for the first night, but thereafter there was the “CDL Special” offering rooms for $35 a night, and plenty of room for truck parking.

On the Sunday, the plan was to walk down to the “original” part of the gaming side of Las Vegas; if you've ever seen the Bond flick “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971 IIRC?), the setting for the car chase with the red Mustang is mostly along Fremont Street, back when that WAS Vegas. Now, of course, the town is ridiculously larger, all towards the south, but the original area remains and has, in fact, been polished up quite a bit as the “Fremont Street Experience”. It sure ain't the same as the fabulous “Strip”, with the megabucks casinos and condo developments, but it is trying to retain its history and relevance.

Now, on the walk down (some 3.5 miles), there were unused buildings but also many large, open lots with parched, sun-baked grounds, fencing having been erected to guard nothing, nothing at all, closed-down shops that had signs indicating they would "re-open soon", still-functioning businesses (closed on Sunday) with hand-written signs inside the door imploring occupants to "KEEP THIS DOOR LOCKED AT ALL TIMES". It was that shady.

The walk back up, OTOH, was more about the discarded, abandoned and/or ruined people, as in homeless, and worse. Some of these dudes looked like they may have just found themselves on the street: reasonably well-dressed, seeming to at least "have it together" upstairs, maybe even working somewhere -- not over the edge of the abyss just yet. (These seemed to be mainly older guys.) Some of the others, though, WOW: I mean, gone, ruined, no hope whatsoever. Not entirely clear how they survive, i.e., eat, or if they even do anymore. Incredible to see. How does it get that bad? Sure, say, bad luck (or self-caused issues) with employment, then no $, then admittedly not-insignificant problems. But then, what, completely burning through the assistance of all friends? All family? Almost literally the living dead, and I walked by dozens of them along this street. I'm wondering, is anyone gonna try to pull a fast one -- and then I realize, these guys can barely move, let alone put something over on anyone. And then I com across an entire, huge, parched, sun-baked lot with camping tents flung about; how hot is it inside a f*cking unshaded tent when its 113 outside? And even in this area, you could still see that some guys were trying to hold it together; they hadn't completely lost a hold on reality yet. But how far do you have to climb to get out of that hole, just to get back to "zero"? How could they let it get even that far? I was trying to think: did society “fail” these people? Was there perhaps not even the smallest of a “safety net” just when they needed one? How hard were they able to fight before they succumbed to the self-ruinious temptation, and near-permanent impairment, of the heavy drugs? These are major points of discussion that come up in the news items with more and more frequency these days, but to see it, to walk right through it, makes for an entirely different feel.

BTW this is all well less than one mile from Fremont Street, and about two miles from the big $ on The Strip. Difficult to put into words, and I've just done an inadequate job despite trying. Difficult to fathom. Most difficult simply to observe.

On that admittedly sobering note, why don't we sign off for now, with the promise of more enjoyable tales guaranteed to follow. Thanks as always for all your support!

-- Sincerely,
The Chief (tm)
a.k.a. The Pacific Standard