UNITED STATES—After being a prisoner in California for more years than I care to remember, I find myself on the road to Idaho. Outside of Winnemucca at 3 a.m. on I-80 at a truckstop, a hideously overlit place, but I am loving it because there are slots and there are two monolithic and nattily dressed seniors who look all dressed up for Santa Anita, the only souls in the whole dusky truckstop casino, besides Lee, the croupier/bartender.
“You picked a good time to come up here,” Lee said. “The country is green from all the rain. All we had was rain this year. There’s been hardly any snow. All the weather has changed since that big earthquake shifted the earth’s axis five degrees.” (Go ahead, blame it all on California or maybe he meant Indonesia. As a Californian l nevertheless felt offended by any association implied between earthquakes and global warming.)
Yes, the snow. It was here, all along the Nevada straightway, where it was every inch blanketed by white Christmas, except for the icy road, and my uncle saved the Galaxy 500 from jackknifing. And the elders in the car just yawned.
A new day limned behind long, extravagantly fluffy clouds, like they don’t make in Los Angeles, still wedged in the prevailing darkness. That must be the east, I thought. Only east, west, north, south didn’t matter; the car was pointed into the past. Miles of scrubby, chaparral-dotted lands rolled past–no man’s land. To think that my Scottish great grandfather, an educated man came out here, and carved a sheep ranch out of this land. To Idaho by way of New York and Denver. Back in Scotland they were in the printing business and newspaper ink was in their blood. And of course there was nothing wrong with homesteading, that national welfare program that bestowed a bonus chunk of this immense land, on certain settlers, particularly of European origin.
The rolling landscape yielded to horse pastures and cattle-dotted hillsides, and then modest ranch houses amid trees and farm equipment. It was nice to see Idaho was still here, the Idaho of many boyhood summers. Only it wasn’t Idaho; it was a little sliver of Oregon. We would cross through three states today and 18, all told, by the time the trip was done.
Idaho, at last. The GEM service station/convenience store on the home stretch to Nampa. There’s a brush at the entrance so you can wipe the dung off your boots. I know I’m in cowboy country. So tired after the all nighter, I slipped into the nearest restroom, and saw some rather dainty looking boots in the stall next to me. The next customer in the stall next to me had some petite-looking levis. Godfrey Daniels, I had slipped into the women’s room. Fate was with me, though, and after narrowly escaping being hung from the nearest genetically modified potato plant, we resumed our travels and breathed in that clear, bright air faintly tinted by the smell of farm animals.
Nampa was so rural it was hard to say where the farmlands stopped and the town began. They are tidy modest wood dwellings, with porches, from before World War II, on the way to the city center, and there were post-war brick homes without porches. Porches were TV back in the day, where people visited and watched the hay grow.
There are only a few dwellings with McMansion ambitions, just enough to ascertain that Idaho has caught the ostentatious bug. There was not much to keep us in Nampa, aside from an eye-opening military aircraft museum with an emphasis on the local people’s involvement. It made history alive when I picked up a binder of correspondence between Lieutenant Pettigrew and wife back at home. Typical stuff about milking the cows and the drills and Camp Roberts in the handwriting of the era, and then in a Christmas letter was line “thinking about you I have got a nice hard on.” I did a double, a triple take. Living history, indeed.
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Late Bloomer: 20 Comic Gems,” available on Amazon. Reach Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org.