Towing in Northeastern Nevada, Zombies, and Wildhorse Reservoir

It’s the middle of the work week. It’s evening and I have just arrived home from a long day at work. My work truck is parked, the engine is off, and I step out of the cab and head into the house where my kids meet me at the back door. I enter the door to hugs and kisses, the sound of a Pixar movie in the background, and my wife setting the table. The kids abound with the most energy, stored up who knows where, at the evening meal, as they exude noise in some shape or form. Happy commotion and the sound of the day winding down like that one river system in that Robert De Nero movie, The Mission, in South America, where the rivers all converge into a massive basin of deep gorges and waterfalls.

We sit down to eat, settling into our chairs. We thank God for the meal, dole out the food to each of our thirty children and begin to talk and enjoy our meal. Over the chatter and sound of plates and forks clanking, my work phone rings. For a nanosecond everything stops. Even the kids are quiet with anticipation.

I answer and begin jotting down notes. “Uh huh. Uh huh. Mile marker 268? Eastbound? OK. I’ll get on it.”

“Emigrant Pass again,” my wife asks.

“Yeah, someone ran out of gas up there. A Prius.”

“A Prius? Really?” My wife laughs at the irony, sighs, and tells me bye. Another round of hugs and kisses and I’m out the door. With the sun nearly set, I hop into my tow truck and head out to deliver fuel to that fuel efficient car out of gas forty-five minutes away.

Towing is like a normal job, but different

When I look back on the last year and half, since I began towing, I can say I have learned a lot. I could go on about how, now that I have done it, I appreciate those guys with the roll back or boom trucks with the amber lights on top working on clearing lanes on the interstate after a four car accident. Or how after they have been out working all day, they go home for twenty minutes and then get called out and work half the night. But I will not romanticize those general everyday occurrences because, for the on-call tow truck operator, that is exactly what they are: normal.

Zombies

Every day brings something interesting. Especially in Northern Nevada’s I-80 corridor. Once, I towed a car for a woman who needed to go to Winnemucca. I got to the vehicle and hooked up and tied it down and we headed west for a two and a half hour drive. Ten minutes on the road, the lady noticed my lunch box had one of those clever zombie hunting permit stickers which authorizes one to legally dispatch the walking undead. She laughed, visibly enjoying what the sticker said. Then she began a one-sided discussion on the zombie apocalypse.

After going into all the likely causes of the global zombification, the conspiracies behind it, and possible solutions, she delved into her survival plan. “I have thought this out,” she said, “and I have decided if it came down to zombies being a real problem, I would just start eating people so I could blend in with the zombie hoard.” And I had two hours and twenty more minutes of that ahead of me.

The Wildhorse Incident

The Wildhorse Reservoir lies seventy miles north of Elko, on the road heading to Owyhee (“Ow-why-hee”). It’s water levels have been going down for some time, but especially so last year and this year. I got called out by my manager once evening last summer to head up there to tow a pick up broke down along the shoreline. Pretty straightforward if only this paragraph didn’t have the word “incident” above it.

After I got to the reservoir, I phoned the customer and he gave me directions to where he was at. As I followed those directions, it became increasingly clear I was being led to a pirate’s cove because that’s what it looked like when I saw the three quarter ton pick up with it’s hood up. Where the gentleman and his dad had driven to and parked the truck to fish would normally be under water on a good year, but instead it was sandy, gravelly shore with sopping wet mud only inches below the surface. Like a smart person, I parked my Freightliner flatbed tow truck on solid earth and walked a few hundred feet to the immobilized truck and unhappy fishermen.

When I told them I couldn’t get to them because of the ground conditions, even using all of my chains and extra wire rope (not cable, that is what you subscribe to and watch on t.v.), they hemmed and hawed. I think that expression just means that a person is unhappy, and that’s what they were more of when I explained the situation to them with my tow truck looking small in the background. “Come on, can’t you just try to get us out?” I’m easily persuaded because I did just that. I justified my attempt by telling myself if only I just stay high on the bank and drive on the bigger pieces of gravel and harder packed sand I’d be fine.

Then I got stuck, putting whatever logic I had on its head, and thus placing a kibosh on the whole initial endeavor. And to think I could be at home eating supper, I thought to myself. When I got stuck, I almost told the men, “See! I told you!” I’m not sure exactly what I said during the moments immediately following getting stuck, but I do know the fellows began helping me dig. I called by manager and explained the situation.

“I’m stuck.”

“Can you inchworm your way out?”

“Well, no, the truck is pointing the wrong direction.”

“And there’s nothing around you like a big rock or a tree to winch yourself out onto firmer ground?”

“Nothing for hundreds of feet and I’m twenty feet from the lake’s edge.”

“Well, crud” (or something like that). “I’ll send you help, but you’re seventy miles away so it’ll be a bit. 10-4?”

“10-4!”

While waiting for a bigger tow truck to arrive, lots of digging ensued. “Find wood, sage brush, anything,” I said, barking orders like a platoon leader in the Normandy Invasion. We borrowed firewood from some neighboring campers who were more than a little amused about a stuck tow truck. I took and placed the logs underneath the steer tires, making a sort of desperate pathway to freedom for my very stuck truck. It did not work. After a while, I just dug as if I was doing penance (again, like De Nero in The Mission).

Life is not always peaches and cream, which is an odd way of saying life can be hard. In a sardonic tone, but yielding to the cliche, I agree. I sat down in the sand, drenched in sweat and covered in mud and dirt. The campers nearby were some old guys from Reno, and they beckoned me and the broke down fellows over to their fire. Dang skippy, we went. As I walked over, I noticed a family of swans floating by in the lake nearby. And then I kept walking because those stupid birds were going somewhere and I wasn’t.

At the campsite, the old guys were drinking beer and whiskey and telling stories. I listened in and helped tend the fire by adding a chunk of pine or stoking it when needed. One gentleman, who was the main talker, told us that they all have been buddies since childhood, spend a month or so every year at Wildhorse and always see someone broke down here. “Yessir, every year,” he said, followed by nods by the three others.

“One year, a while back, we had a guy wander into our camp, hungry and desperate looking. He said that his van had broke down on the highway nearby six months before and that it needed a transmission, and he’d been livin’ in it since.” The others nodded. He took a sip from his beer and said, “Strangest thing that was.” Another succession of nods. And then an awkward silence as the fire cracked and popped, the flames warm and casting dancing shadows.

Then a coworker came with a Kenworth heavy wrecker and rescued me.

Epilogue:

I am changing jobs in a week.

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Robin Williams, Hook, and What I Retrospectively Learned About Fatherhood From My Favorite Peter Pan

The 1991 Spielberg movie, Hook, with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, probably is one of the first movies I can remember thinking of as a “favorite”. I am discrediting and dating myself in the same sentence when I say that I was five years old and some change when this flick came out. I probably actually first watched it a few years later, but regardless of that irrelevancy, I will admit here and now that I can say Hook is one of those movies that left it’s cultural mark on me.


Parenthetically, it is no new thing for people, famous or not, who we have become accustomed to having around, whether in our normal everyday lives or on the silver screen, to shake us out of a stupor when they die. I count myself with the uncountable when I say I was shaken out of my personal attitude of taking one for granted today when I heard the news about Robin Williams’ death. The relevancy of this man’s life is not measured in how funny he was (he was very funny), or how famous he was (he was that, too), but the fact that he existed at all. He mattered.


When I first watched Hook, I watched it as a young kid who could pick up on the plot line of a workaholic lawyer, a husband and father of two, who also happened to be the grown up version of the boy Peter Pan. I watched how this man in the movie’s first act couldn’t arrive to his son’s baseball game on time, and how his priorities were swayed more towards being successful in his career than as husband and dad. Also, by the third act, I can remember the triumph over shame in Peter being there for his kids when they needed him the most.

Williams’ acting, in my opinion, was perfectly tuned to the attitude many of us, men or women, gear ourselves towards. Be successful, stand out in our profession, gain commendation from our peers, and, naturally, make lots of money. All well and good, but not so much if it’s all at the expense of the reasons why those strivings matter in the first place.

As a boy, I can remember my dad working and doing his best to be the best in his field. I salute him for doing so. But I can remember that I didn’t care if he was the best at what he did; I cared about him and the time spent with him. In the movie, I believe, that family element was touched upon via Peter rescuing his kids as well as making his office as Dad more important than his career.

As a dad now myself, the impact of that basic lesson hits me again, this time as a father learning the lesson every day. This is what I find ultimately valuable from watching this adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: Williams’ character struggled with very real everyman obstacles in a fantastical setting. The domestic problems he had in the real, everyday, normal world were made drastically and painfully more urgent in Neverland. In the former, he unwittingly ignored his family in order to succeed (and oddly enough provide for said ignored family). In the latter, his children had been captured by Captain Hook and hauled off to Neverland, and their lives were clearly in peril by outside influence (or walking the plank, or semi-dead crocodile).

Williams’ character, like all of us, faced choices. Ultimately, in the face of very clear consequences, he chose to do what was right and place others’ before himself. Any good story has that elemental truth in it, whether or not the protagonist opts for the good or not. As a Robin Williams fan, I can enjoy his finest work. As a fan of the movie, Hook, I will draw from it’s enjoyable and entertaining tale. As a husband and father of four (soon to be five), I will draw all that I can from sources which do not shy away from presenting stark truths. As a Christian, to paraphrase C.H. Spurgeon, I can draw from many sources, but I live in the Bible.

To me, Hook is a great film. I was and still am a Peter Pan fan. Also, I find all the early ’90s idiosyncrasies nostalgic as well as humorous. The cell phone with the retractable antenna and Rufio’s hair adds up to limitless laughs. The “Gandhi ate more than this” quote during the food fight scene is probably one of my favorite comedic moments in the film. All in all, culturally, looking back on this movie brings back part of my childhood. Also, I can’t ignore the truths found in its script either.

And, yes, I cannot mention this movie without saying this: I, too, will miss Robin Williams.

 

 

 

Desert Grace

Orange, grey and purple sunset thunderstorms

Over basin and over range.

The barren alkali flats sopping wet and the desert mountain draws

And the smell of sage and rabbit brush doused in rain.

Thunder claps and rain drowns out all the stillness;

The coyote and the prong horn both give thirsty praise.

Grace for desert creatures, grace for desert places-

Dried river beds declare it well, with running water once again.

From The Four Loves

“In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him (Confessions IV, 10). Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves