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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Grandpa Elvis, Interstate 40, and England Swings

Silver wings shining in the sunlight,
roaring engines headed somewhere in flight.
                                         Merle Haggard
I remember traveling around with my grandpa across the country shortly after I graduated high school ten years ago. Going through the red dirt vistas of Arizona through the Texas panhandle, the rolling hills of Oklahoma, and meandering though sleepy hollers (no, they are not called “hollows”) of Eastern Kentucky, he’d sing whatever he pleased.
Off-the-cuff lyricism
Some times he would make something up completely. For instance, traveling through Tucumcari, New Mexico brought with it many extemporaneous verses, involving fireworks stands and American Indian references. Even if it sounds racially offensive, it wasn’t; it was funny. “I laughed until I stopped.” That was my grandpa.
Classic Americana
On other occasions, and with his usual near pitch-perfect baritone, he’d almost exhaust all the old country classics from his era. Elvis, Johnny Horton, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, Charlie Pride- and on the list would go. One of my favorites he would sing went like this:
Now, if you huff and puff and you finally save enough money
Up to take your family on a trip across the sea
Take a tip before you take your trip
Let me tell you where to go, go to England, ohEngland swings like a pendulum do
Bobbies on bicycles, two by two
Westminster Abbey the tower of Big Ben
The rosy red cheeks of the little children

Roger Miller, known for hits such as King of the Road and Kansas City Star, penned and sang that song. Grandpa just picked it up and made it his own. As a grandkid who thought highly of his grandpappy, I ate it up. He was like a human juke box, and I enjoyed listening to him for free.
On the road, singing, and talking Elvis
We spent many hours and days on the road together that summer after high school. Many hours and days of talking, telling stories and singing; generally, I did most of the listening, and I am more than glad that I did. Whenever I listen to the old stuff, the good stuff, I remember my grandpa. Somewhere around that time, my friends and I would take to calling him Grandpa Elvis. He played along. He was an Elvis fan after all. A Pre-G.I.-Blues Elvis fan to be precise.
“After he started making movies, his music suffered a bit,” grandpa would say, in a voice he generally used when he was making some sort of social commentary.
I took such commentary as a given at the time, but since I’ve grown up a bit, I would have to agree with his sentiment regarding Elvis. Not everyone will, but I have come to.