Goldfield And The Spring

I set out in the late morning, and pedaled slowly up through the town. It was several hundred feet of climb to the far edge, and I decided that if I felt even a little bit tired when I got there I would grab another hotel room. I wasn’t feeling pressed for time, even though the calendar was saying otherwise.

Local Flag Day celebration.

Right at the top of the hill was a long wooden building full of touristy shops, with a restaurant and casino at the end. I wasn’t feeling tired but I was feeling hungry, so I stowed the bike in a corner of the parking lot where I could see it from a restaurant window, and ordered an omelet and fried fish.

Old hardware in front ... new hardware on the hill in back!

As I ate, I thought about the cultural differences I was seeing in Nevada. Sometimes I felt like I was still among “my people” – Americans – but with more small-town ruggedness and less engagement with the outside world. Other times I felt like a stranger with a head full of foreign thoughts, making an effort to pass as normal, keeping all my social interactions just a little too formal.

What would it take for me to feel at home in a place like this? How long would I need to live here? I’ve been a resident of Oakland for over a decade, back home in California, and I still feel a little awkward calling myself a “local” when I talk about it. Would I need ten years to settle into Nevada? Twenty? Would it never happen, since my politics and interests are so different?

It didn’t really matter, since in a few hours I would leave this town and probably never return again. Travel can be upsetting that way — it has a lot of endings, and you can get a little panicky if you think about them.

As I chomped through my fish, I noticed an old advertisement, placed in a wooden frame and stuck high on the restaurant wall:

Obviously this ad would not run well today in 2020.

“That’s funny,” I thought. “However much of a stranger I am in Nevada today, it’s probably nothing compared to how out-of-place I’d be anywhere in the America of 80 years ago, when advertisements like that were common.”

I thought about the subconscious messages conveyed in the ad:

To men it said: “If you join the armed forces and go to war, you’ll deserve the following prizes: A young sexy woman devoted to you, at least one free year of child care (because she gave birth to your baby while you were overseas), and a banquet in your honor, which you will of course not need to lift a finger to prepare. Also it includes plenty of coke.”

To women it said: “You should be pretty, good at raising a child, interested in shopping, able to support yourself (while your man is at war), and of course utterly devoted to making your man happy. Coke will help you express that. By the way if you’re not one (or any) of these things, you’re failing in your civic duty as an American. How selfish of you.”

I am, of course, considering this ad through a very modern lens of cynicism regarding the motives of advertisers and corporations. I’m inclined to see depictions of patriotism and wholesomeness as a smokescreen, or even a trap. But more interesting than that, is the social contract between men and women that’s depicted here, and how that’s changed.

The social contract… That was the thing. I tried to come up with a shorthand version of that contract, decade by decade. Here’s what I hastily poked into my phone:

  • In the 1940’s, war was something women were considered too pretty for and men did to actualize their manhood. They promised to support each other in this.
  • In the 1950’s, people formed nuclear families to make good on that promise, regardless of outcome. (Loathing your spouse was not, by itself, considered a reason to divorce.)
  • In the 1960’s, kids were determined not to be as miserable as their parents, and tore up the social contract. Women wanted to choose who and when and why they slept with people. Men went looking for heroes other than cowboys and veterans.
  • In the 1970’s, people got collectively spooked by how crazy the 60’s were and tried to renegotiate the social contract.
  • In the 1980’s, that renegotiation extended into the white-collar world and – eventually – the church as well.
  • In the 1990’s, the next generation wandered in the wilderness, trying to resist radicalization.
  • In the 2000’s, they zeroed in on a re-defined version of the nuclear family: Two or more parents of any gender, either or all of them with careers. Women could be pretty if they wanted but it damn well wouldn’t stop them from doing anything else. Men — well, men still had a toxic masculinity problem.
  • In the 2010’s, everyone argued bitterly over the details of this new contract: Social programs, media depictions, heroes, sexual practices…

This summary is fanciful, of course. The reality is way too much of a mess to describe without, say, 1000 pages and a bunch of charts. But as I wrapped up my last piece of fish in tinfoil and brought it to the bike, my hastily scrawled list reassured me that a sort of collective progress was possible, and I was still surrounded by it even 400 miles from home.

On the other hand, if I walked around that restaurant and asked the other patrons what they thought of when they saw that ad, how different would their answers be?

All downhill from here.

Starting from another high elevation point, I had 30 miles to ride if I wanted to reach Goldfield, and 20 miles if I wanted to try camping at the Alkali Flat hot spring. I decided to make for the spring, and then divert to Goldfield if the camping didn’t look good there.

Nice un-crowded new highway.

So much glorious downhill, with such a wide shoulder! I enjoyed it while it lasted. The fork leading to Alkali Flat was going to be ten long miles of gravel.

The side road leading to the hot springs.

It was in pretty good shape for a gravel road. In only a few spots the gravel or dirt got separated into distinct layers, each of which drowned my tire and forced me to push the bike. Less than a quarter mile out of ten.

Do you see the lizard?

This is what you have to do when the sun is at exactly the wrong angle.

I decided to make use of the tripod I’d been hauling around for weeks, and set up a nice timed shot of me with the bike, looking adventurous!

Who's a badass? This chump.

Just before reaching the spring, the road took a sharp left turn and got really crappy.

The second-worst road of the trip.

I passed a strange formation to my left: A wide pit had been excavated in the dirt, all around an abandoned truck, leaving the truck alone at the top of a plateau. Gotta get your art wherever you can out here!

This truck ain't goin' nowhere nowhow.

When I got to the spring, the first thing I noticed was a large square pool.

I thought that was the spring, and figured I could at least dip my feet in and enjoy the hot water, but a couple of locals sitting nearby told me that the actual spring was further up on the hillside. One of them pointed at two small pools, each only about ten feet square, one next to the other. Some trucks were parked right next to the first pool, and a family of at least 15 kids and adults was carousing and yelling and splashing around. A heap of abandoned picnic supplies lay on a big blanket nearby. The group looked like it would be hanging out until sunset at least.

No peace for me here. I decided to continue on to Goldfield, but first I would poke around a little abandoned building that seemed cool.

Dig that graffiti!

Pretty sure this is a Peanut Butter Crunch bird.

To my surprise, the road leading back to the highway towards Goldfield was newly paved, and an easy ride. I would have probably saved an hour using it instead of taking that damn gravel road earlier. Oh well! Satellite maps can’t be up-to-the-minute accurate. Commercial ones anyway. Free ones anyway.

I spotted many a cute roadside flower as I sipped water and listened to Paula Poundstone do her latest episode of the French Trump Press Conference.

The wind moved around to my back and gave me a welcome boost up the hill. I pedaled hard to take advantage of it, hoping to arrive in Goldfield early enough to find an open restaurant.

I was sort of victorious. There was a bar with some hotel rooms attached, and I got a room for two days. The guy running the bar seemed eerily familiar, like he was a relative of mine, or a co-conspirator in some high-school mayhem from long ago. He made me a little oven-baked pizza for ten bucks, which I gratefully devoured in the room.

Tomorrow I would explore this city and try to catch up on my work a little.

One Response to Goldfield And The Spring

  1. ankim says:

    hahaha too wholesome!!!!!!!! XD, many lizard friends here!

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