Article 7: Christmas Gold in Tonopah, Nevada

Weather forecasts in Reno warned of a snowstorm down to 3500 feet beginning at noon on Saturday. I’d driven up the day before and was now checked out of my motel and waiting for my daughter, Heather, to take her math final at 2 p.m. before leaving on Christmas break from the University of Nevada-Reno. She and her college buddy, Brittany, would be heading back with me to Las Vegas for the holidays. We were crossing our fingers that the forecasts were wrong.

The temperature dropped and light flurries began. I went to the corner gas station for a cup of hot coffee. On my way into the store I spied a young college kid sitting Indian style on the cold pavement by the newsstands just outside the doors. He politely asked for any loose change I could spare. I gave him what I had–not much at all. Inside I was pouring my coffee into the cup when I overheard one of the employees say to the other, “There’s some kid outside. I’m going to tell him to move on.” I felt badly about their lack of sensitivity, especially in this cold weather. I redirected my attention to a sale rack of hats and gloves and grabbed a set for myself…purple for wisdom would do nicely, I thought.

I got in my car with strong desires to find more change for this young man. He was still there–evidently he’d come up with a reasonable excuse for being there and hadn’t been shooed away after all. I was relieved. But search as I may, I couldn’t find any more change in my purse or in the car. I know! I’ll pull some money for him from an ATM. Checked my watch. Yes, I’d have just enough time. I was off to the nearest bank drive-through and just obtaining the cash when Heather called. She was done with her final. I told her I’d meet her at her dorm in a couple of minutes.

It was snowing harder now. I drove back through the gas station and slowed to a stop to where the young man could see me between the parked cars. I rolled down my window and motioned him to my car. “Me?” he asked, pointing to his chest.

“Yes, you,” I smiled. He came to my car and I extended a twenty dollar bill. “I hope this helps. Merry Christmas.”

He beamed with delight. “Oh, thank you! Thank you. I’m going to go get something to eat!” He literally ran to the doors of the gas station. I batted back the forming tears, choked back the swelling lump in my throat, offered a silent blessing on him and drove on to the dorm.

By the time Brittany and Heather had cleared their possessions out of their dorms and loaded them into the SUV–including lacrosse sticks, snowboard, two computers, other paraphernalia and at least 100 pounds of dirty laundry each–we were ready to head out of town. The snow was sticking and the roads were covered and slippery.

A couple of cars had slid into the ditch between the highway. Tow-trucks were already on the scene helping them out. But something worse had happened further on, beyond our seeing. One fire truck, then two. An ambulance and police cars. We were still inching along at about 5 miles an hour. Fernley was a long ways off.

In the other direction there was no traffic at all. Logic dictated that there must have been a bad accident there which had closed down the highway altogether in that direction. A few minutes later and we watched a snow plow make a path for the ambulance on the Reno-bound side of the highway. Whoever had been hurt was now headed for the hospital. We were grateful for that. More calls home.

It took 2 hours to get to Fernley. The five-car pile-up we saw was enough of a warning to everyone not to take chances. All drivers were giving one another lots of distance and space for safety. Every once in a while some know-it-all would go by at an unreasonable speed. We saw several fishtail skid marks in the snow of their lessons learned.

Alternate 95 was virtually untraveled and unplowed. Remnant paths of cars gave indications of lanes. It was a tense, long drive. Brittany fell asleep. Heather kept me company. With my eyes glued to the road, I was able to enjoy several hours of her tellings of college life. That was why I had volunteered for this road trip–once Heather gets home she is always so involved with her siblings and friends–I seem to miss out on the one-to-one conversations which bring connectedness. I’d really been missing Heather. This was bittersweet–I was getting all the lowdown, but at the same time I was stressing over the drive. I was grateful for her insomnia.

From Fernley to Tonopah we drove an additional 6 hours. It was as bad in Tonopah as it had been in Reno. I felt blessed that we’d traveled thus far without incident. Heather and I had formed a routine of communication. When lights would appear in the distance, she would call out “Snowplow” which meant to slow to a crawl because we’d soon be in a white-out as they drove by, blinding us with the offspray of snow. I’d give her a heads-up on cars coming up from behind so she wouldn’t think I’d dozed if she heard repetitive thumping sounds from shoulder grooves when I’d scoot over to allow for passers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were getting good at this, but we’d quickly come up with survival skills. It was a team effort.

In Tonopah we stopped at the gas station, hoping to get hot beverages and hopefully information on the storm. Here we would make a decision on whether to push on through or get a hotel room for the night. The fellow was more than a little strange. Not at all what we needed at a time like this. He was very non-committal in his response but admitted he’d heard that “maybe” the roads were a “little” better just past Goldfield.

“How far is that?” I asked.

“Half an hour,” a flat response.

“Normally or in weather like this?” Brittany pinned him down.

“26 miles.” His compassion was incredulous. He actually watched us shop as if we were going to steal something from his store. I went to the car with my coffee. Heather and Brittany returned with the tale of his accusation that their ten-dollar bill was counterfeit. We shook it off.

“Well, girls, whaddya think?” I was taking a vote. We all agreed to press on past Goldfield and get this trip over with. The thought of a hotel room and waking up to tons of snow and needing to buy chains, etc. was not appealing. We were ready to be home.

An hour later we saw signs for the Goldfield cemetery. Then a deathly dark and silent town. One lone patrol car stuck its head out of an alley and then turned the other way. We rounded the 20 mph 90 degree turn at 5 mph and headed out of Goldfield. Then we saw the multi-colored emergency lights ahead.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Heather snapped. “Are they actually pulling someone over in this weather?” We were showing signs of fatigue. As we passed by we saw that the truck and the strobe lights of the Highway Patrol vehicle were pointed towards the fields below.

“I’ll be someone went off the highway and they’re looking for them,” I feared aloud.

Eyes back on the road, it wasn’t more than 15 seconds later and everything went white. I slowed the car to a stop as quickly as reason would allow. “That’s it. We can’t travel in this!”

The girls agreed wholeheartedly. Fear was now our companion. We maneuvered the car around on the highway–there were no other cars or lights anywhere in the vicinity. Our only relief on our way back was the dark humor we enjoyed about the sinister laughing of the gas station attendant carving another hash mark into the backroom once we’d left.

Goldfield had zero accommodations which meant we’d have to retrace our journey from Tonopah. There was a Ramada there on this side of town. Still, it was 26 miles. Again. It was the longest 26 miles of the trip–in the wrong direction. Disheartened and beat we drove silently to Tonopah. I watched the odometer countdown the miles. We were almost there.

We got ourselves a room. The front desk lady was so nice and understanding. She gave us a special rate and let us know that she’d been watching the storm on-line and that it wasn’t clear until 60 miles out of Las Vegas. We’d definitely done the right thing in returning. Check out wasn’t until noon and there was a restaurant where we could get a good, hot breakfast in the morning. We retired quickly, completely spent.

Being the early-bird that I am, I was up at 7:30 a.m. I took a peek out of the black-out drapes to see it had stopped snowing. However, there was about a foot of snow on the ground and the roads weren’t plowed yet. I had no idea what awaited us. I grabbed a book for reading and Heather’s cell phone to make calls–I wanted to let the girls sleep a couple more hours. I would definitely need my morning time today–my “alone” time, as I affectionately refer to it. There was still half a trip to make.

Downstairs in the lobby my spirits picked up a little. This hotel was so nicely decorated–old western antiques everywhere. I was getting that “Nevada” feeling. It’s a wonderful feeling that you don’t really get in Las Vegas. These small towns, and even Reno, have a wonderful flavor all their own. You feel a part of their culture and a part of their history. It was a nice feeling of belonging. I was glad we were here. It felt safe and familiar.

These feelings were only enhanced as I addressed one of the waitresses in the restaurant. Could I buy a cup of coffee? I’d be back later for breakfast with my girls.

“Oh, here. Don’t worry about paying for it now–you’ll be back later. You can go relax in the saloon for privacy.” What a sweetheart. I actually stayed and chatted with several of them for a few minutes. We talked about the storm and I told my tale of woe of the 8 hour drive the night before. They were so kind. I felt encouraged.

In the Saloon the old West theme was continued. I was wishing for a pair of cowboy boots and a hat about then. Different employees came and went, taking care of their early morning duties. Each would stop and tip their hat, say good morning and comment on the weather. I settled in at the unattended bar with my book, phone and cup of hot coffee and directed my attention to the TV mounted up high above the bar.

The Wizard of Oz was showing. Now the thing about the Wizard of Oz is that it holds an especially significant meaning, not only in my life in general, but very specifically with my company, TellingTouch. So much of my inspiration for TellingTouch has come from the rainbow, and as a result, Somewhere Over the Rainbow has become a song I listen to on an almost-daily basis. This was so unusual to see this movie playing…now. I empowered it with meaning and decided to direct my attention to its message. (The November 20th launch date and subsequent update for the Christmas holidays had worn me out…I needed to quit resting on my laurels and get back to work. Unfortunately, my self-talk hadn’t quite done the trick. I was still unmotivated. Perhaps The Wizard of Oz would provide the right alchemy.)

Interestingly, one of the fellows stopped by to tell me that his daughter had played a part in The Wizard of Oz on Broadway. We chatted for awhile and then he went on with his work. I picked up with Dorothy meeting Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Lion. I thought to myself, Brains, Heart and Courage. Consider a focus on those attributes to motivate you.

I hadn’t noticed until he spoke, but a local patron had arrived and seated himself around the corner of the bar from me. “It’s nasty out there!” he declared. “Nasty!”

“Yes,” I chimed in agreement, “I traveled eight hours in it last night.” Our discussion on weather ensued. We chuckled here and there. His name was Ron. Ron was probably in his late 50’s, about 5′ 10″ tall, average-frame and wore a long beard. He was clad in jeans, boots, flannel shirt and jacket and wore a knitted hat. He was pleasant and laid back. I was enjoying our conversation. He recommended that I check in with the Highway Patrol before heading out. He gave me walking directions–they were just around the corner from the hotel.

Then Ron told me that he’d walked over here to the hotel–that he used to have to use a cane and before that a walker. In fact, the doctors had said that he’d never walk without one of these aids. He’d proved them wrong. His condition was the result of a beating. He’d only been out of the hospital for 2 months now and that after having been in a coma for five and a half months.

He had my full attention. “My God! What happened? Why were you beaten?” my face scrunched in envisioned pain and disbelief.

Ron told me how a newcomer to town had taken a liking to one of the gals in town, which was a friend of his. In speaking to her one day, Ron had unknowingly offended this fellow, who then hunted him down in the middle of the night and beat him mercilessly–beginning with a forceful blow to the back of his head with a 2×4. That rendered Ron unconscious, but the beating continued. Both jaws were broken, all of his ribs, his spleen punctured. He’d been pronounced clinically dead four times during his hospital stay.

As I sat there stunned at his telling, Ron told me how he’d gone to court recently and that his perpetrator was now serving a 20 year sentence on one count and a four-and-a-half year sentence on another charge. “He’ll be away for a long time.” Then Ron lowered and shook his head continuing, “I just don’t understand. He ruined my life. All for talking to my friend. I just don’t understand.”

I felt compassion for this poor, hurting man. “How are you doing now? Are you in pain? Have your injuries healed?”

“Oh, I won’t take all those medicines they give me. The government sends someone in to clean my house once a week. And I have friends here. The thing is though–my memory was affected. I can’t remember things–long-term, short-term. I just pace back and forth turning on the TV and then the radio and then the TV and then the radio. I just can’t figure it out. Why am I still here?”

It was a rhetorical question and yet it begged for hope. I was trance-like, amazed that I would be so favored as to have this man pour out his story to me. My whole vision of TellingTouch, its mission, came crawling up my back. “These are the real stories of life–these are the Tellings–this is why you have created TellingTouch. These stories need to be heard.” I was listening with my soul now. I stared at Ron. I wanted to cry. I wanted to thank him for his taking time to tell me his story. I wanted to make it all better, but I couldn’t. I could only embrace this tremendous compassion and let it settle in my soul.

“Well, Sweety, thank you for listening to this old man’s story. Now you be sure and check in with the Highway Patrol before you head out of town.” He rose from his chair to leave.

“I will. Thank you, Ron. And, Ron, just keep doing what you’re doing–you’ll figure it out.” We smiled and he left the Saloon.

It took several minutes for the emotion of the moment to pass. I just sat there. Then I looked back at the TV. Dorothy was in the field of flowers with her companions. She was under the spell and had fallen asleep. It began snowing That is how she awoke. It was snowing. It was snowing. Eight hours of snowing, sleeping, awaking, getting back on course, remembering one’s purpose. Snow. I was awake.

I walked to the Highway Patrol offices which were locked up, but one of the patrol cars was pulling into the lot. I waited and spoke to him. He told me the roads were pretty good now and that the snowplows had gone through a couple of times between Tonopah and Goldfield. I went back to the hotel to rouse the girls from their slumber. I actually ran into Ron again in the hallway.

He smiled, “You’re an angel.”

“Oh, no, not me,” I laughed.

“You know, I should tell you. I’m an ex-convict myself, having spent many years in prison,” he shook his head, then looked up at me. “I just want to do good with my life now. When I was young, I was quite the hoodlum.”

My wit couldn’t resist, “All it took was a smack upside the head with a 2×4.” We nearly died laughing. His was a good, robust, from the gut laughter, which I was grateful for–sometimes I open my mouth and insert my foot. We hugged and said good-bye for the second time, but not the last.

While the girls got ready for breakfast I found Ron and his friend, whose nickname is actually “Angel”, who had now joined him, in the Saloon. I’d been hoping to locate him once more–I’d brought down a gift from my bag for him for his home. I had a rainbow sun catcher and a set of Mirror Talk affirmation clings with me. I’d packed them uncertain as to why or to whom I would give them. The wording on the sun catcher said, I’ve traveled to the rainbow’s end and have found not gold, but you, my friend. Now I knew who they belonged to. Ron was so delighted with my gifts.

Angel was such a doll, and it was easy to tell she truly cared about Ron. The three of us talked and talked. She provided more details of his story–how she’d longed to go visit him in the hospital and how she’d flown across the room when she first saw him again just a few weeks back…how her little two-year old daughter, Summer, absolutely adores him and giggles and smiles whenever she sees him. As Angel spoke, she’d reach out occasionally and pat Ron’s leg or lovingly pinch his cheek. He was touched by the attention and care. We both saw the tear form in his eye just then. She reached up and wiped it away. That damned lump in my throat was back again. I thought to myself, Ron is loved and he loves. That’s the most wonderful reason to be alive. He just hasn’t remembered that yet, but he will. He will.

Well, the girls and I finally got on the road again after a good home-cooked breakfast. This time roads outside of Goldfield were actually clear. Heather even gave me a break and drove part of the way into Vegas. I got a chance to rest and look out the car window at the scenery–beautiful snow-covered mountains, baby-blue skies and puffy white clouds. As I drifted off to sleep I thought to myself, maybe the gas station attendant wasn’t so sinister after all–perhaps he was just on a different time table than us–a little out there in the future. Or maybe, just maybe, his timing was just right.

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