Here we are at long last. The finale. The End. If you’re just joining me, feel free to take a detour to my earlier posts about our trip to California and Nevada. The best way there is to visit my last post (just click here) and pick a link.
This is not going to be an easy post to write, but I have a story to tell. During our sojourn in Nevada, we had an experience that could have ended very badly. It didn’t because of the kindness of strangers.
Remember this lovely landscape?
Yes, it was once lakefront property, but it hasn’t been for thousands of years. The day we were here it was hot and dry. The air was so dry that when I slap a mosquito off the back of Greg’s leg, the blood dried on my fingers in seconds. Maybe even milliseconds. We had been guzzling water since we arrived in Nevada, yet we never felt hydrated. To protect my skin from the sun, I was wearing long sleeves and long pants. Greg was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. We were hot and thirsty, but we weren’t worried. We had plenty of water in the car.
As we left Grimes Point, we decided to pull over to the Petroglyphs Trail. It’s a nice spot with shaded picnic tables and a paved parking lot. We walked the short trail and then headed back to the car.
I had the car keys. I had driven us over from Grimes Point, all of one mile. I was feeling smug that I finally had had a turn at the wheel. We were fixing to leave and head back to Reno. I opened the truck of the rental car, ditching the bag in which I carried water. The keys were in my way. My pants pockets were a bit too snug and my red Baggalini waist pack was stuffed. I rested the keys in a groove on the inside of the trunk, at eye-level, and fussed with our stuff. Once satisfied I had made everything more neat and tidy, I closed the trunk. It popped open. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was dehydration. Maybe it was just the “out-of-sorts” feeling I had had since arriving in Nevada. Whatever the reason, I lost my temper and pushed the lid down hard until it latched.
I reached for the keys and froze. The keys were in the trunk. I had just lock the keys in the trunk. I screamed. I tried to open the trunk with my fingers, hoping, praying that it hadn’t latched. But it had and I could sense it mocking me for being so dangerously stupid. I screamed again. Greg was walking toward me, not running because he could imagine what I was screaming about. I had locked us out of the car which held all our water and snacks, our jackets, his eyeglasses.
We were about 100 yards from Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America. Now I was in shock. It was about 5 o’clock. I looked at my husband in his shorts and T-shirt and wondered how we could protect him from the sun which still bore down on us. How would we survive? We were out in the middle of nowhere, in an unforgiving arid landscape, several miles from Fallon. In another climate, we would have just started walking. In this climate, that wasn’t an option. Not without water.
Greg was all calm and reason. He didn’t scold me. He didn’t tell me I was stupid. I was already doing that anyway. He was confident that we’d be okay. First things first. Let’s see if we can hitch a ride to Fallon.
I know you’re wondering, why didn’t we just call for help? Remember how our cellphone service abruptly dropped when we were in Fallon? Apparently Fallon is Verizon country. No AT&T service. Nothing. Zip. Lesson learned: Always have a burner phone just in case.
We went out to the highway and Greg coached me on how to stand and hold out my thumb. Several people passed us. I lost hope very quickly. I didn’t think we looked like criminals, like a Bonnie and Clyde just waiting for some Good Samaritan that we could rob. But who picks up hitchhikers these days?
I was scared. What if nobody stopped? It was so hot and so dry. I have had heat exhaustion before, but I was more worried about Greg. He’s fit but he has a bad back and he wasn’t dressed for a cold night under the stars. And it would get cold.
After what seemed like an endless 20 minutes, a beat-up old truck with pine logs sticking out its backend slowed and pulled over. We ran … or rather trotted over. Greg got to the truck first and had explained our situation by the time I hobbled up. The driver, a middle-aged man with long wispy blond hair, welcomed us in. “You looked kind of desperate,” he said when Greg told him about all the other cars that had passed us by. I stayed quiet, trying to keep down the panic that still filled my chest. Greg made small talk with the driver, discussing how Fallon had changed over the years, the Fallon Naval Base, planes. I missed most of their conversation, too preoccupied with what we would do next. Also, thanks to my overactive imagination and steady diet of horror stories and crime novels, I worried that the driver might be an incarnation of Ed Gein … except he seemed too friendly and laid back to be a serial killer. Then again, so was Ted Bundy. But Ted Bundy was handsome and our driver had seen better days. But I digress.
The driver suggested we either go to the Sheriff’s Office or the Fire Department. He dropped us off on Main Street and wished us luck. We were effusive with our thanks, and I imagine he would enjoy telling his friends about the two senior citizens he had picked up.
We set out for the Sheriff’s Office. We walked and walked. We found a building where the Sheriff’s Office had been and were directed by a sign to another address. We were disoriented and found it difficult to navigate the streets. Finally we turned a corner and saw a group of law enforcement vehicles. Then Greg confessed that he didn’t really want to go to the Sheriff’s Office, didn’t want to get law enforcement involved. Better to leave them as a last resort.
Across the street we saw fire trucks. Bingo! Just as we turned another corner to find an entrance, a siren went off. A door opened and a group of rather fit and handsome men filed out in a hurry. We ignored them and they ignored us and as the last men left, Greg managed to grab the door. We slipped in, hoping someone was still inside. No one. Zip.
I hustled back outside. I started calling to the men who were now suited up and coming back to get into their fire trucks, Greg behind me saying it was too late. At first I thought they were ignoring me when one (the most handsome guy … all chiseled chin, tanned and blue eyes) came out and said, “Can I help you, ma’am?” Greg explained our situation and when he said our car was at Grimes Point, the young man winced. “We’ve got a call. We have to go, but I’ll let you inside. One of the guys in there will help you.” We thanked him, got back into the building where at least it was cool and there was somewhat potable water, and waited.
I searched the building, hoping I’d find someone, anyone, but it was vacant. Apparently everyone had responded to the siren. I used the women’s rest room more than I needed to . . . just in case.
We debated waiting at the station versus going back out to look for a phone. Greg wanted to find the CVS, confident that they would sell Tracfones. There were no landlines in the fire station that we could find. One of the fireman had left his cellphone behind, but we didn’t want to touch it. We wanted our own phone. Greg suggested that I wait at the fire station while he went in search of a cell phone. I nixed that. No way was I going to let him out of my sight.
We set off, figuring that we could always come back to the fire station.
We found the CVS. They don’t sell phones. The young woman at the counter began to list all the other stores that did sell phones when I interrupted her. “We don’t have a car. Our car is locked at Grimes Point. We need a way to call for help.” I spied a landline near her. “Can we use your phone?”
For the next 45 minutes, Greg worked with a roadside assistance service. We had gotten the 800 number from a sticker on the back of the car. My heart lifted when Greg turned to me and said it sounded like they could find someone local to unlock our car. I almost broke down when he said, “He can be here in 10 minutes.”
We agreed to all the fees, understanding we would be set back by a couple of hundred dollars. Considering the alternative–breaking a car window–it was a small price.
While we waited, Greg cautioned me that the tow truck driver might not want to take both of us, in which case I’d have to wait for him at the CVS. I agreed but knew that I’d hang onto the back of the vehicle if I needed to in order to stay together. In less than 10 minutes, the tow truck driver arrived. He was cautious, even slightly suspicious, but when Greg agreed to all the costs, he let us both in.
On the ride to Grimes Point, my husband made small talk with John (at least we got his name). I even chimed in a couple of times. John was full of stories. Back in his late 20s, he was looking forward to a great military career when he was hit by a drunk driver and left paralyzed for a long time. No one thought he would ever walk again, but look at him now, 30-some years later and he’s doing just fine. He told stories about picking up “burners” (attendees at Burning Man) that made my stomach flipped. I wish I could remember more detail, but I was singularly focused on getting into the damn rental car.
We got to the car and John gave us a lesson on how to properly break into a vehicle without scratching the paint. He popped the door open, Greg found the release button for the trunk, and the trunk lid popped and lifted. I ran to the trunk, found the keys right where I can put them, and clasped them to my chest. I looked up and there was John, backlit by his headlights, his head thrown back as he laughed with joy at me hugging the keys.
You all can imagine how the rest of the night went. We thanked John, Greg slipped him a tip. We got back to Reno about 10 pm, split a bottle of wine, and made a small meal of cheese and bread. I cried, finally able to release the fear I had felt.
We were very lucky and trust that, in the future, we’ll at least check for cellphone coverage when we go to places unknown.
The silver lining of this experience was how complete strangers were willing to help us. The truck driver who thought we “looked kind of desperate” and gave us a lift into town. The women at the CVS who let us use their phone. John who could have blown us off or charged us a hell of a lot more than he did. I know that being white and (relatively) old worked in our favor. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe there are people out there who just see that you’re kind of desperate and need help and so they help. Without question. Without judgment.
I know there’s bad people in the world. I might even live next to one or two. But there are good people, and Greg and I met four of them that night in Nevada.
Thank you for reading this story. As a reward, here’s a time lapse of the Milky Way over Lake Tahoe, courtesy of my fit and handsome husband.
Marie A Bailey
Writer, blogger, knitter, cat lover, and introvert.