Thursday, September 7, 2000...

Greetings from Lovelock, Nevada, where "Two Stiffs Selling Gas," a station founded by two brothers named Stiff, has been around for about 70 years.

Followed US 20 east from Boise across central Idaho. Everyone else on the route was headed for the Sun Valley resort area; I was bound for the desert. Half an hour after passing Picabo (the town for which skier Picabo Street was named) I came to Craters of the Moon National Monument, a bizarre landscape marked by ancient lava flows. The two most common forms of lava both bear Hawaiian names: "pahoehoe," a smooth ropelike flow on which hikers can easily walk, and "a'a" (or "aa," the Scrabble player's friend), which after thousands of years remains so jagged it can tear holes in hiking boots. Had planned to take the loop drive through the park -- but the drive was closed, today only, for repaving. Disappointed, I settled for a quick hike around the grounds near the visitor center.

Restaurant, Arco, ID The only other sight along this stretch of US 20 is EBR-1, the world's first commercial nuclear reactor. The first self-sustaining nuclear reaction took place in the middle of my college campus, under the stands of the football stadium we no longer needed. Thirty years later, the site was developed into a library, possibly with the idea that knowledge of the site's prior use might induce some students to limit themselves to 10 hours a day in the library. If so, it didn't work... After World War II, when the government was adapting nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, it built the first commercial reactor in east-central Idaho because even a catastrophic accident here would have little effect on the populace. (Meanwhile, the same government was conducting above-ground nuclear tests an hour from Las Vegas, the fallout from which has been linked to cancer in hundreds or thousands of people, including John Wayne.)

An hour later I reached Idaho Falls, the western end of May's US 20 drive. The loop was complete; one road down, one to go. It would take almost a full day's drive to reach the western end of US 6 in Bishop, California: I-15 to I-86 to I-84 to US 93 to I-80 to US 395. I swung south on the Interstate and turned on the radio.

Ugh. Any station with "mix" in its nickname or slogan becomes unlistenable within five minutes. Songs that were garbage 25 years ago aren't "classic rock," they're "old garbage." All commercial country stations are crap, Eric Clapton should've taken Stevie Ray Vaughan's seat on that helicopter, and Britney Spears sounds just as she looks: like Wendell's inflatable 21st birthday present brought to life. The one musical highlight came from NPR, of all places, which reviewed " Electric Waco Chair, the forthcoming CD from the Waco Brothers, the Anglo-American drunken collision of country and punk responsible for some of my favorite music of recent years. In a just world the Wacos and Marshall Crenshaw would sell out arenas, while Billy Joel and the Eagles toured county fairs as a double-billed oldies act.

Then I made the mistake of tuning to AM in midafternoon. Somehow missing Dr. Laura, I landed instead on Oliver North's show. Mr. North, best known for flagrant breaches of his duty to the Constitition and laws of the United States while an active-duty military officer during the Reagan Administration, now considers the Clinton Administration not merely misguided, but downright illegitimate for having the audacity to pursue policies different from those North and his callers "know" the country wants and needs.

North's callers are a sorry lot, too: 55-year-old white males convinced that their failure to attain the salary, position or respect they know they deserve wasn't their fault, but was caused by Those Damn Liberals/Socialists/Communists. (That's a single category, you know. It includes everyone from Bill Clinton and Al Gore to Gus Hall and Angela Davis.) TDL/S/Cs stole the pot of gold waiting at the end of their rainbow, then gave it to women and minorities; squandered it on millions of bureaucrats who alternately play cards at the office, compete to write the most intrusive regulations, and secretly train squads which are just waiting for the chance to come door-to-door to confiscate all privately owned firearms. (Not surprisingly, the NRA is one of North's biggest advertisers.)

North's "talents" are wasted in a country which insists on free elections; I think his ideal state would be a cross between Pinochet's Chile and Fujimori's Peru. And for me, his ideal state would be rotting away behind bars for his Iran-Contra offenses. (Oops, I forgot. Back-door deals with terrorists and flagrant contempt for a law barring aid to the Contras are actually honorable, heroic gestures, not abominable crimes like lying about an affair.) Centre Motel, Elko, NV

It's easy to tell when you cross from Idaho into Nevada: not just the casinos at every crossroad, but also the occasional "ranch" which has nothing to do with cattle. I drove about two-thirds of the way across Nevada before stopping for the night here in Lovelock, a small town about 75 miles northeast of Reno. I'm at the Lovelock Inn, a classic mom 'n' pop motel which, luckily, has been rewired to allow me to plug in the modem. Tomorrow it's down to Bishop, California, then east across Nevada and Utah. Two days to go...
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