A little slice of nowhere

There’s a mental virus that infects us when we drive on long stretches of highway: the “I’m-not-stopping-for-anything-till-I-get-there-dammit” mode. It’s quite weird, a semi-sociopathic state that guarantees we will avoid all the fun that’s available to us on our journeys.

This maniacal method of driving is especially unfortunate in that it directly interferes with one of the great pleasures of the Nevada highway, namely the middle-of-nowhere roadhouse experience. Last Sunday, as I drove west on scenic and spacious Highway 50, my stomach told me, in a very clear and easily understood series of gurgles, that I was to pull my head out and pull my truck into the famed Middlegate Roadhouse for at least one hour of food, drink and rural hospitality. My stomach made a very good call.

Middlegate is one of the fine full-service roadhouses in this state, perched at the junction of Lonely 50 and Empty 361, The Gateway to Gabbs and Ichthyosaurs. It has gas, food, sodas, beer, cocktails, a pool table, a jukebox, crazy post cards, a porch, rooms, a ceiling full of dollar bills and a friendly bartender who’ll spin some yarn. In short, everything a class juke joint is supposed to have.

When I pulled in, Russ the bartender/ cook and some of the regulars around the pool table were still a-buzzin’ from the latest Middlegate celebrity sighting, which had taken place only two hours earlier. Richard Petty and some of his motorcycle buddies had stopped in for some Budweiser-oriented teeth cleaning as they vroomed their way cross-country. Some of the guys were still lobbing high fives at themselves over that one.

Another excellent celebrity call at Middlegate occurred in the early ‘90s, when Stephen King pulled in, got a room and parked himself at the bar for seven days straight with a legal pad. There, he cranked out his novel Desperation. At least, that was Russ’ story, and I didn’t see any reason to doubt it. Not unless I wanted warm beer pushed my way, which I very much did not.

I was famished, and I went with the roadhouse basics: deluxe burger and fries. Another excellent call. You know how Carl’s Jr. is always showing guys eating real sloppy burgers that are squirting out all over their hands and landing in their laps? As if you’re actually going to get one of those at Carl’s. But this burger was EXACTLY like that! An absolutely glorious, two-handed mega-mess. There was juice and mayo and mustard and stuff dribbling down to the second knuckle of every finger with every bite. “How,” I asked myself, while chugging the first gulps of a new MGD, “does life get much better than this? How?”

Answer (delivered in the roadhouse style): It don’t.

In the afterglow of the grub, I basked in the eclecto-coolth of the pool players’ excellent jukebox picks—Hank Sr. into Thorogood into the B-52s. Finally, it was time to hit the road, and lo and behold, sitting there in the soda case was the original energy drink itself, Jolt cola.