A Nevada tale

Bruce is below the radar this week. We offer his Aug. 20, 1997, epistle:

I was driving on a dirt road northeast of Winnemucca, headed toward an outpost called Midas, when the truck went lame, and that wobbly feeling of flaccidity that sounds like the first notes of a tune called “Flat Tires in Wide Open Spaces” made an appearance. With this correspondent, they’re a way of life.

Experience has taught me one thing in this situation. My first move is not to fetch a lug wrench and jack, but to go straight to the ice chest and the close one that will get me through this maneuver. After the first hard, lusty, Adam’s apple-bobbing pull of beer, it’s time to settle down and assess the situation.

Things could be worse. At least I have a jack and a spare. It is an idyllic scene, I have to admit. It’s me and my crippled truck on a deserted desert road near a ranch in the middle of a fairly fertile valley that’s hemmed on both sides by vertical rust and mahogany bluffs. If you gotta change tires, this is one of the best spots in the world to do so. I can set my lug wrench, beer, cookies and underpants, for that matter, in the middle of the road and not have to worry too much about disturbing another motorist.

While making the switch, the utter silence of the desert is disturbed by a rhythmic rustling sound. It’s the pumping wings of a raven flying overhead. Headed off to wherever. Still afflicted with a lingering echo from my college Castaneda class (a stonier three credits would be difficult to find), I immediately think in terms of omens. Does the raven’s flight path mean a speedy tire change? (Nope.) Perhaps a change fraught with silly, maddening hassles? (Yep.) Or an imminent shadowy encounter with a mechanic from another reality, a fearsome thing in an old Texaco shirt with a name badge that reads “Mescalito”? (Probably need more beer.)

The new tire is on, the beer is finished, the truck is rolling. Another raven flies by. Then another. Then a few more. I’m in the middle of one of the all-time great Tippi Hedren-in-The Birds flashbacks. The power line runs parallel to the highway and at every pole, perched on the line, are 50 to 60 ravens. Each group is split in half by the pole, with 25 to 30 birds a side. This goes on for the next 40 poles. I counted. Minimum of 2,000 ravens, doing whatever their late afternoon thing might be. Right now, it looks like hangin’ out is way up on their list.

I stopped the truck, turned it off and got out to give a look in the proper silence. I looked down in the dirt and saw a large grasshopper scabbling about. I hoped, for his sake, that his idea of a good time is to be disintegrated by a big black bird’s digestive enzymes. Poe would have loved this scene. Or been scared to death.