Bellied up in Beatty

I and an old friend loaded up the trailer and got outta town the day before the Truckee got a little sloppy. Our destination was the one place in the region where we’d have a shot at a 60-degree day—Death Valley.

Before we got into the park, we stopped in that slightly oddball town of Beatty—“The Gateway to Hell On Earth.” (But hey, there are times when Hell is one terrific place to visit.) It was already dark and getting cold rapidly, so we figured we’d put off the trailer routine for the night and get a room in town. Our motel choice was the good ole Phoenix Inn, a colorful bastion of lodging along Highway 95 featuring shabby carpets, loud heaters and irritating remotes, all for a most reasonable $39 a night.

We pulled in and stood around for a minute in the office. The owner came out from the back. He was a gent who sorta looked like a cross between actor Fred Ward and Tonto. “We need a room for one night,” I chirped. He looked at us and said, “Is this some kind of Brokeback Mountain thing or somethin’?”

Just kidding. Of course he didn’t say that. After all, the man’s a pro. (And just how long will it take for some porno producer to churn out Brokeback Mountin’?) What he did say was: “You guys are in room 8. In the morning, come on back here if you like. We’ll have coffee and doughnuts and shit.” That’s a quote. “Coffee and doughnuts and shit.” Perfect.

After getting settled, we headed out for some food. Our host had suggested the Sourdough Saloon and its pizza. We wandered in and immediately got hit in the face with enough second-hand smoke to gag a firefighter. Obviously, this is where it was all goin’ down. We had to look for a minute to find two open stools at the far end of the large horseshoe bar. Directly across from us were a few old-timers nursing cocktails and pounding Marlboros. The old gals were cool in a crusty-old-biddy kind of way, sucking on their cigs with gusto and givin’ the business to their men. One of ’em looked 80-something, and here she was, lightin’ up in a bar in Beatty. There was something comfortably Americana and even politically correct about that picture.

The jukebox blared out the theme from The Monkees TV show, followed by Ramjam’s “Black Betty.” I imagined one of the old cowboys turning around, pullin’ his piece and shooting the machine that would disturb his conversation with such insipidies.

No such luck. Interesting to consider that maybe he was the same guy who put the coin in for “Black Betty.” My amigo stepped up and took action, heading over to the box with 12 quarters and an eye for Roy Orbison and Roger Miller—stuff that sounded pretty damn good in a smoked up pizza bar in downtown Beatty while awaiting the turning of years.