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Nettie Moore

I’m on the road again, pointing the old white E320 east on I80 toward the Sierras. It’s got a hundred and forty thousand miles on it, that car, but rides as solid as a chunk of accelerating granite.  Say what you will about the Germans, but they make a decent vehicle.  Somewhere past Auburn I stop at a glorified taco stand – something between a Taco Bell and tamale peddler –  and order two with chicken from the drive through window. In the ten minutes I spare for consumption, I sit in the Benz surveying the landscape and pondering who lives here in these Sierra foothills. The spread isn’t quite urban and isn’t quite country, and I tend to associate it with waitresses, gas stations, Denny’s and fast food clusters. But it’s only an hour out of Sacramento, and people do start and end their days here. A simple concept, yet one that continually eludes my grasp.

Wherever you go, there you are. Some guy thought that up, and his slightly more ambitious buddy wrote it down and cashed in on the bumper sticker. It’s kind of like “it is what it is” with either a slightly more grounding or slightly more daunting effect, depending on one’s slant. It applies equally to getting in a plane and flying across the country, driving on the interstate toward Lake Tahoe, or switching from bed to couch in the middle of the night. Manhattan’s got more distractions than Weimar, California but you can only ever take them in from your own vantage point. As John C. Spears would remark with profound intonation “The eyes only see out.” Unfortunately, Spears failed to get it on the bumper sticker too.

Tahoe is what it is, but in its particular case this is really something else. I’m no world traveler, but I’ve lived in Umbria, North Beach and New York, seen London, Madrid and Paris, and had an airport stopover in Memphis. None offers the same sensation one gets from this particular lake. And the air – well, as Sinatra might have observed, it is indeed rarified. And yet the same feeling overtakes me whenever I make the brief journey from car to inside of cabin: well, here I am. After about forty years, the place is taking on a theme prominent in all my family’s homes: multiplying televisions. For decades there was only the old Magnavox black and white, representing the sole technological advancement in a domicile that lacked even a phone line. But now there’s a Panasonic LCD in the living room, a small color set upstairs, and my brother’s old four hundred pound Sony XBR unplugged on the back bedroom floor. None, except perhaps the Panasonic, is really necessary, but you always need somewhere to stash the old one. This is what a family cabin is, in large part – a place for you and the extended clan to store the old stuff. The funny thing is, folks seem to think they’re doing you a favor by adding that third blender to the kitchen ensemble. That’s where Mom comes in, making the journey every so often to weed out the two inferior blenders.

Blenders and televisions aside, it’s an ideal setup: a small A-frame that’s all sleeping space, save a decent kitchen and two modest bathrooms. The water is superior up here, better to taste and softer to shave. Towering pines swaying in late September afternoon breeze put the unanswerable in perspective. And that body of water, well, you can see how the first indians to lay human eye on it figured themselves a foot up on the rest of civilization.  Just before sundown I hear footsteps coming up the stairs to the deck, always a slightly jarring sensation while pondering one’s own company in the woodsy off season. Darnell is a young black kid with green eyes, dressed impeccably in well starched white shirt and politely stepping back from the door as I answer. “Excuse me Sir,” he begins, “and pardon me for interrupting your privacy this evening.”

He’s a nice kid, living in Reno and going door to door looking to solidify his standing with some sort of troubled youth program by selling magazine subscriptions. At least that’s the script, and I’m torn between suspecting a scam and listening to the rest of his story. It’s a standard pitch but with believable humility and decent flare. An ex drug dealer and a father with young son at twenty-four, his simple rationale rings sincere:: “I was a knucklehead.” He notes the sign above the door “Monaco – is that you?” and asks if it’s a family cabin. “See, that’s also what I’m doing,” he explains, “trying to learn how to do it the right way from those who have attained success.” He glances at the Mercedes in the driveway and asks politely but with a dose of familiarity “How’d you make your first million?” I consider several replies including “lucky genetic draw” and telling him that the car is worth four grand, tops. But instead I self-consciously allow the assumption to sit, despite my t-shirt stained by taco sauce and a three day growth.”I guess my family’s just stuck together and hung on to the stuff that’s worked out.” It rings hollow, even as I’m in the middle of saying it.

I end up giving him twenty bucks, either out of appreciation for his slim pickings up here or residual white man’s guilt. He’s appreciative but disappointed that I’m not getting a subscription, and has me sign a sheet acknowledging his “twenty points” and rating his demeanor. “Polite and engaging” I write, seeing as there’s insufficient room to add “Overlooked my stained shirt.” I notice the various signatures under mine and subscriptions bought – either the kid’s doing OK or he’s forged an elaborate plan. Either way it’s at least a twenty buck effort. He asks if I know what time it is and I tell him five-thirty. “They get bears around here, don’t they?” he asks. I tell him they do, but on rare occasion, and that they’re more interested in uncovered garbage cans than door to door magazine salesmen. It’s about as successful a bit of advice as I can muster. “God bless you, Sir,” he tells me, and is on his way.

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