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I-80 East Revisited

Spending a lot of time on the interstate lately between sea level and Tahoe. I was stuck in a three-hour standstill just outside of Roseville a few Thursdays ago. Ninety degree heat with the engine off watching a lot of men unsuited for shorts getting out of their cars to try and get a look down the road. Sometimes you just have to hunker down and resolve to not going anywhere. It’s a big part of life. Roseville is the kind of place where you’ll catch a sign hung outside some newish, still available prefab condo project. “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Already.” The ‘already’ is the giveaway. Beware of any location whose primary appeal is being an alternative to a three hour traffic jam.

Having to pass through Sacramento and the like is part of the process of driving to Tahoe. All spectacular locations require wading through crippling mediocrity to arrive. And they typically come with the caveat that no great place goes undiscovered. We may have cheated the Native Americans out of Manhattan for the price of some tobacco and a sack of beans, but they were the last to see Tahoe in August before the Germans arrived. (Using ‘Germans’ here as a general metaphor for any group descending on a area from afar with pale legs and inflatable arm floats.) Still, there’s always the final drop down from 267 and spotting that particular body of water. I had a friend in New York who bragged on her family vacation spot upstate at Lake Luzerne. She contrasted it with Tahoe, where she’d never been, asserting that it was the superior spot. My take at the time, having visited both places, was that if I’d lived at Lake Luzerne I would’ve been home already.

“Never get married.” This is Clarence Williams III’s (“Linc” from “Mod Squad”) advice to Prince in a poignantly funny scene from the movie Purple Rain. My updated version, based on a years-long project at our family cabin, is “never remodel.” Buy new, sure, if you’re young and have it all in front of you. Or, alternatively, rent and enjoy the freedom. But under no circumstance remodel. Particularly if there is nostalgia involved and the idea involves some version of upgrading the past. The past is a memory, the future a mystery, and the present a gift. This is why they call it the present. I stole this years ago from that Indian snake oil salesman, Deepak Chopra. Having undertaken a years-long remodeling project, I now wish I’d had Deepak as a contractor. Shoddy workmanship is a given, even with the licensed variety, but at least he could have spun some first class bullshit to make it more palatable. The first guy I hired was a short, turquoise  and cowboy boot wearing Qanon type. All of which works for me. Unfortunately, he was also prone to rage and stroked-out about halfway into the job. The second guy, an industrious Mexican fellow with a small construction empire out of Truckee, has been marginally better. The work is still rough around the edges, but it’s getting closer to the point where I can sell the place and put the past behind me.

“Champagne problems,” as somebody accurately pointed out when I was in the middle of this maelstrom. (Learned that word too late after wondering why Mr Turquoise called his company “Maelstrom Construction.”) But problems are problems, whether you’re being hit about the head and neck by a homeless chap with a stick or wrapping your Mercedes around a tree. And short of the occasional loving mother or faithful offspring, nobody cares about yours. Instead you get all kinds of hints dropped as you near completion of this nightmare. “Would love to see what you’ve done with the place .. no need for you to come along.” The other piece of this equation, of course, is the unfathomable expense. Mr Qanon dropped that bit of wisdom halfway into his stint and before blowing a gasket. “Actually, remodeling is more expensive than new construction.” You don’t say? Might have mentioned this when you were listing your bona fides. All water under the bridge now and further reason to embrace these Everly Brothers lyrics, later covered by two late greats, Tom Petty and Jimmy Buffett: “And if you ever wonder why you ride this carousel / you did it for the stories you could tell.” Might have to change that last part to “the inane blog posts you could write every four months,” but still better than shelling out for Deepak Chopra.


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