Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 4, August 1969
The country station began to crackle and fade. I adjusted my radio dial and heard Wolfman Jack’s gravelly voice, “This is XERB, the mighty 1090 in Hollywood, California, broadcasting 50,000 watts of soul power. Hey baby, here’s Route 66.”
We’d left 66 back in Kingman, but it was impossible to resist singing along.
Our trucks rolled through the steaming nothingness of Nevada for close to an hour. Then we rounded a bend and found half a dozen buses lined up on the right against a concrete guardrail. Hundreds of tourists, mostly Japanese, were walking this way and that, snapping pictures with their cameras. It was like a busy city street in the middle of nowhere.
Driving on, we watched Hoover Dam disappear behind, leaving us alone once again. Talk about a mind screw. From nothing to frantic to nothing—just like that. It was more than weird!
The good news was we saw a turnoff for Lake Mead. We passed one beach with a sign that read “WARNING! CONTAMINATED WATER!” A hundred yards farther, we came to a second beach with a sign that read “SWIMMING AREA.” In minutes, we parked, jumped in the back of our trucks, changed into our swimming trunks, and headed into the water.
Relief at last! Wrong! The water’s really hot! What in blazes?
“Damn, this water’s boiling,” Albert complained.
“We need to go out a ways where it’s deeper,” I told him.
Then a plump lady in an overtaxed, sagging lawn chair sitting next to her chubby husband, shouted at me, “Hey! Get that dog out of the water!”
Are you kidding me? You think my dog is going to hurt this polluted lake? Give me a break, lady. I didn’t waste time with a verbal response, as I led Charlie out to deeper water.
As I supported Charlie, we soaked until our body temperatures reached something akin to normal. Back on land, we headed for the only building on the beach, a light green cinder block with a snack bar inside. I found a spot under a bush for Charlie against the shady side of the building. “That should keep you cool, girl. Stay here. We'll be back.”
“Is she going to be okay?” Albert asked.
“Yeah, the ground’s damp under those bushes. And she drank plenty of lake water. She’ll be fine if the tainted water doesn’t kill her.”
We bought hot dogs and Cokes and sat in the corner of a large yellow room filled with picnic tables. It was crowded. We weren’t the only ones attracted to the air conditioning.
“Damn, this cool air feels good,” I mumbled, my mouth full of hot dog.
“It’s unbelievable out there.”
“My mind has been yelling, ‘Turn down the heat, man!’”
“How do people live around here?” asked Albert.
“They have to be crazy—112 degrees! Isn’t there some kind of law against that?”
“Write your congressman.”
“Yeah, but this is Nevada. Everything’s legal in Nevada.”
Albert scratched his head, making his hat bounce up and down, “Hey, why don’t we just hang out here until the sun gets lower? Traveling would be bearable then. We could drive through the night.”
“I can dig it. It’s only a couple of hours until six. The sun will be low enough by then. We can eat dinner in Vegas, then head to Reno.”
“Sounds good to me."
* * * * *
When we hit the road again, it was still hot, but the temperature was reasonable. It didn’t take long to get to Vegas. At dusk, we parked a few blocks from the clubs. I left Charlie in charge of the truck, and we walked to a glittery stretch of downtown.
Lights, lights, lights! All blinking and moving.
“There must be ten casinos on this block alone, Albert.”
We weren’t as ripped as before, but the lights confirmed there was still some LSD in my system. When we saw a sign advertising a steak dinner for $3.99, we couldn’t resist. Stuffed with steak, potatoes, gravy, peas, salad, pie a la mode, and coffee, we pushed our chairs back, ready for the long ride to Reno.
Albert pulled a buffalo nickel out of his pocket. He held it up. “I’m going to find my machine.”
I knew that Albert had been reading books on ESP. He had told me that when he turned over playing cards and guessed right, he’d give himself an M&M as a reward. His goal was to break the bank in Vegas. No wonder he wanted to stop there.
Intrigued, I followed Albert as he walked through the entire casino, pausing at every nickel slot along the way. Then he left the club and entered the one next to it, repeating the process. Albert returned to the street and stepped into a third establishment.
After a few machines, he stopped and stared at a red and chrome device for a good while. Finally, he slipped the nickel into the slot and pulled down on the handle.
Three cylinders rolled around and around and then stopped, one at a time. The first landed on a golden crown, the second the same, and the third the same again.
Lights on top of the machine began to flash, and a loud, high-pitched bell rang and clanged as the beast coughed up nickels for what must have been a full minute.
My mouth dropped. “Are you shitting me? Jackpot! You did it, Albert! I can’t believe it. Out of sight, man!”
A smug, silent Albert left the club with twenty-five Las Vegas dollars in his pocket. We gassed up and left the glitz behind.
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
To receive episodes delivered directly to your email box, sign up HERE.
If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns