After 9/11 every newspaper and magazine in America ran at least one story titled “After 9/11.”
The day the Twin Towers came down is now regarded as America’s mile stone zero. There was the way we were and then there is the way we are now.
And, this simplification is always most stridently expressed at the premium news outlets, the news dispensers of record, those famous and venerable institutions of the northeast and the new south who bear the enormous responsibility of telling all of us -little, stupid, us-what is real and what is only, just one of our childish, little nightmares.
September 11, 2001 was and still is the mother lode of what news hacks call the follo -which is traditionally spelled, by the way, without the 23rd letter of the alphabet. You saw them two weeks ago: “Persistent Trauma of 9/11;” “What You Dreamed After 9/11;” “Patriotism After 9/11;” “Are We Safer after 9/11;” “Should We Blame Bush For What Happened After 9/11;” “How We Have Changed Since 9/11?”
Memories, Of The Way We Were
Every hack’s favorite angle is the “How 9/11 Changed Us,” angle. Most guys can write that one drunk, which is why a quick search reveals that it has already been written and published about 75,000 times in the last seven years. How we were and how we have changed is now the national, perennial, autumnal story-as the turning of the leaves was once the perennial, autumnal story at little weekly newspapers in New Hampshire and Vermont.
A few daring scribes with generous expense accounts and loose deadlines have ventured out from their fortified strongholds in New York, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco to have their pictures taken standing among us -the little stupid us who still live in “the Real America.” “Real America” is what people like George Stephanopoulos and Keith Olbermann call the foreign country that they must sometimes visit on business. Among themselves they call “Real America” the “Flyover States.”
Intrepidly Exploring The Real America
Over the last seven years four or five of these big timers have stumbled upon this town where I am standing now, under this same cobalt blue sky, presumably kicking approximately this same paper cup down this same grey sidewalk.
This town is Ely, Nevada, population 4,041. And I do not think any of these ambassadors from the fourth estate have stayed here for the night. I think they lingered in Ely just long enough to stretch their legs, enjoy a cold, adult beverage and jot down a few quick quotes.
The San Francisco Chronicle has been here. “Since Sept. 11, the nation has grappled with what it means to be an American,” the Chronicle postulated. And, then the Chronicle went on to report that Ely was “untouched by terror” because it was “so deep in lonely Nevada desert, Bid Laden probably couldn’t find it.”
ABC claims it was here. A month or so ago, ABC News reported that events since 9/11 have taken a particular toll on one local business. It is a little building called the Stardust Ranch.
Hard Times For Stardust
The Stardust is “down to only two girls,” ABC discovered. “The Stardust’s out-of-the-way location in downtown Ely doesn’t help matters. Ely is 240 miles from Las Vegas, 320 miles from Reno and 240 miles from Salt Lake City, surrounded by open spaces.”
Then the Aaron Spelling network explains that, “Soaring gas prices affected the number of customers willing to drive out to Ely.” And, when I hear that I have to wonder if ABC was ever even actually here. Anyone who has actually been here knows that the distances ABC sites, the 240 miles from Vegas and so on, are all the distances in air miles, not road miles.
It is futile anymore to protest that something is not true. All protestations of the untruthfulness of anything are met by the same snarky response Pilate gave Jesus. “What is truth?”
The way modern journalism works prevents any ridiculous speculation that 9/11 might actually not have been a great dividing line. What if 9/11 was just a symptom of something even worse?
Oh no! You can’t say that!
The People Who Sell Us Prescription Drugs
The people who tell us what is true are people with swell careers. They all know they deserve those careers. We should all know we must respect their careers. And, it does not matter who knows that the exigencies of those careers compel journalists to behave like one of the three blind men in the Indian fable, the three blind men who could not tell an elephant when they stumbled into one.
In Ely, the elephant is about nine blocks up and on the other side of Aultman street from the whorehouse. The elephant is called the Hotel Nevada and sooner or later every biker in the west spends a night there. It is a “biker friendly” hotel. When you check in they smile at you and tell you to park your motorcycle right out front.
Ely is at an intersection of roads that restless motorcyclists repeatedly traverse.
I came up here on the 93 and if I want to keep going in that direction I can roll all the way up to Missoula. Or, if I can by some miracle clear immigration into Canada without a passport, I can even get to Kamloops
That is one way things have changed since 9/11. I used to be able to ride into Canada without a passport.
But, say I do get into Canada and I do get to Kamloops, from there, with a minimum of navigation I can get all the way up to Dawson Creek. Dawson Creek is where the Alaska Highway starts.
Most of the motorcyclists who stop here are moving from Reno to Salt Lake over Route 50. The State of Nevada has been selling Route 50 to bikers for awhile. Nevada calls Route 50 the “Loneliest Road.” It is not.
It is not even close. But you can pick up the real, actual, loneliest road just south of here. That would be Route 6, which crosses the wild horse country between here and Tonapah.
Welcome To The Hotel Nevada
The Hotel Nevada is six stories tall and when it opened in 1929 it was a big deal. A Congressman and a United States Senator gave speeches and then they cut a ribbon. And, then they enjoyed a cold, adult beverage.
This was during prohibition, just before the last time some moron shoved the economy over a cliff. Technically, gambling was illegal that year. But you could still get a drink and place a bet in this hotel and neither of the high-ranking government officials who dedicated the place were shocked or upset by that reality. This used to be a better world.
Gambling became book legal here in 1931 and that was when they put in the slot machines. The hotel was the first “fireproof” building in the Silver State and until 1948 it was also the tallest building in Nevada. Ingrid Bergman stayed here the year she made Casablanca.
The Copper, Silver And Gold Mines
Back then, Ely was where copper came from. There were six big mines that employed a couple of thousand men. The Northern Pacific railroad connected to the Southern Pacific through Ely. There was a copper smelter here. A big company named Kennecott started buying it all up during the First World War.
Kennecott bought the last of the independent mines in 1958. With consolidation came efficiency. That ought to be the slogan of the west: “With consolidation comes efficiency.” That ought to brand that on the horses and on the miner’s foreheads..
One of the efficient things Kennecott did was replace shaft mining with five big holes in the ground. Every day for 20 years, men pulled 80,000 tons of dirt and 20,000 tons of ore out of the ground. They terraced the dirt around the holes. The railroad hauled out the copper and hauled in coal. They burned the coal to smelt the copper. The cinders are still here. Not even a cobalt blue sky can make five or six abandoned pit mines and an old copper smelter look good.
With Consolidation Comes Efficiency
The scars are about five miles south of town. The jobs are gone of course. The pits closed, the railroad closed, the smelter closed in 1978. You have to say this about people in the west: They are generally too ignorant to just give up.
And, sometimes dreams do come true. In 1991 another company named the Magma Copper Company built a $300 million dollar mill and started a state of the art copper, silver and gold operation that employed 425 people. That lasted six years.
Then, about a month ago, ABC News reported that even the one whorehouse In Ely was in trouble. Damn that Osama bin Laden! Damn all them Arab sons-a-bitches!
Business For A New Millennium
Today, the biggest local employers are the Ely Maximum Security State Prison and the Ely Conservation Camp. The Ely Conservation Camp is also a prison but it is not a maximum security prison. It is more like a labor camp. Like the gulag. Where the Russians used to put the reporters who asked the impertinent questions.
Between them, the two prisons employ 341 people.
Earlier this year the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state of Nevada over the Ely prison. Mistakes were made. Sometimes, the Ely Maximum Security State Prison is a dangerous place to live. Although, the ACLU probably won’t actually do anything to take away the jobs.
As long as people in Nevada keep taking drugs, the way the people in Dickens’ London drank gin, Ely will probably be able to hold onto those 341 jobs. Well, maybe not the warden. Maybe the warden will lose his job.
Best Hotel In Town
If you are just passing through, if you don’t have plans to stay in Ely for eight to twelve, you can get a “deluxe room” at the Hotel Nevada for $40 a night. My deluxe room was very small with a very large bed, a very large nightstand, a very large bureau, a mis-installed overhead light and a very large television. The picture tube was going on the television but I could still watch it and it got all the Salt Lake City stations.
When I checked in the people who work at the front desk couldn’t have been more professional or polite. Sometimes, having a reserve pool of about forty applicants for every available job will affect employees like that.
When you check in they give you a coupons for a free beer, a free margarita and the first dollar you bet is on the house.
Rebel Hopes To Make New Friend
I rode up in the elevator with a whore. She was prettier when she talked to me than when I first just saw her standing there. When she talked the sweetness of her soul leaked out of the corners of her mouth and her eyes glowed.
“This elevator is always so slow.”
“That’s okay. I don’t mind the company.”
She was voluptuous and I think the last time she bought new clothes was last year. She had dark hair that rippled when the elevator stopped. She had a tattoo on her ankle.
For about half a minute I hoped I might be luckier than I know I am ever going to be. I am a fool for hope. I thought the hotel might be giving me something extra special to go along with my two free drinks. I thought that maybe it was possible that I might just be the Hotel Nevada’s one millionth customer or something. And, that this brunette was another of my welcoming gifts. But when I got off at five she stayed on.
“Bye.” She smiled. She had a pretty smile for a whore with crooked teeth.
“Bye. You have a nice night.”
The hard part of the whore soured her sweet look. She got that business look in the corner of her eyes. “I’ll try.” She tried to be polite. “You, too.”
I did not look back. I heard the doors close. The Presidential Suite is up on the sixth floor. It costs $90 night. It is where the high rollers stay. I think she was probably heading up there.
Let Us Seek Out Beer
After I threw my bag on my bed I went to collect my free beer at the Liberty Club across the street. I have been in this bar a thousand times in a hundred towns. There is pool table in the back that hardly anybody plays in the afternoon. On the other side of that is the same back door that always leads to the same alley. The bar tender is in no hurry and neither am I.
But, I have spent most of my day so far on a pretty loud motorcycle so when he comes to stand in front of me I can only understand about half of what he says.
I hand him the coupon for the free beer. “You want a Bud Lite or a RR-or-ang-har amber.”
Can you make that out? “Not a Bud Lite.”
“A RR-or-ang-har amber?”
I have no idea what I am ordering. “Sure. That would be nice.” All I want is something cold and alcoholic that is some shade of tan and has foam on top.
Everyman in the place except the bartender is wearing a baseball cap. Not a Stetson anywhere. This is not Texas.
There is a football game on a big screen TV. The bar is clean. Two old guys are whispering to each other down at the other end of the bar from me. For all I know they are planning a bank job.
In the middle of the bar is the obligatory, middle-aged, recent divorcee seated between two younger men. She is laughing and looking from one to the other of them. She cannot seem to decide which she likes more. She pulls out all the please fuck me stops. She wipes the foam from her lips and sucks it off her fingertips.
And, I cannot help but think that it is no wonder the whores in this town can’t make any money.
I drink my beer and go sightseeing. I am hungry and the “Orient Express” sounds good but it is not yet open. So I wander into the trading post next door. A Shoshone women runs it. I guess she is about my age.
One set of shelves holds piles of skins from many small animals. If I lived in Ely and I had a pet I would not let it roam free.
Other shelves hold books and engraved rocks. Under the glass of the counter are the usual earrings and necklaces. “No. Thanks, I’m just looking.”
The owner’s mother or aunt, or grandmother, or something -I don’t know what she is but she is the oldest Indian woman I have ever seen and she is sleeping on a couch at the back. By walking back her way, I startle her awake. She doesn’t say anything. She just glares at me.
My Name Is Rebel, How Are You
“How are you?” I smile. I smile the way white people have been smiling at Indians for about five hundred years.
She still just glares. I believe I can read her mind. I believe she is recollecting about that one time when she was little and her was showing her one of his souvenirs and that souvenir looks just like me from the ears up without my hat. And, as that little girl long ago rolled that piece of hair around in her hands her grandpa told her how much honor he had found in scalping somebody who looked like me. I know this is just what is going through her head.
So, I back away from her real deliberate and slow because I do not know that she is not sitting on a handgun.
“Hey little dog.” There is a little dog running around the place. I wonder if he knows where that pile of pelts over there on that shelf comes from.
He knows. When I bend over to pet him he sticks his tail between his legs and runs away.
“Well, bye, now. You…you all have a nice day.” After the door closes, as I am walking away, I hear a little flurry of gibberish in some tongue I have never heard before.
Ely is about 95 percent white and about five percent Shoshone. I believe there might also be one Chinese family in town. That would explain the Orient Express restaurant.
I get my free margarita. I buy another beer. I get sleepy. I go to my room and take a nap. When I wake up it is dark. I get myself a sandwich and some French fries in the hotel dining room. It is basically a Denny’s except that the food is better and the service is much faster and you do not have to ask for water.
There are no waiters, only waitresses, and they all treat you like they appreciate the opportunity to have this job. And they all have the big butts that can only grow from hips that have born a child. They are all mommies. And I guess they are all breadwinners. I do not know how long this has been going on. I might venture to guess it was like this even before 9/11.
Standing On The Corner
I wander outside and I watch the bikes passing through. It gets cold in Ely on a September night. It is somewhere in the 40s. I don’t know who rides in the dark and the cold unless they have some place to go.
I do not understand where these people have to go. Are they looking for the whorehouse? Do they need a whore so bad they are going all the way up to Elko? Then I understand they are just going. Just going to go.
A little pack of four or five bikes warms up then putts off toward Salt lake. I watch a couple of guys stroll out of the Hotel Nevada and go into the Jailhouse Casino across the street. Then there is just me. I wait. I look up and down the street. I walk out into the middle of the street and spin around a look every way. Still just me
When I finally get cold it is still just me.
Time To Hurt Somebody
The Hotel Nevada brags that they run a Texas Hold’em game on Friday and Saturday nights. I used to play a lot Hold’em in the cutthroat card clubs around El Lay, back before poker became a fad and a television show. I finally have plans for Ely on my Saturday night. I believe I am about to help myself to some prison guard’s money.
I strut downstairs to the “live games” room. I am sinfully proud if I think I have the slightest edge on somebody.
The cover is off the poker table but there is no game. A couple of love birds are playing blackjack. The three card poker dealer looks at me longingly. Another couple of dealers are leaning on the bar, talking the bartender. None of them has a thing to do. None of them is worried about losing their jobs. They have skills. They know how to deal cards. One of them asks, “Can I help you?”
Or Maybe Not
I get the same feeling every time I wander into the wrong bar. “I…I heard a rumor there was a poker game.”
“Couldn’t get a game up. All we had was two players. Maybe later.”
“Okay.” I go back upstairs to my room. I lay down on my bed and watch my dying TV.
People in Ely don’t have money to play poker anymore. Hell. They hardly have money for whores. Not after 9/11, anyway.