Golden Valley, Arizona is a place men go after they have lost all their dreams but one.
That last dream for most people out here in the west, maybe in all of America, is owning a place of your own where you can be let alone. That is the dream that is currently being foreclosed here in the new and improved America. All the bad people who just refuse to pay their bills are getting kicked to the curb by the good people who hold all the markers.
A few thousand dreamers are still holding out in Golden Valley.
Las Vegas spits out dreamers all night and all day. And, Vegas is only about 80 or 90 miles away as the crow flies but for the time being it might as well be a million miles. If Vegas is the Earth then Golden Valley is Mars.
If you are going to Golden Valley you have to ride through Laughlin and that is how I go.
I cruise down Casino Road, and bully my way onto Laughlin Bridge and all the time I am glaring and cursing, revving my engine and doing my best to look dangerous because, I figure, if they are scared of me they are less likely to try to kill me. And as usual, that works. I act like that in Laughlin and in Los Angeles, Vegas, Phoenix and Albuquerque. But, I don’t act like that everywhere.
Laughlin Bridge crosses the great, brown teat of the west, the Colorado River. The River is still about 450 feet above sea level here and it moves fast. It is a quarter mile wide and infested with jet skis. If you come from the east you might not understand but the Colorado River is the mother of the west. This ditch down there under my pegs is the teat all the little piggies fight over.
It is the river of dreams and the dream is it will never go dry. It can’t go dry.
Almost as soon as I am across the river I start to climb up out of Bullhead City and into the Union Pass. The road climbs 3100 feet in twelve miles. Halfway up I start to feel the chill but I have always liked this climb. There are a lot of twists and turns but it is still a pretty easy road. This is one of those roads that lets you look at where you are. And, like few other places in America the Union Pass looks like the west the way it used to look on black and white television.
Then the first thing you see when you crest the summit is the decaying carcass of the old dream of the old west, dreamed by old dreamers of all ages. The first thing you see is Golden Valley.
Golden Valley is not much. From above it looks like a refugee camp in central Asia. It looks like two thousand shacks. It looks like hell to me but it is some people’s dream.
This is a place for American dreamers with just enough cash to make their last stand. They buy an acre or two here. They park a double-wide on their little piece of desert and then usually the next thing they do is they run up an American flag. I’ve got a POW-MIA tattoo on my left arm and this is one of the only places left where people still nod at that tattoo. I see copies of that tattoo sticking up on poles scattered in the Joshua trees.
Listen though, don’t romanticize this place. I don’t. This is angry, old man America; broken veteran America, biker America; survivalist America; previously foreclosed and bankrupt, bad credit score America; third and fourth chance America; and, methamphetamine America.
Everybody has guns and everybody goes out and practices with them in that desert. People pass through here all the time so unless they actually find your body the officials might not even notice you are missing.
Timothy McVeigh, the Desert Storm Vet who decided to wage his war against big government by murdering a bunch of federal employee’s children practiced his shooting here. He lived in a little tan house at 3436 Hunt Street in Golden Valley. Doesn’t that sound nice? A little desert colored house on Hunt Street in Golden Valley?
The nearest big city is Kingman. I should put “big city” in double quotes. Forty thousand people live in Kingman and the town’s most famous son was a fat man named Andy Devine. Andy Devine played the sidekick or the comic fool in more than 180 movies and television shows. Most of them were in black and white. For awhile, he was best known as Roy Rodgers sidekick.
Two-thirds of the people in New York probably couldn’t pick Roy Rodgers out of a photo lineup, let alone Andy Devine. But, Kingman never forgot. The stretch of old Route 66 that passes through Kingman is called Andy Devine Avenue.
You can live in Kingman and you can dream it is still the black and white America. For the time being anyway. You can live in Golden Valley and you can dream that your own, personal nightmare is over and that you are about to carve out a new fate for yourself. Accurate or not, romantic or not, you can go ahead and think of all these people in Kingman and Golden Valley as you.
The problem is, people who are not you have dreams, too.
The Bridge To Vegas
The Federal Government is building a new bridge across the Colorado near Boulder Dam that is going to be called the “Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.” It is named for a politician and a war hero. As soon as they put Pat Tillman’s name on it the thing was as good as built. And, it is officially scheduled to open in 2010.
The bridge is supposed to make it easier for dreamers to get from Las Vegas to Golden Valley and back again down US Route 93. In some people’s minds it is a terrible injustice for Golden Valley to be isolated from Vegas because Vegas knows no bounds. Las Vegas is the balloon that refuses to burst.
Thirty-one percent of the people who have a job in Vegas work in the tourism business. Fifty-two percent work in education, government, banking, medicine or the transportation services that support the people who work in the tourism business. Three percent work in manufacturing and mining. About 11 percent work in construction building new casinos and homes for the never ending influx of refugees.
Vegas On A Roll
Locals are fond of saying that in another hundred years everybody in the world will live in Las Vegas and when they say that they are only half joking. The other half of that remark is pride. Vegas now has a population of about 1.8 million people. Twelve years from now Vegas expects to be home to 3 million because it is impossible that more and more people will not come to Las Vegas to gamble. Impossible.
There is an actual political point of view that believes that Las Vegas is an irresistible force to money like a black hole. Public policy is being made on the belief that all of the rest of the world will eventually be gravitationally drawn to Vegas-like stardust to an empty spot in the night sky.
For the last 20 years Las Vegas has been very, very good to real estate developers so there is no reason why it cannot continue to be. Is there? Real estate developers envision a golden future in which everyone in America, Mexico, Canada, China, Europe, India and Africa will move to Vegas and buy a brand new home.
Well, actually there are two reason why the Vegas real estate boom cannot continue. First of all, Vegas is in, you know, a desert. You know, like, the kind of desert with no naturally occurring golf courses or swimming pools or fountains. And secondly, much of the land surrounding Vegas is a Federal desert. And, the Federal land is off limits for development.
The Hard Seven
The biggest problem is water. Ninety percent of Vegas’ water comes from that big, brown teat, the Colorado, and the Colorado is drying up. Maybe the Bush Administration is right. Maybe there is no global warming. Maybe it is just getting hotter because George Bush is so full of hot air. Whatever the cause, the result is a diminishing snow pack in the Rockies. So, the Colorado is carrying less.
Seven states draw water from the Colorado. Of those seven, only California is drawing less water than it used to draw. California has plans to siphon off even less water in coming years but at the same time the other six states and the Navajo Nation all have plans to suck out much more.
The gruesome result of all that is that Las Vegas could actually run out of water in his as little as three years. Vegas probably will actually run out of water in about 12 years unless “something” is done. As a matter of public fact, Las Vegas will be running 64 million gallons short every day in about another 18 months.
So Las Vegas has a serious problem but the city does have some options. Vegas can steal water from the middle and northern part of the state, which it plans to do. It can recycle sewage water, which it plans to do. As Lake Mead drops Vegas can lower the intake valves for the city water supply which it is already doing. It can compel people to tear out their lawns.
Thus may the fountains, the faux canals and the golf courses be saved. This may save Las Vegas more or less as it is now. But what about growth?
The Real Estate Boom
What will happen to the Las Vegas real estate boom? Where will all the new housing developments go? What about the hopes and dreams of all those real-estate billionaires?
So, like the more humble dreamers before them, the billionaire dreamers are coming to Golden Valley. A major real estate developer named Rhodes Homes bought 5,000 acres in Golden Valley and plans to build some houses. They are going to call the thing Pravada:
“…a bold, new master-planned community that blends modern convenience and contemporary design with a traditional flair and old fashioned neighborliness.”
In “…northwest Arizona’s Golden Valley, near Kingman, Pravada has been planned to create a genuine sense of community, with parks, walking trails, recreation centers, and natural open spaces where residents can meet, live, and play. At Pravada, we are creating a village where residents will share old memories and create new ones, where families will gather together and where life-long friendships will blossom and grow.”
Don’t you love how Rhodes Homes calls it a “village.” What do you think of when you think of a village? Well, maybe Pravada will not exactly be a village.
“Pravada has been designed to reflect the character of the Great American Small Town, where life is a little more calm, and where shops, services, recreation centers and parks are within walking distance and close to home. The breathtaking beauty of our high desert location creates a sense of wonder and reflection.”
My favorite thing about this piece of advertising copy from the official Pravada website is that exactly 30 words after saying that Pravada is going to be a village Rhodes Homes says it is going to be a “small town, sort of like Golden Valley; where you can go out into the desert and walk around and shoot stuff and smoke stuff and the rest of the world will leave you alone.
And, then the very next thing Rhodes Homes says is that:
“At completion, which is expected in 15 or 20 years, Pravada will be a small city, with 30,000 homes, state-of-the-art parks and recreation centers, and a fully developed retail and commercial center.”
A small city.
Isn’t that great writing? In exactly 92 words Pravada goes from a village to a town to a city. And, then there will also be a 37-acre, 380,000-square-foot shopping center and office complex three miles over to the north.
Rhodes Homes is, for all practical purposes, a guy named Jim Rhodes. He calls himself “Rhodes Homes” for exactly the same reason that people may know you as “Well Fed Fred” or “Tony the Ant.”
Rhodes, who also answers to “Rhodes Homes Arizona” and “Perkins Mountain Water and Utility Companies” has a little history. He started off framing houses when he was 18-years-old and he never thought of doing anything else. All his dreams have always been about building and selling houses and so, like most people who are free of imagination, doubt or inconsistency, Rhodes has become very rich.
A public hearing was held in Kingman in March, 2007 to determine if Jim Rhodes was “a fit and proper person to conduct business in the state of Arizona.”
See, the thing is, Rhodes gets sued a lot by the people who buy his houses. The law in America is so majestically slow that many of these suits are as yet unresolved but one suit, for shoddy construction, that did find a conclusion resulted in a $16.2 million settlement. That was the largest such settlement in the history of Nevada.
Some people have suggested that Rhodes’ homes are “crap.” Five years ago, a reporter named Heidi Walters writing in the Las Vegas Mercury, asked about an earlier Rhodes development, “What if the houses he puts up there, however many, are crap?”
Rhodes has stated publically that his tarnished reputation is just something that happens to all successful real-estate tycoons. That the lawsuits are no big deal. “I think it would be more uncommon for it (getting sued-a lot) not to happen,” Rhodes said at that hearing in March, 2007.
I can’t say if that is true or not because I am not a real estate tycoon. Are you a real estate tycoon? Well, then who among us is fit to judge Jim Rhodes? I believe that is the essence of Jim Rhodes’ self-defense. We have never walked in his boots so we cannot have a truly informed opinion about him.
Rhodes has also been accused of trying to fix local elections in Nevada. According to the East Valley (Phoenix) Tribune:
“The Las Vegas developer has a history of using money to buy clout with public officials. In Nevada, he made illegal campaign contributions to one county commissioner, and was alleged to have been paying a second under the table. He also arranged $10,000 in illegal contributions to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Reid’s office says the senator did not know the donations were illegal, and ended up forwarding the money to the federal treasury.”
In April, 2007 a former business partner of Rhodes named Lou Goldman told the same paper, “Rhodes is like a poisonous snake, and somebody is going to get bit.”
Probably, all those critics were just jealous of Rhodes success or something because he was factually found to be “a fit and proper person to conduct business in the state of Arizona.”
How Much Water
So then all that stood between present reality as many of us experience it and the glorious dream of a city called Pravada was the trivial question of where was the water going to come from. Thirty-three thousand homes with…what do you think? One kitchen and two bathrooms each? Three bathrooms? How many swimming pools? How many cars? Fifty thousand? Sixty-five thousand? How man car washes a week?
As I come down out of the Union Pass I am wondering. Where is all that water?
I have ridden this piece of road some hundreds of times. It is how I usually go east. Instead of looping south on US 40 I usually detour through Laughlin. I have seen this road, Route 68, wear out and get re-paved and wear-out all over again. I have seen Golden Valley spread out around its edges. But I have never seen where the water for another 80,000 people is going to come from.
The Pleasure Palace
I pull over, into the parking lot of the Pleasure Palace Adult Bookstore. I have a picture of Golden Valley that I carry around in my head and the Pleasure Palace is always in the foreground.
Route 68 is what passes for a main street in Golden Valley and the big businesses on main street are this porno store, a construction company, about three or four real estate offices, and two dollar stores-the Dollar General and the Family Dollar Store. Golden Valley is that America.
Neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin nor Barack Obama nor Joe Biden have bothered to campaign in Golden Valley. If I had to guess I would imagine that that is just fine with the people who live here.
It is October and it is somewhere around 100 degrees. I lean against the bike and look, stand on my toes and look, walk around the Pleasure Palace and look. The sand here is almost white. My boots change color.
There are a couple of buzzards hanging in the heat way over there to the north. Something died over there. Must be. Back to the west cars and trucks are dripping down the pass by ones, two and threes. I look east toward the traffic light.
I have been looking at this town for 20 years and in that time Golden Valley and I have both spread out slightly around the edges. But, other than that the only thing that has ever changed is that light.
Water And The West
If there is water out there I have never seen it. All I see is the Mojave. And, it is not just me. The United States Geological Survey cannot tell you where the water is either.
But the traditional ruling class out here in the west, the mine owners, the big ranchers and now the real estate developers have been running a shell game with water for at least the last 125 years. So nobody should be surprised that it is now a matter of official public policy in Mojave County, Arizona that for the next hundred years there will be plenty of water for a brand new city called Pravada whether you or I can see it or not.
Jim Rhodes has been given official permission to go ahead and build his dream.
I get back on the bike and putt into Kingman to gas up at the same gas station I have been using since the Reagan Administration. It still looks like the same Kingman to me. The same truck stop I know and the same diner I like are still in exactly the same places. The Harley dealership modernized sometime in the late 90s. Kingman has spread out a little on the east side. Other than that nothing has changed.
Mayor John Salem
The mayor of Kingman is a man named John Salem. He is fairly new at his job and enthusiastic. He loves Kingman and I can see why. About 12 weeks ago he told the New York Times that it is going to be hard “to keep what he calls ‘the Kingman secret’ quiet any longer.”
“It’s gorgeous here,” Salem told the Times. “We don’t have any natural disasters, no forest fires, no hurricanes, tornadoes or floods, good schools, lots of cheap land, the cost of living’s down, we have proximity to the Colorado River, to Flagstaff, to Las Vegas, to Phoenix,”
I like Kingman, too. I like Kingman because it is predictable. When I am in town I know exactly how to act and where to go and what to expect. People are nice to me in Kingman. I don’t have to be ready to fight in Kingman. I don’t have to glare at anybody in Kingman. I like Kingman just the way it is.
John Salem loves Kingman so much he wants to see it take its rightful place in the world alongside equivalent cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Albuquerque.
A Bigger Better Kingman
In the story the Times published August 10, about Kingman and Salem and Rhodes and another big real estate developer called The Mardian Group that also wants to build tens of thousands of houses near Kingman, Salem was characterized as being friendly to developers.
“That’s not entirely true, the mayor told the Kingman Miner three days later. “The platform I ran on was pro-growth, but definitely planned. I am pro-development, but I certainly didn’t win the election on being pro-development.”
Hell no. Of course not. Salem won because people just naturally can’t help but love the man.
Salem told the Miner that he thinks it is just “inevitable” that Kingman quintuple in size. “People are going to come no matter what,” Salem said. “We need to be thinking into the future with many things: school, infrastructure, police, fire-all of the city services used to maintain a growth pattern….”
Then Salem actually told the Miner that he doesn’t see how increasing the size of the city by 500 percent could possibly change the “city character.” Apparently he said this with a straight face.
The Old Inferior Kingman
“The whole atmosphere, this is something I noticed when I first came here 18 years ago,” Salem said. “There’s an openness and a warmth to the people who live here.”
He is right about that. That is probably the best way to describe the woman who sells me a pack of gum at the gas station. She is open and warm. She is also little, old and weak and I wonder what she thinks of Mayor Salem but it is really none of my business so I do not ask.
I just say, “Keep the pennies. Thanks.”
Kingman is still small enough to get out of in a hurry. You climb a short hill, race past a couple of exits, climb a long hill then you see the pinons.
The Immature Aging Rebel
About a mile past the last truck stop I come up on an official looking cruiser and I slow down to somewhere near the legal limit. I don’t think this is the Arizona Highway Patrol. The colors are wrong but I do see a light bar so I am cautious.
Little by little I edge up on this official car with its official blue and red lights until I can read the sign on the side. And, the sign says the car belongs to the Montana Department of Corrections. And, there is what appears to be a Montana cop at the wheel and a couple of prisoners in the back. The prisoners are stretching their necks around and looking at me. Prisoners love motorcycles.
And, I don’t know exactly what these extradited desperadoes have done to wind up in the back of this official car but they don’t look like child molesters or rapists to me. And, I am pretty sure that they are not real estate developers or politicians. So I pull up close to the car and I give those two prisoners a thumbs up.
I can see the guard looking over at me and scowling. He looks the way I look when I have to fight my way onto Laughlin Bridge or the Century Freeway in El Lay or the 202 Beltway in Phoenix.
I glare back. I am not scared of some out-of-jurisdiction police. Then I twist the throttle wide open and blast on. And, when I switch back into the right lane I raise my left hand and I flip off that cop or guard or whoever he is.
The toughest part of aging is the realization that I have absolutely no effect on any part of the world that I cannot actually get my hands on. Don’t laugh. You don’t matter either.
So I know I cannot do a thing for Kingman or Golden Valley. I cannot free those prisoners. They are stuck. Their youth is down the drain. Day after day I see used up, broken hearted dreamers out on the road. I know they are dragging their dirty little U-Hauls out to some fresh start in the rural west and I can’t even warn them about what they are in for and who they are up against. It is not my place to warn them.
I just wave at their kids in the back seat and do what I always do. I run away. I don’t hardly take a stand anymore except by reflex. Still, every once in a while I do get the opportunity to do something that makes me feel a little better about myself and my place in this world.
So after I flip off that cop and pull away I slow back down again so he can catch up to me. Then I flip him off one more time before I open that throttle back up and lose him for good.