The entire goal for Monday was to get from San Francisco to Elko, Nevada, a small town I chose primarily because it’s about 8 hours away from SF, and I figured that was the maximum amount of time I’d want to drive in a single day. I left shortly after 7 a.m., which put me on track to reach Elko by around 3 p.m., a bit on the early side for a town that boasts little besides motels and casinos, but I wanted to give myself plenty of time to stop along the way. That idea proved well-founded, since literally every second of every minute of every hour of the drive from San Fran to Elko included one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in my life. It was like driving through a default computer desktop background, and were it not for the pesky obligation of “driving safely” I would have probably been taking nonstop photos/video the entire time. As it was, I extended the trip by at least an hour in pulling over to almost every available gas station and rest stop to snap photos, which do maybe 15% justice to the majesty of seeing the whole thing in person. If you’re ever in the mood to drive from SF to the ass-end middle of Nevada guys, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, I put together a little photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
In any case, I arrived in Elko around 4 p.m. and checked into the Thunderbird Motel, a little gem of Americana where you can get a fairly humongous two-bed room with a mini-fridge, microwave, Wi-Fi and HBO (plus two $5 casino vouchers) for the mere price of $77. Of course, one would think this astronomically low price is a byproduct of Elko’s sheer lack of recreational appeal, and one would be right: Shortly after arriving, I walked pretty much the length of the town in less than a half-hour, a trek that quite fortuitously took me past Elko’s lone independent bookstore, appropriately named Bookstore. Although the outlet appears to specialize in romance novels (it must have been literally a third of their inventory, and one could buy a whole bag of used romance novels for a mere $2) it was still a pleasant enough place, and I managed to walk away with a few mass-market paperbacks (three, to be exact) for the paltry sum of $8.
But so here’s where the fun starts. Before showing up in Elko, I’d assembled a list of restaurants/bars that might be worth checking out, which I ultimately discovered was essentially a list of all the bars and restaurants in Elko. Among them was the Stray Dog Pub and Cafe, a dive-ish bar whose Yelp reviews suggested it had decent pizza and a friendly staff. Being generally wary of casinos, I decided to pop in there for dinner, and was indeed rewarded with a delicious BBQ chicken pizza, plus the company of a friendly bartender and a fellow bar patron, Sara (Sarah? I’ll never know) who had decided to defect to happy hour after her moped’s refusal to start prevented her from attending class at a local college.
In any case, Sara/h’s loss was my gain: She started up a conversation with me and ultimately (after said BBQ pizza and three beers) invited me to a local bowling alley/pizzeria/bar to meet her boyfriend and continue drinking (the duo are headed to San Francisco for their first-ever California visit today, so our meeting was oddly well-timed). At the pizzeria — in which some two-dozen middle-aged men were participating in league bowling, and where I saw indoor smoking for the first time in probably a decade — we also ran into one of Sara/h’s former professors, who bought us a pitcher and told me I have to come back to Elko for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which the town hosts every winter. Since I had to get up early today to move on to Salt Lake City, I bowed out before nine — though there is no early in Nevada, as bars can stay open 24/7 — but not before thoroughly appreciating the kindness and generosity it takes to befriend a clueless out-of-towner and take them out for a miniature bar crawl.
Although the goal of the Great American Bookstore Store was to first and foremost see great bookstores, the secondary — and perhaps in some ways more important — goal was to experience parts of America that I’ve never experienced. And while that of course includes cities like Seattle, Portland and SF — none of which I’d been to in advance of this trip — it also applies to places like Elko, small towns that I would almost assuredly never have stumbled upon otherwise (cowboy poetry fame notwithstanding). Despite its lack of variety in late-night activities — and despite Sara/h’s admonitions that “meth is huge here” — Elko was the perfect place to stop and experience something extremely Not New York. So thank you Sara/h, for entertaining me, and singlehandedly giving Nevada a good name. I hope everything works out with your moped.
GABST DAY 9 BY THE NUMBERS:
Bookstores visited: 1
Books bought: 3
Dreamcatcher, by Stephen King
Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume
The Innocent Man, by John Grisham
(listen, they had a limited selection)