Friday, May 14, 2010

Seventy-Six and Counting

Crescent Valley, Nevada: one square mile, one elementary school, one gas station, two hundred people, seventy-six stop signs. It was the densest concentration of nothing within fifty miles in the middle of the waste which is northern Nevada. Fortunately for these people, God loves all his children and sent to them two willing, young men on a mission.

Speeding down the I-80 in a 2006 Mazda 3, my cruise control was set to 83 miles an hour, just 8 miles over the limit that way if the cops were to catch me with their radar guns they would not pull me over since I was not even going 10 miles over the limit. It was 10:15 in the morning and there was not a cloud in the morning sky. I squinted down the road as the sun glared back at me off of the blacktop. There was no denying it; even with the air conditioning maxed out it was a hot summer morning which only promise was a hotter afternoon. Gently droning from the car speakers was the enthused voice of a man lecturing. I glanced over to my passenger, he wore a white shirt and tie with a stark black name tag over his right chest pocket His seat was reclined, sunglasses askew with his mouth draping open. His hair, shaggy, brown, and unruly, hid his forehead from view while his eyes remained shut and motionless. His hair was way too long for missionary regulations. He just did not realize how important it is to be obedient. I turned back from my sleeping companion to survey the road ahead of me. There was one thing that was for sure: being the senior companion had its drawbacks. Most notably in my mind at this moment was the responsibility of driving.

On this particular trip our destination was the aforementioned Crescent Valley. We were currently exiting of the town in which we were stationed, Carlin Nevada. The town was really only good for one thing: gold. What else would lure 3,000 people to a little town with no natural resources or beauty in the middle of a desert? Everyone in the town was working for the gold, whether directly or indirectly, their efforts were to support the extraction of this shiny substance.

            We, as the missionaries in the area, covered a huge geographical area a little over 8,000 square miles. That is about the size of New Jersey. However, unlike New Jersey, which has thousands of cities and a population of around nine million, this desolate portion of Nevada consisted of only three small towns: Carlin, Crescent Valley, and Eureka, each of which were significantly distant from each other and which collectively was home to fewer than five thousand people.

I looked out my window to the left; there was nothing but a cluster of rolling hills and a vast panoramic horizon. I thought I could see a point of reflected light shining in the sea of brown, it must be a shed or possibly a small trailer home.  Being stationed in Carlin defiantly afforded me a lot of opportunity to dive. I would have dreaded driving if I didn’t enjoy it so much.

As missionaries we do everything together. We eat together, read together, travel together, shop together; we even sleep in the same room. As a rule we were to never be apart from our companions. This can become very stressful at times. You do not get to pick your companions, and sometimes you just need to be alone for a while. These regular trips afforded me the opportunity to have some solidarity. As we would prepare to go on one of these trips I would slip in the Mazda, crank up the air conditioning and pop in one of my favorite lecture CDs. This served a dual purpose: firstly I really did enjoy listening to Truman Madsen speak of the Life of Jesus Christ, and Hugh Nibley speak of the ancient prophets but also because it quickly and effectively placed my companion in a comatose state, allowing my mind to wander and be freed from the constant confinement of companionship.

 As I turned off the main road onto the car rumbled and swayed as we started down a narrow gravel street. My companion jerked awake. He quickly readjusted his seat and then fixed his glasses. He looked around; there wasn’t much to see. The rolling hills were behind us now, the view now was nothing but flat, treeless desert, which was littered with mobile trailers and a few small houses. A few dozen meters ahead was a fire-red stop sign caked in dirt, an utterly useless precautionary measure as you could see a car coming down the road from ten miles away. As I approache I scanned the horizon: not a sign of life in sight. I continued on through the stop sign. It was illegal but I blame my audacity and dissonance on the fact that I am a second child. Second children are notoriously free willed and natural rule breakers. It was not a big deal.

We took a right onto a smaller, less-well maintained gravel road. A sign proudly proclaimed the roads name: Hillbilly Lane. A short while later I threw the car into park, unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door. I was greeted by a scorching vindictive cloud of trailing dust, two dogs and a half-dozen young boys. This was our first stop.

            An hour later we returned to our car, which in our absence had been turned into an oven. After it had cooled we continued on our journey. Five minutes later we were passing the crown and jewel of the community: the Elementary school. It is a huge school for the number of people who attend it. The grounds were pristine and held a monopoly in the city on grass. You see, because of the gold mines and the low populations of the area, the cities receive huge sums of money from the mines which goes into the public facilities of the area. As I approached the school I glanced at a sign at the side of the road: School Zone: 15 miles an hour. It was an hour since school let out. There was no one in sight. I continued at 45 miles an hour beside the school. Ahead was another stop sign; I slowed to 30, looking around. I saw in the distance a bus traveling very slowly. I continued on through the stop sign. We just had one more stop, and then we would start on our way home. We approached the trailer, walked up the constructed stairs and knocked on the door. There was no reaction. After about fifteen seconds longer and a repeated attempt to notify the occupants, we returned to our vehicle.

As I slammed my car door behind me I fell back into my seat, my head tilted towards the roof, my eyes shut. As I sat up and turned the key in the ignition I surveyed my surroundings. The horizon was a tapestry of purple and red. How stunning it was to see the darkness creep into the sky. The sinking sun bred long shadows from behind the far blue mountains, texturing the otherwise barren landscape. Maybe Nevada did have some redeeming beauty after all.
My companion turned to me; “Hey, we need to go to the Holts and pick up some milk before we go home.”
“Right.” I replied.

I turned from the view and we drove off towards the Holts’. The Holts were an extremely nice family who were members of our church. They supported us by feeding us when we came to Crescent Valley, telling us who needed to be visited, and giving helpful suggestions and information. They also owned a couple of milk cows and offered free milk to the missionaries.

As we pulled up next to their high fence and walked in through their driveway we saw Brother Holt was outside doing some chores. Brother Holt was a middle aged man in his late 40’s. He was about 5’10” with salt-and-pepper hair, slightly overweight with thick large rimmed glasses. He was wearing jeans and a tight striped collared shirt. I smiled and waved to him, offering a salutation.
“Brother Holt! How are you doing?”
“I’m doing well, how are the Mission Mormonaries doing?”

After a few moments of talk he looked deep into my eyes. I could tell that something was coming. Brother Holt was known for several things, one of those was for being forthright and opinionated. There was something in those eyes that told me that I was now the focus of his opinionated displeasure.
“I have a bone to pick with you two!”
“What is that?” I asked
“Who is the driver?”
“I am.”
“Well then I have a bone to pick with you! Do you believe in obeying an honoring the law, Elder?”

I didn’t like the way he used my title, nor did I like his aggressive tone of voice. This was a rebuke, I knew it, and the use of my title was merely an attempt to manipulate me. He was also citing an Article of Faith, a pillar of the Latter-day Saints doctrine.
“I do.” I replied
“I don’t l know if you know, but I am a school bus driver. This afternoon as I was returning to the school with the bus I saw you blow past a stop sign in a school zone going forty-five miles an hour! We are trying to show the people in this town what kind of people we are by the kind of lives we live, and it’s tough when you go and blatantly disregard the laws. I have it all on camera on my bus.  The footage now belongs to the school, they can do with it what they want, whether it involves you getting a ticket or not.”

Walking away from that conversation I felt a spectrum of emotions. We grabbed our milk and started the long trip back home. There was no CD playing, I was very concerned about getting a ticket.  Missionaries do not make money, all I had was the money I had earned from work back home as a cabinet installer, which was already in use to support me on my mission. On the way home my companion attempted to console me. He told me of how Brother Holt was being unfair and how he doubted I would get a ticket. Shortly after, he fell asleep, leaving me in the solitude of my own thoughts driving towards the failing rays of light emitting above the mountains. It was ridiculous the way he reacted, who is he to lecture me? He is just a grumpy old man. He has nothing better to do then to harass the people that were trying to do some good in this deplorable town. There was no logical reason for the laws, no one even lived there! There were more four wheelers on the road then cars, what is the point? It was unreasonable! I felt a passionate wave of anger towards the man. I had a strong desire to speed past that same intersection going 80 miles an hour with Brother Holt standing on the corner. That would be satisfying, that would be justice. I would show him what I thought of his tirade. I smiled at this, as the final rays of sun disappeared. I felt closure, I felt a simmering pleasure laced with vindictive fury. As I sped down the highway I looked over to my right at my passenger; his seat was reclined, glasses askew, mouth draped open. His shaggy hair hid his forehead from view while his eyes remained shut and motionless. I looked out my window to the left; I stared at the silhouette of the mountains eclipsing the bright shining stars for a long moment.

 I closed my eyes and whispered to myself; 
“He was right.”

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P.S. Pictures taken by Lynden.  The families name has been changed, though it seems pointless as if anyone in that area were to read this they would know who it was.  If anyone in that area or family does read this know that I have great respect for that man/family.


Tephrochr said...

Awesome! I wish I had made the connection with the line about your companion not seeing the importance of obedience and your realization at the end, sooner; I think it was more fulfilling this way though.

cheryl j said...

Great pictures, and an even better story. I love the way you tied in the ending, short and sweet which is way more effective than a drawn-out moral.

Naomi said...

I just read this now... but it's an awesome story! you are a really really good writer!


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