Saturday, August 19, 2006

Get me out of here!

I have a few unusual personality quirks. One is that I actively dislike Lake Tahoe.

I mean, really dislike it. "Fear and loathing" might not be too strong a phrase.

Yes, the lake is pretty, but in general, the place is overcrowded, overpriced, and overrated. People claim to go up to the lake to relax, but as far as I'm concerned, it's about as relaxing as the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which it actively resembles. Take the Upper West Side, twist it into a circle, plunk a large body of water in the middle and add a lot of trees, and you've got Tahoe. Except that on the Upper West Side, you can take the subway to avoid insane traffic.

Tahoe has really insane traffic. Especially on a Saturday. Especially on one of the last Saturdays before the beginning of the school year. And the roads are narrow, two lanes, often without an appreciable shoulder, which means that there's very little margin for error when you have a large truck climbing up your rear bumper, three cyclists ahead of you taking up too much of the lane for you to pass safely, and a huge oncoming truck towing a boat -- and swerving into your lane -- in the other lane. This kind of thing is why I didn't learn to drive until I was 36 and absolutely had to. (Reno has lousy public transit.)

As lakes go, I'll take Pyramid Lake any day, partly because wonderful things have happened to me there and partly because I'm a high-desert person. I like to see a lot of sky; I like to be able to see the horizon. Tahoe makes me claustrophobic. There are too many trees.

I'm also severely meeting-challenged. I just don't do well in long meetings, no matter how nice the other people are or how interesting the subject. I can sit still for a very long time when I'm writing; I can't sit still for very long at all in meetings. I'd infinitely rather do something than sit around discussing long-term strategic planning (which is why running around like a crazy person in an emergency room, handing out blankets and crayons, is fun for me).

So you can probably guess that this wasn't one of my better days. It didn't help that I got lost getting to our hosts' cabin, although I'd left early enough that I was still the first person there. In the morning, we sat around under the pine trees in the backyard and talked, and I got to watch bluejays, and we weren't visited by any bears -- our hosts have a photo of a mama bear and cub meandering through their front yard, which is definitely something you want to see in a picture and not in person -- and I got to catch up with some colleagues I hadn't seen for a while, and it was really very pleasant.

Then we had lunch, which was also very pleasant. Then everyone decided to walk down to the lake while continuing discussion of long-range planning, and I went to my car to get my hiking shoes.

And I locked my keys in my car.

The last time I did that was in Eureka, Nevada. That time it took three hours for AAA to show up to get me back into the car. The wait was pretty nerve-wracking, because I was parked next to a store window displaying a t-shirt with an anagram for WRANGLERS: Western Ranchers Against No-Good Liberal Environmentalist Radical Shitheads. My car boasts the bumper stickers "Christian, Not Closed-Minded" and "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people," not to mention the planet-Earth decal I've put there instead of an American flag. My bumper stickers may have been part of why the Eureka police helpfully offered to smash in a window so I could retrieve the keys ("No thank you, officers, I'll wait for AAA"), and why small children periodically trooped by on the sidewalk, pointing at me and my car and giggling. ("Liberal Locks Herself Out of Car!" It was probably on the front page of the town newspaper the next morning.)

The only person who took pity on me in Eureka was an immensely tall, shaggy man wearing a leather vest and an interesting assortment of tattoos, who emerged from a dilapidated shack behind me and said, "Honey, I'm a four-time convicted felon, and I'm sure I can help you break into that car." As it turned out, my Ford Escort defeated him. He called a locksmith friend, who didn't have the right equipment for the Escort. But he offered me water and the use of his bathroom and phone if I needed them. If I ever preach on the parable of the Good Samaritan, he'll be my illustration.

So anyhow, back in Tahoe, things weren't nearly that grim. AAA got there in an hour, and in the meantime I sat on our hosts' porch and started reading John McPhee's Coming Into the Country, which made me wish that I were in Alaska instead of at Lake Tahoe.

Just after I'd locked myself into the car, though, as I watched all my colleagues head off on their hike (I wanted to get home at a reasonable time, and had to stay with the car until AAA got there), I felt decidedly desolate for a few minutes. Remember that Ray Bradbury story "All Summer in a Day," about the girl on Venus who gets locked into a closet on the one sunny day in the entire year? I spent a lot of my childhood feeling like that kid, and for a few minutes today, I felt that way again, even though I was the person who'd locked myself out.

Then I found the McPhee book, settled down to read, and got over it. Hurrah for being an adult!

And now I'm back home, after another harrowing drive. Gary and I are going to go for a walk in our gorgeously clear, open -- even with all the new developments -- sage-scented Nevada neighborhood. We may see some rabbits, and we might even see rattlesnakes, but we definitely won't see any bears.

It's good to be home!

And before anybody says anything: Yes, I know, I need to get one of those little magnetic key compartments that goes on the underside of the car.

Later:

We just got back from our walk. The wildlife count was an unusually large number of rabbits (at least ten), too many birds to count, one lizard, and one extremely small snake. I don't think it was a rattler.

And no bears!

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