The building has squatted at the offramp of the I-15 for decades. If I am not mistaken, it was one of the crappy, ubiquitous diners on the road between southern California and Las Vegas 30 years ago. In this part of my life, however, I have only known it as Gas Food. Gas is sold to the desperate for more than $4 a gallon, as there is no other place to buy it for many miles in any direction. Diesel fuel nears $5 a gallon. The electronic billboard announces towing, tires and repairs. This time as we drove past in the dark, we each caught the word "urinal" on the billboard. "Urinal, Limes? What does it say?" "Come in and see our new waterfall urinal. That's what it says." "What do you suppose . . ." "I don't care to think of it, Badger." Gas Food hosts a small gathering of squalid mobile homes off to one side and one wonders who would live there and why. Broken bottles, aluminum cans and desert debris dot the ground in the mobile home "park". Observe the chunked up asphalt and broken concrete parking blocks at Gas Food.
We have stopped at Gas Food from time to time, also out of desperation. Sometimes it's the restrooms we need, sometimes a cold or hot drink. I believe the Badger partook of a hot dog once - one of those that rolls on silver metal rollers for days until it finally shrivels up to the point it cannot be sold. The place is filled with things one does and does not expect to find. Beef jerky and peanuts abound. Desert postcards meant to be humorous. A bin filled with "local" minerals like turquoise and tiger eye. One scoops the stones out and puts them in a small leather bag to take home as a souvenir. "Souvenir of Gas Food". Every imaginable drink is on hand, including liquor. There is an area that houses tiny portions of the commonest over-the-counter medicines, bandaids and such. One wouldn't be able to make a meal from ingredients purchased at Gas Food, but one could keep the wolf away from the door by consuming endless junk food. It works in a pinch. And the atmosphere is such that we're not too concerned with our appearance, even when we've just crawled out from a four-days stay in the desert.
True Gas Food story that goes to my point about unexpected items: I am notorious about money, meaning I never carry any. Oh, I have money. But it's in the bank. I buy things with the plastic card. It works nicely for me. I like it that way. Ex screamed for 30 years, "Limes, you have to have a $20 bill with you at all times!" But I don't. We'd stopped at Gas Food and I used the restroom. There a vending machine caught my eye. "What the heezy?" I went out into the store. "Badger, do you have $1 I can borrow?" "Sure. What for?" I whispered my reply. "Get in the car, Limes." I just wanted to know, to satisfy my curiosity, how many "Pleasure Toys" (for it was plural) one might get for $1 from a vending machine at Gas Food. And I wonder still, specifically, what those toys were.
And now, back to Saturday evening as we came back to camp from the mine. I am a note-taker and a list-maker. I am well-organized and I don't forget much. The Badger has been the absent-minded professor all of his days. I've always chalked it up to how very busy he is in his head all the time. He just doesn't register the details. He loses things and forgets things with frequency. He won't resent reading these words. He'd tell you the same things about himself. Despite several e-mailed exchanges about who would bring what to this expedition, there were a few uh-ohs, but we'd been able to handle them so far. No longer.
As the sun dropped, the temperature did likewise. It was time to light everything - firewood, lanterns, stove. After all these years, we have pretty well-defined roles in camp and we busied ourselves with what each of us does. The Badger was rummaging around - rather like a badger digging - in the X-Terra, the kitchen box, the lantern bin, the back hatch of the X-Terra . . . . . "Badge, what gives? It's getting cold and dark." Rummage, rummage. "Limes, do you have any matches?" "Um, no. I don't smoke or anything. Matches weren't on my list." To be fair, there was a small collection of matches, but they were not the "strike anywhere" sort and the striking strip on their box was worn through. The Badger had a stone for striking matches, but those stubborn things seemed to be very invested in lighting only when struck on the box intended. Finally, the last match was in tatters. "Well, Limes, we might need to consider going in to Gas Food. Do you think they sell matches?" "Get in the car, Badger. We're not going to consider it. We're going. Now. Before it gets colder or darker. We can't see, we can't eat and we'll freeze to death. They sell cigarettes. They have to have matches or lighters."
It may serve the reader well to recall that we camp way out in the desert. We piled into the X-Terra and started on the jeep trail, the bumpy, rocky, sandy, rutted, washboard of a jeep trail. The Badger was rather gnashing his teeth about taking this trail 8 miles in each direction to buy something one should never be without. I was grinning, silently. And feeling very grateful that we were in the campsite that is closer to a store than any of our other favorite haunts. Finally he stopped being cranky and offered up, "Well, maybe they'll sell Afrin, too. I seem to have forgotten . . . " Afrin is something the Badger should never be without. "Hope so, Badge."
Gas Food, as always, was populated by a cast of characters sitting at the tables outside, talking and visiting. Who are they? Did they ever know each other before stopping at Gas Food? Well, no time to muse on that. We were on a mission. For the first time ever, we had to seriously peruse the wares displayed, because there are no known substitutes for matches or Afrin. At first we walked along together, aisle by aisle. I struck out on my own. I'm pretty good in a store. Not a match or a lighter to be seen for sale. The Badger said, "Let's ask at the cash register." A bottle of Afrin was located. The box containing it was about as tall as my pinky finger. It cost $8.69. The clerk gave us one free book of pretty fragile looking matches. The Badger explained our dilemma and the young man coughed up another three books. We climbed into the X-Terra, the Badger blasted his nose and we headed back for the jeep trail.
Bumping and rolling along the trail, the Badger asked, "Did you ever expect to see some of the stuff they had for sale? How much duct tape is there in the world?" I had noticed some pretty interesting items for a place that appears to have maybe 20 locals and 20,000 visitors a day on their way to Las Vegas. "Badger, in all my life I have never seen so much Liquid Paper Correction Fluid. Next time I need office supplies, I'm going to consider shopping at Gas Food, despite the long drive." Finally, our 16-mile journey completed, we rolled into our campsite.
He quickly lit the lanterns and the stove. I began to rattle pots and pans. We eat well in the desert - no concessions to being out in nature. The bar is top shelf, too. "Open a couple of things for me with your Swiss Army Knife, Badge?" He did so. "Want to look at all the shots I got today after dinner, Limes?" I did, indeed. "Ready for me to light the woodfire, Limes?" I was. It was chilly and I wanted that fire well banked by the time we could sit down and enjoy it. The Badger is an experienced camper who knows how to do all the necessary things well. I have a hunch if he were to camp with another man, he'd light the woodfire matter-of-factly. But for me, the fire-lighting is always done with no small amount of panache. Perhaps it's because he is performing for a most appreciative audience. He gets just a little show-offy. A little squirt of white fuel, a toss of the match(es) and - VROOM goes the conflagration. There's always a boyish grin on that face when the boom occurs and he leaps backward mightily to avoid the flames. "Particularly nice one, Badger. That oak will burn for hours."
That's it for this time, favored readers. The story of what came over us in that firelit desert night, the story of sharing the photographs of the day, laughing, and then being overcome by some enchanting spell that carried us both to a place where we were able to do things we'd never done before . . . that story deserves to stand alone.
Some photo credits: J. D. Morehouse
In my ears right now: the BlackBerry preeeeng. BFF Terry is back home from her business trip and has much to tell. I envy her. Her work, that pays her money, is in a desert protection group. Talk about having one's cake and eating it, too! We've just planned a BFFs camping trip together for January, our first outing together.
Something that charmed me: I was e-mailing with one of my blog followers. This person wrote one sentence about me - commenting on what he thinks I am made of. It touched me profoundly. It is not the first written kindness this person has sent me, but this one hit me where I live and where I need. I've been carrying that comment like a talisman that warms me. It's served to make me contemplate this blogging thing which is damned funny to me - odd. And it made me consider that 'tend friends can be just as real as the friends in your immediate vicinity. I cut and pasted the sentence and sent it to the Badger. "Look what someone wrote to me." He guessed immediately who had sent it. I like this connecting with others thing!