A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 280

Blazing mad in the Valley of Fire

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Although it was still half a mile up ahead, Mr. Ramgunshoch could already read the words on an enormous billboard shimmering in the desert flanking Interstate 15, north of Las Vegas.

"YOU CAN STICK IT, SUNUNU," gigantic letters screamed over the top of wilting sagebrush and cactus in the blistering 120oF of the Valley of Fire.

There was something else on the billboard, under the message, and although it was smaller and still a little too distant to see, Ramgunshoch was confident it would read "Paid for by the Bob Smith for US Senate campaign."

"Smith must have a big war chest to be reaching such far-flung New Hampshire residents," mused Ramgunshoch, as he motored closer in the rental car he had picked up less than half an hour previously at Las Vegas airport.

However, as he drew abreast with the billboard, Ramgunshoch recognized the symbol under the Sununu exhortation – it was a yellow and black nuclear waste square. Thus it was not young John Sununu of senatorial ambitions, but his dad, John Sununu Sr., (the nuclear industry lobbyist) who was being invited to "stick it" on account of wanting to bury all of the United States’ radioactive waste under Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

Ramgunshoch’s thoughts turned to other things - like why was this car’s air-conditioner pumping out hot air? In addition, how far would he have to drive in this desert to find a place to eat? He was ravenous, having been provided with a niggardly 1.7 ounces of snacks during his five-hour Northwest Airlines flight from Manchester to Las Vegas via Detroit.

"Couldn’t you have diverted a fraction of that $5 billion dollar bailout from the taxpayers towards a bowl of Scotch broth and a roll for a starving passenger?" Ramgunshoch had inquired of an airline stewardess, as she made a great play of passing out free thimblefuls of water.

She had only darted him a look to check on the potential for air rage, and chugged on with her trolley.

Now, at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time, and heading towards the Arizona border, Ramgunshoch was hungry, thirsty and most of all, extremely hot.

And then, without ceremony, the rental car engine quietly died.

In a flurry of emotions that included fury and outrage in the mix, he freewheeled to a halt in the breakdown lane, and noticed the Mazda’s temperature gauge needle was jammed all the way over to "H." Ramgunshoch had come 35 miles.

"Which mile marker are you at, sir?" inquired the lady at the rental car switchboard, as Ramgunshoch told of his predicament over a frail and untested calling card phone he had luckily packed.

"I am exactly 35 miles north of Las Vegas airport on Interstate 15," responded Ramgunshoch, glancing at the odometer.

"You’ll have to get out of the car, sir, and find the mile marker," countered the rental car lady at the other end of the line.

"Whit!" exploded Ramgunshoch, lapsing into his native Scots tongue. "Ye want me to get oot o’ the car into triple digit temperatures, with nae water, and walk maybe a mile doon the road o’ a desert and a mile back again? Ye’re crazy. Just sent help oot, and tell them to bring water."

The woman relented, and promised a replacement car would be sent out within 45 minutes to an hour, but 3:30 p.m. came and went with no sign of rescue.

Ramgunshoch had put on his flashing lights and raised the car’s trunk lid in order to indicate his distress to passing motorists streaking by on the four-lane Interstate, but after a while he concluded that Nevadans were not of a disposition to help the stranded.

The pitiless sun blazed in the windows of the crippled Mazda, burning his flesh, and parching his mouth.

He called the rental company again, and after locating his original operator, was assured that a breakdown truck was already en route on the 35-mile trip north.

Ramgunshoch checked the available units of time left on his paltry telephone. He had started with over 70 and was now down to 38. Each plea for help was chewing up his lifeline. He felt like he was a cross between a trapped miner and a lobster in a pot.

An hour later, at 4:30 p.m., with still no breakdown truck in sight, not a compassionate Nevadan willing to stop and dispense a sip of water, and the first symptoms of heatstroke making themselves felt, an increasingly angry Ramgunshoch decided to use a few more precious phone units and call the rental company once again.

"Then give me the number of the local police," he demanded of the rental car official, when she merely chirped, robot like, that the breakdown truck had been dispatched.

The woman imparted the telephone number of the local constabulary, Ramgunshoch dialed for emergency help, and at 5 p.m., with the sun still blasting remorselessly into the Valley of Fire, a police patrolman from the Moapa Indian Reservation pulled in behind him.

"Water," croaked Ramgunshoch.

The policeman didn’t have water, but did invite Mr. R. to join him in his air conditioned vehicle, where a thermometer indicated that the external temperature, in what was now early evening, was still 115o F.

The officer got on his phone and demanded to know the location of the nationally known rental company’s breakdown truck.

"How long does it take tae drive 35 miles?" asked Ramgunshoch, through parched lips. "Not two and a half hours."

"The truck is just a couple of miles down the road," said the officer, seemingly having got a more detailed response from the company than it gave its customer.

Within minutes, a tow truck bearing a replacement vehicle, but no bottled water, pulled into the highway verge alongside the Mazda. The policeman, mission accomplished departed.

The tow truck driver, perhaps annoyed at being hustled in his task by a lawman, barely spoke as he downloaded a Ford, and winched the Mazda up the ramp.

A furious Ramgunshoch, head pounding from the heat, transferred his belongings into the new vehicle and headed north, eyes peeled anxiously for the first roadside store that carried bottled water.

"When I get back to New Hampshire," muttered one vengeful Ramgunshoch, "I will call Congressman Sununu, and implore him to intercede with his father not to bury nuclear waste in Nevada. It should be top-spread instead!"

August 15, 2002


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