I was there to deal with some family stuff and get away from some family stuff. There I came across the taker and the risk-taker.
After being away from this little town outside of Lake Tahoe for at least 3 decades, I sensed a change. A once dusty, mountain-littered, gritty little shit-kicking town was now swamped with luxury cabins owned by Obama voters and Norcal Landlords (one and the same, likely). They don’t fit the clichéd landlord, for they only ask that you not wear shoes on the expensive paneled floors and wash the bedding afterward. Don’t flush things wider than your arm.
My first stop was a rec center, shared by a sprawling neighborhood of chalets, lodges, and cottages. Yelping kids frolicked in the pool, a body of water featuring a stern sign banning anyone who has, or had, a semblance of diarrhea in the last few weeks. That could be me, any time in my life. Jamie Lee Curtis couldn’t save me if she airdropped a pallet of Activia.
You can’t spell “pool” without “poo,” and after an unfortunate accident, they’ve clamped down on unruly colons. “Unreported fecal incidents,” the sign admonishes at one establishment, can get you into deep doo doo. The lifeguards empty the pool of assorted humans on the hour, to check the PH levels (I made up the “PH” thing, because I’d like to think they’re logging in a record of Poo Happenings).
Saying Truckee’s changed is lazy. It’s friendlier, but somewhat colder — much easier to find safer stuff to do if you’re young, as the rough edges have been smoothed over by the wealthy types whose concern over climate change doesn’t prevent their second or third car from being a massive white Chevy Tahoe. Everyone has a hulking SUV to go with their Obama sticker. It’s like Nancy Reagan saying, “Just say no,” while smoking an angel dusted joint coupled with a crank floater.
You’re less likely to get knifed at Truckee in 2014 than 1974 — and that’s a good thing if you have a fear of stabbing. But you’re also more likely to get lectured by a white guy in a dusty pickup truck with a “coexist” bumper sticker — and for some, that could be worse.
In 1980s Truckee, some of us teens ran into a local store to buy beer (we were underage) and tried to play it cool by purchasing a number of things, including pornography and potato chips. Remember, back then, the thrill of purchasing porn practically surpassed the joy of “using” it. Buying porn — before the soul-sapping faucet of the Internet — was like buying firecrackers in Chinatown, an act of danger that made you feel like an outlaw without really hurting anyone (this is why we needed such harmless danger, to keep us from real danger). Buying a porno mag for a teenage boy created the same rush a middle-aged male gets from finding a hard-sought parking space. Effort enhanced reward.
It wasn’t until we got back to our room that we realized the porno we purchased was amputee-centric. I now always associate Truckee with a one legged-woman, spread-eagled, eyeing a man who passionately kissed the shorter end.
Truckee now? As I limply jog, I see lifters and drifters. Both are brown. One by birth, the other by mirth. One, the Mexican, came to get shit done; the other, a white jam band fan, to have fun. The Mexican works, the white fan shirks — at least until the cash has run out.
I dig the business owners, the man or woman who drops roots in Truckee to put up a shingle — it’s a constant, brave struggle for that guy or gal. It’s a gentle tug of war between the owner who knows things and the goofy drifter who knows everything… but does nothing. The transient mind populates all cities — backpacked, bearded, a positive attitude there to engender good will, and money. They are allergic to work but great with a Frisbee.
Truckee is home to a delightful owner and the free spirits who float around them like moths on a lamp. It’s hard sometimes to hire such types, so the business owner is truly the adventurous kind. He has to hope you aren’t a scammer or layabout. It’s like this everywhere for the owner. And they’re the bad guys, according to our administration.
There is no “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” motto for Truckee. No one comes there to be a star, or a banker. They come to Truckee either to work hard, to work semi-hard a few months and bolt; to pull a handout along the serpentine bus routes. The freeloaders are, from my eyes, mostly young and white. And by young, I mean anywhere from 20 to 40. The sun makes everyone look the same, after awhile.
The bar owner, like the true Lewis or Clark, stakes a claim, gambling his livelihood, hoping people will come. Real daring is opening your door and hiring people who trust you, and whom you trust too. When people come, it’s truly an achievement. When you make enough money to pay your own bills, that’s huge. That’s the real Field of Dreams.
Truckee, populated by the sinewy and sun damaged, attracts some types whose brains seemed guided only by bumper stickers, and vice versa. The people who run businesses realize this — that such congenial peeps will always show up late, leave early, or not show up at all. If there’s a party, there are those who will call in sick.
The bar owner is aware of local and national politics. They smell what the IRS is cooking, are peeved by the VA mess, and so on. They are aware of this, even as they hire and fire, write specials on chalk boards, deal with garbage and parking. They do all of this daily. While the others — the drifters, not the lifters — stop by to ask if you’ll sign a paper that says they applied for a job in order to maintain benefits.
“Can you just back me up when I say I applied to be a waiter at a place I wouldn’t want to wait tables at, so I can get benefits that allow me to hang out at your bar, where actual waiters have to bring me beer — beer that I will pay for minus a tip because I want to make sure i get every single drink I can out of my cash?”
That’s how I hear it.
You heard of the sign, “Irish need not apply?”
Due to an array of options supported by a benign populace, the individual — not the establishment — wears the “need not apply” around his neck.
There are plenty of other things to do than to actually “do.”
And so we’ve got more young people not working in decades. It’s not entirely their fault — the job stats for the still hot are scarier than poop in a pool.
Regardless, Truckee is a great town. On a Friday afternoon, on a dusty road, in an obscure but well-stocked bar, spending my last day with a well-armed female proprietor, it reminds me that in a world where we think no one wants to work, there are still those who look for the challenge, forgetting that it is work.
That work is, instead, a purpose-giving adventure, an engine of worth — not financially, but morally and spiritually. That’s the real poop.