California's problems jump out after a road trip

I just returned from a solo trip that gave me a break from California's mask and vaccine mandates.  I drove a lot through both Nevada and Idaho, spent five days in Idaho, and then made the return trip home.  Leaving hadn't solved any problems, but I had been too angry to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The trip was illuminating — not just because it showed me a better world outside California, but because merely crossing into California reminded me how bad things are here.

One of the more depressing spots on the journey home was Lovelock, Nevada, which had had at least three closed motels, one of the two casinos shuttered, and every single restaurant gone.  Most of the storefronts were empty.  The Safeway was hopping, since it, the one casino, and a pizza concession in one of the two remaining motels seemed to be the only live businesses on a Saturday.

Although it's still the county seat in Pershing County, COVID was the nail in the coffin for a town that, like so many rural towns in America, was already just hanging on.  Experiencing it firsthand made the story more poignant, and the plight of many small towns easier to understand.

Lovelock's history includes mining, farming, and the railroad.  Each one failed over time — mines were depleted, drought ruined crops, and the train stopped coming after 100 or so years.  Then, I-80 bypassed downtown, and a 1980s mining revival didn't last.  Now Lovelock is home to a state prison (the one where O.J. was incarcerated) and a way station for weary travelers.  Many buildings are slowly crumbling, and the town's future is far from secure.

As testimony to the town's dire straits, at 6 A.M. on a Sunday, I stopped for gas at the only brand-named station.  I paced as an ancient, decrepit pump took 20 minutes to dribble out the 9 gallons of gas I needed — and then overflow.  Oops!

Image: Old gas pump.  Pixabay license.

Lovelock aside, driving in Nevada (and Idaho) had been a pleasure, with smooth, well maintained, well graded roads.  However, as soon as Nevada gave way to California, which happened with zero signage alerting travelers, the roads went from very good to scarily bad.  There is a long rut (maybe 40 miles) in the slow lane of the two-lane divided highway, making for a wobbly place to sink a tire.  It seemed to stem from inferior engineering to the roadbed (i.e., cost-cutting on materials used), all exacerbated by heavy semi traffic over the years.

Granted, these were mountain roads, but maintenance clearly is not part of the routine.  There were bumps, unmarked sharp curves, soft shoulders.  Not fun driving at all.

The worst moment in my trip came when I stopped at a public rest area.  The facilities needed a hazmat suit and a fire hose, for they were beyond filthy.  I'm not exaggerating: there were feces and vomit on the ladies' room floor, discarded paper products everywhere, and over-filled toilets that had obviously non-functional auto flushers.  This, at the Donner Pass rest area, which is the closest to Nevada.  Mind you, the Caltrans website says rest area facilities are "safe, clean, accessible and attractive."  Not so much.

Driving further after that awful experience, I couldn't help contrast the consistently poor quality of the roadbeds with the 1,500 well tended out-of-state miles I drove.  There was also the ubiquitous roadside garbage.  Welcome home to California grunge — and this in a state where we pay a $0.70-a-gallon gas tax for highway maintenance, on top of high sales (10% or so depending on county) and income (top rate 12.3%) taxes.  Is there anything this high tax state does right?  Does all our tax money get sunk into teaching CRT, abetting homelessness, and promoting green energy?

While we may not be quite ready to move, the state is doing everything it can to force our departure.  I did figure one thing out, though, on my driving marathon: the half-hour commute to a branch of my gym that doesn't require a vaccine passport is a lot shorter than driving to Boise.

I am not surprised at all how many have already pulled up stakes from California.  History will look back on this time with a clearer lens than those living through the morass.  I'm waiting for trucker power to get here and force us back to life.  I hope it comes soon.  They just need to watch out for all the potholes.

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