June 7, 2006

The Friendliest Blog on the Loneliest Road in America

Last week, my friends Adam and Bree got married.

Here is a picture of the newlyweds sitting on a train in Ely, Nevada.

The wedding took place the day before the train ride.

It also occurred in Ely, Nevada.

We did not travel there by train.

We arrived by car, via Highway 50. A journalist once derisively described this stretch of road as "the loneliest road in America."


No points of interest.

In true Nevada fashion, local tourism commissions embraced the insult. They ran with it. They put signs up all over the tiny towns along Highway 50, reminding travelers of the distinction. Businesses got into the game, vying for the title of "The Friendliest Casino on the Loneliest Road in America."

This might seem obnoxious, but there were only three or four towns on the entire drive. And they were behind us in the blink of an eye. The rest of our drive looked much like this:

Repeat that image for five hours, and you've captured the Loneliest Road experience.

OK, I'm exaggerating.

The drive is closer to six hours long.

The scenery isn't all hills and scrub plants. There are also a couple of alkali flats along the way.

At first, I cursed Adam and Bree for holding their wedding in such a remote little town.

But as we drove further, I began to enjoy myself.

I did a lot of thinking.

I thought about myself.

I thought about relationships.

I thought about who I want to be as a human being.

I thought about shacks.

In most of the world, unwanted buildings get torn down and new things are built in their place.

In the vast expanse of desert along Highway 50, there is no such urgency.

Structures are built and abandoned. No ambitious developers eagerly await the vacant land. The buildings remain, until the earth slowly begins to reclaim them.

It's beautiful, in a sad way.

Most beautiful things have an air of sadness to them.

Most sad things contain an element of beauty.

I have an idea for a coffee table book:

Dilapidated Shacks of the American West.

Sam will take the photos, and I will write the text.

Sometimes, people will decide to abandon an entire town.

They build a new one, usually just down the road. The old one becomes a ghost town. A community of dilapidated shacks.

Once, these shacks were people's homes.

Or maybe they were just storage buildings.

I'll have to brush up on my history, before I write the book.

After we arrived in Ely, we were swept up in a whirlwind of wedding festivities.

Weddings are always a little surreal. For one weekend, a new community forms. Strangers are brought together. Old friends and family reunite. Food, drink, and merriment abound.

Decisions that may be questionable in any other context become reasonable the weekend of a wedding.

Drinking a seemingly endless variety of intoxicating beverages. Decorating a friend's car with shaving cream. Swapping bawdy jokes with the groom's father. Serenading a piece of fondant frosting because of the alluring hole in the middle.

Well, OK, that last one is rather hard to explain.

But as the days went on, I realized what would have been missing, had Adam and Bree been married in Reno.

More than just the shacks and the train museum.

The temporary community of last weekend was a remarkable, unforgettable place. My work, my responsibilities, and even my own history felt a lifetime removed.

My own wedding was in Reno, and I wouldn't change a thing, but I've noticed that some of the memories get stepped on by the traffic of life.

The church where I married Sam is still lovely, but it's now occupied by additional, newer, more mundane memories. The hotel that hosted our reception is now poignantly associated with a fateful evening that occurred years after the wedding.

I don't expect to spend much time in Ely in the near future, so the place will always remain the home of Adam and Bree's wedding. For the out of town guests, the tiny town on the lonely highway can remain in its sentimental packaging for as long as the memories hold.

The newlyweds are on their honeymoon now, but if either of them should read this, I'd like to say congratulations again.

May your marriage be more beautiful and resilient than all of the shacks in Nevada combined.

And, even though I never expected to say it, here it is:

Thank you for the memories of Ely

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