October 12 – 27
Tomorrow Reno!  I fumbled doubtfully hoping for a solution from the reporter, "but what will I do when I get there???!  (As if I hadn't done perfectly well on my own for nearly 2,000 miles!) She said without sympathy, "wing it."
I often see planes fly high on this trip. I say childlike, "Oh, you lucky thing! Where are you going?  Reno?  San Francisco?  Los Vegas, Los Angeles?"
Now I'm close to California.  It is still the land of lure and promise.  Its very name conjures up images of the clearest waters, the biggest most aromatic trees, the freshest mountain air and the coldest, swirlingest ocean waves.  California!!!
Today looked down to oil my wheels and discovered one of my old shoes gone.  It's like losing an old friend. That shoe was with me all the way from Lawrence, Kansas.
Distances here, I've stood on the edge of valleys 6 miles wide, 13 miles wide and 20 miles wide, and 20 miles wide, and to these untrained eastern eyes, they all look the same width. [271]
Over the rim of the hill I saw Reno.  What a mess!  It was shrouded under a blanket of the ugliest air pollution I've ever seen, thick and brown as emptying a vacuum bag of filth. The Sierras loomed in undistinguished   lumps behind the dirty valley.
The traffic increased and as I neared town I got lost on a clover leaf, abound and around I went.  I defy anyone to go west on the east bound lane while negotiating complex clover leafs. Not having an advanced degree in civil engineering, I gave up and switched to the regular west bound lane and simply followed signs. Trucks blew me into guard walls and all in all I felt little and bewildered and embattled.
A TV news car stopped ahead and started filming my approach. The reported whisked me to breakfast and interviewed a thoroughly dazed me at the busy lunch counter.  People stopped me and asked for autographs, and just an hour before I was in solitary peace in my sleeping bag in a ditch beside the road!
I searched for the free housing that come with the maids job.  The house, once elegant, looked ominous when I found it.  It was surrounded by tawdry trailers and noisy drunken people. I stepped inside.  A dissipated long haired man surrounded by empty beer bottles eyed me and called me "another crazy broad.''  He was probably in his early 30's but his pasty wrinkled complexion and watery eyes under tangled hair made him look desperately old. I'd been told to take a room upstairs.  I tugged my golf cart up the narrow dark stairs and took an empty room, no lock, under the eaves. I slept that night clutching my flashlight.  Drunk Mexicans rattled my door, leftovers from when the hooker lived here last week. My fear left as I learned to know and like these people. [272]
Wanda, married to Tom, both 15. Wanda, pretty and dissipated at 15, sallow skin, brittle stoned on pot, drunk, friendly, fired, lost, raging blindly. I like her. How did she sink so low so young? So soon?
Beth, 30, fat, tangled blond hair, a leader, had baby at age 15, birthed 6 children, only one still alive age 9, running from police for $40,000 in bad checks, proud to consider herself ''top maid," exploited by employer, brother in prison 25 to 50 years for rape of daughter.  I like her and respect her endurance and leadership.
Ingri, sharp nosed attractive, German, orphaned, stepfather brutal to submissive stepmother, married to religious fanatic cruel, child at 15 given for adoption, 2 more children, left husband, husband to run off with emotionally disabled womanbeater, spent entire inheritance of $15,000 buying cars for him, left after too many beatings, still ''loves'' him, wants to go back, suicidal, seeks tranquilizers, can't sleep, I like her but feel great pessimism around her.
Hazel, running from husband, 40's, tough gutteral staccato statements, "My name's Hazel. Pleased ta meet ya. We help each other here. It's the only way we can survive. Here's some food and towels I stole. Ya heard me. Good luck kid."
Outside my door at 4 AM I heard the same rapid fire flat guttural monotone. "I'm sick of Mexicans.  You heard me. See this knife? Take one step toward me and I'll cut your guts out. Comprende? Get the hell out of here. Ya heard me."
Hazel said goodbye suddenly, planned to go to Washington. Next day she was still around, depressed, no money. Beth feared she'd taken an overdose next morning but said not to wake her up so early. My head reeled with the illogic of that statement.
Pat, very pretty, in late 40's but looking like an aging ridiculous [273] Betty Grable under her long bleached blond curls. Left home and married at age 15 after stepfather kept sexually abusing her.  Married 5 times, 5 kids. Last husband "took my money, my kids, my pride." Also running from police, bad checks. Mental breakdown and severely ill in hospital for 2 years. Now taking first shaky recovered steps. Son in prison.
Kim, 16, Pat's daughter, planned to marry on Sunday, changed to Monday when couldn't get day off, sweet 16, still a flicker of a young spirit, mostly bewildered into playing the servant to new unemployed husband. I feel hopeless pessimism. Where were you woman's lib to warn this young child? Sweetness taking a plunge, trapped.
Mary, 57, aristocratic, well dressed, 5 grown children, kicking up her heels to see the world, almost married a 70 year old multi-millionaire last year but backed out of the absolutely last minute because he was so cheap, unscrewed light bulbs, bullied clerks about .20c tax, etc. She's soon leaving. In the middle of a slave day she said to me incredulously and in amazement (me on my knees scrubbing a toilet), "Why are we doing this anyway? It's absolutely unnecessary.'' She drives me crazy, talks at length in a soft voice totally inaudible in the midst of a blaring TV, and on and on she mumbles. Her stories are astounding. Married 30 years to a psychopath who tried to murder her dozens of times, stealthily, smothering her in her sleep, poisoning, etc. This monster was later murdered by a 14 year old stepson.
Beth told of her acquaintance with a 9 year old girl pregnant from her own father's rape, having the baby to be kept in the family and given to her when she marries some day.
Feliciano the wetback, 25, ugly beyond belief, crooked teeth, hawk nose, misshapen stomach, sings all day in heavenly melodic tones and listens to opera-like Mexican music, scrupulously clean and neat. I like him. He [274] was a bandillero bullfighter in Mexico. I loved him when he admitted after much thought that he did feel sorry for the bulls that are killed.  Knife fight with brother.
All the women wounded, struggling day by day, terrible health, verging between exhausting work and sickness which becomes the only allowable relief from work.  Poor diets, living on coffee and coke to pep up and pot and liquor and tranquilizers to come down. Suicide a lurking topic.
Every day in the motel we cleaned up after privileged people who had enjoyed the splashy excitement of the big casinos.  None of us motel help had ever been to a big casino show so I vowed to take us all to the biggest, gaudiest and the most spectacular before I left Reno. I blew a week's very hard earned pay on the adventure, not from altruism but from miscalculation.  The free tickets I had naively counted on never materialized.
When the big night arrived some of my motel friends were too frightened or too proud or too ashamed to go, but five joined me for the big feast.  I had loudly announced that considering the outrageous price of the tickets I felt no compunction to spend even more money on fancy clothes so I would wear my trail clothes. I urged them to follow my lead. The maids were shocked. One had blown her paycheck on clothes for the occasion (something that saddened me) and the consensus of opinion was that my trail and work clothes would never do. Somehow they dug into their wardrobes and contributed odds and ends of their own clothes to outfit me ''properly''. In the end the strange assortment and varied sizes felt even more peculiar than my trail clothes would have, but I tried to wear them as if Christian Dior had dressed me.
We crept into the ostentatious casino like the babies in the woods that we were. I found the decor obscenely opulent. Beth gazed in starry eyed [275] wonder and the Mexican wetback, fighting something that offended his pride, promptly threw his cigarette onto the rich red carpet and unceremoniously ground it out with his heel. We wandered among the gamblers who would lose more on one hand of blackjack than we would earn in a month at the motel.
And then our ragged little band was escorted to front row seats for the big show.  Right away it became obvious to me that the front row was undesirable unless one was in a haze of alcohol. Every ripped stocking of the dancing women, every scabby elbow, every layer of grotesque make up quivered before my startled eyes.  But Beth sat entranced as wave after wave of ostentatious display engulfed us.  A dance number featuring lavender feathers was followed by a dance number featuring pink feathers.  The pink feathers preceded a number with no feathers as 250 dancers shuffled about topless except for one set of drooping diamond chains. The evening became an endless blurr of feathers and noise and lavish special effects, waterfalls and earthquakes and smoking cauldrons. It was the most spectacular display of bad taste I could envision. The Mexicans sat stunned.  Beth sat enraptured.  And the rest of us just sat through it. It was American materialism gone wild. What an education!
We went home and tried to get a few hours sleep before the grueling maid work began all over again.
Motel maid work, the lowest of low, no tips. We are instructed on how to do a room. The first room took me one hour, wiping air conditioner slots, polishing bathroom plumbing, etc and we sometimes must do 25 rooms a day. Rooms are inspected to eliminate skimping. Impossible stress to do more than is possible. At day's end I am exhausted to the point of fever, exhausted beyond thinking, beyond reading, beyond eating, with the next day just a night's sleep away.  It's enough to make one drink just to get [276] on a few moments of release before morning.  All this for $15 to $20 per day or less. Through this I began to seethe and boil in a quiet rage at the smug bastards who wail about welfare and people who won't work.  I have worked this hard at my school or real estate occasionally.  Ranchers and farmers occasionally work this hard, but in every such case it is not a dead end like maid work.  I feel a white fury toward anyone who would condemn a welfare recipient or anyone to this life of exhaustion, poverty, ruined health, deadened spirit, and dead end future.
Today I ate dinner with a mid 30's smug couple from the Nevada National Guard. I pleaded the case for the people I am working with eloquently. The man said, ''Your maid friends just don't have enough sense to sit down and plan their lives ahead like we do."   This paunchy, bland man in his military jacket suddenly was so repulsive to me, I could scarcely eat.  In my book HE   is the fat lazy slob on government welfare, sitting all day in his plush office and living simply off tax payers money. Self satisfied useless butter ball!
I was given a rare tour (the reporter told me this tour was a rare and great honor for me, ho hum...) and we watched some military planes take off.  I couldn't have been less impressed or more bored, though I tried to act   impressed. Marilyn the reporter, playing the role of the sexy spunky little spitfire, kept saying how she wanted a ride in one of the planes. (I'm sure   none of them can conceive of how I can't remember the name of it, F something or ghost or phantom or something equally juvenile). A pilot stood with us (this alone was supposed to impress me) and he was handsome in a gray haired catalogue model sort of way, but the pilot and everyone but me had the most incredible demeanors, proud, excited, triumphant, almost sexual admiration as these noisy stupid planes would take off. So this is the fierce pride [277] of the Air Force, the esprit de corps, the hallowed worship!  The pilots would give some jerky hand signals which seemed to impress everyone all the more. To me they looked like fools.  Ahhhh...pant, heroes...
A TV news man said that it was good I wasn't a hippy spouting flower child garbage, etc.  If I had done that, it would supposedly negate my whole 2,000 miles of walking. How prejudiced!
For the past few weeks I'm aware off and on of a yearning to find a friend who would try to understand me. I was reading The Woman's Room and suddenly there it was perfectly expressed for me:
"Loneliness is not a longing for company, it is a longing for kind. And kind means people who can see who you are and, that means they have enough intelligence and sensitivity and patience to do that.  It also means they can accept you, because we don't see what we can can't accept, we blot it out, we jam it hastily in one stereotype box or another."
People ask me about the trip and then don't listen for one second when I try to express my puzzlement and disappointment at how I can't comprehend it, etc.  I'm not boasting or bragging or glorifying. I'm trying to share and I badly need someone who'll sit and listen.  Why do they all clamor about how I should write a book when they won't listen now?  I see no end or solution to this strange part of me that's lonely because after all, I did this alone. No one else has done it and that sets me apart.
The admiration I bask in is fine as long as I smile and say the expected things.  When I say what is really me, I get closed off.
Regardless of how many times I read about the journey of the Donner Party, I find myself straining and hoping they could move just a little bit faster [278] to make it before the snows trap them.  I know better, of course, but the race with time never fails to stir me to fairly shout across the pages and years. And just as I plead with them to hurry, I react with flaring indignation whenever I hear criticism of their efforts. They came within two miles of the pass, a scant one day too late in a year when the snows came earlier and more severely than any winter of the century.
On the far shore of Donner Lake is a monument dedicated to the first wagon train to cross the pass, the Murphy Party in 1844. They began their assault of the pass on November 25.  November 25!!  One month later in the season than the Donner’s fall arrival. The Murphy Party feat is regarded as a remarkable accomplishment yet the difference separating their success from the Donner's failure was simply a fluke in the weather.
While staying in Reno I had the privilege of riding for a day on an old fashioned wagon train across part of the 40 mile desert.  It gave me a vivid feeling for the struggle involved (physical for the animals and mental for the pioneers) in hauling wagons over hills and uneven roads.  Even a minor incline like a child's first sledding hill was a minor crisis, men wielding whips with tense shouts, women taut with held breaths and animals churning forward only to stop in mid hill, then everyone out of the wagons to lighten the load, a brief recuperative rest for the animals and a renewed heave at the traces.  Similarly a side slant of the road was cause for yet one more tense crisis as passengers lean to counter balance the frightening tilt of the wagon bed, and on it would go for 2,000 miles.  By the end of the exhausting day, tempers were short as men screamed at the animals and goaded them in frustration with prods and whips.
I rode behind the oxen wagon and could imagine the stress and futility the Donners must have felt behind the slow lumbering animals.  The wagon master told me that when the oxen became overheated or overtired they simply [279] walk slower and slower until they come to a stop at which point it would take dynamite to move them.  By the end of the day with them, a sharp stick poked into the animal's hide with the zeal of frustration, came back from the oxen hide dripping with blood, yet the annual had not moved one bit faster.  It was common for oxen to literally die on the trail from being worn out.  Is it no wonder that the Donners were nearly driven frantic with the stress of rushing the animals fast enough to beat the snows but not so fast as to kill them.  The rest days snatched here and there were probably not for the whims of lazy shortsighted people so much as an attempt to merely keep the animals alive.  In the meadow around Reno they rested for a few days.  With oxen that by that time resembled wobbling bones and the rigors of the Sierras directly ahead, is it unreasonable that an attempt was made to rest the animals?  No one ever claimed that oxen were faster than walking people and in the case pioneers, the animals probably held them back.  But in the wagons patiently pulled behind them, the oxen transported a civilization. [280]