A meeting in the Nevada desert
September 1, 2012
CARSON CITY, Nev. – “Well, let’s get out and check it out,” he said. We’ll call him Brent, a guy I had worked with for a couple years and someone who I was again scheduling meetings with in Carson City, Nev. He’s built like a linebacker and drives a Toyota CJ4, which at the moment was lodged midway up a rocky path, its left-rear wheel about five inches off the ground.
He started walking downhill. Not sure what to do, I used the moment to take in the view. It was startling, brown as far as the eyes could see, which was about 25 miles up to the western tip of the Sierra Nevada, with smoke from a far-off brush fire polluting the lower valley. On the other side of the Sierra, the blueness of Lake Tahoe. Yet, all I saw was brown. In the foreground, sand and sandstone boulders. In the distance, brown grass littered with a few live pines. In the middle, Carson City, a fair little state capital with all the crime, conspiracy theorists, politicians, former sheriffs and ex-convicts you would think could settle among the 70,000 residents who live on the western edge of a desert.
Together, it worked.
Brent returned to the truck carrying two big rocks. He stuck them under the left wheel and got back in the driver’s seat. I hopped in as well. I watched him back down between the boulders, and for some reason, I started speaking, saying something like: “Yeah, we’re just thinking we need to improve the overall communication between the departments. Communication really does solve most problems.”
He agreed with a head-nod, never letting it change his posture, tone or handle on the gear shift. He stopped backing the truck, turned his eyes forward and shifted it back into first gear. A rock was 18 inches from my face. He floored it, and after the tires kicked a few buckets of sand behind us, we hit his well-placed rocks, spun for another second and then lurched up the slate trail. We soon hit a dirt road that would have bellied out most vehicles, but was relatively unchallenging to our blue, four-wheeling machine. In second gear, we climbed harmlessly along through the sage brush. And thankfully, my face was still intact.
To my left, a rock adorning the local gang signs marked the trail. From what I could tell from the graffiti, the primary gang was white supremacists and/or Nazis, and I wondered if the Bureau of Land Management might bother to cleanthis up instead of just chasing wild horses and gas companies. Other than the hate speech, it was a perfectly harmless and quite beautiful trail.
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In classic Nevada fashion, it was 94 degrees, and as we rolled along, he talked about the challenges of managing in a group environment. He rolled up the windows and turned on the air conditioning. We chatted about the news. Soon, he pulled up to a flat open space. Again, he shifted it to park and got out of the truck. I followed. I was wearing topsiders and felt sand pour into my shoes.
We were at the top. We stood like men stand, hands on our hips, gazing as we overlooked the city well below us. It was desolate behind us. I would be lying if I did not admit to thinking, “Many people have died and been buried up here.”
Brent walked around looking for the spot where the trail continued. I could not see anything but sage brush, sand and a few roads snaking along the ridgelines well off in the distance. Brent pointed straight ahead and said, “I see a road. Right there.” He pointed to a bunch of plants. He could sense my skepticism. “Sage is certainly not an endangered species around here,” he said. I looked around. I couldn’t argue with that.
We hopped back in. “Would a daily meeting at 4 p.m. solve the problem?” I asked.
“It might,” he responded. “But we still need budgets by deadline.”
I nodded my head as he pulled into the sagebrush desert. I reminded him I had another meeting at noon. “I’ll get you back in time,” he said. I think he sighed. Brent found a road that angled back along a ridgeline, and within 10 minutes, he dropped me back off at work. I walked back in and told nobody about where I just was.
Back at my desk, I emptied my shoes out in my trash can. Then, I texted him a thanks, noting that I felt like the meeting had gone much better with my life in danger the entire time.
“From now on,” he texted back, “we’ll call that the ‘field office’.”
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