On my road trip to Idaho on the motorcycles with Bruno, we spent a night at a motel-RV park with a mini-mart, a bar and gas station. It was during this trip that I was kicking around the idea of ‘the edge’. What is it about? At Middlegate Station, a place to stop for weary travelers, I discovered a community that lives on the edge of the loneliest highway in America, Highway 50 in Nevada. The roadhouse sits on the junction of Highway 50 and Highway 361.
In this age of internet and commercial industry, Middlegate Station is remote. There were stretches of the road when we didn’t encounter another car for hours, except for transport trucks which were infrequent. With smaller gas tanks, we took every opportunity to fill up, not knowing where the next gas station will be open or operable. The map was only second best to word of mouth for reliable information.
We filled up at Gabbs and talked to the attendant who told us that the road is decent and recommended to gas up at Middlegate, because beyond that she didn’t know what’s opened. Gabbs is a small mining town that experienced a downturn when the magnesium mine closed. It was close to 3 pm when we rolled into Middlegate. Inside the bar, there were windows that faced northeast on the L of hwy 50 and hwy 361, and a young man grilled hamburger meat. At his feet was a toddler and further into the dark room, an older man behind the counter talking with two men who watched the TV with the volume at high.
We decided to refresh with some drinks before filling up the tanks. I ordered a dark beer and Bruno had white wine. It tasted good. We looked at the menu. “Freedom Fries”. I told Bruno to keep quiet so as not to give away his French accent. There were $1 dollar bills pinned, stapled and taped on every surface of the place, except for the table tops. The walls and ceiling were stained with tar from tobacco and grease. The little girl started to cry. The young man and older man, both with similar features, looked at each other. They communicated without words. Father and son spoke gently to the young baby, telling her gently that her mom will be back later.
I finished my beer and told Bruno I could have another one it tasted so good, and I wanted to know more about this place, these people. There was something special about them. Go ahead he said. But I wouldn’t be able to get back on the bike if I had another drink. I was exhausted after 2 days on the bike, and I wasn’t trained for these long hauls. Then I thought I knew what the pony express riders felt when they rode from station to station at break neck speeds while trying to avoid getting killed. My situation wasn’t as dire, but like them I was gloriously happy to come upon this haven. We decided to stay, ‘if they have room’ I said. The old man had watched us and listened to our conversation.
I asked if they had a room, and the old man said “Let me check.” I was surprised by his answer, because the place looked deserted except for the local people, and there were only a handful there. He checked his book, then said there is one room left. I wondered if he was kidding me. We took the room. He gave us the key and the direction across the courtyards towards the row of trailers that were subdivided into rooms. We finished our beers and moved the bikes closer to the trailer motel.
The room had a double bed and a single bed, a night table and lamp. The toilet and tub were clean. The space was cramped but the important thing was it was proudly clean and complete. There were towels and grooming paraphernalia. We unloaded the bike, put the gear on the single bed then headed back to the bar for food and more beverages. After that we played horseshoes at the pit. The proprietor, the old man, came to watch and made a friendly passing comment. Bruno beat my pants, though he’s never played the game before. Afterwards, we took a long nap and woke up at twilight.
Upon waking Bruno offered to get me something to drink at the bar. He left me inside the room, and I lounged and listened to the falling twilight. I heard voices and cars outside. Bruno walked in with the beer and he had ice for his white wine. His news was there were some new people that checked in. So they were busy after all. The old man had expected others, so we were lucky to get a room. Bruno urged me to get up to see the sunset. We walked around. The foothills were shadows upon the setting sun on the wild West. It was in the middle of nowhere. They have generators for electricity. What about water? Is there a well or do they have to bring that in?
We joined the others in the bar. Beer and wine flowed, a man played the guitar and sang Western songs. He did both really well too. The locals and the new comers had known each other from before. They had returned to film the 2nd half of the documentary ‘The Last Road House’.
In 2011, Ryan and Lisette Cheresson and their friends from New York were headed off to Burning Man. The convoy stopped at Middlegate Station for some rest and to refresh their supplies before they got back on the road. The couple were impressed by the people in this nowhere place which embodied strength and soul. It was a community that lived off the grid, and in 2013 they found out that the owners Freda and Russ Stevenson were struggling to maintain their livelihood. Their small community of people living in RVs and trailers relied on energy powered by a diesel generator. With this documentary their intention is to draw attention to the need of this community to have access to a clean source of energy. As the price of diesel had risen dramatically high, they want to help the community try to get funding for solar energy.
This was the edge living in the outback without any of the infrastructure that we take for granted. Yes, there was water for my showers at Middlegate, but at what cost? There was cold beer and hot food, but at what cost? I read someone’s critique about the hamburger served at Middlegate, and wondered if the person even considered the energy that brought that food on his plate in the middle of nowhere.
I experienced that edge during that 18 hour period. It was in the fierce grit of people who were hanging on to the remains of a lifestyle choice.
‘The state of Nevada ranks fourth in the nation for solar energy capacity. There are currently 84 companies in operation in Nevada that provide solar energy, but Fredda said the $750,000 start-up cost is way out of her price range. Fredda has applied for several grants to install a solar array at Middlegate, all of which have been denied. If you’re not on the grid and can’t put energy back into it, you don’t qualify. This puts people like Fredda in an impossible situation. “If you’re not on the grid,” she says, “you’re a second-class citizen.”’
The edge was in the gracious hospitality of the inhabitants to strangers in an inhospitable environment. The edge was the bond between father and son soothing the baby in her need and cry for her mother. The edge was the man singing with his one of a kind acoustic Gibson guitar. The edge was his deep gratitude and joy that Ryan remembered to bring him the proper tool to fix his guitar, because there wasn’t a luthier or Guitar Center nearby in any direction.
A conversation with the 22 year old, Maggie Urban-Weale, a journalism major and volunteer for the crew was a reminder of believing in something good and not expecting rewards. Later that evening, as we all walked to our respective rooms, we hung out under the moonlight and finished our drinks. We invited her in to play guitar, and she sang ‘Closing Time’. Speaking with the youngest of the crew members, I was reminded of hope and beauty. The young people of today want a better tomorrow, and they’re striving for it with this project.
“There are an estimated 200,000 people in America living off-grid. Many of these people, who lack access to municipal utilities like power or water, are the ranchers, miners, and truckers who keep America moving. Middlegate keeps those ranchers and truckers moving, and is one of the region’s only social hubs. Places like Middlegate are important not only for their historical value, but because of their significance in rural communities.”
“Artistically, we are interested in the juxtaposition of the old and the new—how new technology (such as solar) can help save historic places (like Middlegate). We’re also interested in the interplay between the rugged individualism that categorizes much of the rural West and their need for governmental assistance. As one academic told us, for the people of Middlegate to reach out and ask for help means that their situation is dire.” – http://www.lastroadhouse.com/
To book a room at Middlegate Station go to their website. http://middlegatestation.net/Home_Page.html