Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Atomic City Invasion

When I had my business in Cody I was lucky enough one day to have a young man walk into the place.
He and I had talked a number of times in the past, and as he walked in I realized that he was struggling with a huge and very beautiful picture.
The picture was huge.  The frame was huge.  It was the kind of picture that you see in the fancy, over sized homes you find in the South Fork or the North Fork outside Cody.
McMansions with sweeping entry ways, and huge balconies and stair cases overlooking a large portion of the first floor.
The young man wanted to sell the picture because he was trying to raise money to move to Florida.
When I asked him how much he told me and I bought in on the spot.
And then I promptly stored it carefully in the back of a friends' shop because there was nowhere to put it in the tiny lunchbox sized home we were renting at the time.
It sat gathering dust for months.  I had no idea what I was going to do with it because we lived in a tiny house, and at that point had not made a decision on purchasing a home.
I didn't care.  
I didn't care how long it gathered dust.  I didn't care if it sat in back of somebody's store for months.  Even years.
It was not the kind of picture that had ever crossed my path before.
It was the kind of picture that I had only looked at before, and it was the kind of picture that I had always expected to only be able to look at.
Never to buy.  Never to display.
A new friend we met in Cody just a few weeks before we moved to Idaho (her name is Barbara, she is retired from the Forestry Service and she reminds me very much of M&M in Tennessee) helped us to wrap and protect this beautiful thing (that was a monstrosity to transport and care for in transit).
The day after we arrived in Atomic City LC and I gingerly unwrapped the picture, crossing fingers and toes and eyes that it was still in one piece.
It was.
After painting the living room and hallway, we hung it in the living room on the one and only section of wall that was large enough to hold it.
Sitting alone on the wall it looked forlorn.  LC thought it looked tacky.
It looked too big for the living room but I didn't care.
A few days later, LC refinished the long table that I rescued from a dumpster behind a hospital in Tennessee many years ago.  
We have transported that heavy, oak monstrosity from Tennessee to Alaska to Wyoming to Tennessee to Wyoming to Idaho.  
, Once we stood the table against the same wall as the picture, everything seemed to pull together.
A look at the "before" pictures of the living room.............
The room still needs crown molding, new curtains, a white painted door and a few more things on the walls, but it is mostly done.
There is an old sewing machine and old set of scales in the space behind the couch, and I'll take more pictures another day.
Right now most of the other rooms in the house are in various stages of done-ness and undone-ness.............
On a very warm and very lovely Friday evening last week I walked with Jamie.
Normally the town of Atomic City is a very quiet place.
Online there are a number of short articles about the town, written by random travelers who have blown through on the way to somewhere else.  
Curious to learn what there actually is, in a town that holds such a lofty name as Atomic City.
Their trip is usually short lived and as I see them slowly drive by I can almost hear their brains ticking as they quickly realize "Nothing.  There's nothing here.  Does anyone even LIVE here?", before moving on to thoughts of government conspiracies and nuclear fallout zombies.
We told a girl at the check out counter at Wal-mart in Blackfoot last week that we lived in Atomic City and she laughed.
Out loud.
Whenever we tell people that we live in AC they make good natured comments about how far out we live.
It is actually only a 30 minute highway drive to Blackfoot.
On a regular basis throughout the summer however, the quiet of Atomic City is completely shattered when the raceway comes to town.
This past weekend was the Wild West Modified Tour
I had no idea what the Wild West Modified Tour was, but everybody we talked to seemed to know what it was and we quickly began to understand that it is a big event.
By Friday evening our community of 23 or 25 or 27 (depending on who you ask, and you would think that when you are talking those kind of numbers somebody would know for sure.......) had expanded to 300.
Atomic City had been invaded.
Huge commercial trucks, huge private trucks, car haulers, enclosed trailers, open trailers, campers, four wheelers, motor cycles, cars, tents.  We had it all.
Racers and families and supporters were camped everywhere - outside the race track, on BLM land close to the race track, in the town park, at the small campground at the far end of town, everywhere you looked up and down the road leading to the raceway proper was filled with people.
Prior to the races on Friday and Saturday evening, four wheelers and dirt bikes (driven and ridden by both adults and unhelmeted children) tooled across BLM land and up and down the roads.  Killing time before the race action.
It was unsettling.  Disconcerting.  A little overwhelming in truth.
Typical race weekends are noisy but people come, they race and they leave.
This Wild West deal was a whole different animal.
The noise of the race was unbelievable (but thankfully our well insulated house muted most of the noise) and engine-roar echoed throughout the town when you were outside.
By late Sunday morning the masses were thankfully all gone, and the town was returned to its residents.
By all accounts it was a successful event.

But here's the thing:
For all the noise, and for all of the inconvenience of increased people and restless spectators killing time by driving too fast up and down the roads, the town of Atomic City made NOTHING.  No money.
The land is owned by the speedway.  Entry fees and vending fees go to the owners.  The taxes are paid to the county.  Bored spectators waiting for the races  to start would happily spend money on something-anything if there was something to buy in Atomic City.  But there is not.  Not any businesses to purchase anything, and not even any tie-in booths/vendors/displays set up specifically for that special event weekend.
It was like there was one huge party held in Atomic City, and everybody was invited but the neighbors.
One of our neighbors told us that she was hot in her house, but could not open the windows because of the noise.
An old lady - hot - cannot open her own windows in her own home because the noise was so intrusive.
None of that makes any sense to me.
I have no idea how Atomic City got into this, but somebody at some time dropped the ball in a big way.................

The races were already in full swing when Jamie and I headed out the door for a walk.
The race track is a quarter of a mile away from the house and once I stepped outside I realized just how noisy it all was.  Looking down as my dog I realized that Jamie was completely unconcerned about the noise.
She gets as close to me as she can, and shakes in fear at the sound of the battery-dying-cricket-chirp of a smoke detector, but completely ignores the engine roar of race cars speeding in circles around a stupid 1/3 mile dirt track.  Go figure.
Turning right we wandered the back way to the racetrack.
One more abandoned house.  Through the front windows I could see that the home was now being used for nothing but storage.  Not garbage, but rooms full of useless crap that the owner probably has not looked through in years and will probably never use....................
Big Butte 18 BLM land miles away.
I want to park at the base of it and walk up.  I do I do I do..............
The raceway was the next street over but we were heading that way.  If you click on the picture you will see some of the race trailers.............
The race invasion...................
After learning of the Wild West event and then realizing what a big event it actually was, LC and I talked briefly about going to see it.
At another time, in another place, in another life, in a previous life - we both might have jumped at the idea.
But in truth, neither of us have the stomach right now for such chaos.
As I walked by the raceway with Jamie the noise was deafening.  Thunderous.  So loud that I could not hear myself think.  Worried I looked down at my pup to see how she was holding up, but she was her happy tail-wagging, every-clump-of-grass-marking self.
I was very glad that we had skipped the race..................

A couple of days later the invasion was a distant memory and, needing some alone time, I again walked with my dog.
It was early afternoon and very hot, I had no water with me but did have my old dog with me, so I knew that we would not be gone a long time.
Looking back towards town..................
The newest building in town is the BLM Fire Department building, located on the outskirts of town to the south..............
And the sign beside the fire house tells the tale.
North western Idaho has been devastated by huge wild fires throughout the summer.
Although south eastern Idaho is little more than a bone dry tinder box impatiently waiting to ignite, so far we have been very lucky.
People have been careful.  There have been few storms and therefore few chances for lightning fires to begin.  We have been lucky so far, and I hope that continues.................
After slowly wandering down the road where we live, turning and walking part way down the road containing the fire department, and then backtracking the way we had come, I impulsively nudged my dog towards the four silos at the south end of town.  
If you continue on this road a mile or so, there is a dirt road to the rght named (appropriately enough) Big Butte Road.  That road takes you all the way to the butte.
There are hundreds of miles of dirt roads that meander all over BLM land.  Dirt roads that take you to towns like Blackfoot and Pocatello and Aberdeen to the south, and Arco to the north.
My Mountain Boy and I have been staying close to home a lot these past few weeks, trying to get organized, trying to pretty the place up, trying to catch our breathe.  Holding tightly to each other..................
One last picture of the smallest of the two structures that make up the fire department, with the Twin Buttes in the background..............
There is something very compelling about these silent soldiers of the desert.
They stand uniform, solid and steadfast, protectively watching over.........what?  The town?  Me?
They speak to me.............
As I pulled Jamie off the dirt road and up to the closed gate near the silos I could hear LC's voice in my head, gently reminding me "watch for rattlesnakes".
Nasty little buggers.
As James and I wandered a little in the grass I watched for rattlesnakes, and again (for the hundredth time since we arrived in AC) wished that it was fall and colder.
A small bone fragment in the dirt..............
Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it...........Khaled Hosseimi

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