Saturday felt like a day straight out of a Hollywood film.
The plot: a cantankerous but big-hearted character beloved by many passes away unexpectedly, and friends and family from near and far gather in the front yard of his small-town home to honor his memory and swap stories over beers and a barbecue. They laugh, they cry, they reminisce. And they remark about how unfortunate it is that it takes an event like a death to bring everyone together again.
Which is pretty much exactly how things went down. Tara and I found out a week ago that a close family friend – she likened him to “a second dad” – had passed away suddenly and without warning, at the age of 55. Immediately she decided she wanted to be there for the memorial barbecue they were planning in his honor in lieu of an actual funeral. I wanted to support her, so we made arrangements with our respective employers to take Friday off, and hit the road very early that morning. As in, 4:30 AM. The upside? We caught an amazing sunrise near Arlington, Oregon a couple of hours later. The downside? When we rolled into town around 6:30 PM, we had been on the go for 14 hours. Granted, it wasn’t all road time; we stopped to stretch our legs in Baker City, OR and ended up walking around the historic downtown for a good half-hour (and decided we must come back for a weekend visit this winter, especially when we learned the grand old Geiser Hotel is haunted), and stopped for lunch in Boise. 14 may be our lucky number, but fourteen hours in the car is anything but fun. We were thrilled when we reached Ely, and proceeded to check into a motel.
Only to find that every single room in town was booked. Literally.
Turns out there was some horse racing event that, apparently, is a big draw out there. Fortunately, Tara’s dad had room for us, even though her sisters were also staying there along with a few others. It was a crowded house, but we managed just fine. Went out to the local bar and grill for drinks that evening, then Tara and I drove out to the middle of nowhere to look at the stars before hitting bed a little past midnight. It had been a long day.
Saturday we were up early. We went out to breakfast at the Hotel Nevada with Tara’s sister Jessie before heading back to her dad’s house. From there we walked to (the dearly departed) Tom’s house. Only nobody called him Tom; he was Hammer, apparently because he enjoyed getting hammered. While I didn’t know him, I can at least say I got to meet him once, briefly. It was during my first trip to Ely in September, 2011. Tara and I wandered into the Hotel Nevada to grab a cool one, and there was Hammer, parked at the bar, nursing a beer. He was exactly the way everybody describes him: gruff but humorous. He looked half put off to be pulled away from his beer for a moment in order to shake my hand, but half glad to meet me. If that makes sense. So, I knew the guy in passing. After listening to all the stories everybody shared the night before at the bar and during the barbecue on his front lawn, I feel like I have a real good sense of him. I wish I’d had the chance to get to know him better. The day was hot and breezy, with thunderheads building up over the nearby mountains; the occasional rumble of thunder and lightning flickering over the nearby peaks appeared ominous, but never did drift close enough to rain on our parade. The goal was to “get hammered” for Hammer, and we pretty much all did. As he would have wanted it. I had a good time and enjoyed meeting many of Tara’s friends and extended family whom I hadn’t yet become acquainted with. They’re all good people, to be sure. We left around 5:00 to check into a motel where we’d found a vacant room for that night, and then went to the local Mexican restaurant to meet up with several of Tara’s close friends, all of whom I had met on previous visits. After a couple of hours there we went back to the motel, and I fell onto the bed. By that point I was exhausted, and feeling the effects of tequila (and, ahem, Lime-A-Ritas. Don’t judge).
One thing about me: I have an amazing internal alarm clock. Friday morning, I woke up automatically at 3:27 AM, three minutes before the alarm. Sunday morning, I got up at 4:16. We’d had the alarm set for 4:15, only we learned much later – after we got home – that Tara had forgotten to set the alarm. We both just assumed at the time the other person had heard it, I think. Good thing I woke up when I did, or we would have gotten home much later than we wanted! The drive back had fewer stops and seemed to go quicker. It “only” took 13 hours. We got home right around 6 PM, wiped out from our whirlwind visit but glad we went.
I didn’t bring a camera this visit, deciding instead to rely on my phone and Instagram to chronicle the trip. I’m pretty pleased with the results. Here are the photos I uploaded to Instagram…I think they tell a pretty good story.