Speed Kills … As It Should

In July, barreled down into Northwestern Arizona from Las Vegas. Dropped some coin in barren White Hills playing lottery that’ll help fund the Grand Canyon State’s educational system. Such donations would’ve been better spent here in Nevada. But thanks to the Nevada gaming industry’s dumb insistence lotto dollars will deduct from the Silver State’s games of chance and sports books, Nevadans do not benefit from such participations.

Nevada further loses by imposing one of the gambling lowest rakes by any state.

Statewide gambling enterprises mistakenly believe dollars diverted into various lottery schemes will lessen profits. They also believe a better educated workforce would do all kinds of bad things to the bottom line. Like demand better conditions, wages, and benefits.

In an aside, one intended to be pointed, the gaming industry is in a sweet spot. Covid conditions notwithstanding, it’s getting more personnel who’s docile and evermore obedient. Mexicans, Pacific Islanders, and Asians are replacing aging out employees. Unlike the once prevalent black and white support staffers who made old Las Vegas hum, the brown complexioned masses streaming to Hawaii’s “Ninth Island” will remain grateful no matter how management increasingly overburdens “team members” work requirements.

The more militant among readers may see them as dogs who remain faithful to cruel masters no matter what.

Less spent on education, appealing to people thinking life’s be-all and end-all is simply a good paying job – regardless of how it humiliates – attracts candidates who’ll keep their heads bowed and will raise little, if any, fuss should their toil become arduous.

Coming from and having enjoyed the benefits of a strong union household, I smirk at such dummies. But that’s a topic for a future post. This one is about an avoidable dimwit wipeout.

On a day I drove to play lotto and collect, on that highway between the Big Mayberry and dollars & dreams, I crossed a fatal auto collision.

Every third Sunday I blaze into Northwest Arizona to purchase three weeks of lottery tickets. Each commute is a 50-mile ride that lasts under an hour. Two of the highlights through desert severity involve water. The first vision is that of a greatly reduced Lake Mead as the Nevada portion of highway descends on a 6-8° slope into the O’Callaghan-Tillman Bridge, a viaduct which is a godsend for any travelers who ever suffered delays while entering/exiting Nevada/Arizona via the road across Hoover Dam. The same degrees are climbed on rises that deepen into Arizona.

Here, “the bathtub ring,” local shorthand that describes sheer blanched 140-foot walls which the lake once submerged but through a 20-year drought have bared, is a further encroaching shoreline squeezing the approach to the dam’s electrical generating turbines. Tough to see now, it would’ve been even more difficult envisioning this scene when first seeing Lake Mead back in the late 1970s. Then, the reservoir seemed inexhaustible. As if there was no need to ever worry about turning off any tap.

Then, water was so abundant from what the Colorado River delivered it at times gushed over the dam’s spillways.

Upon regaining high desert, the Arizona portion of the Mojave rears into short peaks and abrupt escarpments alongside the highway. It’s a different kind of inhospitality than Nevada’s Mojave. The latter’s desert will kill the unprepared and less stout through distances that never seem to shorten, while the former’s is an obstacle course for the longest.

If it helps any, the Arizona Mojave is dun, Nevada’s is gray. Both are stark beneath harsh summer sun.

More dispiriting is the daytime summer sky. Over the Mojave it’s an unrelievedly vast blue ceiling. Clouds seldom disrupt this beautiful monotony. The rare ones passing overhead embody loneliness. When enough of them happen to intrude they might merely spot the landscape below with brief shade. Or tease with the remote possibility of appreciable rain if they gather in substantial hopefulness.

About half an hour before spying habitation from the road, a vantage occurs where the National Parks Service has established a scenic overlook. From here a break in the landscape allows a foreshortened sighting of a tame Colorado River.

When amply nourished by melting snowpack from Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, the river must tumble and rush. These days, sustaining snowmelt lessened by conditions which cause foolish contention between advocates and doubters, the river glides mildly through this part of the Southwest.

White Hills, Arizona, is the first lotto casbah for Southern Nevadans seeking “bet with your head not over it” riches. Yet don’t let the wind turbines fool. This is less dynamic America. What conspiracy theories haven’t too many of the locals swallowed about gum’mint, the New World Order, liberal media, and whatever else barking-head talk radio crackpots incessantly scream to pollute the ether of this sparsely populated quadrant.

As long as their indoctrinations aren’t challenged, the locals are hospitable. But I’ve only visited here during daylight. Who knows what festers and boils among the tin foil hat set after sunset?

Calamity occurred on the way to White Hills. Thankfully the highway is divided, with yards-wide medians separating north and south lanes.

Aligned as much of the route is, topography sometimes lifts or sinks lanes. Rolling southbound illustrated this landscape feature.

A hellacious auto crash, northbound. The kind common in the West with its straight roads that induce white-line fever. Straight roads whose open vistas make speed limits nuisances instead of recommendations to be followed. Roads that have surfeits of reckless drivers.

A rock outcropping jutting up in a median further obscured seeing the road’s northbound side. In this section, nature forced engineers to drop southbound lanes below the northern ones. Only after climbing the crest which once again leveled south and north was the bloodbath spackling the blacktop observed.

In all, doesn’t take much to wrench human bodies apart, does it? This was the sort of uncommon scene that transformed an uninvolved onlooker into a rabbit-eared looky-loo.

Car parked a safe distance on the opposite road shoulder, I scrambled atop an unobtrusive vantage point.

By the way, for tenderfoots reading Speed Kills … As It Should, wear boots – sturdy calf-covering leather ones when stumbling around any desert. No shortage of vermin to crunch underfoot. And a lot of them bite.

Knowing the proper footwear and learning the meaning of cairns were two of the finest lessons absorbed as an incoming Arizona freshman during desert orientation instruction. Long before search engines and GPS, cairns informed travelers and trekkers. While I’ve forgotten how to read the stacked stones, I’ll never fail wearing boots in the least hospitable part of the desert.

Bad enough half a dozen unnecessary ambulances lined the opposite side’s shoulder. Worse, a medivac bearing a Las Vegas hospital’s insignia needlessly idled loudly on the macadam. Somewhere behind the rear rotor a mangled muscle car and raised, extended bed, now twisted crew cab pickup truck had violently ejected their respective occupants while demolishing.

An accident investigation crew measured and photographed the carnage. Beyond hearing range, they probably postulated, too. Behind the morbid activity a quickly lengthening line if traffic halted. Drivers and passengers had left their vehicles to gather at the highway patrol established roadblock. There, frying under a midday sun, they disbelievingly processed what made them wince.

Though little known here in the United States, what unfolded had reminded me of some Enrique Metinides oeuvre. A Mexican newspaper photographer in the Weegee vein, Metinides’ exposures presented tragedies. Weegee, a mid-20th century New York tabloid photog, haunted the city’s nighttime hours. He enthusiastically sought out lurid tableaux.

The vista presented on that Arizona highway would’ve been a photojournalistic jamboree for the Mexican.

Ahead of the incident’s remnants a perfectly intact rattletrap pickup truck sat beyond the wrecks, its driver and a passenger trying to give a responding officer coherence to what was either seen in the rearview and sideview mirrors or with twisted heads glimpsed through the truck’s back portal.

The witnesses were talking, gesturing furiously. Though related urgently, the patrolman only fitfully grasped the tales.

Having driven plenty in this region, what likeliest transpired is easy to speculate.

Straight roads and tedium are bad combinations. The cure? Speed.

Away from congested traffic, speed limits in the West should be regarded as suggestions. Recommendations. Like stop signs. Don’t even need to add degrees of difficulty through alcohol. But without an open container of sloshing suds or nostril hair stiffening hooch, where’s the challenge? What’s the risk?

This crash site occupied a mild rise towards the horizon before spilling downhill. Strangely northbound is the direction with the most roadside makeshift memorials to drivers (and their passengers, if any) who failed properly negotiating the path. Because Las Vegas as a destination excites. Stirs minds. Blinds through rumored phantasmagoria. All sorts of unimaginable – or maybe repetitions of the last adventures there – beckon and await.

Who rushes to reach Boulder City or Henderson? Nobody.

Common as it is, it’s easy to see those drivers making a game of leapfrogging one another. Until the pickup ahead of both appeared that might’ve sufficed. Yet the slower moving jalopy could’ve prompted an escalation of recklessness.

Perhaps both trailing drivers were of the mind that if he – yeah, you know it was guys. Women are nowhere near as careless behind the wheel as men. Especially young male drivers, the epitome of “Hey! Lookit this!” living. One of the racers miscalculated he could swerve around the poky vehicle. As he accelerated and drew even, he’d match its speed, thereby blocking his competitor’s wheels and prevent passing in either lane.

Bad enough to go poking along. Being blocked in would’ve raised the frustration. Even Steve McQueen (the “the King of Cool” boss actor, not the director) wouldn’t have ridden on either chancy irregular shoulder.

Ah, but wonder if the driver to be thwarted recognized the ploy? Wonder instead whether his spying the potential trap thought his motor sufficiently capable of gunning his wheels through the rapidly narrowing window? Wonder, though, if he misjudged and the chaser clipped the forward speeder’s rear? Or the pace vehicle inexplicably slowed and possibly bumped his trailing pursuer?

Between speed destabilizing both vehicles and frantic overcompensating behind both steering wheels further screwing the situation, straight as the road was couldn’t incalculable motoring aspects have played out fatally? Which was probably what the pair in the surviving pickup tried explaining to the responding badge-wearing friendly.

Brief as my presence had been, the length of stopped northbound traffic stretched into an already abysmal wait time. After I reached White Hills, played my numbers, and started north again, the delay might consist of dead-stop congestion for a dozen or more miles.

Miles full of Nevadans who’d driven into Arizona to play lotto.

Oh, this incident wouldn’t have been speedily investigated and quickly resolved satisfactorily. It had the makings of being an all-day thing. A dreadful prospect because only one road coursed through that Mojave sector. No perpendicular avenues led away to escape onto any nearby parallel route. Detouring meant going almost as far as reaching where Arizona and Nevada are contiguous with California. But sitting and fuming was unacceptable.

A single result made the wide loop back to Las Vegas somewhat less aggravating. I left White Hills pocketing a nice tidy amount of bill-paying money.