During my drive to Las Vegas, the Veteran’s Memorial Highway brought me through a handful of Indian Reservations. I’m not particularly educated on the state of Indian-Government relations but I’ve read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and I’m a fan of Ward Churchill so I have at least a baseline understanding of the savage, locker-room rogering that was Manifest Destiny. All the same, actually seeing the Godless stretches of sun-withered rock that the government assigned to its defeated enemy really drives the point home in a way that books can’t.
Though I know full well that the Indian people had no voice in the decision I imagine that the U.S. Government, having thoroughly won the American Indian Wars, called forth a representative from the surviving tribes when it was time to assign living space:
U.S. Government: That is some lovely property you all were living on, wasn’t it?
Indian Representative: Yes, that is why we liked living there.
U.S. Government: Well, we need it
Indian Representative: For what?!
U.S. Government: Stuff.
Indian Representative: What stuff?
U.S. Government: Jamba Juices, hockey rinks, hot dog stands. White people stuff.
Indian Representative: But what about us?
U.S. Government: That’s what I wanted to talk to you about! Using the most scientific methods currently available we have located the absolute worst parcels of sandblasted hell in America
Indian Representative: Why?
U.S.G: Because we want to give them to you!
Indian Representative: I’m sorry?
U.S.G.: So you can live there, silly! All of you. Bring sunscreen.
Indian Representative: I have a few reservations about this.
U.S.G.: Great! That’s what we’ll call them. Now get out of here you crazy kid. Remember what I said about sunscreen.
Indian Representative: But I don’t…is that a shotgun?
U.S.G.: I said get
Since NPR liked to disappear on me whenever I got interested in a subject, thoughts like this were all I had to keep me company. I’d given up on country radio after hearing Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw” three days running. It’s a catchy song and I’m not particularly sensitive but every time I heard “You can find me in my wigwam /I’ll be beatin’ on my tom-tom / Pull out the pipe and smoke you some / Hey and pass it around” I wanted to throw up.
A mild diversion came when I saw a sign advertising a Wildlife Viewing Area. The last several hours of driving had brought me endless vistas of windswept hardpan and I was a little sceptical as whether any wildlife not existing solely at the microscopic level could possibly thrive here. A tour guide would have to be a Zoloft-popping mixture of cock-eyed optimist and Spalding Grey to sell that particular Wildlife Viewing Experience:
“Here in front of us we have some rocks, heavy ones by the look of them. To our left if you look closely you can see more rocks, one of which looks like an anvil. Oh! Look! Just over there I thought I saw…no, no…that was a rock too. Isn’t this fun? Who else could go for a Jamba Juice?”
Night had fallen by the time I got close to Vegas and traffic had fallen off to almost nothing. As Highway 95 slipped by beneath the moonlight I had a look at the map and realized I was driving parallel to Department of Defense land. Then it hit me – this wasn’t just any DoD land – this was the Nevada Test Site, formerly Nevada Proving Ground, one of two nuclear testing sites used by America during the Cold War. Hey, I read books.
From 1951-1992 over 1,000 nuclear devices were tested on-site, often resulting in fallout that insisted on ruining the day (and genetic material) of anyone who happened to be downwind. These blessed souls are cheerfully called “Downwinders” by those who take an interest in the subject – I imagine this is because “Boy Howdy, You Are Boned-ers” is too much of a buzzkill. Over the years there were a number of settlements paid out by the government although the official figures are apparently well-hidden.
Scenes from The Hills Have Eyes came flooding into my head and in desperation I reached for the radio. Even “Indian Outlaw” was better than that.
Part 1: Get on the Boat, Son
Part 2: Radio Nowhere
Part 3: By the Side of the Road
Part 4: Cthulhu & the Dirty Shame
Part 5: Like a Bat Out of Hell
Part 6: Love Me, I'm a Liberal