My wife and I just recently drove out to Virginia City and it reminded me of one of my youthful visits to this isolated little town. I have a fond childhood memory of heading out to this old west silver mining town known as the Comstock.
We headed east on highway 50 towards one of the last vestiges of the old west, “Virginia City”. The further we strayed from Carson City the more the landscape began to resemble the set of the Clint Eastwood western movie “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”. It’s a land of high chaparral sagebrush, brown hills and pretty much a whole lot of nothingness. In the distance you can spy wild horses that still run free. There’s nothing more beautiful than something that’s free. You have to follow highway 50 out past the whore houses and the wrecking yards. I’d been tempted a time or two to check out the Bunny Ranch, but I knew such places thrive more on desperation than passion. I’m not that desperate——-at least not yet.
The Virginia City exit is a snake path of a road, windy and rutted. This is the sole passage to the Comstock where men traded the comforts of home for the prospect of riches. Greed can cause some men to make foolish choices. Gold and silver fever have caused many a man to betray friendships, love and life itself for the prospects of making a strike . It’s an arduous trip in an air-conditioned car and I find it hard to imagine what it must have been like in a buckboard wagon. There was no electricity, no hot and cold running water, no refrigerators with ice cold beer, no showers or indoor plumbing, no 7-11 or Walmart (Maybe no Walmart ain’t such is a bad thing?)
This is where you’d stake your claim and work from dawn to dusk with hands blistered from gripping a shovel and swinging a pickaxe. I imagine myself bursting open the doors of a saloon and saddling up to the bar next to Mark Twain and sharing clever quips while slurping our flat beers. He actually once lived in Virginia City and worked for the local paper. There is still an old roll-top desk there that is advertised as once being occupied by Twain himself. For five dollars you can walk through a museum and even sit behind that legendary desk. And that I did. As P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker is born every minute.”
As an impressionable kid I remember walking those boardwalk lined streets and thinking, damn——I feel like a real life cowboy, an outlaw or maybe a rodeo star. I sat at the bar of the Bucket Of Blood saloon and drank a sarsaparilla. On the wall hung the huge framed “Silver Dollar Lady” constructed of silver dollars. In the corner sat an old woman playing honky tonk stride piano. She looked rather proper with her hair done up in a bun and wearing a granny dress, but in-between songs she’d guzzle down beer like a fevered hooligan. The place was full of desperado looking men with handlebar mustaches, wearing cowboy hats, bandanas around their necks and jangling spurs on their cow-patty stinking boots. Man, I didn’t want to ever leave. This was a young boys true adventure. After all these years, I still have that young boys hankering to be a real life cowboy. And for one unforgettable afternoon, I felt what it must have been like to be a cowboy——free.