American Bear Explores Rural Nevada

Wells Nevada - our first town in the state, probaby not the best choice. The first thing that Greg said when we got out of the car was, "what a sad town." The historical down town was crumbling - salvaged brick in piles outside the storefronts, broken glass, brightly painted splinters of wood. Elma and Jack had told us that Wells had an earthquake and never received the funding required to fix the town, but I don't think we imagined it quite like this.

Signs for bustling old west themed shops suggested it was once a fun - if touristy - place.

The first place we stopped was the volunteer fire house. No firemen were there but a couple of EMTs chatted with us for all of five minutes. It took almost all five of those five minutes for either of them to warm up to us and try and help us find people to talk to - they also refused to be on camera and didn't really wanna talk about the town. They suggested a grocery store and the city manager's home. We've never knocked on doors before, but we decided this could be fun and the city manager must be friendly.

No one was home.

We went to the tiny privately owned grocery store where the manager said no shooting allowed.

We talked to people in the parking lot. Almost everyone turned down an interview. And not politely or apologetically. Their words may have been normal, but their tone was harsh. "No, ma'am" "Nope." "Sorry, can't" Everyone was afraid of the camera or unwilling to spare a few seconds.

I had started the day in sort of a weird mood - as always, we were exhausted, but also, waking up in a stranger's home with said stranger watching you sleep can be a little jarring. Even if that stranger is now closer to a friend, and a sweet old man going through his daily routine.

So my mood and attitude were sinking. Fast.

We headed to the hardware store and had our first interview of the day - we had already been in town for almost two hours.

The guys there were pretty friendly, if a little nervous about the camera. But they were all going to the boss's daughter's wedding and didn't think it was a good night for company. The surprising thing that they told us was that the businesses on mainstreet had been deserted for years. Mike told us that as a kid they used to play in the deserted buildings and jump from window to window and roof to roof without ever hitting the ground. He said in some ways the earthquake was a blessing, it got the town thinking about what to do with those buildings.

We talked to a newly married, newly pregnant couple who was newly moved to the area - they said sorry, not enough space. They were very friendly though and like the men at the hardware store had a lot to say about the community - mostly positive.

On our way out we ran into Devon - he couldn't chat here but invited us home to his yard sale. Everyone at his house was super friendly, the friendliest we'd met so far. They were talkative and happy and though unable to host us themselves, they had lots of suggestions, including the golf course and a small concert at the brewery in Clover Valley at 7.

The golf course was in the midst of a large tournament. So they asked us to be quick. Everyone we talked to refused to be on camera, some people ignoring us outright. Then a man pointed across the room - "she's the city manager, she'll tell you about Wells!" This excited both Greg and I a lot, because it seemed like we were supposed to talk to her.

So I turned to her, asking if she would be up for in interview, and in that same rude tone she said "No thank you," and walked out the door hastily. I was in awe. What a town. Even the city manager was inhospitable.


From there we went to the brothels. Two of them. We thought it would be great to interview one of "the girls", or the manager, or the owner of one of the two very famous brothels in Wells. The Casino and the brothels were a big part of the community in Wells - a sort of complete opposite to the broken old shops on main street. Greg asked which one first and we played the pick a hand game - our usual way of making a decision when neither of us really cares. We ended up at Bella's - its electric sign flashing "The hottest girls in Wells" and "Cum before you go" along with a couple other cum references and a few other messages. The manager was busy cooking dinner and asked that we come back in thirty.

So we headed to Donna's - the oldest legal brothel in Nevada. The woman behind the bar was very friendly, she had the saddest eyes I think I've ever seen for reasons unexplained. She said she used to work at the casino and now she was a bartender here. The shift manager called the manager for us who couldn't call the owner because he was on vacation, so we weren't allowed to film. But we went on a tour of the facilities anyways. I had a glass of water as we walked the halls. A beautiful black woman in a tiny white outfit and huge heels was checking her email in the common room, looking like a teenager home from school. In a back room we caught a glimpse of a brunette in red who was doing her makeup casually. The VIP room was really impressive, a giant heart shaped bed and a jacuzzi tub - red wall paper and sultry lighting - $500 a night. But other than this room, every other space we saw was casual and blue - not really what I imagined. The space felt calm, quiet.

We went back to Bellas and arrived just as two skinny young truck drivers pulled up separately. Again, not really what I imagined. These clientele were not your average truck driver - The first, an Indian 25 year old in adidas sweats and sandals, strong arms and a clean shaven face, looked like someone I might see walking the halls at one of the NYU dorms. The second, a redheaded cowboy in tight wranglers with a large golden rodeo belt and a hat, looked like someone from home that I might see at the grocery store on a quick stop after picking something up from Big R.


On the recommendation of the bartender, we went to the casino and ended up talking with her son. He was my favorite interview of the day (I don't think I am really allowed to say that) - because he was incredibly frank. He was very enthusiastic about the project and took our card.

Next Stop: Brewery.

At this point we were both exhausted. From the heat and from our moods. We were arguing. We drove to Clover Valley - about 12 miles away. One of the owners of the brewery, Maggie, greeted us. I was awkward and uncomfortable. I couldn't phrase what I was asking, but she offered to let us pitch a tent on the property anyways. So we bought our admission and joined the crowd for a show.

After hours of working with no success, we stumbled upon on amazing evening.

On the table there were three kinds of hummus. I hadn't seen hummus in weeks. It was a big pot luck so we contributed a loaf of bread (seems to be our usual contribution to meals) and ate an amazing meal while listening to music and stories told by Mike Beck.

Everyone there was so nice!

By the end of the evening we had not set up our tent. So Maggie and Steve generously let us sleep in the house on a SUPER comfy bed. We woke up for coffee with brown sugar (the way Maggie takes it) and cookies and good conversation and tried to help Maggie's son Ryan and his wife Alissa with their application to be on a fireman cookoff show for Regis and Kelly. Greg's computer didn't work for some reason - but his friend Adam's did. It was a lovely morning. Steve even gave me a 6 pack of amber ale to take home to my dad who had asked for some when I sent him my nightly text.

Today was a day for breaking stereotypes and learning about things that I am sometimes afraid to ask about. I learned so much about a culture that I previously knew nothing about.

And again we had the experience of earning someone's trust and making our way into their house. Starting outside and eventually earning an invitation inside.

We learned that even on the crappiest of days, while in the crappiest of moods, with the crappiest of energy, people are still willing to extend a helping hand.

We learned that sometimes you dont even need the lengthy interviews and conversations to form a friendship.

Pioche Nevada - smaller than wells and also much friendlier.

Pioche is an old mining town, and it won't forget it. There are signs all over town, references in all the shop names, old mining buckets as planters, carts as flower baskets, railraod ties for parking stoppers. It's tiny and quiet and seems deserted on a Sunday at a first glance - save a few drunkards stumbling out of bars and falling in the street.

We actually started in a bar. Where we met Dixie, the manager of what used to be the Alamo (now the Bank Club) Bar - started in 1900, we got to see the old Bank vault and then the remnants of the old bar. Dixie lives in what use to be the brothel.

After a tour from Dixie, we asked her if she knew anyone to help us and she called her bartender, Robin (now off work, but hanging around) over to meet us. Robin said, "come on over" with only a little hesitation and a confirmation from her husband, Brad.

Brad was drunk and Robin was a little tipsy, but mostly she was friendly and excited to show us her animals.

We did a few more interviews around town - meeting our first pessimist that agreed to talk to us. She told us about everything she hates about people and politics and it was great to hear, because we know so many people who feel that way. Everyone we talked to expressed concern about Vegas.

And now we are on the road driving to Vegas - only 51 miles away - and I am, for the first time, scared. I just hope we meet someone amazing.

Before taking us home Robin introduced us to the cutest border collie I've seen, Gunner. She was small and mostly black (except for her little lite paws). Gunner seemed to like us, so Robin took us home and fed her four horses and her calf (with a bottle!).

Robin made me a very special mixed drink (she made me promise not to share the recipe) - I asked for an almost virgin drink - so that's what I had, but it was yummy. And Greg did shots. Of water. Robin says it's because she's a smart ass, but let me tell you, it was hilarious. And according to the shot glass and Robin, Greg earned his status as a redneck by taking 5 shots in a row. Greg asked if that's what she would call herself, she said yes.

Brad, after a long day of drinking hit the hay early and left the three of us to fend for ourselves.

We mostly just talked and looked through photos - Robin shared so much with us in so little time. We played with the dog and I tried to teach Robin how to use facebook - we found a picture for her profile.

Robin spoke extensively about the intuition of animals. "Thats why I wanted you to meet Gunner before I took you home," she said. "If my animals didnt like you, I'da had to find you a different place to be. Even that calf. Even she knows." Robin alluded to a lot of hardship -- difficult relationships, death threats at a bar she used to work at -- and her tendency to be too trusting. It was fascinating to hear her explain it, because her trust is certainly a virtue, but she's also seen the dark side of trust and giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Somehow, we were up until almost midnight (after going over at 6). It really was a night of great conversation, with a true cowgirl nonetheless.

The sun setting over the horses at Robin's house.