Showdown on Main Street

The wind swirled dust around his boots as he stood alone in the middle of the wide, deserted street. The other visitors to this dead town had moved inside—for the moment.

A stranger stepped from shadows onto the planked sidewalk a block away, in front of the empty hotel, carrying a familiar weapon. He had to decide, now.

Angling towards the man, he paced off the yards until he could read the name on the others’ hat. Then spoke: “That’s far enough. I can shoot you from here.” And eased all three tripod legs onto the ground.

“Not without lens flare, you can’t.” Damn, how could he be so stupid! The stranger had the sun at his back. Even a polarizer couldn’t save him.

Then he noticed the hat, again, and relaxed. The stranger liked Ducks!

And, as it turned out, shot with a Canon camera (I would have plugged him without remorse if he’d been toting a Nikon) and has lived most of his life, as I have, in or close to Eugene, Oregon, home to the University of Oregon and its fighting ducks. Bob and I even discovered that we knew a couple of the same people back home.

That’s the kind of thing that used to happen here all the time—”Oh, yeah, I know them”—before an extra hundred thousand out-of-towners pumped up the population, but it’s still possible on Main Street in Bodie, California.

Bodie’s prime came and went with minerals, and those hardy inhabitants who stuck by her were eventually chased off by fires—less than ten percent of the original buildings are still standing. The State of California figured out a new way to pan for gold, tourist-style, and has established Bodie State Historic Park, where time (and rotting boards) are maintained in a state of arrested decay.

It’s a wide-open space to wander in, with plenty of elbow-room for everyone, although for a while I wondered if I had a “Follow Me—I ENJOY Being Annoyed” sign taped to my back. One young couple armed with Point n’ Shoot cameras and two noisy children seemed to pop up behind everything I stopped to investigate, and were topped only by the mindless woman and child who, seeing I had a tripod set up close to a window, nevertheless sat down on a bench in front of me.

But I said it, there’s lots of room and so one simply moves to another spot, perhaps the former stamp mill that overlooks the town, or the jail, or any of the many residences that ring the mill. In such a place, where life was undoubtedly difficult in the best of times, modern inconveniences are laughably trivial.

When you visit Bodie, take plenty of water and snacks (there are no vendors), and sun screen. A sun burn is easy to come by at the high altitude, even in mid-October. Of course, charge up your camera’s battery—you’ll be taking lots of pictures.

And keep an eye out for strangers on Main Street.


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