Thrillingly Illegal

Last month my wife, Kay Yak Gnu, and I stole a bit of normalcy, during an abnormal time. We got in our car and headed out of state. Out and away from Commie California, to the casinos of Nevada and a ghost town in Arizona, called Oatman.

Oatman in the old days, when it was a thriving gold mining town. In 1915, two men prospecting nearby hit a bonanza of $10 million in gold. This began one of the last gold rushes of the American West. The town’s population boomed, and over the next 26 years its mines produced over $40 million in gold (nearly $700 million in today’s dollars). The U.S. government forced it to shut down in 1942, because other metals were needed for the war effort. But it sprang back to life in the late-1960s as a tourist trap attraction.

It felt exciting to get away for a few days. It was our first multi-day venture out of our house since pre-Covid times. On Day Two we rolled into Oatman at about nine o’clock in the morning. We were ahead of most of the tourists, so this ghost town really did seem ghostly.

The Oatman Schoolhouse, which is still awaiting permission to open after the Spanish flu epidemic closed it in 1919. (Just kidding, if you’re an anxious parent reading this.)

We very quickly found ourselves surrounded by jackasses, none of whom were wearing masks. Oatman is an old mining town, and these jackasses are the descendants of the burros that worked in the mines, transporting ore, hauling water, and doing all the other heavy donkeywork. Nowadays, tourists come from all over the world to visit Oatman, and pat its beautiful asses.

Kay, surrounded by panhandling donkeys.

The jackasses outnumbered the humans at that time of day, and ruled the town. But hell, they rule any time of the day, even when there are crowds. These critters spend much of their time as mendicants, begging food from tourists, and foraging out of the purses of sweet little old ladies such as Kay.

My wife loved the jackasses, which shouldn’t be any surprise. After all, she married me. This is a selfie, by the way.

They traipse up and down the main street of Oatman all day long, following two-legged strangers. When they tire, they gather under awnings of store fronts, hiding from the sun and sleeping on three or four limbs. Tourists have to weave around them, like some kind of jackass obstacle course.

Shh, jackasses napping!

Inside the various souvenir shops of Oatman, the store owners and operators ignored mask rules and went about their business barefaced and oblivious to the dangers of the China virus.

This gravid donkey is named Olive. She loves to stick her unmasked face through the door and enjoy the air-conditioning.

Kay and I were wearing our face coverings, for awhile. But we got to remembering that the purpose of the mask is to protect others, and not the wearer. If the store owners didn’t give a damn about us, why should we care about them?

Olive Oatman on a storefront sign. Oatman is named after this colorful woman, whose family was massacred by the Yavapai tribe in 1851, while traveling near Arizona’s Gila River. Olive was only 14 years old, and was enslaved by the Yavapais, who eventually traded her to the Mohave tribe. The Mohaves adopted her and treated her as one of their own, tattooing her chin as part of their tradition. She loved the Mohaves, and reluctantly left them at age 19, due to the danger from white settlers that her presence brought to the tribe. She died in 1903, at age 65.

So we lowered our masks to our chins. Ahhhh! It felt refreshing. It felt normal. It felt thrillingly illegal. And it felt like we fit right in with the outlaw denizens of Oatman. And the jackasses.

It’s a rough crowd that runs Oatman, but you can weaponize yerself at Jackass Ron’s.

“It’s so nice to not wear a mask, and to be able to walk into a store like this,” Kay remarked to one barefaced store owner as she worked her cash register.

“You must be from California,” she dryly replied.

Oatmanites are an independent type. In this town you can do whatever rings yer chimes, so long as you don’t bother nobody.

Well, ahem, yes. Dammit, if we’d only had our masks on, we could hide our embarrassment. California has the most severe coronavirus restrictions in the nation. It’s killing the economy, depressing both incomes and moods. Arizonans scoff at us.

If you bring your dog to Oatman, you might want to keep it on a short leash.

Elsewhere in Mohave County, Arizona, businesses enforce the mask rules, and restaurants are limited to 50% occupancy. So they have their restrictions, too; just not so much as California.

This burro bandido was stopping cars on the highway and extracting “tolls” from tourists.

But Oatman has said to hell with it all. They’ve chucked their face coverings and opened the doors of their businesses to as many as can squeeze between their walls. Apparently the rules aren’t enforced in ghost towns, as ominous as that may sound.

An incongruous juxtaposition of a Trump sign to the left and “Saving Your Ass,” sign to the right. Oatman is a very Republican town, yet ironically depends upon donkeys for its livelihood.

More and more tourists were trickling in as we headed for our car. Some were wearing face covers, while others were catching on quickly and lowering their masks.

And all were mingling delightfully with the jackasses.

Two smartasses taking a cigarette break and talking politics behind the shops.

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