“Gun Talk Radio” vs. Mormon women priests

In my first cross-country road trip dispatch, I learn Feinstein “wants to kick down your door and take your guns"

Published April 8, 2013 2:00PM (EDT)

I'm driving cross-country with my dog, Sadie.
I'm driving cross-country with my dog, Sadie.

I lost KNBR’s Marty Lurie just outside of Patrick, Nev., Saturday night, after the San Francisco Giants game, and that's when I first felt alone. Leaving not only my friends and (some of) my family, but my baseball team. My only regret about my amazing autumn in New York last year was missing the Giants’ world championship run (except for a game in Detroit, but that’s another story).

On the dog park campaign: I found a great one in Auburn, Calif., along with a great meal at Lsuda’s (hindsight: had a good turkey sandwich; should have had a salad. Lots of steak to come.)

Development keeps hurtling at you as you cross from California to Nevada. Outside Reno there was a sign for a law firm: “Bankruptcy Walk-ins Welcome.” Around Sparks there was a DUI billboard. And then it got kind of empty.

About 10 minutes after I lost KNBR a sign said “No services 57 miles.” And even though I didn’t need no services, I felt untethered.

After that, Sadie and I drove hard to Winnemucca, where I’ve landed on at least five of my cross-country trips. Although I can listen to my own music on my iPhone, I did it old school: I just searched for local radio stations. Near Lovelock, I found one known as “Martini,” specializing in romantic songs from the Rat Pack -- which was perfect for a hot Saturday night I was spending alone with my dog. Dean sang “Ain’t that a kick in the head" and Frank came in with “The way you look tonight,” one of my father’s favorite songs.

When I drove this route west in 1985, I had to call my father every day or night, and the memory hurts a little. It feels so vivid to me, though little else about that trip really is -- except the feeling of total freedom, which I think was only sweeter because I still had to call home. I find myself thinking about what I would say to that 26-year-old hurtling west, and what she would say to me. In every way I’ve been blessed: I raised a wonderful daughter, I’ve only had jobs I loved (or mostly loved), I wrote a book ... it’s all good. What rattles me is that I got married, had a child, got divorced, raised that child, did all that good work, and all that is behind me, just in the years since I moved west, which seem so few. That can't be possible.

I find observations about aging so banal, including my own. I don't think I've heard or had an original one since I was about 30. But they’re obsessing me on this trip anyway.

* * *

Winnemucca, where Sharron Angle taught community college. Several of you recommended I see local brothels, several of which are closed. Not that I would have visited a brothel, but I have to admit, I’m not talking to as many people as I thought I would, because after a day of driving, it seems cruel to leave Sadie in a strange hotel room alone. Am I crazy? So I order a steak sandwich at the Winnemucca Inn to go, share it with my dog, and go right to sleep.

First thing in the morning I look for a good dog park and it’s easy online, just like in Auburn. Hi-Desert RV Park has a free dog run, and a big neon sign that advertises all its service plus welcomes home the troops.

I stop at the registration desk to locate the dog run, and to pick up a cup of coffee, but the clerk tells me they only sell “convenience goods” and package liquor – but she gives me a free cup of coffee from the employee break room. That’s even before I tell her I’m driving across country with my dog. “Well, bless your heart,” she says, handing me the CoffeeMate. I used to have a bias against CoffeeMate after I watched my cousin set it on fire as a kid, but when you’re traveling, it’s just part of the experience. And the real stuff is better than the coffee “whitener” I had in my hotel room.

The clerk is much nicer than the dog run, alas. There is nothing but land as far as I can see beyond the RV park, but the “dog run” is smaller than any dog run in Manhattan, just fenced in gravel. I immediately throw the ball so it bounces over the fence and Sadie escapes and runs after it. We spend some time unsafely throwing the ball in the parking lot, but it’s OK because it’s early Sunday morning and everyone seems to be sleeping in. A worker in a pickup truck drives by slowly, carefully, and waves.

Look closely, that's Sadie in the lower right corner.

Back on the road, I can’t find “Martini” on the radio: on both AM and FM for about an hour, I can only find religious programming. I hear the Ravi Zacharias ministry out of Atlanta, and now that I’ve Googled him I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t heard of the influential Indian evangelical Christian who specializes in the “intellectually resistant.” That’s probably me. I enjoyed what I heard, actually; it was fine talk about how God is always there for us, without any of the homophobia or antiabortion hectoring he’s also famous for. Then came an ad for a DVD called “Israel: God’s Time Piece.” Right after that I lost the signal, and stumbled on Tom Gresham’s Gun Talk Radio – 1-800-Talk-Guns. And I was hooked, for a while.

I'm taking in my ignorance: I didn't know about Ravi Zacharias or Tom Gresham until this road trip. I’m not looking to live out my blue state stereotypes of eastern Nevada. This is just what happened. Tom was very hopped up about all the gun control proposals across this great country, and what really bothers him is that the anti-gun forces are super-organized, while the pro-gun people, well, they’re not joiners, they’re loners, and they just don’t really engage. “They are literally coming over the walls,” he says about the forces of gun regulation. People like me, I guess, though I've never climbed a wall. Yet. “They are organized and we are not.” He adopts a soothing tone. “Maybe, if you’re looking for a purpose in your life, you want to join the NRA. I mean, why do we only have 4 or 5 million members?”

Somehow he missed the Wall Street Journal's report last week showing that across the country, we've passed more laws expanding gun access since Newtown than limiting it.

Gresham takes a caller who insists the there are so many laws against the infringement of the Second Amendment, the gun controllers shouldn't be able to get away with any of this, but Gresham is a more educated, cooler head. The Supreme Court’s Heller decision OK’d reasonable gun regulation, he notes, but the question is what’s reasonable. “For Dianne Feinstein, it’s kicking down your door and taking your guns,” he tells his national audience.

Though Gresham broadcasts from Texas, as I pull into Elko, serendipitously, he takes a call from “George in Elko.” George reassures Tom that the Elko County sheriff says he won’t enforce any new gun laws (not that Nevada is passing any). He believes the way to fight gun laws is to take your non-shooting friends to a shooting range. George in Elko took his whole family and all his employees to a shooting range for a Christmas party this last year. His 91-year-old dad loved it. George got teary at that point and had to hang up, and Tom got a little emotional too.

Gresham isn’t just interested in gun rights, but also, knife rights, which are apparently also protected by the Second Amendment. He’s working to overturn a Texas ban on switchblades, with the support of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. He sends me to KnifeRights.org, where you can see testimonials from LaPierre and my MSNBC colleague S.E. Cupp. And that’s when I turned off the radio for awhile. Gun Talk Radio is syndicated, though, and it came on later outside Park City, Utah.

By then, though, I’d found a great listener-sponsored radio station outside Salt Lake City, KCRL, that featured an ongoing series of interviews with local activists. I listened to Kate Kelly, who’s campaigning for the rights of women to be ordained Mormon priests. Asked why she stays a Mormon, given her liberal views, she cites Paul Robeson singing “The House I Live In.” A snippet of the song plays in the background. The great black left-wing singer-actor-activist being invoked in the name of Mormon feminist rights. Is this a great country or what?

My day was radio-centric, because a snowstorm is heading to Boulder around the time I am, so I needed to get in more driving than I intended. So many of you sent me great tips for stops along the way, but I wound up getting gas and stocking up on water at Bonneville Sand Flats, just over the Utah state line, which was gorgeous but less lovely than many places readers suggested. There was land aplenty, and it wasn’t rough gravel like the Winnemucca dog park or the Elko parking lot I’d found – but as Sadie ran and ran in the white mud, she came back with a crusty white beard, and I realized I was probably salt-poisoning my dog. She drank about a quart of water back in the car. Photos to come.

Keep those tips coming, and thanks for your generosity.

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Driving Miss Sadie Gun Control Gun Talk Radio Mormon Feminism Nevada Winnemucca