We recently drove to Nevada to visit our former neighbor Heidi Dinkler. Remember Heidi? She was the first female captain in the Kern County Fire Department and then made assistant chief before retiring and moving, first to Oxnard and now to Gardnerville, Nev.

Heidi was a stud. One night, another neighbor’s garage caught fire.

I woke up because I smelled smoke. I may have been first on the scene, which almost makes me the hero. For a minute, I imagined myself saving lives except Heidi, who lived next door to the burning garage, was striding toward the flaming garage in full gear looking like she could put it out herself without help from the Bakersfield Fire Department, which arrived a few minutes later.

She had these huge strides. They were the strides of somebody in charge, somebody who respected fire but was not afraid of it. If I was a fire and saw somebody striding toward me like that, I’d put myself out.

***

“While in Gardnerville,” Heidi cautioned, “be careful when you’re driving because if they see the California plates, they may write you a ticket.”

I’d heard of the California vs. Nevada thing, which is similar to the California vs. Oregon thing and California vs. the world thing.

Everybody is mad at California, including some of the people who live in California. Our gas is expensive, there are a lot of us, and sometimes we take our show on the road and people in other states aren’t wheeling out the welcome wagon when we arrive.

“It may be that people think that Californians are too liberal and if they move here, they’re going to go after everyone’s guns,” Heidi said.

Not me. Don’t worry about me. If I move to Nevada, I won’t be coming for your guns mainly because I’m scared of guns and I don’t want to find myself on the business side of one. I’d rather not be on either end of a gun but especially the wrong end.

I kept my speed down. I was going 40 in a 45 but they’ve seen that trick before. That marks you as automatically guilty of being from California and most likely your trunk is packed with two bales of Panama Red.

I didn’t want to get pulled over and have to turn on my natural charm to get out of a ticket. My charm doesn’t work that well in California so why would I think it would work any better if I took it on the road?

“Officer, I’m from California, but I can’t stand those commies, most of whom I am related to and some of whom live in my house. I like Nevada, a man can be a man without having to look over his shoulder at the pencil necks who might be gaining ground on him.”

I didn’t have to use the speech, which allowed me the chance to look around at the impressive landscape. When did Nevada get so clean? It looked like Switzerland or, closer to home, Death Valley.

If Gardnerville is any indication of what Nevada is like, I understand why people move there. The town has some elevation at 4,751 feet, there are fewer than 7,000 people, the East Fork of the Carson River runs through it and you can see the top of Heavenly Valley.

“People are friendly here,” said Heidi, who said hello to almost everybody she saw and some she didn’t see.

Heidi’s property has several huge cottonwood trees that added to the charm of the place. Cottonwoods shed from April to midsummer and make it look like it’s snowing all the time. If I were a poet I’d write a poem about it but I’m not so I’ll just appreciate the peace that it brings and let it snow.

Heidi made a mean pasta with sausage and tomato sauce for dinner and then a big Nevada country breakfast the next day. We said goodbye and headed south on 395 as per her instructions. (“It’s much prettier,” she said, and it was. The eastern side of the Sierra will make you love California all over again, in case you’ve fallen out of love).

We said goodbye. Heidi is still a stud. Smart, independent and fearless. She fits right in in Nevada.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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