Trip to Bodie, for Tim
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
I entered the lab around 10 am, half awake, greeted by the soothing vibration of vacuum pumps, the buzz of power supplies, and the swoosh of solenoids. I could smell a touch of ozone cutting through the tang of Tim's overcooked Navy-style coffee. Reliable Tim. Reliable Coffee. I glanced at the computer status screen and other blinking indicator lights as I made directly for the coffee pot. With that first sip, it was one more late night of computer programming vanquished, and ready for one more glorious day building and tweaking machines with Tim.
He had been there since 6:30 or 7:00 am. His role at Lawrence Livermore Lab was mechanical technician. Technicians were supposed to be the bottom of the lab power structure, with physicists at the top and engineers like me in the middle. While I could direct Tim what to do, as a young kid just a few years out of college, I was in awe of this thin, old veteran, long hair and grey beard - kind of what I look like now - who could design one-of-a-kind vacuum machines in his head, and get them up and ready for my nerdy little control wires to connect and make them hum. We loved working together and built some amazing contraptions. He smoked outside on his breaks, and would tell me about his woodworking projects at home.
He was building his own coffin.
Tim was also a photographer. He brought in envelopes filled with photos of his favorite subject, the rotting ghost town structures of Bodie, California. He and his wife would trek out to a place so far away it was hardly on the map, out at the end of a dirt road. Surrounded by sage-covered hills, just over the rise from Mono Lake, the gold mining town had once been one of the largest cities in the state.
Eventually, the vacuum chambers stopped whirring, the coffee pot sat empty and cold. I moved on to other jobs. The town continued to decay in the harsh desert winters. Tim stopped whirring. Lung cancer eventually robbed him of air.
His coffin was a masterpiece, with baroque carved trim, and smooth rich varnished wood surfaces, a graceful curved lid. I will never see one more beautiful.
Trip to Bodie, captures my experience finally visiting Bodie in 2018. As you turn off of highway 395 and start your journey back in time, you enter a narrow canyon of red rock. I thought of Tim as I explored each avenue of the old town. I felt him the whole time I painted the picture.
Love you, Tim. This one's for you.