American Southwest (04/2008)

2009 December 8
by Jon

FRI 04/11/08 – TUE 04/15/08
Written 05/01/08 – 05/05/08

Friday, April 11 - was mostly a lazy day for us. Stayed in our pajamas until darned near noon, did a few household chores, went running for a bit, and went out to get some groceries and some tasty beers with which to repay WorkEric for taking care of Buddy in our absence. We headed out to Logan via the Red Line to Park to the Green Line to Gov’t Center to the Blue Line to Airport. Why? Because the Silver Line is Myanmar in the UN of my MBTA map. I DO NOT RECOGNIZE ITS EXISTENCE. Not. A Train. Bus. It’s a bus. Until it stops pretending it’s a train I will not take it.

The whole trip there, the shuttle ride into the terminal, getting tickets and checking our suitcase went really uneventfully, which is good. Going through security I forgot to take some change out of my pockets and this douchey 300-pound kid who looked like he refers to his apartment – aka his parents’ basement – as Castle Stronggard – said in a snide tone to me, “it’s a METAL detector.” Screw you, fat kid. Enjoy getting Type II Diabetes and continuing to never know a woman’s touch. Oh the TSA.

After our woes with American on our flight to LA last Setember, I vowed to only fly Delta when possible, and it was not only possible here, but only moderately more expensive than the cheapest flight. So Delta it was. Complete with anthropomorphic food painted on the terminal walls:

The plane boarded without incident and we headed out directly to Vegas. I was so concerned about getting everything right with all our ticketing and hotels and rental car and such that I was absorbed in paperwork while at the airport and neglected to get a bottle of water for the plane. Mistake. The Boston-based flight crew seemed to not give a crap about us in terms of service. THREE HOURS into the flight they FINALLY came around at a snail’s pace to give me some damned water. I could have used the service button, true, but I so loathe being That Guy. Still, sub-par for Delta, but I won’t hold it against them as it was out of the ordinary and the return flight was much more pleasant. Plus the head flight attendant was very patient with the young girl with Down syndrome who was allowed to roam free down the aisles and underneath her skirt by her not-terribly-with-it parents. Sometimes I can’t wait until I have enough money to exclusively fly business/first class, but hey, I guess coach builds character. Or something.

The landing into Vegas at night was gorgeous. Upon arriving at the airport terminal one is immediately greeted with… slot machines. All over the place. Just in case you can’t wait but a few seconds from arriving in Vegas to gamble, they’ve got you covered.

Lessons in how Vegas is now set up to take your money away despite your socioeconomic status were evident at all points. There were a number of van services that brought people to all the major casinos. The ticketing lines for all of them were oddly long for 11 PM. Turns out that your average person was having trouble with getting out something as simple as, “LUXOR, TWO, ONE WAY” and then shoving a $20 across the hole in the Plexiglas. Seriously. Want to make every customer service person you ever talk to happy? Speak clearly and concisely. It seems as if 90% of humanity lacks this ability.

So we stayed at the Luxor. As it was dark when we arrived we couldn’t really see much of the outside – aside from the light going off into space – but upon entering it became evident just how ridiculously huge the place was. While it’s pretty middling in terms of size amongst the megacasinos, the sheer stadium-like size of the pyramid atrium really does help to get the message across of the ridiculous, shameless excess that is Las Vegas really clearly.

Check-in was a breeze and, in my rush to get to our room so I could lie down and then maybe go get food, I didn’t notice right away that we’d been given a room in one of the towers off of the casino and not the pyramid. However, by that point it was midnight and the pyramid was, to say the least, loud. Despite the lack of slanty windows and trips on the inclinators, I decided we might get more sleep in the relative peace of the tower and didn’t complain.

We crashed out for a bit and went to get a late meal. By that point it was about 4 AM Eastern Time but our bodies were pretty much clueless as to what time it was, so mine decided it was hungry, just to be safe. Fortunately, of the eight restaurants inside the Luxor, two were still open, even at 1 AM. We elected to hit up the 24-hour diner just off the casino floor, got some decent food considering the hour and wandered around a bit. There are two big urban legends about Vegas casinos. One is that they design them so you can’t tell which way is out. This is not true. In the Luxor and the few others we entered it was pretty easy to navigate once you got your bearings. The other is that they design them so it looks like the same time – mid-evening – 24 hours a day. This one is true. No matter what time it was, it perpetually looked like about 9 PM inside the Luxor on the casino floor. It was actually genuinely disconcerting and I can easily see how that would cause people to lose track of time and therefore their money.

The trip around the Luxor late at night allowed me to take stock of a couple of things I found common in Vegas. First off, the shows. There were lots of them, everywhere, at all the megacasinos, two or three apiece, normally. Some had stripper shows, some had male stripper shows, some had big production shows, some had magic shows, some had comedy shows, some had musician showcases and finally, more than a decent share had shows specifically geared toward post-menopausal women. Who, one presumes, go to Las Vegas specifically for the shows. Notice a pattern here? Nothing for anyone under 18. Or 21 really, since, while you can go to some clubs in Vegas at 18 you can’t drink or gamble yet. I mean, if you’re an adult of any age, Vegas has something you’ll be into. Really. You might not think so but they do. But if you’re a kid or a teenager? SOL, sweetie. And yet, all over the place, parents with children of all ages. What do these kids do all day while Mommy drinks $14 mai tais at 10 AM and Daddy gambles away Junior’s college fund? Be bored and think Las Vegas sucks, that’s what. Seriously, people. Don’t bring your kids. Dump ‘em off with their aunt and uncle for the weekend. They’ll thank you for it, trust me.

The other thing I noticed about Vegas was the ultrabars and the ultralounges. Every megacasino seemed to have one. I asked around but could not determine what made them “ultra,” other than adding a 1 in front of the normal price for any drink. Oh, and the water. They all had water-themed names like “Aquabar” or “Rayn” or “Barometric Depression Lounge” and walls of water rushing over bubbled Plexiglas lit up in neon blue all over the place. Like, with the same frequency someone sane might employ drywall. The only conclusion I could gather is, if you’re in an arid environment that’s been in a drought for 50 years, there’s nothing as indulgent as wasting water, so they revel in it to make you feel sinful and therefore cool. Whatevs, dudes. It rains here in Boston like 25 days out of the month in May alone. Maybe it’s impressive to the SoCal crowd? I dunno. It was one of the few things about Vegas I failed to figure out.

After our walk around the Luxor we hit the sack around 2 AM Pacific time, convinced we’d done well at fighting off jetlag. Our room was pretty nice and had a great king-sized bed but smelled oddly of cigar smoke. Clearly they didn’t do much of a good job of enforcing the no-smoking policy. That or it only recently became non-smoking and they didn’t do a great job at cleaning it out. Either way, could have done without the smoke. I was also a bit disappointed to find no minibar, but maybe they’d had so much trouble with people stealing from them and then claiming they didn’t and refusing to pay that they don’t have them anymore. That or they avoid them to force people to go out to the casino floor to get food and drink. Anyway, it would have been nice, but not a huge letdown.

Saturday, April 12 - we woke up at a very respectable 9:30 AM and decided that, since it was supposed to be a fantastic day (it turned out to be the first 90+ degree day in Vegas that year), we’d go out and take a walk for the 3.5 miles spanning the Luxor and the rental car pickup. While there we decided to take horrible tourist pictures. Like so:

Notice the work being done to adorn the pyramid with a Great Eye in the last one. I have no idea why they’re doing it but I feel as if an action-packed adventure staring Nicholas Cage is somehow involved.

As we walked south along Las Vegas Boulevard, that the Luxor is on the south end of the Strip became very evident quickly. There’s the Mandalay Bay and then… nothing. For like, 2 miles until you get past the airport. It’s hard to realize you’re walking so far because everything is so damned spread out. At some point Becky found a cave-in along the side of the road from the most recent flood (read: rainfall) and decided to be the 9,000 Foot Tall Woman attacking the Grand Canyon:

But before that, we found the famous Las Vegas sign and felt compelled to take one more awful tourist shot:

A word on this shot. The sign is in the median of Las Vegas Boulevard. Which is a 6-8 lane main thoroughfare. There is no crosswalk there. There is no traffic light for nearly a mile in each direction. So everyone you see who took a picture there? Either they stopped and illegally parked on the median or they skittered across 4 lanes of zooming traffic. We didn’t have our car yet, so guess which one we did. Once again, character-building.

After a brief water break we went to Vegas’s central rental car facility – the size of a moderate shopping mall – and got our rental car with little difficulty. I had some trouble procuring a car of the size I wanted (ie, small and fuel-efficient for driving 600 miles through the desert) once in the lot, but I don’t hold that against Alamo, as I was picking it up at noon on a Saturday.

We headed out to our first prospective sightseeing destination, the Atomic Testing Museum a bit off of Flamingo Boulevard:

Man, I wish I had some pictures from the inside. But unfortunately, the clade of 85 year-old men running it – that is, the guys who actually worked at the nuclear test site when it was built – weren’t keen on photography. While Becky surreptitiously took a video of a high-larious 50s-era cartoon on nuclear energy one of them gave us both a stern talkin’ to and an honest-to-God finger wagging. It was enough to kind of take the fun out of the rest of the experience, but we needed to be on our way anyway. At any rate, if you find yourself in Vegas and are keen on nuclear era history – and I know there are a couple of you out there who are – then definitely check it out. It’s a nice distraction from all the distractions. As long as you don’t take pictures.

We headed down to a Tiki restaurant that we passed way down south on Vegas Blvd for a late lunch so Becky could get some new Tiki mugs. It reminded me more than a little of the Mexican theme restaurant that Ray frequents in Achewood, and not only because of the overly-enthusiastic waiter we had. But hey, good food. And PuPu S’mores?

Yeah, PuPu S’mores:

Definitely a tourist trap but worth it for the experience.

We zipped back to the Luxor, freshened up a bit, and got all sexy-like:

All hotels should have mirrors like that. Sexy mirrors.

Which brings me to my next point about Vegas. There were people dressed like us, true. But not many. Given, the Luxor wasn’t the classiest of the megacasinos and tended to attract more partyin’ 20/30-somethings, but it was far from being trashy. Hell, I’d call it around the 70th percentile in terms of how swanky it was. Not the Bellagio, but not one of the old trashy ones up on the north Strip, either. But all over – not only in the hotel but on the streets at night – we saw people dressed like they were going out grocery shopping. And not like, real, weekly grocery shopping; like, “it’s Sunday morning and we forgot to get milk so I’ll throw on shorts and flip-flops and pop on by the corner store” type clothes. It was honestly disappointing. I mean, if you’re going to plop your ass down at a $25-minimum blackjack table, can’t you at least put on a collared shirt and some real shoes? It’s a matter of how much one respects oneself and not only the image one projects to others but one’s self-image as well. If you can’t be bothered to put on a decent pair of slacks and a jacket and comb your damned hair and take off the grody Sawks hat then what are you saying about how much respect you should be afforded?

Consequently, when we stepped out of the hotel and into the cab line, we were whisked to the front. Let that be a lesson to all who are debating whether or not to put on some sort of ritz. Or get jiggy with it, if you prefer. I felt bad because I couldn’t reach my wallet in time to tip the dude running the cab stand. Oh well. I owe him one.

We headed over to the Venitian where we met Becky’s friend Anna. We passed through the casinos and hallways into the Pallazo and went to a bar there called Dos Caminos, which is Spanish for “two mullet-cars.” It was really classy and well laid-out, and at the time we were there in the early evening it wasn’t busy at all:

The $100 tab I ran up buying a grand total of 8 drinks wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, but hey, at least I blew it on booze and not gambling (not that the Luxor had the best casino anyway. And even the $10-minimum blackjack tables were a bit rich for my blood. Maybe the $5 ones at Treasure Island. Even then, I think gambling would be WAY more fun in a group of people). And it sure seemed to garner me the affections of our ever-so-tasteful bartender, one Hugo Fernandez. Hugo Fernandez will be, you see, a character I will tell the tale of at parties for years to come. Hugo Fernandez seemed solely focused on the fact that I was but one guy and there were, at the time, two ladies in my company. This endlessly enthralled Hugo Fernandez. He titled my tab “2 GIRLS 1 GUY.” I have the receipt to prove it.

Hugo Fernandez seemed to believe that, by virtue of having two ladies, I was pretty much in a position to have VIP access to all the best of what Las Vegas has to offer. He asked me what we were planning on doing that night. I replied that we weren’t sure yet. “Okay, here’s the deal,” he said. “You have two girls, right?”

He said it with such conviction that I think he genuinely believed I could walk up to any velvet rope and, when the bouncer tells me they’re at capacity, say, “no, no, you don’t understand. I have TWO girls,” and would be let in without question.

He went on to tell me about a private party somewhere way too far off the Strip for anything but concern from me and produced a flier from it from his back pocket. He said that it had a $36 cover but that he was on the guest list and I could get in for free if I just gave his name: “Hugo Fernandez, Plus 2.”

Of course you’re a +2, Hugo Fernandez. Of course you are. It’s how you roll.

Well, with Anna gone off to meet her friends and us with no set plans, we decided the best thing to do would be to wander down the Strip back to the Luxor, looking sexy all the while. And so we did:

And it was good. You can legitimately spend a quality evening just walking up and down the Strip and gazing at everything. Which is more or less what we did. This, of course, included some construction:

You can’t really see it from that picture, but the steel superstructure extends beyond the size of any of the currently-standing megacasinos (with the possible exception of Ceasar’s, which is roughly the size of Lichtenstein). Every one that’s built is bigger, more ostentatious, more expensive than the previous ones. The billion-dollar mark for construction was passed long ago. These suckers push 11 figures these days. They’re remarkably like the enormous beasts of the Pleistocene, I found; the mega-mammals wandering around in the ice ages, so starved for resources that they must grow ever bigger to compete for survival in their niches. Perhaps like the mammoths and saber-tooths they’ll get too big and will be driven to extinction by smaller but smarter elements. But as of now, caveman economics still reigns supreme on the Strip, it seems.

When we returned to our room, Becky began feeling suddenly, violently ill. It passed after an hour or so, but we still wonder if Hugo Fernandez didn’t slip a little something extra into her drink to help things along. In the mean time, I went down and got some greasy pizza which the booze on my stomach craved from the Little Ceasar’s inside the unhappiest corner of the Luxor and brought it back to the room. Not so classy as the $30 of booze it was washing down, but hey, it hit the spot. We got back out only to feign interest in playing a slot machine for all of 2 minutes and then go to the arcade floor, only to discover that, in a matter of several hours, it was to be shut down forever. What a bummer, eh? One fewer thing for kids to do in Vegas, and perhaps a sign that the Luxor, only 13 years old but already dwarfed by its Strip neighbors, is already struggling to survive.

We went back to our room to call it a night, only to discover that we’d been graced with douche-canoe neighbors for the night. I made a sleep playlist on Beck’s MacBook consisting chiefly of Air and Boy in Static and we eventually found sleep when they calmed down maybe around 1 or 2. I think if we ever returned to Vegas in the next 10 years or so before it’s totally different all over again, I’d try to book a room at one of the super-classy casinos to avoid such douchebaggery, which seemed to be pretty common at the Luxor. Not that it was unpleasant as a whole; I just could have stood for more peace and quiet.

Which really, isn’t what Vegas is about at all. But the loud parts? They’re pretty fun.

Sunday, April 13 - we awoke relatively early, made an effort to bang around enough to be certain we were disturbing the douchey neighbors from the previous night, and got ready to head out of town. I used the video checkout and plopped our keys in an express checkout bin, and away we went. One of my favorite things about using online booking for hotels is that you’re pre-paid, so checking in and checking out are both always very simple. Because no one wants to stand in a huge line to leave Vegas.

With that, we fired up the rental car – a maroon Chevy Cobalt that ran fairly well but not much better than that – and headed out into the desert, our GPS guiding our way, much like we did for our trip to California last September. We swung around the beltway around Vegas to US-93 and stopped in Boulder City to get some snacks for the road at a CVS and some breakfast. We wanted to get something other than Starbucks – which we’d had from one of the two inside the Luxor the previous morning – and settled on… a Starbucks. Yeah. They’re sort of like Dunkie’s are in Boston out there; ubiquitous.

A few more miles down the windy, RV-choked road and we arrived at our first stop, scenic Hoover Dam:


Distance traveled so far: 33 miles.

They wanted like $10 for you to park on the Nevada side but, if you persevere and take your drive over the Hoover Dam before parking, you can park for free in any one of a half-dozen lots on the Arizona side. Plus, then you’ve already been in a new state and potentially a new time zone. If it’s not Daylight Savings Time, because Arizona doesn’t observe it. Which it was, so we didn’t change time zones. Which meant that, in going to Utah the next day, we actually went forward a time zone by going West. Weird.

Yep, Hoover Dam. Here I am trying to find where they hide Megatron. Meanwhile, Becky poses in front of the overpass highway they’re building:

Y’see, to get from Nevada to Arizona via US-93, you currently have to go over the Dam, through herds of crossing tourists, at 10 mph. Neat if you, too, are a tourist. Not so much if you’re, oh, a trucker on a schedule. Still, it kind of disappoints me that, in the Wild Wild West, there’s this one last piece of logistic inconvenience from another era that’s being literally paved over. Oh well. The Eisenhower legacy lives on, I suppose.

There’s Becky standing in front of one of the flood gates for the Dam. Note that it’s completely dry. It has been for decades. Here she is standing in front of the head of Lake Mead:

See all that white stuff on the rocks in the background? That’s where the water level used to be. Almost all the way up to the walkways toward the top of those spires. Like, 25 or 30 feet above where it is now. Lake Mead has lost fully 50% of its volume since the Hoover Dam was set into place and the largest man-made lake in the world was formed. Y’see, they estimated water intake to the lake based on a particularly rainy year in the late 20s. And then didn’t anticipate the population boom along the Colorado River, most notably in Las Vegas, which has been the nation’s fastest growing city for over 20 years. And then, in the early 50s, a drought started. And hasn’t stopped. So water consumption has been vastly outstripping production and Lake Mead has been shrinking. At the current rate, it’ll be gone in 30 years. Even with massive conservation efforts, without a climate change that’s unlikely to come, it’ll be completely dry by 2060 and one of the world’s largest engineering feats will be obsolete. Whoops. So, yeah, take your kids to see it now while it still serves a purpose other than a very expensive bridge.

We continued on down US-93 to Interstate 40, through a lot of nothing in Arizona, arriving at our hotel for the evening to check in in the early afternoon, a ratty but acceptable Day’s Inn in Williams, AZ:


Distance travelled so far: 216 miles.

Williams ain’t exactly a bustling metropolis. More like a tourist trap that sprung up exclusively around Grand Canyon sightseers. There’s a small tourist town right near the entrance to the park, too, but the hotels in Williams are cheaper and also right off the highway. Still, the town – whose main claim to fame was that it was off of a particularly historic stretch of old Route 66 – consisted entirely of motels and stores that sold touristy “native” crap that looked like this on the outside:

And sold stuff like this on the inside:

You need a painted, vaguely Southwestern-looking lizard? How about 8 billion pieces of junk with Kokopelli (whom I exclusively called CocoRosie) all over them? Williams has got you covered. But, oh, there is a small native population. Who exclusively drive large, mud-caked pickup trucks with ATVs in the bed. No, really. That’s more or less all you saw on the road apart from other tourists. Pulling up to the gas station next to a couple made me feel more emasculated than ever in my entire life. Their hangouts were more infrequent, but I found one:

You probably can’t quite see it clearly, but next to the neon “OPEN” sign is lettering reading “BOOZE/BUNS/BULLETS.” Truly a one-stop shop for us all.

We ate lunch at a decent Mexican restaurant-slash-Irish bar – the sort of which are numerous in Boston. Except it was funny because, to them, the Irish part was the exotic one, not the Mexican part. After then deciding that we’d seen pretty much all there is in Williams in its four block-long glory, we headed up the road to the Grand Canyon:


Distance travelled so far: 285 miles.

Entrance into Grand Canyon National Park is $25. Which was cool. But it turns out that entrance into every national park is $25. Keep that in mind for later. For now, we stopped and looked at the majesty:

We drove out about 20 miles to a ridge off of the main touristy area so we could do some climbing into the Canyon. Because they let you do that. Which, once you get into it, seems awfully ill-advised. It wasn’t nearly as warm there as it was in Vegas; it was a pleasant 70 degrees or so with a strong breeze. We made our way down the trail:

Funny thing is, because it’s such a ridiculously wide, open place, if you use a flash, real pictures look horribly fake:

Yes, that’s really Becky’s feet hanging over the ledge at the Grand Canyon, not her feet hanging over a chair at a blue screen at a kiosk at the mall. Which is what it looks like. I’m perhaps more amused by that than is proper. What I can’t convey to you enough is that this trail was just stupidly dangerous. I mean, we’re talking rock face on one side, 400 foot drop-off into DEATH on the other side. You can kind-of-but-not-quite see that here:

But it’s cool as long as you don’t slip and fall, right? Yeah, so add to that the fact that there are several places where the sun never shines and, despite the relatively warm weather and the time of year, there were packs of slick, icy snow along the trail. We descended for maybe 300 feet or so below the cliff’s edge before we decided that we liked life too much to continue and headed back up. On the ascent something else is made clear. The Grand Canyon is not, in fact, a big hole in the ground. Rather, it is a large pit carved out of a mountain range. So the top of the trail is at an elevation of 7400 feet. Compare that to 6600 feet for Mt Washington, the highest elevation that New England can muster. Now, that’s not exactly K2 but we’re not exactly Sherpas, either. So by the time we reached the top we were huffing and puffing like a couple of smokers who just ran a marathon. When some tourists asked us how far down we went, we said all the way to the Colorado River. They didn’t disbelieve us.

We crawled back into the car as dusk was approaching and wound back down the road – past the intermittent stopped traffic for scenic elk and even once a photogenic coyote – and ever-so-patiently down that 2-lane road choked with geriatrics driving enormous RVs at 10 below the speed limit back to our hotel in town. We settled for the Denny’s a few feet from our hotel for dinner as we were starving, discovering that we were one of but two couples in the restaurant without a herd of little children. Guess what they do in Williams for fun.

After dinner we more or less collapsed in bed for the night and rested up for the long journey ahead of us the next day.

Monday, April 14 - we awoke fairly early in the morning , good, as we had a long drive ahead of us. Once again, checked out quickly and headed into town around 8 to get some breakfast at this vaguely gold miner-themed sort of greasy skillet hole-in-the-wall-type restaurant that was actually probably the best meal we had the entire trip. Good eggs. Spelling, though? Not so good:

I don’t know about you, but I pay attention to my health conscience. Funny thing is, we saw word misuses and embarrassing misspellings all over the place there. It was as if a strain of Engrish had gotten into the water supply in Arizona.

We gassed up the car and hit the road. Man, did we ever hit the road. I-40 briefly into Flagstaff, then US-89 all the way up and around into Utah. Helpful hint: if your car has overheating problems, US-89 might not be the road to travel on for you. Ours was fine, but man oh man does it go through some seriously long patches of absolutely nothing. The longest piece of void is a 70-mile stretch of road that goes through the Navajo Reservation. For an hour, pretty much all you see is this:

That shack? It’s basically just a lean-to that the Navajo will use to sell a few trinkets to elderly tourists in RVs – which, as always, were numerous – along the way. There are a couple of more “official” stores with air conditioning and windows and walls, but these suckers would be along side the road every mile or two. For 70 miles. Y’see, when they’d grow tired of selling crap to Paleface, the Navajo would just sort of leave them there to become one with the sand again. Thing is, because this isn’t technically part of the United States, zoning and tax laws that would normally prevent these things from popping up and then slowly accumulating rust and wind damage over the decades don’t exist or their analogs aren’t really enforced, so they just get left there. And there they are. Unlike Lake Mead, I’m sure they’ll be there for many decades to come, baking in the arid steppe. I’m not sure if that’s poetic justice or irony or just the way the world works.

Of course, this entire drive is through some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever beheld in my life. I mean, seriously, mind-blowingly beautiful. But pictures just don’t convey that, y’know? Some places come closer than others, though, like a spot close to the Arizona-Utah border right outside Navajo Country that winds through hundreds of feet of sheer rock face for several miles:

We made it into Utah, where the scenery was slightly different – a lot more salty rock than clay rock – but also just offensively beautiful. We finally made a pit stop along the way about an hour into the state close to where we were getting off of US-89. Becky got a cheap Utah mug, the handle of which broke off within 24 hours. Part of a theme of all that was not natural splendor in Utah being sort of trashy. She also witnessed a Utah “liquor store,” which is to say a cooler with six different kinds of watered-down, cheap piss-beer, the only kind that’s legal there, as she had trouble believing me at first that laws the Mormons had passed prevent anything stronger from being sold in-state. We took some pictures outside the mini-mart we stopped at. Views from gas stations should not be allowed to be this stunning:

We got back into the car and headed up to make the turn onto Utah Route 9 out toward St George. Now, we were supposed to be meeting Vanessa in Cedar City and, despite her many assurances that she had nothing better to do all day, we were running quite late, as the roads through Utah weren’t nearly as flat and straight as those in Arizona. Plus, upon the behest of her not-quite-with-it mother, she suggested we should take Route 9 to avoid some inclement weather on more northern western crossings. So, Route 9 it was. Imagine my dismay, then, when the entrance to the road was adorned with a small sign informing us that the road went into Zion National Park and that even cars passing through would have to pay the entrance fee. Which, as you’ll recall from above, is $25.

To summarize: I tried to appeal to the human nature of the attendant guard. Even slipped into my West Virginian accent to hide the fact I’m from the Godless Northeast. Dude didn’t budge. He cheered up the second I forked over the most outrageous toll I’ve ever paid. Sorry, George Washington Bridge. I know you tried. The people in Utah would, from then on, come to start to remind me what I don’t like about stereotypical white people. And I don’t recall in our entire time there not seeing anyone who wasn’t white.

So, yeah, unintentionally, we had a new stop. Zion National Park:


Distance travelled so far: 625 miles.

Now, as bummed out as we were that we had to fork over enough money for a decent meal just to pass through, the park is pretty damned stunning, so we stopped to take a picture to make it slightly more worth our while:

And then the fun, it began. The road through Zion National Park is not unlike one of those old wooden roller coasters like the Cyclone at Coney Island in that it’s so windy that you perpetually feel a mix of “WHEE!” and “OHHOLYCRAPWEAREGOINGTODIE.” Must be sort of like what it’d be like to be GIR. I think Becky felt mostly the latter, though I joined her when we passed through a tunnel and my headlights didn’t want to come on until halfway through. Yeah, dying is fun, kids.

Upon finally exiting the majestic terror that is Zion National Park, we hit a small tourist-trap town with… a camel?

Sure, why not.

We pressed on down Route 9 and clipped up and around to Interstate 15, finally arriving in scenic Cedar City, Utah:


Distance travelled so far: 690 miles.

We got off at our pre-ordained meeting spot and waited but a couple of minutes for Vanessa:

Behind me are the beautiful snow-cappped peaks of southern Utah. In front of me is a Wal-Mart only slightly smaller than Rhode Island. I found a tumbleweed blowing through the parking lot and Becky scrambled and caught it:

A tumbleweed. An honest-to-god, Wyle E. Coyote tumbleweed. Blowing through a Wal-Mart parking lot. In that very instant, dear reader, I believe Becky and I discovered America.

We tracked down Vanessa and looked for a decent place to eat a late lunch. Failing to find one, we went to the most white-bread taquiera joint I’ve ever seen. This franchise – and I don’t recall the name but they had some sort of surfing theme going on because I guess surfing is synonymous with vaguely San Francisco-style burritos in Utah? – couldn’t possibly exist outside of Utah where there are non-white people because man, was it ever bland. But man was I ever hungry. Beck snapped a shot of Nessa and me after eating:

Deciding the place had become too infested with little Mormon spawn, we headed across the road to chat at a Starbuck’s – the third of the trip for us – only to have it become the host of some kid’s birthday party, presumably the child of one of the teens working there. Seriously, people. If Idiocracy doesn’t genuinely concern you about the future of our country and humanity as a whole, you haven’t been out in long enough. Whole lot of breeding going on, not a lot of thinking about properly raising children going on.

The sun was starting to set so we decided to part ways and head back down I-15 into Vegas. We got some pretty spectacular views of the city coming in from the north and of the Strip as we drove along to our final hotel, an actually-quite-nice-for-the-price extended stay place way down on the South Strip directly next door to the Tiki restaurant from Saturday:


Final distance travelled: 870 miles.

870 miles in 2 days. Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.

The hotel was a Crestwood Suites that, oddly enough, offered the most comfortable bed of any of the three hotels. Really, my only complaint (other than it seemed less-than-safe, but hey, it was an extended stay hotel and I got a good deal, what do you expect?) was that the hallways smelled precisely like those of my freshman/sophomore year dorm, Bobb-McCulloch Hall. Like, so much so that I basically walked in and said, “it smells like 2001 in here.” Weird.

After crashing for a bit I went out and did that which needs to be done. Drove up the frontage road to I-15 (named Dean Martin Road. I wonder how Dean Martin – one of the men who helped make Vegas what it is today – would feel about having not the highway, but the side-road next to the highway named after him. I suppose so long as they don’t name the highway the Frank Sinatra Thruway he’d be okay) to Tropicana and got my In-N-Out Burger fix for 2008. So delicious. So necessary.

Tuesday, April 15 - After solid night’s sleep, we checked out on morning with plenty of time to spare. We were so close to the rental car place that negotiating the left turn out of the hotel parking lot actually took more time than the drive there. Returning it was a tad confusing but ultimately easy, and I’m thankful the garage was dark, as they otherwise may have had something to say about the several thousand bugs encrusting the front of the car. Funny thing is, neither of us remember seeing any bugs when out waking around. But man did I hit some with the car.

We hopped onto the airport shuttle, and saw the creepy mug of Carrot Top – who had a show at the Luxor – one final time on a billboard. Check-in was hampered by a woman in front of us who was too middle-aged and white to stand in line like a normal human being, but we got through alright and the pass through security was this time not met by any snide fat kids. In fact, the gentleman who searched Becky’s backpack in which we’d foolishly left some sunblock was quite gracious about it and allowed her to keep her contact lense solution, only tossing out the crusty, old sunblock. Nice guy.

While waiting to board our flight, Becky found a horny toad, our last trip picture:

Yeah, I know. Horned Lizard. Horny toad’s funnier.

Our flight back was via JFK. The flight to JFK was much more pleasant than the flight out to Vegas from Boston. Grabbed some Sbarro in JFK and got to our plane to Boston. I am quite pleased with myself that, due to the clear skies, I could point out almost every splotch of lights beneath us as a specific New England city. The flight itself was very quick and we landed in Logan with no troubles.

Got our suitcase after a bit of a wait, hopped the shuttle out to the Blue Line and headed on home, getting back a bit before midnight. Did all the unpacking while I still had momentum and then collapsed in bed, very much unwilling to get up for work the next day. But, such is life. The end.

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