Southwest to the City of Sin, Onwards through the Valley of Death
The goal was Vegas in 24 hours. To hit up the city in our style. Then make it to San Francisco within two days after that to meet up with six or so other friends at the airport. A small miracle really. Or some crazed concept considered a great idea. Whatever it was, I jumped at the chance. Two friends, Cory and Dave, and myself would make the trek by car. This most circuitous route to San Francisco was only for the thrill and to see if we could.
I was also accompanied by a new video camera that another friend, Jean-Michel "Gay-Paris" Marr, and I had purchased with the goal of documenting this final childhood trip, or perhaps the first trip of adulthood. His middle name is really Perry but seeing as he was actually born in a French speaking country his parents had given him a French name. We called him Mike. The "Gay" as in happy "Paris" was made by me as a subtle change to accentuate this fact of his birth locale. He would be among the friends we were to meet at the airport. I don’t think that many of my friends looked at the journey in those terms of childhood finality, or even if I did, but I knew that it would be the last time we would be this many friends all going on a trip of this nature. One of the friends, Kristin, was also 3 months or so pregnant, this fact would definitely change the situation for some of them very soon.
We started driving in the late afternoon on a Wednesday. All three of us were in very good spirits. I was using the new camera and getting a feeling of how I could work it and what I could do with it as well.
24 hours straight is a very intensive type of travel especially in a car, mainly due to the cramped quarters. I find it strange because as you look out the windows there advances the sprawl of Earth that one legitimately could reach out and physically touch. This being a little different story when on an airplane even though the quarters are still a little cramped.
The Great American Plains are truly a marvel. Just how expansive they are baffles the mind and how they just really do roll and continue. How flat Kansas is, is still unbelievable, some grad students somewhere measured and mapped a pancake and then using some new-fangled satellite telemetry deduced the dimensions of that state. Voila, now we know that Kansas IS flatter than a pancake.
Our first major stop where Cory was able to relax a bit was near Denver. We found a very wonderful park high a-top the Rockies’ western facing side of the continental divide, where he laid on the ground for some time, stretched out. The gorge we were next to was very beautiful and I took the opportunity to test my camera panning abilities, shooting video and getting a broader sense of the capabilities of digital video. We took a stroll around the little park perched amongst the heavens. We contemplated a bird that was circling around the chasm even higher and then lower than we were. What might it be doing? How long will it stay doing it? And so on and so forth. Like most of the places we rested, the brevity of the stay was due to the time constraints we had placed on the journey and the vast distances we had to traverse. We sped off at our break-neck pace trying to accomplish our goal.
Pulling into a Denny’s in Utah (much to my chagrin as I really do try to stay away from the mass omnipresent restaurants) was a brief something in mundane. We walked in and received many hard looks from the other patrons. Then when I tried to order a beer I was glared at by even more customers and some actually turned around in the booth next to us for the specific reason of staring at the ignorant. Most places in Utah are dry. I was informed that they didn’t serve any liquor by a very agitated waitress. Maybe she was just upset due to the fact that she worked there. (I do have a friend that had a job at a Denny’s and she was adamant about how much she enjoyed working there. She liked it so much in fact that one New Year’s Eve a bunch of people and I stopped there after partying so she could loose herself in barf-colored fast food American nostalgia that I criticized a little to harshly, making her cry. She being a little quick on the tear-trigger and me being a big dick sometimes. I hadn’t realized that she had in fact worked there until after I, unbeknownced to me, had made very curt and most likely contemptuous observations about the place and the lighting. Also about how the jukebox had first stolen my money and then played my selections way too quietly. I had always pictured another Denny’s to be the one she had worked at, if they are actually any different from one to the next. This was the start of her new year. I hope it went better after that first morning.) I hadn’t known about the no-booze policy. We ate our mediocre meals and upon exiting we found a brochure for cheap Vegas hotels. It must have been divine intervention but we found one listed right on The Strip for about $25 a night. We quickly settled on this one as the place we would stay.
The ‘highway to heaven’ in Southwestern Utah was one of the worst any of us had ever been on or seen. Potholes, bumps and large rocks coalesced to create a thoroughly terrible road. They had also stripped the road down and seemed to be in the process of laying new asphalt. But what I thought and commented on was how the Mormon government there may have actually wanted to make the road to Sin City the worst as possible, almost non-usable. Perhaps this was true, because for many miles (20, 30 or more) the road was truly terrible and I am sure that they may not look too fondly on the Vice Capital. Stopping at the rest-station in really the middle of nowhere after the car precariously slipping and thunderously sliding on loose rocks and gravel, we relieved ourselves. With the dust being kicked-up from the deconstructed road by all the different vehicles big and small alike, enshrouded the rest-station in a blanket of isolation. It singularly, alone, with there being no lights on the highway just next to it to give it any contextual semblance. It created a creepy constricting atmosphere with the dust cloud wrapped around the building, billowing like smoke. People all seem especially strange at a rest stop in the middle of the night more so after many endless hours of being cooped up in a car. The people that came and went all seemed wired, we probably did as well to them. Each person strained from driving, the dirty air stinging the eyes and everyone looking at each other through squinty lids a little on edge. Some, perhaps, longing to find companionship of one kind or another. Others a midnight rendezvous. Some just to relieve their waste filled organs. We stayed about 15 minutes before continuing the journey on down that treacherous road to Vegas.
After some more hours on the road, all of us very tired and fatigued. Cory, who was still driving, who always insisted on driving, began to talk about some ‘weird’ animals that he could periodically see just off the road on either side. Dave and I could not see these animals so we laughed very hard and told Cory that he was crazy, as one does when a third party tells the other two something that the other two don’t believe. Then most unexpectedly we screeched to a halt, all of us very startled, at least Dave and I. Cory had thought that one of the ‘imaginary’ animals had moved onto the road in front of us and we were on a trajectory to collide with it. This only made me laugh more but really freaked Dave out. I who have never really driven a car but for three times and never had a license, have usually given the driver a great amount of trust and never usually felt scared or nervous. So I laughed at the lunacy of him having slammed on the breaks to stop us from hitting the imaginary animals. We started moving again after realizing the danger we were in just sitting stationary on the highway.
Approaching Vegas by night is a spectacular sight. From nowhere rises a city bedazzling and alive. The desert subsides, the darkness wanes and then you round a bend. There in the valley looms a huge amount of little jewel like lights, vastly more than just casinos’.
Stopping to get some gas and use the restroom we pulled into a station on the outskirts, wanting to avoid the hassle of doing so in the city proper. The station seemed as from some movie. There was a green illumination covering a very cheap motel adjacent. The station itself exuded seediness. I went in and there were two women and the clerk. The women were speaking to each other in excited tones. I strode to the can where I encountered an abnormal amount of blood splattered everywhere (not that blood-splatter is normal but I have seen a little here and there). The blood was freely strewn on the floor, in the urinal, on the walls and in the sink. Almost everywhere had some amount. There also stood a man bent slightly over, holding his bleeding face that quickly ceased using the urinal and vacated the restroom after our eyes had met in a state of mutual shock. He, surprised because someone had entered this war zone unannounced and I, because of the striking state of the affairs. The greenish hue still slightly blinking and shining in here on the blood covered green-tiled floor. It seemed like some kind of swamp thing. Not that I have seen that movie if one exists but the colors seemed to fit those words. Very eerie. I stepped up to the facilities not really behaving as if anything was awry and afterwards left briskly. The injured man had rejoined the women and then they stared at me as I sauntered out of the store. I hope they pierced together their conundrum as much as the man’s face seemed to be.
It was a little after 9pm when we pulled into the brochurely divinated hotel. What a perfect time to arrive in Vegas. We hadn’t slept in 24 hours but had made it to Sin City. After checking in it was time to hit The Strip. We were revived with our whirlwind accomplishment and the excitement of being there. The first place we moseyed into was probably the last place that any mid-twenty year old dudes ever go into. It was an old-time mostly nickel betting joint. It suited the moment of crazy adventure to not head straight to where everyone else goes but to head into the professional gambler/drinker abode. We walked in and sat at the bar, ordered some top-shelf drinks then started to gamble. This ordering of the high-end liquor peaked the interest of a fairly washed-up hooker. She swung her caboose into the seat next to Dave who was on my left. Dave who has always been very affable with females flirted nicely while we all gambled and put back some drinks. Not that I have ever been rich or gambled very much (but a good amount) did think and still do that nickel betting is close to a waste of time. It should at least be quarters to get any bang for the buck. So we said some goodbyes to the regulars, the hookers and both types of tender (legal and bar).
Vegas smells rankly fragrant of opulence, that is part of its allure. Its face had changed quite drastically since the last time I had been there as it always seems to. We ventured in and out of the major casinos and settled down in the Bellagio at the far end of a bar with most of it being comprised of quarter slots. Dave and I ordered up some drinks (Jonnie Walker most likely) and Cory ordered up a Long Island. We laughed our gamblings away. Then with no warning, Cory who had only drank a little of his ‘Tea’, moved his hand, spilling the contents of his drink onto and into the machine in front of him. With a queer electrical sound and a poof type of flash the said machine shorted out. We had a thoroughly grand laugh, then hastily debated whether or not to take our leave and find somewhere else to sit. Somewhere, anywhere, that one of us hadn’t destroyed an expensive slot machine. Dave held us firm and when the bartender promptly came back around, explained to him what had just happened. The barkeeper, I thought would do something such as take our names or have us pay for the machine, something of this nature, but he batted no eye and asked Cory in a very friendly manner what kind of drink it had been. The barkeeper, after being told, proceeded to make an even stronger Long Island and cooly said that it was on the house with absolutely no pun intended. We stayed there awhile then headed off on our gallivanting around The Strip.
We holed ourselves up in Caesar’s Palace at a place called Silhouette or something like that where above and behind the bar were two screens with a woman behind each, dancing, with a bright light shining on each of them from behind. Very classy and sexy we all agreed. We ordered some more drinks and then Cory started talking to the waitress. This would have been normal enough and obviously part of the night except for what he choose to relay. I really don’t know what he was thinking but it certainly couldn’t have had anything to do with trying to impress her, for he told her a lot about how he had driven while being drunk before. She didn’t seem to think that that was very cool or that we were either. I was just dumbfounded as to why he would be disclosing these lapses in his judgement. When she took her leave to get our orders, I tried to ask Cory why in hell’s name he was telling her about that when he could be telling her about seriously anything else. He agreed that maybe he shouldn’t be. So with me believing that he was finished and that was that for the most ridiculous of chapters, she came back and he started in again on drunk driving. She looked at me very skeptical as to our suave natures so I quickly interjected that we were in fact only walking that night, which was true. She rolled her weary eyes and thought that was for the best, then before leaving us our liquor I mustered some deeply buried cool exterior, adorned it, then agreed with her assessment. We joked and laughed and watched the silhouettes of the dancers, debating at first if they were real or just video until we saw the dancers replaced by the next shift. We had probably stayed there too long.
Upon exiting to the outside world Cory and Dave began arguing so much so that Dave decided to return to the hotel. It seems understandable seeing as we had been in each other’s company strait for more than 24 hours. I never usually become so animated with my male friends only sometimes with a girlfriend. I think it is because more of myself, that is to say, different and more palpable emotions are invested into such a relationship. Cory and I went a different way, getting briefly lost. We discussed existence and reason for living. The kind of conversation I so thoroughly enjoy, especially one on one or in very small intimate groups, where with ego aside and true ‘self’ presiding, emotions and ideas come flooding up from a too often forgotten and nary tapped cauldron. This must have gone on for an hour at least as we traipsed up and down the seemingly more than normal empty weeknight Vegas streets. We got back to the hotel and alas we slept.
We awoke and I visited with my father and brother that both live there for the day. Then my brother escorted Dave, Cory and myself around to see some of the sites as I captured the interesting colors and sounds on video. Then we napped a few hours until the early morn, before driving off. We wanted to make it through Death Valley in front of the sun, before it had risen too high and we would be consumed in the heat of the hottest place in North America and perhaps add to the number of people that had expired, giving the place its name.
We entered Death Valley and got a substantial ways into it. I was able to video the sun rising overhead which had been one of my personal goals of the trip. Quite a wonderful feeling. Here we little humans were in the middle of that forsakenly beautiful place with the sun throwing its ever-increasing light onto both the salt-coated sand and us. We drove on and stopped at the lowest point in the whole continent to soak up the situation and individually reflect upon the significance, plus we had arrived early enough so it wasn’t so hot yet.
In the San Bernardino Valley Dave and Cory suggested that we finish off the shrooms which weren’t very many. We all agreed that that was a good idea and let them kick in as the scenery, which was very beautiful, and the music, were allowed to pass and waft over us as we hastened our way towards San Francisco. Dave wanted to piss so we found a most basic rest area with one porto-potty. Dave, who was acting a bit strange, decided to seek sleep outside in the shade. This usually would be a wonderful idea if we had no time constraint nor if he hadn’t decided on lying down next to the obscenely rank Biffo. Of all the places in this area to take shade (which were numerous) he had decided on the one most likely to have pee all over it plus the smell within 10 feet of this area was rank-foul. Cory and I laughed a great deal at Dave’s selection of place for respite. We finally coaxed a very discombobulated Dave back into the car and set off again in very high spirits.
Stopping to get some beverages at a gas station, Cory and I stood in amazement at what we were looking at. A very strange amalgamation of shapes and images just across the road on the other side from where we stood. Cars and trucks sped past as a regular occurrence that only added to our inability to fully comprehend what we were gazing at. There were real standing hindquarters of two horses, a large poster of a lady smiling, a car, a truck, a smattering of many colors and a vehicle with many house windows affixed to its side. All of these things overlapped in our field of vision that it was very hard to discern where one ended and another began or what was actually still a part of itself. It really was a spectacular sight that I don’t think Dave fully appreciated due to the fact that he didn’t look at these things as long as we did and we had teased him for a good while about lying next to the porto-Biffo in the ungodly stench. This maybe dampened his mood briefly, a little.
Passing into and through Yosemite National Park I was somewhat nervous at points for the first time on the trip due to all of our fatigue and of how high up the cliffs we were. Most places seemed to have no guardrails. We stopped at least at two scenic spots. The first where we took some exceptionally cool photos and video of Cory appearing to walk on water. There were some rocks just below a pond’s surface that really made it seem in a large way that he defied logic. The second was another pond high in the mountains where we three beleaguered dudes thought we could catch 30 minutes of shut-eye. This was to no avail as where we had lain on the rocks by the pond was inundated with families consisting of very loud, screaming children. So we rested and soaked up the wondrous sun.
We finally arrived at the airport in San Francisco incredibly on time, in fact about 35 minutes early. We wrote up some silly name cards for our friends to read when they stepped off the plane. They seemed to find the names rather lame in fact, when they finally read them. This being the last summer before 9/11 so we were able to wait for them at the gate. We slumped fairly tired into some seats to await our arriving friends. It struck me as very cool to consider all the distance we had come and all we had seen and now here were more friends just arriving not knowing any of that or about how tired we were. All of us eager and ready to have, find and make more revelry.
The newcomers to the operation rented a minivan a couple of days later and off we all headed to a hostel near the Red Woods on our way to Mike’s uncle’s place. The hostel from the start was sub-par. A 10pm curfew, we had to remove our shoes and I don’t think they allowed alcohol on the premises. Neither of the last two reasons were incredibly terrible but the first, I mean come on. You can’t be out past 10pm just sitting and looking at the stars? But when it came time to remove my shoes I had just put some powder in them to make them smell good about an hour before. So when I took my shoes off the powder got all over the ground and left white footprints up the first couple of stairs. This maybe made up for what they had us do later.
We headed to the nearby beach and talked and made fun. We met a young Arab classical composer that after chatting with him for awhile he told us to keep an eye out for him in the future because he was to become famous. Maybe/maybe not but after 9/11, which soon came, it is more likely that the FBI kept an eye on him for us.
We turned in early at the required time to receive some much-warranted sleep. In the morning after packing up the vehicles we found the last piece to the uber-weak hostel’s pie. We evidently had missed the part that all of us had needed to sign up on the chore sheet to help clean. Since we were new to the place all the other travelers had already signed up for the small and easy jobs. It was left up to our gang to clean most of the place, sweeping and mopping. So some of us in our ironic humor whistled the ‘Whistle While you Work’ song from Snow White while cleaning. After having done way too much for the ridiculous hostel (seeing as we were there about 12 hours) we finally left, vowing never to return.
At Mike’s uncle’s (which was a couple of cabins on a bunch of forestland) we were putting back some beers and everyone was taking turns shooting the guns at bottle and can targets. Everyone was being extra cautious and some of us suggested ways as to how to make it safer. Then Dave proceeded to take a turn. He did everything like everyone else had been doing but when he got to the spot just above the steps, like where everyone else stood when shooting, he succeeded in falling down the steps with rifle in hand. He only fell about 4 steps and rolled about one full revolution. It was a little dangerous but extremely funny. I don’t know if anyone had thought about making the activity safer by making it fall-proof. This could have only happened to him. It was quite humorous as his legs and arms wound through the stairs briefly entangled as he was, still clutching the rifle. We helped him up, dusted him off and he started all over again.
Later on I was given the opportunity to kill a chicken for dinner with a small hatchet. I took the opportunity very enthusiastically. To prepare for this, Tyson put a hat on, cocked askew to one side, to make himself look way more ‘hick’ than normal and I tied my shirt around my neck like a superhero cape. We road in the back of the pickup truck like executioners to the beheading trough. My first ‘coup-de-grace’ didn’t completely sever the head that it was supposed to have done, so I hacked away at its flailing neck a few more times until its head was finally severed. Mike’s uncle, Jim, had two daughters that were both running around and screaming by this point. It really is amazing how much energy a chicken retains even when sans electrical signal processing center (brain). I then learned how to clean the chicken and cook it. Something to know for sure. Jim’s wife stated that I must have been really into biology when I was in school, I laughed and said that I was no more interested in that than in anything else and that almost everything did interest me. I think she figured that I must be sadistic. I am just interested in knowledge and a posteriori truths. I wanted to experience the whole chain-of-events for what it means to eat meat, to be alive in a sense. Not many people focus on the gruesome aspects of being alive especially when they think that chicken breasts appear out of nowhere ready to be purchased from a grocery store, already packaged, just waiting to be eaten. My bologna has a first name, it’s C A N I V E R O U S M U R D E R! The fact that simply to be alive and remain alive means by necessity the consumption of other living things, animal and vegetable. I have thought about this before, that people who don’t eat meat for some type of moral objection (not that I care if they do or don’t) really don’t see the whole picture. As well as people who eat too much of it. When humans put animals to be slaughtered in rows upon rows of cages it is similar to the cultivation of plants into fertile rows for harvest. Albeit that animals long to move around a lot more (laugh) but by putting plants into rows and not allowing them to freely procreate and let the wind move them hither-and-yon is similar to a point. These are not exactly the same thing seeing as how plants and animals ARE different but still, look at it seriously in terms of; for us to continue being alive we have to consume other living things for energy, whatever they be. In this regard they are incredibly the same and humans have tried to find ways of more efficient harvesting, since the beginning of civilization. Not that efficiency is the answer and it definitely can lead to cruelty. It is absurd when it exclusively is in the name of profit margin. We do have some type of moral obligation to be ‘humane’ but not because they are animals. This could be taken, in a sense, as speciesist. That only animals need to be allowed to free-range or something like that. But, hey, everything we use as food we usually first have to kill, maybe we find an apple that has fallen from a tree or we eat a dead pheasant that we stumble onto, but surely they have to die. That is my main point of the similarity. Nothing more. But what an incredibly large similarity for us and for them! I just don’t think many people truly realize this or appreciate fully the meaning of continuance in existing. The chicken was a little tough, or so thought some of my friends who supped on its flesh, but I thought it was just plain, ‘good eat’n’, especially for my first chicken-kill.
Later that same night after Mike and I had allowed Jim’s daughters to play dress-up with us into long skirts and make-up, Jim wanted to test drive the mini-van. So Joe, Tyson, Mike and myself climbed into it and off we tore along the rural mountain roads. His uncle rounded a curve when a rabbit came bounding out to freeze in front of us. Jim tried to humorously scare it out of the way by briefly speeding-up towards it but only succeeded in blasting it to the other side of the road. Jim stopped to survey the scene and when he got back in what now accompanied his hand was the mauled rabbit. He hurled the bloody lifeless bunny into the back where we were sitting. All of us were screaming and yelling, trying to seek shelter. What proceeded next were five minutes of busted-up bleeding rabbit carcass being thrown around the van. Droplets of blood were going everywhere. On the ceiling, floor, seats, on our clothes, faces and hands. One person would get a hold of it and promptly chuck it at someone on the other side of the vehicle. This was followed again in turn. All the while, all of us yelling and laughing hysterically as Jim went driving sporadically, jerking and swerving down the road. We kept falling and being thrown around the van like the dead rabbit that we threw. Rag dolls the whole lot of us. It was definitely a crazy and highly unusual thing to throw around in a mini-van, moving or stationary.
We finally threw it out and arrived back at the cabin and I in my narrow-minded clarity said how we should immediately clean the van. This wasn’t so well received by the others and when Joe’s girlfriend, Caroline, came out to see what had taken us so long. I only said something to escalate the sobering realization of the gory situation and get Joe into a worse mood than he was in. The now blood engorged mini-van was rented in his name! I calmly told him that his girlfriend was being a bitch because she had started to scold him for having been gone so long even though she knew nothing of the rabbit incident or the state of the van. She had seemed to briefly act this way since I was so concentrated on wanting to rectify the splatter. We didn’t clean the van that night, but soon enough it was thoroughly cleaned.
The night grew older and we all faded, one by one, off to sleep. Some of us remaining better friends to this day than others (for a myriad of different reasons) but all of us having shared at least in the ending of our childhood together and all of us enduring through our various transitions into the constant change of now.