Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Travels with Krispy and Noddy (And Karen!), Day 1: To Vegas!

Dramatis personæ: 
  • Krispy, the frog: Purchased at a Thriftymart immediately before our first roadtrip, back in 2001. Named after our first stop on that trip, to get doughnuts. Krispy is pretty much always excited.
  • Noddy, the Dinosaur: Purchased in 2014 at the gift shop of Dinosaur Journey in Fruita, Colorado. He was in the discount bin because one of his legs is fucked up. Named after his peculiar trait of perpetually nodding his head when the car is moving, due to his long, horizontal neck. Noddy is ever agreeable.
  • Admiral Karen, the wife: Met at a bardic evening back in 2000, pursued for the next year. Nicknamed ‘Admiral’ since her hilarious and violent swordfight at our wedding in 2006. Karen is always up for a weird and wild adventure, especially if sports are involved.
  • Angus, the bard: Note-taker and co-driver.
Roadtrip Packing - Bring ALL the things!
With Roadtrips it’s always about the journey, not the destination. Oh, there is always a reason for a roadtrip: Going to a sisters wedding, heading out for spring break, gotta hide out in another state until the Press calms down, that sort of thing. 

But in reality these are less reasons for the roadtrip and more excuses: The roadtrip is its own entity. The endpoint is a mere contrivance.

In this case the raison de road was to pick up a hope chest and several boxes of photo albums from my mothers storage locker in Grand Junction, Colorado. We had packed these items in there when we flew out last summer, to settle her estate. 

So this trip had been in the works for several months.

I had initially sat down with a map and a spreadsheet and calculated the quickest, gnarliest way that I could do this trip alone, over a 3 day weekend: 
  • Day 1: rent minivan, drive 800 miles to Salt Lake City, Utah. 
  • Day 2: 285 miles to Grand Junction, load minivan, 390 miles to St. George, Utah. 
  • Day 3: 650 miles home. 
  • (Day 4:) Unpack minivan and try to stop crying.
Yeah. Two words, and both of them start with “ugly”. Zero fun, and entirely too
Separate climate controls for driver and shotgun!
This is a must for every car I own from now on.
much Utah in there.

So, since I had the Numbers program open, what the hell, let’s inject some humanity into this grim equation. More days, more stops, more personæ.

I eventually concocted 4 different scenarios (cuz I actually enjoy spending evenings doing this sort of thing).

#4 was the doozy
  • Day 1: Santa Cruz to Las Vegas. 9 hours driving. Gamble.
  • Day 2: Vegas to Moab. 6.5 hours driving. Utah Scenery.
  • Day 3: Moab to Grand Junction. 1.5 hours. Spend morning at Arches National Park. Dinner with local friends.
  • Day 4: Load minivan with cargo, proceed South to Durango. 4 hours. Mountain Passes, Alpine scenery.
  • Day 5: Durango to Grand Canyon. 6 hours. See Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners.
  • Day 6: Grand Canyon to Phoenix. 4 hours. See the big hole in the morning and a Giants Spring Training game in the evening.
  • Day 7: Phoenix to Palm Springs. 4.5 hours. See the night session of the Indian Wells tennis tournament.
  • Day 8: Leave the Admiral in the desert to see more tennis, while I drive 8 hours all the way back North to Santa Cruz.
  • (Day 9) Remember to pick her up at the airport!
Total cost of the quick and dirty weekend: $1,000. Doable.
Total cost of Circuit Grande: $2,500. Whoa.

Hahaha - like I had that kind of money. BwaHaHaHaHa!

And then, two days later, a check arrives in the mail. Its from one of my Mothers Life Insurance policies, one that I had forgotten all about, because I filed it online back in September in the flurry and worry of getting Things Settled.

And the check read, in softly glowing rainbow numbers: $2509.41

Huh. Okay then (gulp). That was Good Timing. Let’s get some days off work, shall we?

Day 1: Saturday, March 7th, 2015

The first two days would especially grindy, with 16 hours in the saddle and 1,000
Our rented Chrysler Town & Country.
Not my first choice, but we were very impressed.
of the 2,500 miles to get through. On the plus side, blazing through 40% of the mileage when we’re still fresh and speaking to each other would be a good thing.

And being a seasoned road warrior I had a few tips up my sleeve. 

1) Rent a nice car. You’re going to spend a LOT of time in this beast, so make it comfy. We got a Chrysler Town & Country minivan, which was chock full of electronic time savers that took us two days to figure out.
Even then I would sometimes notice that the rear window wiper was lazily swishing back and forth for no reason - and I had zero idea how that happened and how to unhappen it.

And a week in I would go to set the directional signal and end up suddenly, violently cleaning the entire windshield. Bloosh!!

2) Musica. Both Karen and I are musicians, and we have strong opinions, so CD pickage would be critical and delicate.
My solution was to bring 71 hours of music on 57 discs:
  • an 11 CD “Roadtrip Mix” I had made for an earlier trip to Vegas (to compete in a triathlon). 
  • New collections of Weird Al, The Beatles (both alphabetically) and Zeppelin (by album, duh), 
  • A mix of my two favorite iTunes genres: Comedy and Funny, and 13 CDs of Classical works, (Keep in mind that Ragtime and Circus music both count as ‘classical’).
  • For lighter fare, when the road becomes metaphorical and tedious  I brought all of her Firesign Theatre discs, because they are dense and hilarious and perfect for roadtrips.
  • I even made a check off sheet that fits inside the CD case, so we can keep track of what we’ve already listened to.
OCD overkill? Maybe. But it was handy and fun.
On the highway we dabbled in the fancy Sirius radio, but it had a boatload of channels that we wouldn’t be caught dead in (24/7 Jimmy Buffett, anyone?), and the couple that we did like had a very limited library. 

Every time the radio came on, (in between CDs), we heard Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” “Lola” and something from the 70’s Who. Over and over and OVER again.

We packed on the expansive side, because we would be traveling in about 17 different biomes, during awkward March, when the weather is still deciding whether it is Spring yet, or still Winter for a while longer.

So, rain gear, snow boots, umbrellas, heavy jackets - and tank tops and sunscreen. Schizophrenic Suitcaseage.

We set off at 9:30am, and an hour later have our first brush with Adventure, on the ascent up to the San Luis Reservoir, on the other side of which lies I-5.

Day 1 route. 8 hours. 523 Miles. (Screenshot of a Google Map.)
There are lots of cars here, but everyone is keeping good distance and playing nice. Until a half-a-dozen metal and plastic school chairs suddenly appear in the roadway. I have a big truck behind me, and not enough room to slam on the brakes anyway - not in an unfamiliar vehicle, anyway.

So if you can’t avoid - minimize. I jerk the minivan left, over next to the center divider and just.....graze one of the chairs on my right side. TING! It ricochets off. 

The vehicles are the rubber balls and the metal chairs are the jacks. To my right and behind me cars are careening all over the roadway trying to avoid the bouncing, tumbling chairs. But everyone seems to have avoided Major Incident. Good. I need to change my shorts, but best case scenario, overall. Whew.

We stop for gas a little while later, and sure enough there is a big, black scratch down the side of the silver minivan. Ooooops.

Does Enterprise cover damages that are caused by Acts of Chair?

I-5 was all about the BUGS.
Later in that endless day we saw a sign that said “Watchable Wildlife Area”, which lead us to wander what the penalties were for mistakenly witnessing animals that were considered ‘unwatchable’ or who were indeed visible but had mistakenly wandered into the ‘unwatchable zone’. 

Do the critters all wear little nylon jackets that say “See” or “Don’t see?” Maybe rangers just wander around, looking for visionary voyeurs and gluing the lens caps onto their binoculars.

We stopped at the Buttonwillow Rest Area to do necessary things like break out our baseball mitts and play catch for a while.

Barstow has grown - in its ability to depress.

After 9 hours I was kind of vapor-
locked into this expression.
On the final stretch into Vegas our little group of cars was harassed by a black Dodge Charger who was not satisfied with us pokin’ along at 80mph (in a 75 zone). Oh no - 90 to 95 was where his happy zone was, and we all watched him Charger through all of us, riding back bumpers, cutting people off, changing lanes constantly and generally being a dudenozzle.

He slowly worked his way through our section of ‘traffic’ and sped off over the horizon, possibly in triple digits.

But we all saw him a half hour later, giving his license and registration to Officer Friendly, whose cheeky grin promised that  this was going to be costly.

Karen and I cheered in our minivan, and I’m sure other cars also held impromptu celebrations. YES!!

Arrival in Lost Wages

Inside the pyramid are some crazy angles.
We arrive at the Luxor at 6:30pm, a tidy 9 hours from our start, including a sit down In-n-Out Lunch in Bakersfield. The biggest drive of the trip was over - but we weren’t in our room yet. 

We had to get from the parking garage, to Registration, and up to our room in the cheese-O-matic pyramid. And we had packed all wrong for this hike. Instead of just taking the items we’d need for this night - and tomorrow, we took ALL of our luggage, bath items, foul weather gear and electronics. 

Off into the distance in every direction.
And, it being dinner time on a Saturday night in Vegas, our parking spot was literally on the last row of the two story parking garage. But we gamely threw bags over our shoulders, on my back and in our hands and began The Trudge.

Across the several acres of garage, through the several acres of casino, to the Registration desk, which is understaffed. Nobody in line has half the luggage we do. 

You could enlarge this photo all day
and never see the end of that corridor.
The Reg people check us in, give us papers to hold in our hands that are already full of luggage and direct us back, back, back to an elevator on the opposite side of the casino floor, right next to where we entered from the parking garage.

Trudge, trudge, trudge. 120,000 feet of gaming space, full of 120,000 smokers.

On the third floor we read the direction sign and head off in precisely the wrong direction. 

Trudge, trudge, trudge. Cramp. Trudge, trudge, trudge. Whine. Trudge, trudge, trudge. 

See? The back wall is tilted.
We are so totally inside a pyramid.
Do you know how long the hallways are on the third floor of a 30 story pyramid? Its an interesting geometry problem to work out.

But between us the Admiral and I had the candle power of a glass of Strawberry Quik by that point. And so we just trudged.

Eventually we ended up at a point directly opposite where we should have been. We looked down at the Registration desk below us, and only then did we realize that the room numbers were going up - not down.

We cried. There in the mobius hallway, carrying all of the clothing that we own, we cried at each other.

And then we continued on, watching the room numbers slowly descend like a countdown clock to our impending unconsciousness.

7 course dessert for the two of us.
Sounds about right.
Trudge, trudge, trudge. Key. Drop bags everywhere. Face plant.

We had dinner at the buffet (of course!), amazed at how easy it was to get around now that we had already scoped out every square inch of the 7th largest hotel in the world - and we weren’t carrying 80 pounds of rain jackets and phone chargers.

After a typical Vegas buffet dinner of chow mien / tamales / shepherds pie / sushi / haggis / gumbo / falafel and french fries we were sleepy but our stomachs were now wide awake.

We split forces then and took off to see two world-class museum exhibits that have semi-permanent homes inside the big, concrete polyhedron.

Bodies features real humans without any skin whatsoever. Its like the ultimate Nudie show. Karen and I saw it together years ago. Well, she saw the organs and muscles and veins and what-have-you. I saw the floor in front of the chair that every room of the exhibit provided.
Our room view. Nice to see Franklin Roosevelt
finally get the hotel/casino his legacy deserves.

Okay. Ready? Lets’ go into the next room, and oh my…….look, a chair! I’ll be over there, Honey. What a lovely pattern on this carpet. I could look at this for…….however long it takes.

So this time I headed for the other Museum exhibit, which I enjoyed more than Karen did last time. Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition wasn’t crowded at 8:30pm, but I ended up looking at the displays behind a young couple that was reading the captions to everything to their 2nd and 4th grade daughters. 

After a few rooms about the history of the ship and different classes of passengers and accommodations it was obvious that these two girls DID NOT KNOW THE STORY OF THE TITANIC.

Oh, Christ. I hurried ahead a couple of rooms before the Wonder turned to Nightmare Fuel.

Karen and I met up later at a blackjack table, where the evening continued its somber tone. I lost my set-aside gambling money in a mind-bending run of bad luck as baffling as the geometry problem of finding our hotel room.
The mezzanine, above the casino floor.

Speaking of which - lets finally shut down this endless day. We’ve got 7 more days of Adventure ahead of us. 

Tomorrow we would drive from Ancient Egypt in Nevada all the way to the Inca Empire - in Utah.

Angus McMahan

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