The bad news is that I’m 11 or so days behind on the blog. The items of good news are that I’ve taken notes and pictures, I’ve done an incredible amount of incredible things, and I’ve got time now and the next few days to write – look for a weekend treat tomorrow with a couple of posts. AM bump on this one, too, given that I’ll be finishing it up when all my friends back East are long past counting sheep. I do have a 10+ hour drive tomorrow from Sheridan, WY to Fargo, ND. I have no golf to play, however, and will want to stop at least 3 or 4 times – great writing opportunities. Following that drive, I only have a few hundred miles over the next few days, and will have countless chances to write as well. I have motored through these western states, seeing what there is to see, doing what there is to do; the cost has been my chances to write. A looot of driving to do out here.
In case you had forgotten, Arizona had redeemed itself only though a wandering elderly Native woman who needed a ride on my golf cart to the post office (See: Thank You Grandson. Thank You Grandson). I had finished my round in Page, and pondered my next move. A thorough analysis of the map indicated that I was but a few hours’ drive from the Grand Canyon. Several people I had talked to about the trip prior to my leaving had asked if I was going to get to the Canyon during my time out west, and I always gave the same lame answer: “I’d love to, but it’s too far out of the way… blah blah… schedule… blah blah.” Well, now that I was actually there, I sort of changed my mind.
Never mind that US Route 89 had suffered from a landslide earlier in the year, and was closed, which would necessitate my taking Indian Route 20 around the closure so I could get, eventually, to the North Rim. Although I’m writing now as if I only found all this out after I golfed, I did in fact become aware of the closure at the hotel in the morning. It was posted, and I only knew of the closure due to the posting. I noticed IR 20 on the map, and asked the desk lady how passable it was. She told me it had just been paved, and was quite driveable. C’mon now. Even if it wasn’t paved, do you really think I would have stayed off? All kidding aside, it was quite a relief to know that the road was passable. I had frankly had enough of the dirt road adventuring for the trip – easily 500 miles of dirt roads on the trip – between Vermont, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
I had lunch at a Denny’s (this is Page, international hotspot and yuppie paradise – the mere notion of an authentic local spot is laughable), and left around 2:00. It was going to be about a 3 hour drive. Perfect! I could get to the Canyon around 5:00, spend a few hours there, then hike it back up to Utah for the evening. I had a plan.
I began trucking down to IR 20, and upon my arriving there, took a quick last look at my map – it was a 40 mile road down to 89 below the landslide. There was a sign that said road closed 11 miles ahead, however. I checked the map, and noticed a few other IR’s meandering off the side of 20 which would eventually get to 89, and decided that I would haul on down as far as I could get on 20 before the road was actually closed, and then take whichever IR was most convenient from there. If 20 was passable the entire way – then great! Bonus! I flew past the first 11 miles, and upon doing so noticed another road closed sign. “Strange,” I thought, “the road looks mighty fine — this has got to be Arizona DOT bluster.” ONWARD. Another 20 miles I drove. Finely paved road. Light traffic in both directions. There were a few work trucks coming and going as well, but most of the traffic was passenger cars – mostly Natives going to and fro the settlements which dotted the landscape. Amazing! Only 9 miles to go – at worst I would have only a few miles of dirt road. I was right on schedule to get to the Canyon at a reasonable hour.
Then I came to a hillbilly in a Dodge Ram. He was going maybe 10 mph, and as I signaled to pass he lumbered over in an effort to prevent me from doing so. He eyed me up in the sideview mirror and mouthed “no,” rolling down his window and beckoning me to him. I pulled up next to him.
“Can’t you read? Ditten you see all dem “road closed” signs?”
“Of course I saw them – I’m only trying to get down to 89 – seems pretty well paved to me?!”
“You goin the wrong way dude. We’re working on the road – guys in the middle of the road, everything.”
“C’mon man – I’m only 9 miles from 89! She can handle a dirt road (patting the steering wheel)”
“No man. You can’t go any further. You gotta turn around.”
“We ain’t never gonna finish this if people like you keep driving down here. Turn around. Now.”
If I was a badder ass or a more brutish oaf, I would have peeled rubber and driven past him. However, I was in Arizona, and chances were very good that he 1) had a gun, 2) wudden afraid to use it, and 3) had a radio to tell his friends up ahead about some slick New Yorker blazing towards them. Dejected, I turned around. The 3 cars behind me all pulled up to the guy, and were given the same bullshit. As I headed back North, towards Page, I must have passed 15-20 cars trying to do the same thing I was trying to do. I flashed my highbeams at them, as no one had done for me, and the hubris which had consumed me was clearly rich in the air. No one else turned around at my prodding.
Stubborn like a donkey, I had no intention of going all the way back to Page to take the 2nd alternate route. That was really out of the way, and from where I was, was easily a 4 hour drive to the Canyon. No, I was taking the next IR I found over to 89 and going from there. Already losing time, I had no time for driving all over creation.
I came to my road of choice, reviewed the map, and determined that I had a drive of approximately 10 miles over a dirt road to 89. Doable.
I set out, and minutes later found myself on, easily, the shittiest dirt road of the trip. It was essentially a sand road, and had not seen maintenance ever. Normally these dirt roads are bedded with stones, or gravel. If they aren’t, the dirt is usually somewhat tightly packed. Dirt roads really ain’t too bad. This shit was like driving through a bunker. Not surprisingly, I got my stupid ass stuck about 2 miles in.
FUCK. SHIT. DAMN.
Stuck here in the middle of the Desert. Already behind schedule. No reception. No human within 2 miles. Walking back to the road and flagging someone down to ask for help was not an option. My stupid luck, I’d get that same hillbilly in the Dodge Ram (just a brief tangent – as a car guy, I have never gotten the appeal of modern Dodges/Chryslers. Transparently cheaply built and clearly aiming at a… more rural or urban demographic (think Neon v 300), they are pieces of shiny metal built to impress people who are impressed by shiny things. The Ram was always the king of the oafmobiles. Lumberingly huge, that fascia just screams ‘I’m tuff. I’m brawny. I’m very, very dumb.’ The designer was clearly going for a face exuding the first 2, but unfortunately, the 3rd got thrown in there. If I ever buy a truck, I’m getting a Ford or Chevy no doubt.), and there was no way I would give him the satisfaction of coming to the rescue of some city slicker. Nope. The only option was to dig myself out.
I got down and dirty, and a quick analysis of the shituation revealed that my front wheels had pulled my car over a particularly deep sandy patch of road just prior to a dip in the ruts. Once they got down there, the car bottomed out, with the front driver’s tire barely touching the ground. Luckily, the passenger side front tire was not nearly as depressed.
Plan was simple: remove all the sand from around the front driver’s tire, dig some of the sand from under the car, and rock her out. I didn’t have a shovel or any other digging materials, so I was forced to use my hands. 10 minutes in, I dug out most of the driver’s front tire, and spent another 5 minutes scraping sand from under the car. I looked at the situation from all angles under the car – and while there was still a significant amount of the frame resting on sand, it was worth a shot. I fired it up and tried to get it moving in either direction so I could rock. Didn’t move a micrometer. DAMN. It was going to take more digging.
I repeated the above 3 times – dig out for 5-10 minutes, take in the situation from all 4 corners, try to get her moving, and become even more disillusioned once she refused to budge. Thank god it was cloudy, and not that hot. It was something like 85 degrees. Freezing for the Arizona during the middle of August. Still, after half an hour of digging, I was starting to tire. If I didn’t get this shit dug out in another half hour, my chances of making it to the Grand Canyon would be slim. It was time to put my sand wedge to work.
My Jetta stuck in the Arizona desert, with my 60* wedge ready to get to work.
After digging as much of the sand out from under the car as I could with my arms, the car still wouldn’t move. I needed something to scrape out the sand farther towards the middle of the car, and a wedge would do the job perfectly.
My sand wedge doing the best work it’s ever done.
After two more dig sessions and tries, I still wasn’t moving. I’d been out here close to an hour now, and was starting to become fatigued. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t get the car out – it was simply a matter of removing enough sand to drive away. I was worried that my fatigue would slow me down enough that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the Grand Canyon during the daylight. Another 15 minutes of digging, and I finally thought I could get out. Not taking any chances this time, I wedged a towel under the driver’s front tire to get some traction. For the 6th or 7th time, I fired up the TDI and put her in reverse. Heavy on the go pedal and light on the clutch, my heart skipped a beat! Traction! I flew up out of that rut at 10 miles an hour – the towel flying up in a cloud of dust as I had finally made it out. It was 4:30, and I was a 4+ hour drive from the Canyon. I was only about 50 miles away as the crow flew, but thanks to the first, and second routes were closed, I had to go halfway back to New Mexico then south before finally heading north again to get there.
Ever cognizant of making things somewhat reasonable for tourists, Arizona closed all the roads I needed, and simply ignored daylight savings time. At best, I had to get there at 7:30 to see something in the daylight. I had 3 hours to go 240 miles. In case you failed rudimentary math, that means I had to average 80 MPH over rural 2 lane highways to get there. Of course, I wasn’t going to be the only person trying to make it to the Canyon. That would certainly complicate things.
For the second time on the trip, I dusted off the driving gloves. This time was serious business. Like a bat out of hell, I blasted though the desert. Extended periods of 100+ travel on straights, carving curves as well above the recommended speeds, and passing chunks of cars one at a time where necessary. A particularly excellent pass was met with applause from a Texan driving a Ram pickup. No doubt he was in awe of my northeastern driving skills.
Now was not the time to stop for pictures, but I couldn’t help myself. I stopped at… some canyon… and took a picture. I still wasn’t sure I’d even make it to the Grand Canyon, and if I didn’t see at least an Okay Canyon, I was bound to be super pissed.
Okay Canyon. I’m sure it had a name, but I don’t remember it. Very impressive.
Half an hour and fifty miles later, I came across a hut built from some huge rocks laying around. They were amazing – hundreds of these massive rocks had eroded and fallen down from the massive rock formations in the area. Very cool. I needed a picture.
The sun was setting, but I had hauled significant enough ass by the time I got to the Grand Canyon highway that it was now evident that I would be all set, provided that there were no further road closures, funeral processions, or barn parties on the way. But it was drizzling. And cloudy. Too bad, I had come this far, and wasn’t turning around now. Raining, cloudy, couldn’t see anything at the Canyon? Oh well. The definition of stubborn, I was seeing myself that damn Canyon.
I carried on, and, around 7:15, made it. Miraculously, there was no one at the booth to collect the astounding $25 entry fee. It had also stopped raining. Beautiful. I parked, walked down there, and set my gaze to the Canyon. It was really, really big. Humblingly large. The river went for miles in all directions, if you indeed trusted that there was a river down there. From my vantage points, you sure couldn’t see it down there. Amazingly, the rain had ceased for my half hour at the Canyon, enabling me to follow the easily hike-able 1 mile trail to the end. The photo opportunities along the way were bountiful, but the one at the end of the trail was the best. The rain having just let up, there was a rainbow over the South Rim of the Canyon.
Arizona had again been redeemed.
As I walked back, I took a quick photo of my phat self in front of the Canyon. I haven’t been very heavy at all on selfies, but this was one I really couldn’t pass up.
There were a few other folks checking things out, but by this point in the day, most tourists had had their fill of the Canyon. A true shame for them, because for the 15 or 20 of us along that mile, we were treated to a serene sunset over the North Rim. This dude was move adventurous than I was, but I happen to enjoy “metaphotography,” as I’m dubbing it. Check this out. Just check it out:
When I finally got back to the camp, I was parched. I hadn’t had anything to drink since Denny’s at 2:00, and it was now 8:00. In the interim 6 hours, I had dug my car out of the desert, hiked 2 miles, and engaged in 3 hours of high intensity, breath-taking driving. I was sooooo thirsty.
There was no snack shop. Only a vending machine with some sodas. In typical Arizona fashion, the machine did not list any price. I pushed the button for a drink, as this will, almost universally, get the machine to tell you the price. Well, this machine didn’t work that way. I had ONE $1, no coins. The machine didn’t take $5s. Fuckin perfect. Hoping to heaven that the drinks were only $1 – I popped a dollar in the machine, and pushed the button for a nice cold Coke. I N S E R T .25. GEE THANKS FOR TELLING ME THE PRICE NOW.
I desperately pushed the coin return button, to no avail. The reason I was so concerned (and that I hadn’t simply gone to my car for a few more coins in the first place) was that my car was parked a solid 500 yards from the vending machine. Even at a brisk pace, that’s a 7 or 8 minute walk. The only choice I had was to walk over to the car, grab some quarters, and hope that no one else happened across the machine with credit in it.
10 minutes and 6 quarters later (Fearing the worst, I grabbed enough to buy a Coke even if someone had knicked my $1, and 2 Cokes if the opposite was true), I made it back to the vending machines, only to find a middle aged man staring in wonder at the machine into which I had put my dollar. He was sipping a can of Coke, and continuing to stare at the machine with wonder.
(Panting like an ogre) “Did you (huff huff huff) just buy a (huff huff) Coke from this machine?”
“I had a dollar in there – but it doesn…”
“Oh! Hahaha I though I had won the lottery – here’s your dollar back dude.”
He dropped 4 quarters into my hand, and beamed a smile at me.
Super small gesture on his part, but another one of redemption. He could have denied that there was a dollar in the machine. Even worse, he could have said too bad so sad for me and kept his dollar. Rather, before I even explained why I left the machine, he had given me my dollar back. What a good dude.
Feeling proud to be a human being, I bought my 2 Cokes. That first one was the most delicious Coke I’d ever drank.
Arizona was all about redemption:
Page was sold out and too expensive; yet I met a humble and reverential Native woman traipsing across the golf course to get to the post office.
Every single route to the Grand Canyon was blocked, and I got stuck in the desert trying my best to make it there in time; yet my arrival was met with a lifting of the rain, a rainbow, and a beautiful sunset.
The only source of a drink at the Grand Canyon, a vending machine, didn’t list the prices of the beverages, necessitating me deserting the machine; yet my return was immediately met with a “refund” from a kind soul.
Not exactly the charming experience I had had in New Mexico, I had a valuable time in Arizona nonetheless. I could never live there though. Of course my sample size is small, but I could never rely on instances of redemption to make up for infuriating situations. I wanted to not like Arizona, but I ended up finding it to be okay. Any place that surprises you 3 different times is worthwhile.
I drove to Utah, played a round of golf (shot a 78!) the next day at St. George Golf Club, and was off for the heart of darkness itself, Las Vegas.
Las Vegas. A modern marvel of marketing, it’s one big shiny conglomeration of consumption in the middle of the desert. I never fully appreciated the appeal of Las Vegas. Gambling, nice and clean restaurants, excessively ornate hotels, B to C list shows nightly, and very expensive golf. It seemed like a vacation destination for people who just ain’t that adventurous. Vegas always seemed so easy to me. Go there, and you’re inundated with stuff to see and do. You don’t really have to travel. Forget meeting locals or finding something authentic in Vegas. Just go there and be wowed by the sights and sounds.
Wanting to give it a fair shake, that’s exactly what I did.
First thing was a trip here:
Underwhelming. I wasn’t expecting to find a collection worthy of a roadside antique shop anywhere in the Northeast, but I was expecting more than what I found. I can describe the place in just a few sentences. It’s one main aisle, with jewelry and watches on the left side as you make your way towards the back, while guns dominated the right side. There were a few guitars, a car, and some high priced art in the back of the aisle. Half of the place was a gift shop. Want Chumlee’s face on a shirt, coffeemug, keyring, mousepad, pair of sunglasses or toaster? You’d be set. 5 minutes in and I was done. I still enjoy the show, and will continue to binge on marathons every few months – it’s a feel good show. It’s like watching fried chicken and mac ‘n cheese.
I got to my hotel a mile off the strip, parked, and took a nap. Very un-Vegas, I know, but I was beat and needed some sleep. I woke up around 11, and set out on my way. I’ve never really been a gambler, and decided I really wanted to just see all the shiny lights, particularly this one:
Unfortunately, this world famous sign is a solid mile south of the furthest south Casino on the strip, and that mile is marred by urban prairie and poorly lit nothingness. I walked and walked and walked, and after a 3 mile walk, I finally made it to the sign. I took a quick picture, and a quick rest. Thankfully, a family, from somewhere in the Midwest, asked me to take a picture of them with the sign. The farmer’s daughter asked me, handing me their digital camera. I immediately grabbed it, turned 180 degrees and sprinted 2 steps saying “I’M STEALING YOUR CAMERA!” before turning around with a chuckle. The reactions on the five faces varied from laughter to shock to a stony face lacking amusement. I was amused, and that was most important. I took a few shots for them, wished them well and was back on my way North.
I was starting to develop a hunger in my fat gut. Thankfully, my buddy Pat had, unsolicited, sent me a message with a long list of feasting suggestions. Most of the places were on the northern edge of the strip, several more miles away from my Hotel. By default then, I was going to go to Noodles at the Bellagio. I confirmed it was open until 2. It was about 12:30. I had a little time.
At the first opportunity, I rode one of the private monorails built by the casinos, from Mandalay Bay up to Excelsior. Saved a little time. Humorously, I encountered 2 drunk yuppie businessmen in the monorail. They were very confused, and had apparently been riding the monorail back and forth from terminus to terminus for some time. They asked me how to get to the Luxor, and were thankfully able to laugh off their own inability to get on the right train when I informed them that they were on the express train, not the one with a stop at Luxor. Sorry dudes, you gotta get the other train. They thanked me, and told me that I saved them hours of going back and forth waiting for their train to stop at Luxor. Imagine that. Wouldn’t you eventually get off and walk? Of course they would have, but it’s still an exercise to sit here and imagine these tools going back and forth for hours, riding those rails to nowhere.
So yeah, I went into a few casinos en route to the Bellagio, and figured I may as well have at least a little of the Vegas experience. I decided I wouldn’t lose more than $100 before moving on. I had a budget to stick to, and even $100 was foolish. Still though, the allure of millions was strong! My cynicism was only fueled in the first 3 casinos, as I had lost my $20 in 5 minutes at each. Pretty dumb way to spend $20 – insert it into a machine and push a button 30 times. Pretty dumb indeed.
The 4th casino, though, was a little more entertaining. I was never plus at that one, but did win enough small pots to stay seated at the same machine for about half an hour before finally losing my last $20 (I stopped down $80 – why go any further?). While I was seated there, some Prima Donna Italian woman, roughly 50, sat down next to me. She immediately lit up a long, slim cigarette, put a hundo into the machine, and played max bet after max bet. Meanwhile, my Central Pennsylvanian ass was sitting there, slowly and steadily risking just $.25 with each button push. Anyhow, she was perfect for Vegas. Tan to the point of pruniness, fake nails, she was your typical pseudo-classy vacationer. Wouldn’t know authenticity if Neil Young himself serenaded her.
Anyhow, she lost her hundred in 5 minutes. 2 minutes into her sesh, she looked over at me and hurriedly asked how to win at that particular game. I shrugged my shoulders. What the fuck did she want me to say? I said nothing, and continued steadily losing my quarters. 1 minute later, her patience was stretched. Each loss was met with a complaint. “Nothing!” “Nothing on this lousy machine!” “Unbelievable.” She pushed the button more ferociously each time. Despite her best efforts, she still couldn’t win.
A waitress came by looking for drink orders, and my gambling buddy, as if her life was resting on it, hurriedly asked for “water. I need water. Please. Water. Quickly.” Like she was working out or something. Christ, what an annoying bitch. Thankfully she left after 2 more minutes.
By the time I had lost some money, and finally made it to the Bellagio, it was about 1:30 – still plenty of time to get some food. The party was dying down outside. Vegas stays open 24 hours, sure, but the vacationers don’t stay up 24 hours. Still, though, there were families, groups of foreigners, groups of college students, and any other type of upstanding tourists you can imagine out and about at 1:30.
By 2:30, after I had feasted on this phenomenal Pad Thai:
, it had calmed down significantly.
The families, frat boys and foreigners had all retired for the evening, and what was left on the streets was a motley amalgamation of cretinous adventurers. For the most part, the streets were empty, save those seeking satisfaction of illicit desires and those looking to assist them in doing so. A lone, fat white male was a walking dollar sign. I hadn’t made it 1000 yards before I was offered coke by several dealers, and sex by several hookers.
Regarding the coke offers. The first came from a group of dudes on a street corner. As I was passing them, I nodded my head and said “how ya doin?” I must have exuded something, because they all perked up, and two approached me, letting me know they had anything I wanted. I said no thanks and carried on. The second dealer was a little more aggressive, but ultimately still very willing to let me go. As I happened to be passing by him, I yawned a big yawn. He smiled at me and said “hey man – I got coke (he made a snorting motion)! How much you need?” I told him I was alright, thanks. “C’mon dude – it’ll wake you right up – I saw you yawning, brother!” I told him nah again, and carried on. He didn’t seem to care too much.
100 more yards down the road, and a slim, tall, scantily clad woman appeared from the abyss to my right, and began walking next to me. I nodded in acknowledgement, and continued walking.
“Why can’t I walk next to you? (tee hee hee) I don’t want someone to molest me!”
“No one is going to molest you – you are in the middle of Las Vegas. There are people everywhere. If someone tries to molest you, a kind soul will rescue you. I promise.”
(Tee hee hee)
“I’d molest you.”
“Oh, you’re funny!”
(She got out her lipstick, started applying it, and gazed at my Titleist cap)
“Are you a golfer?”
“I sure am.”
“Oooohhhh! What’s your handicap?”
“Look at you! Almost professional!”
“Uhhh… not quite, but thanks”
(All the while, we’re continuing to walk. I’ve made it to a stairwell)
“So where are you heading?”
“Back to my hotel. It’s off the strip.”
“Why don’t you come back to my place?”
“Ehh – I have to go this way. I’m very tired.”
“Please – why don’t you go through the Aria?”
“I’m going this way”
(I turned and left. She turned around and looked for another mark. I guess I hope she found one.)
Once I got back to the street on which my hotel lie, I had a mile walk. It was about 3 by this time, and it was deserted. It was also relatively poorly lit. I kept my head up, and kept a brisk pace. If I was a petite young woman, I would have been afraid. As is, I was simply overly aware of my surroundings. There weren’t many people out, and anyone resembling someone on the straight and narrow was long asleep. Of course, I made it safely to my hotel without incident, and retired for the evening.
My experience in Vegas was depressing. I found Vegas to be an empty vessel of culture. Shiny things for shallow people. There’s nothing wrong with vice; different people have different ways of relieving their stresses, and whatever works for you is great. Vegas is great as an outlet for the people who need it. I just happen to feel sorry for those people. Of course, the fact that I was alone did a lot to color my opinion of my stay. Had I been accompanied, I would have let a little of my guard down; would’ve had some drinks, and would’ve likely had a little more Vegas of an experience. Seeing it sober though, was depressing. I had to see it that way – I was alone, and had to ensure that I stayed safe. What I saw was a bunch of tourists who were simply very easily impressed. I didn’t see any authentic culture. I did see poverty, just a few hundred yards from the strip, both en route to and fro my hotel, and while turning around after going to the pawn shop earlier in my evening. Just like Atlantic City in that regard. In the shadows of the luxurious casinos lining the Atlantic lurks some of the darkest and deepest poverty in the Garden State. Depressing.
What was worse about Vegas though was the reliance of people on these vices. The city can be a black hole. My hooker friend more than likely had a shitty past (it is possible that she chose the profession due to a love of sex and a passion for selling herself, but it’s unlikely), and had found her way to a place where she knew she could succeed. People are driven to Vegas out of desperation. The rest of the world has vices, and goes there to fulfill them. They take their problems there, and leave them with the locals. The ghosts of everyone’s problems lurk in Vegas, and become entwined in the psyche of those working in Vegas not strong enough to shrug them off.
Still though, the world needs places like Las Vegas, and I’m very glad we have Vegas. It serves a vital purpose for society, and will hopefully continue to do so ad infinitum. It just takes a little bit more to impress me, though, and I don’t foresee myself going back anytime soon. Maybe someday, I’ll go with a group, to hopefully get that different perspective I was unable to get this time. If I do return, I’m going to be extra sure to keep all my ghosts locked in their cages. The place is already haunted enough.
I’m off to sleepyland. Big drive tomorrow. At least 2 entries tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed this one.