One Pack. No Turning Back.
What happens in Vegas...
Day 46: Las Vegas, NV to Los Angeles, CA, 8.3.15
Number of miles driven today: 284
Total miles driven on road trip: 10,788
Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? Starbucks
Starbucks' record (# of days Starbucks was more common): 27-16-2.
Dunkin' Donuts' record: 16-27-2
Cheapest gas I saw today: $3.76 (Welcome back to California)
Number of states visited overall: 30
Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 14 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Utah)
Number of blue states visited overall: 16 (California, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada)
Most obvious example of the laws of capitalism at work: Unleaded gas price of $4.59 per gallon in Baker, CA, surrounded by 60 miles of desolation (with Vegas to the east)
Temperature reading on the giant thermometer in Baker: 108 degrees
It took 46 days, but I finally feared being alone. And it happened in a place where I was surrounded by more people than I've seen this entire trip.
Yesterday on the drive from Grand Junction, Colorado, the original plan was to drive to the squalid desert town of Needles, California and do some reporting. I've always been fascinated from afar by Needles for its menacing name. I imagine it to be somewhere near Parts Unknown, the mysterious hometown of many villainous professional wrestlers in the 1970s and '80s.
But a phone conversation with my friend Jesse changed my mind. You owe it to the book to seek a little adventure, he said.
He was right. How could I not stop in Sin City for a little fear and loathing, perhaps pay some tribute to one of the pioneers of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson?
I exited at Tropicana and headed for the big black pyramid of the Luxor hotel. I would carpe the day, shake off the torpor of 10,000-plus miles and go big, then go home.
Five years had passed since my last foray to Vegas. I thought back to that trip, my brother-in-law's bachelor party, where I walked in on a friend air-fucking an ironing board to the beat of hip-hop music while eating a cheeseburger with a girl passed out in the bed and another friend eating chicken tenders off the floor.
As the old saying goes, sometimes what happens in Vegas takes a couple of weeks to clear up.
Like so many others, I have a love/hate relationship with Vegas, namely that I love how I feel when arriving and hate every hungover cell as I slink out of town. The gross excess of the place is objectively awesome, but there is something sad about the fact that so many tourists come from all over the world to see concrete and steel replicas of some of the finest cities and monuments in the world (New York, Paris, etc.)
Walking into the Luxor, the sound of losing money immediately rang in my ears. I searched the sad faces of the dealers in the floor casinos, inevitably older and hunched. I eavesdropped on conversations in a dozen languages and watched old women pull slots handles over and over. I turned the corner, following signs for guest registration, and then arrived at a line rivaling Space Mountain/the DMV/airport security on Thanksgiving Eve all put together.
Oh hell no.
Back in the Accord trunk went the suitcase. I toyed with the idea of still making a run for Needles, but opted for the Stratosphere Hotel instead. Located at the end and slightly off of the Strip, the Strat is a mediocre but passable hotel with the sole novelty of having a giant Space Needlelike tower that people pay money to jump off of, yanked to safety by a bungee cord.
I sat at one of the casino bars and downed a fruity cocktail, quickly winning $16 in video blackjack before cashing out my ticket. I looked around, surveying my options.
I was out of gas. Forty-six days and 118 cups of coffee later, in the most debauched city in the world, all I wanted to do was sleep.
And I'm so glad I did. When I stopped at the Mad Greek restaurant in the scorched pyre of Baker, CA on my way to Los Angeles (where the family of the last card in the pack, Al Cowens, awaits), I held my head high, my eyes clear. I had made this drive many times before, but never without the gnawing angst of a post-Vegas shame spiral.
California welcomed me back with sunny skies and exorbitant gas prices. It felt good to be back in La-La Land.
For older blog entries, click here.