Some Fear, No Loathing
DJ HazardDo you know the way to San Jose? Maybe I do and maybe I don’t, but I do know that the only sane way between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is Interstate 15.
Dwight Eisenhower is credited as the father of the Interstate Highway System. From what I hear, around 1919 he was part of a convoy of military vehicles that was traveling from Washington, D.C., to the Presidio in San Francisco.
At one point he must have said, “This sucks, there ought to be a highway. I’m gonna marry Mamie, become President and build me a highway or two!”
So, next time you see those Army trucks rolling along the Interstate, say, “I like Ike!”
FAQ: Why do Army trucks drive with their headlights on in the daytime? Because they’re camouflaged and non-reflective, theoretically making them a hazard to other drivers.
Good ol’ Ike must have delegated the design of I-15 to either Rod Serling or Federico Fellini. On route to the City of Angels, you’ll encounter the World’s Biggest Thermometer, the Gateway to Death Valley and uphill climbs so steep that roadside signs insanely advise you to shut off your air conditioner lest you overheat your engine. All that’s missing are the scarecrows from The Planet of the Apes.
Throughout the Southwest, and especially on I-15, you’ll come across some of the most deliciously eerie sights I’ve ever encountered- abandoned gas stations.
Most are sun-bleached and bare-boned carcasses but take the time to check one out. These are the Ghost Towns of our times. The stories they must hold. Many were eyewitnesses to the dust bowl struggles of the Depression. All were stopping points in the pilgrimage to Canaan and, like many a pilgrim, they fell also through the cracks.
How many dreams passed beneath those collapsing canopies? Take the time to look upon these oases of the internal combustion wagon train. Patchwork quilts of Coke signs and auto part pin-up girls, brandishing the compelling and cryptic ‘Last Chance’. They were the prey of modern desperadoes, the foot soldiers of gas wars and the graveyards for many a horseless carriage. So, give ‘em a nod, cowboy. The dinosaurs are watching us from heaven.
For three years, from Spring 1995 to Spring 1998, I drove around North America on a non-stop road trip. I didn’t officially live anywhere. I registered my car with my folks and had a phone line installed in their basement. I also got an 800 number piggy backed onto the phone line (they were still available back then) so that I could check my messages from any pay phone.
When I wasn’t working, and therefore being put up in a hotel, I lived in my car. I camped out a lot when the weather permitted. I’ve been to Las Vegas umpteenth times since and I’m actually going to be back there next month. I’ll have a report for you from there.
But, in the meantime, I wanted to share my notes from the first time I rolled into Sin City:
At Kingman, Arizona, you make a forty-five degree right turn, cross over the Andy Devine Highway and you will eventually become a flea on the serpentine camelback spine that is the Hoover Dam. You don’t come across many things in the Southwest but, when you do, they’re huge. It must be some Law of Spatial Conservation.
My only previous experience with casinos had been a couple of junkets to Paradise Island in the Grand Bahamas. If Paradise Island was a poodle-sized dog biscuit, Vegas was a twenty-four hour buffet for the Hounds of the Baskervilles.
I crashed with some friends, Soobie Doobie and DeMoulas. Soobie was the former lead singer of the Swinging Erudites. DeMoulas was the former model sprawled over the Lincoln-Mercury sign in the ‘Sign of the Cat’ commercials. They had been living in Hollywood, but the ’94 quake freaked them out and they had pulled back to future beach front property.
It was good to have a friendly base of operations from which to explore. I sensed that Lady Luckville could quickly turn uglier than praying mantis on her honeymoon. Fortunately, the only card game I ever learned to play was Gin and I get can get as many kicks as the next guy from nickel slots. Still, gambling fever was all around me and it was always a thin layer from my bloodstream.
I learned a line dance at Sam’s Town and I sang Wichita Lineman at a karaoke bar. All Las Vegas tourist magazines have tons of coupons in them and a half-hour with a scissors will arm you with a day of frolic. A free pull at a slot machine here, a free coffee mug there, it’s a cheap way to spend some time and you return home with an armload of kitsch to bestow upon your hosts. They’ll graciously accept them and then open the cupboard to reveal ten times as many trinkets. After all, they live there. I never got to see the guys with the white tigers or Melinda, the first lady of magic, but I had one more mission in mind. I wanted to observe an all-nighter in a casino. I chose the Excalibur as my arena, dug in and held my ground. It was a bunch of old Black ladies and myself entrenched around a nickel slot carousel. We yacked all night as I played and people-watched. Attendants are few and far between in the wee hours, so we kept making change for each other.
Just before dawn, my eyes were suddenly drawn down the midway. Long stemmed legs rose into an impeccably tailored, pinstripe business suit. Tastefully revealed cleavage was the launching pad for perfect neck, jawline and cheekbones. An entourage of auburn hair flanked piercing green eyes. Her Italian leather handbag swung in counterpoint as she strode towards the exit.
For a brief moment our eyes met and, in that nanosecond, the message came across loud and clear.
“You can’t even afford to look at me.”
There was no animosity, no hatred, just cool, cool fact. Mission accomplished. I had searched for, and found, the specter of the Las Vegas night.