No Intro, no chaser. Neat. Some liquors are too fine to be cut with ice, water, or other fillers. Like that, it is...
Gears and Closing in Las Vegas, Part one.
It seems somehow fitting, relevant, and somewhat satisfying that the 50th volume of this vituperative collection of barely coherent rantings comes on the heels of one of the most fucked up benders that I've ever been on. It seems, my friends that last weekend marked the festival of drunkeness that is an annual tradition of that most august of organizations that was known, until recently, as the Southern California Association of Marine Drunkards (SCAM-D). For those of you who have recently tuned into this freakshow, there's about 10-20 of us who are all loosely affiliated with either the Marine Corps, the U.S. Military, St. Michael of Ann Arbor, or being able to stay awake, despite downing a fifth of decent gin, for 96 consecutive hours. (In many cases, all four affiliations apply. Void in Utah.) It seems that this intrepid body invades a different city every year, in the late summer, to meet, eat a decent meal, carouse for a couple of days, and take nourishment from a bottle until it's time to sober up for the flight home. Over the past several years, we have descended upon Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago, our Nation's Capitol, some town in Canada, and new york city (we skipped a year, due to the fact that most of us were deployed in 2004). Due only in part to my howling objections that this had become an east coast-centric gathering, my bretheren agreed this year to meet again in the esteemed city of Las Vegas. I was particularly looking forward to this because I could drive to that locale, thus saving untold hundreds of dollars in air-fare, so that I could drink and gamble on the difference.
And so I threw a bag in my truck on Friday morning, stopped by the liquor store for hotel-room pre-flight booze and purchased a fifth of Dalmore, a fifth of Basil Hayden's, and a carton of cigarettes, and departed Twentynine Palms. A cool and clear morning it was. Imagine my satisfaction as I drove down Amboy Road and looked to my left to watch my Coyotes from 20 km away, as they controlled India 3/8's running of Range 400, while I absconded to Sin City for what would prove to be a Thompson-esque bender.
The world was my oyster. My truck handled nimbly. The playlist on my MP3 player...perfect. I howled across the desert, looking forward to watching Eric get 86'd from the hotel pool (this happened...before 1630 on Friday), looking forward to arguing with St. Michael about...something, looking forward to not drawing a sober breath from my arrival until sometime Sunday afternoon (which would roughly align with checkout time).
I made Amboy in record time. I then hooked a left on Kelso Road and began nimbly making my way towards I-40. Laughing all the way. I started uphill after going under the 40, and got most of the way uphill going 65 m.p.h. when it happened. With no discernable warning, my tachometer went into the red, and I lost all power to my drive-train. Desperate, I downshifted into 4th gear and clawed back into cruising speed. Once there, I attempted to again shift into 5th...
Okay. Good News: we're still moving forward. Bad News: we've lost 5th gear.
I uttered a string of curse words that should have been recorded for their cunning, profanity, and duration.
About the time I said "fuck" for the last time, I neared the railroad station that has been arbitrarily set at the hamlet of Kelso, California. All that is entailed here for the skillful driver is a downshift into 3rd for a small boost around a gentle bend which grants one access to a road that parallels the railroad tracks all the way to another shit-splat called Cima, California--thirty or so miles distant. I'm praying for another gear, thinking "Just give me 2nd and 4th, and I can drive to Greenland, by God." Here comes the turn...
...let it out...
Okay. Let's try 2nd...
So, to sum up: no 2nd gear, no 3rd gear, no 5th gear. Probably, no 1st gear (but I won't know until I stop, so let's not attempt that just now).
But we're still moving forward. Which is good, given the alternative, which entailed being stuck with a vehicle in the middle of the largest desert in the United States. Grateful for what I had, I continued to push, by God. Now, one would say, "how the hell did you propose to get there in 4th gear?" Well, I'll tell ya. I knew that, by that point, I had to worry about three intersections to safely get myself to sanctuary: the Y-intersection at Cima, California; the on-ramp onto I-15; and the off-ramp onto Flamingo Blvd in Vegas. After that, I figgered, I could drop into a parking lot, call a tow to a garage, and fix whatever needed to be fixed. The fact that I did not have to pay air-fare, and thus "save money to drink and gamble", and the irony that I now WISHED that I could have flown into Vegas is not fucking lost on me, people...
So I get to Cima. Imagine, for those of you who have not driven this route, a Y-intersection that is less than fifty meters after a railroad trestle. Now imagine a desperate man in a truck, who, like Keanu Reeves in Speed, cannot slow down past a certain speed and retain forward movement. Now imagine that same man slowing to 30 m.p.h. in front of the 15-degree embankment at the railroad trestle at Cima, before letting out the clutch in 4th and actually catching air, while waiting to land, and clutch, in order to make the Y that would take that man to the interstate...
I caught the Y at Cima at a tame 30, gently let out the clutch, cut the corner through the incoming lane, and found myself facing the 15 with enough torque to make it back to cruising speed...
Wow. Two more intersections.
So I'm cruising up whatever-the-fuck-they-call-that Road between Cima and the 15. Hares and slow moving tumbleweeds avoiding the right of way like the plague. I ain't stopping, and I ain't slowin' down. I come upon a smart looking sedan about the time the National Park ends and reality begins.
What the fuck?
This domesticated idiot almost came to a stop in front of a cattle guard.
I heel over into the left lane, identifying no oncoming traffic in the other lane (thank God), blaring my horn, and brandishing the second finger on my right hand to the affected dipshit who seemed momentarily confused by the parallel metal bars crossing the road. The fact that this guy figured that a cattle guard comprised a counter-mobility obstacle to the right of way, on a state fucking highway, has been burned into my memory. I'll bet that asshole uses his elbow to hit the paper-towel dispenser in public bathrooms. Shithead.
Anywho, I make it to Interstate 15, praying that no similar citified morons are in evidence, and find to my delight that the intersection is easily transversed at 30 m.p.h. After taking the easy right hand turn off of Cima Road, I hit the 15 at 60 m.p.h. Two down, one to go. And it is a lonnnnnnnnnnnng way to the next one.
Any mortal that has driven the route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas knows that the speed limit is 70, that 75 is optimal, and that 90 is optional. So, there I was, in 4th, going 60-65 m.p.h, and pulling 2500 r.p.m. on the tach without an appreciable increase in engine temperature. And getting passed like the world was standing still. It. Took. Forever.
Finally, I hit the Vegas city limits. I'm churning through the possibilities. I called Eric and gave him a warning order that, once I stopped, I'd need a ride and a tow. He said that he'd be waiting. Okay. That's solved, at least I'll have some ability to get around once I hit the city limits...and I keep pushing.
Now at this point, what I'm looking for is an off-ramp with parking lot on a right hand turn, before a traffic-light. People, that animal does not exist on the southern end of Las Vegas. Everything is an incline to get off the interstate, with a light on the intersection. So I drive on...
...all the way to the street that my hotel is on: Flamingo Blvd. I take the exit, relying on skill and cunning to make the right off the interstate. Magically, as I come to the intersection, I get a green light! Booyah!
Okay. So here I am on the Strip. Can't stop until I find a parking lot, or my hotel. I'm at the Westin, which is about five blocks away from the interstate, past Las Vegas Blvd. It is time for maneuver warfare/Sun Tzu if I've ever seen it. I became water flowing downhill. Looking down Flamingo (the left two lanes) I see traffic backed up from three blocks away. However, Las Vegas Blvd has access at that point in the two right lanes, and that light is green...
...I'm so there.
So I'm heading away from my destination (which sat at the corner of Flamingo and Koval), with an interstate on my right, and can't stop. This means that I have to find either a parking lot on my right, or a green left arrow at any intersection. I stayed in the middle lane to be better suited to make a move in either eventuality. A green arrow popped in my face at Harmon. I took it. Another magically popped up at Koval. Booyah. So I'm going north on Koval, in the middle lane looking for parking lots and left arrows. BOOM. Just before Koval and Flamingo, I see the arrow turn green.
Problem: there's a cab on my port quarter, and he didn't look like he wanted to let me in. I'm at 25 m.p.h. and de-accelerating, so I popped on the blinker, started waving out the open driver's side window and singing "My Baby LEFT Me"... and whipped into the turning lane with about three inches' grace on either side (between me, the cab, and the car slowing down in front of me). I'm at 15 m.p.h. now, so I wind it up to about 4k and let out the clutch. The clutch burned, but quickly shook it off, and I skidded through the intersection under a red light, "hic-hic-hic"ing my rear end as I did. The entrance to the Westin parking lot was a bare 150 feet from that intersection, so I stood on the brakes, heeled a right, sailed to the back row of parking (mercifully empty), and slid into a slot in open-parking.
My soul cried out as my faithful truck shuddered to its final halt, like Elwood Blues' car did in the last scene of the Blues Brothers as they arrived at the Cook County Assessor's office. I took a moment to carress the dashboard and the gearshift, 'ere I exited her familiar confines...
Pulled luggage, ball caps, and whiskey bottles. Called Eric. "Hey Man. By some fuckin' miracle, I made it here without stopping," I told him.
"Really?" he said. "I'll be damned," He added. "Me and Clubber'll be up at the pool."
I traipsed into the Westin, then. Found the Concierge. Walked up, and with a straight face, said: "Ma'am, I need the number for someone who can fix my transmission."
I could have kissed this young lady when she did not blink, but simply asked me: "Do you have a place in mind, or are you just looking for something close?" Vegas is feral, by God.
So, that information having been obtained, I found my friends. Eric and Clubber were still preparing for their jaunt to the hotel pool. I reckon they had a better part of a case of assorted beer iced in a plastic bag-within a laundry bag. We all shook hands, and I started making calls to find a guy to tow/fix my truck, while they sailed off to the pool. After talking to a transmission shop, I called the tow company that serviced his garage, gave an address, and worked out a link up plan.
Forty-five minutes later, Brad Pitt's character in True Romance drove a tow truck into the Westin Hotel parking lot in Las Vegas, Nevada. He said that he dug the fact that I was a Marine from 29, and would put a good word in for me with Raymond, the Portuguese mechanic who was to be in charge of the repairs. I wished him a good weekend, and repaired to the tenth floor to crack that bottle of Basil Hayden's and see how much I could knock out of the neck of that thing before the rest of the heathens arrived...
I think I was on my third sip when Eric showed back up. Yup, 86'd outta the pool. No shit. In less than an hour, he got a towel, sat down, and cracked a beer before the towel collector-guy (AKA: "the Westin Cabana Boy") came up and discovered that Eric and Clubber had smuggled in the better part of a liquor store. "You can't have all that in here!", said Cabana Boy. "I shoulda realized they would be that sensitive, seein' as how they have a bar up there," said Eric after he was ejected.
All going according to plan so far, by God.
Eric's been 86'd before sundown.
Mike Griffin and Mike Cochran aren't even there yet.
I repaired to the bar on the casino floor, due to the fact that we've booked in the only smoke-free hotel in Nevada. (This is a trend, please stand by.) I walked up with a bourbon in my hand that was clearly in a glass that was of a style unique to the rooms. The bartender gave me the stink-eye as he asked me if he could get me an eight-dollar drink. I respectfully declined. He frowned at my glass. I looked him in the eye and said, as I put two dollars on the bar, "Look pal, you won't let me smoke anywhere else in this place. This is less of a bar than it is a designated smoking area. Thanks for your time." He winked knowingly and left me to my own devices.
Thus began something of a rotation that afternoon, as we waited for the rest of the crew to arrive. Buy a three dollar beer, finish it, then excuse myself, hit the elevator, go to the room and fill a glass, hit the ice machine for a handfull of cubes on my way to the elevator, and go back and watch the Cubs' game. I did two complete cycles of this before Mike Griffin and Mike Cochran arrived. We all linked up with Craig Wilson, who'd been there waiting since March sometime, and set out for a really good Italian spot that I can't remember the name of, except they do a great sausage/ziti combo and they're on Flamingo across from Bally's, next to a liquor store that is protected by skinheads.
Following the meal, we gambled at a place called Bill's across from Bally's, and eventually at a dive called "Ellis Island" which is on Koval next to where I almost mauled the taxi driver. I played decent blackjack, despite the fact that Clubber insisted on hitting sixes on the dealer's five, until he gave up and succumbed to sleep. I remained at Ellis for another hour, found the bar back at the Westin, and watched the sun rise.
Slept four hours, hit Holy Bloody Mary, and started it up again...
Day one, people. Not bad. Stranded, in Vegas, with a purpose...
Immundus saecula saeculorum,