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Day five. (95aug30)

The morning finds us rooting around the Montplayer bakery for yummy buns, and a hardware store looking for long tent stakes. I'm attended to by two eight-year olds.

"Can I help you?"
"Yes, aren't you supposed to be in school?"
Oooh, I wish I had said that, that would have shown those entrepreneurial KIDS! The kids didn't have any tent poles, so we ske-daddled out of Momplabers. Three miles outside the town, the "oil" light comes on. Adversity! Hooray! Conflict of man vs. machine! Tense, searing prose! Tension builds comedy! The struggle begins! We have some extra oil in back, because we're manly he-men type action men, men of daring-do, men ready for every circumstance, men who are lucky they're not pouring engine oil in the radiator. Some cowboys herd cattle across the street while we glug. We continue on our way. Sigh.

UTAH: "Mormon Owned and Operated"
11:03am MST

exit sign
Bees are important in Utah. The state highway sign is in the shape of a beehive, just like Michigan's state highway sign is in the shape of a diamond. Bees are busy workers, they've got this serious work ethic, which is why I guess bees are important in Utah. When you think Utah, think bee. Trust me.

We stop in Logan for gas. There's a "Fire!" pinball machine here. One of my personal favorites. The left flipper is broken. I am sad.

Mountain travel in Utah is remote but the roads are nice. We pass a Powers Candy Company truck; the back door of the truck lists their wares.

pool tables, chips, candy, vending machines, popcorn, groceries, cigars, institutional foods, metal detectors.
The last item is for Halloween candy, one would guess. There's a queer crossed-diamond pattern on the road. Does this deter cows as well? Having been deterred by cattle gates for years, can ranchers now just paint white parallel lines down on the road to prevent straying? Will I ever know? When will I be able to sleep nights?

This is aimed at low pressure. Since I put this car wash sign here, this is exactly when we took the car to be washed.

Our first real interstate since Ranchester, Wyoming (remember? The women in the Jeep?): I-84/15. There's a "Ski Utah!" slogan on a license plate. You can't see the "Ski" part, and "Utah!" looks like "Uhh!" I would like a license plate like that. Or "Duh?", I'm not picky. We zoom right by the Smith & Edwards Military Surplus yard. Tons of equipment displayed outside.

"Omigod! Bombs! Lezgo!"
Scott doesn't stop the SUV. I am sad.
The Training Table Restaurant
Crisp salads and such!
-- restaurant sign
Off to the left, "Fun City USA"; it's next to a garbage dump. Then, we spot our 13,000th road kill.
"Isn't that cute the way that raccoon is sleepin' on the side of the road?"
Salt Lake City rears its majestic head. Salt Lake City has been invaded by bees (remember, they're busy workers). Bees here. Bees there. Bees on buildings. Beehives. Bees. Bzz. Brr. Since we're here, a quick trip to the Mormon Temple is in order. We slide through the front gate with a tour group. I look for the choir behind bushes and statues. "Yoo hoo, TaberNAAAAACLE!!" There are tons of statues here, reflecting the history of the Mormons. Here's one of a seagull, which is the state bird. Seagulls apparently saved the Mormon settlers' crops by eating bugs, like seagulls tend to do. For this, the simple, backwater seagull is the Mormon's hero. And what the Mormons like, the state of Utah likes. We blow through the whole thing like nobody's business; organized religion gives me the willies. Just before leaving, we discuss plans to visit the Hansen Planetarium. We use a big statue of the Mormon Book as a makeshift map, ensuring us an eternal afterlife in Mormon Hell.
"Well, you were supposed to go Regular Hell, but the Mormons called up just now, and..."
Scott: "We'll be good! Bad! Whatever! REGULAR HELL! REGULAR HELL!"
Jeff: "Wait. Does Mormon Hell have TV?"
A few people stare at my t-shirt; it's a drawing of the Fisher-Price dog (by Evan Dorkin) with a caption: "WHO IS YOUR GOD?" I don't know what their problem is. We quickly sidle out the side gate, and hop in the SUV to track down the planetarium. A businessman cuts off our departure route.
"Run over him."
"That was a Mormon."
"Oh man...we would have been summarily executed had we popped a Mormon."
I jump inside the Beehive House really quickly just to say that I was there.

I was at the Beehive House.

That felt great! I'm doing stuff like this just for you, you know. One of the major intersections of the city has a giant, evil eagle perched over it. I think eagles eat bugs too, don't they? We couldn't find the Hansen Planetarium, so we continue on to The Great Salt Lake, for some fun swimmin'!

As we approach the The Great Salt Lake, Scott and I both notice a peculiar odor, getting stronger, getting stronger, becoming unbearable.

"What is it?"
"Is it the Great Salt Lake?"
We arrive at a beach resort called "Saltair." It looks like the Taj Mahal, except for the part about it being way smaller and not really looking like it and smelling, although maybe the actual Taj Mahal smells as well. I don't know, I've only seen pictures. What I'd like to convey to you, the reader, during these passages concerning The Great Salt Lake, is that the smell was incredible. I mean, disgusting. I mean, this is the Big Smell, baby - a perfect 1.0 on The Great Salt Lake Index [I digress for a second here to relate the story of a young Jeff and Scott in an undergraduate chemistry laboratory at the University of Michigan.
Scott [handing over vial]: "Smell this."
Jeff [with vigor]: "Duh, okay. SNORRRRRRRRK!!!"

Scott had handed me a vial of Pyridine, which actually ranks at about 492.9 on my imagined SLI scale. I have not forgotten the smell, some six years later. Prolonged exposure to Pyridine gets you testicular atrophy. There are a few puns in there, I agree. Not having learned my lesson, I snorked at a carton of completely stale chocolate milk with the same bizarre ferocity about a week later {107.3 SLI}. I've developed a complex about bad smells from these and other hilarious personal life interactions. Smells? Don't get me started!]. So while you're reading this, wave rotting fish under your nose or something to approximate. Smell VR!

The official word I got from a Mormon ex-co-worker who has no idea I'm writing this article, especially the Mormonish parts, was that Saltair used to be a very popular resort, there was a flood (or maybe it was a drought. Hey, once again, I'm not getting paid for this, just some horrible disaster, okay?) that destroyed it, and now someone has been trying to build it back up to its former greatness for a large number of years. With precious little success.

I try to ignore the smell (impossible), frolicking toward The Great Salt Lake with my swimtrunks and towel. This is a very comical image, I assure you. Walking through Saltair, there are ten or so people watching a video about the area; I should have checked it out, but I just wanted to get this over with. As I got closer to The Great Salt Lake, other people were discussing this very same smell. I mean, what ELSE could you talk about?

Tourist: "It's not so bad once you're in."
Then, I spotted the flies. Tons of flies, buzzing about the "beach." That's it. I'm done. I snapped, and just made a beeline (get it? Bee?) for the SUV. I notice a sign on the building: "In accordance with the Utah Clean Air Indoor Act - no smoking." Hey, what about Clean Air OUTDOORS, you smelly, freaky beach. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Scott rolls out the SUV, and I plug my nose with my towel.

I don't talk for an hour. Scott senses something wrong.

"I know that wigged you out, you got quiet for a long time..."
"The...smell...buh buh...buh buh..."
As proper air returns to our cabin, I begin to exhibit normal vital signs.
It's not a choice
It is a child
-- Covenant Transport semi-truck sign
A quick stop at a Utah Arby's, reveals, inexplicably, nothing to write about, except for the cashier's name. "Shilo." Did you know that in Utah, people are named "Shilo"? This means something. Back on the road, we encounter a forty-mile stretch of straight road through the desert; the Newfoundland Evaporation Basin to our left (South), and nothing to our right (North). Then, in the middle of this emptiness, I spot one of the stupidest things I've seen in my entire life, and I'm sure you know I've seen a lot of stupid stuff.
This is pretty stupid.
I am not sure how to describe this thing. Let's say it's 25, maybe 30 feet tall. A big yellow post. With spheres hanging from it, big, BIG spheres. Painted screwball colors. One sphere is lying on the ground, cracked into three pieces. And here is the most amazing thing. The stupidest thing that happened while looking at the stupidest thing. WE DIDN'T STOP. I don't know what happened. Photos of this stupid thing reveal a small rectangular indentation in its base. THE EXPLANATION. Duh. Now, we may never know what the Stupidest Thing In The Whole World is trying to represent in its sad, stupid way. It's the desert, we could have pulled up NEXT to the damn thing, the whole area is one big exit. There are no excuses. I blame myself. Wait, I've got it. It's a World's Fair icon! Better than that "Whatzit" piece of crap.
Directions to The Stupidest Thing In The World: I-80 mile marker 24, 24 miles East of the Utah/Nevada border. Look for stupid thing. Tell me what it is, because I sure don't know.
Mere miles from The Stupid Thing, the Bonneville Salt Flats (home of the Bonneville Speedway) beckon to us. There's a large plaque explaining the procedure used to time land-speed runs, wisely avoiding naming the "current" champion; the plaque was installed in 1972. The current world land-speed record is an amazing 37,848,960 miles per hour, set in 1989 by disinterested teens cruising Gratiot. Scott, undeterred by the unattainable, attempts the unthinkable.

Scott Berk is going to break the world land-speed record: ON FOOT!

He places his trusty canteen down on the crackly salt surface. Gauges the wind. There is none.

"Good luck."
"Thanks. Here's the camera."
I study his face; determination, raw courage. No fear ("No Fear" is the registered trademark of No Fear Inc., a clothing and sports marketing company founded in 1990 with 1994 sales of an estimated $150 million, not bad for two words; and here you thought it was some kind of knee-jerk layman philosophy. You schmuck. It's commerce. You want in? Start your own company, call it "Big Fear" and come out with a book called "Big Fear: Don't Let Your Dreams Stand A Chance Against The Fleet Of Steamrollers That Are Your Petty Fears." This is my idea, and I have a million of them, but ideas mean squat, you need follow-through, you need persistence and perspiration. What was it that Thomas Edison said? "First, I hook this dog on the left up to Alternating Current..."). Scott finds his mark.

Drivers, green light to go!

Ready. Steady. Go.


You of course know the rest of the story. It's there, in the record books. The story of a man's desire to be number one in something, just once. We all want that. We want to make a mark, to know that the time that we were here on planet earth means something to someone else. Or to ourselves, our loved ones, our pets. Or maybe you're just showing off for someone you have a crush on, that receptionist at the office that pretends like you don't even exist, to the point where she tries to walk through you when you're standing in the doorway. Sure, some of us want to make the world's largest ball of cat guts, others want to jump the highest, the farthest, be the first to conquer Mount Everest WITHOUT oxygen or the moon WITH oxygen or vice-versa or whatever. What makes humankind want to do these things? I think it's the PR, those damn paparazzi. Then what? You did it. You were the first. There will be others, unless it's something REALLY monuMENTALLY stupid like going over the Niagra Falls on a Jet-ski with a parachute strapped to your back to call attention to the homeless. The authorities will find your inert body 150 feet under the water, but you were the first, pal. Congrats. What now? You going to Disneyland? I think the whole homeless thing was clever subterfuge, but there is no WAY I want to even get in that guy's mind [for those of you just joining us, that whole Jet-ski thing really did happen, earlier this year]. I remember when I was eight years old, in Niagra Falls on business, and I visited the Ripley's Believe it Or Not! Museum. They had all the major forms of Niagra Falls transportation represented there, from the first barrel to Nathan Boya's "Plunge-O-Sphere." Nathan was 30 years old when he Plunge-O-Sphered down the falls, in 1961. I was in the museum in 1975, thinking that this was the most insane thing in the world to do; twenty years later, I'm still at a loss. I mean, you wouldn't be the FIRST one, except for some minor little technical detail, like "the first person over the falls with a jet-ski," "the first Eskimo over the falls wearing the new Gabriela Sabatini eponymous perfume," etc, etc. Besides, a seven-year-old boy accidentally went over the falls with only a life jacket in 1960 and survived the trip down. Why would anyone else try to go down after him? He kicked the collective ass of almost 100 years of barrel-riding fruitcakes. The hard edges have already been defined by pioneering idiots, and modern-day nutcases are lining up to define the soft, squishy center.

"You didn't even come close. I'm sorry, sir."
"Oh well. Did you get a picture?"
"Yup. Two of 'em."
Scott's dreams squashed flat, we wander over to an observation deck (uhhh, for a desert? How...handy) at the edge of the salt flats. With graffiti. I have a job to do.
Waive -n- Sydney Hall

Toby Trav
Don't drink

Trust in the Lord
Preacher Tom
April 29 1995

Hogan's Heroes
On tour

There are some people here in a VW bus. This is a very lived-in VW bus. One of them is wearing jester shoes of a sort.
Scott: "They're going to Burning Man."
Jeff: "If they're not, maybe we better tell them."
During the ride to the border of Utah, we notice bottles sticking out from the ground. People jam several of them into the desert sand, spelling out phrases, mostly names. Probably of people. It's insight like this that makes me glad I went to college.

NEVADA: "Please have money ready"
5:10pm CST->4:10pm PST

Entering Nevada, we encounter road babes. I don't know what happened then, the only thing my notes read is "road babes." So I'm guessing that sex was not involved. Right under that, I wrote "Brand inspection required on all livestock entering Nevada." This juxtaposition scares me.

Bumper Snickers: "Show me your hooters"
There are massive mountain ranges in the distance; it's flat everywhere else, like we're in a big crater or something. A crater filled with casinos. After passing the first ten, the design theme for casino signs can only be referred to as "Disgusting Neon Aztec." The hills around us have big sluices in them, they look like sculpted pudding. Mmmmm, pudding. No, wait. Like hills of dark-brown sand. Words...they are my art.
Bumper Snickers: "Tailgate me and I'll flip a booger on your windshield"

"Does that say 'burger'?"
"Flip a burger on our windshield?"
[two minutes later, as we tailgate the truck to read the tiny type]
"Ohhhh! Now I remember that damn bumper sticker. I like burger better."

Here's a nice little town, Elko. Elko has a mall, and a Pizza Barn. I have been informed by a resident of Tempe, Arizona (home of the world's largest ball of cat guts) that Elko is a "good place for slots. Very liberal." Never having gambled, I was confused by this sentence, and filed it away for later inspection. We didn't play any slots in Elko. I look back on this now as a happier, carefree, innocent time.
Win a Ford Exploder
for only fifty cents!
-- Red Lion casino sign
The sun is huge. Back into the mountains. Here's another nice tunnel. Suddenly, swarms of floating things engulf the SUV.
"Is that pollen...or...BUGS!"
Ewwwww, bugs. The sun is setting quickly; our plan to visit a map-marked ghost town may not be feasible. Exit 261 as the sun disappears; there's still a bit of indirect light. The speed limit drops, 55, 44, 35 for a small town (these are signs every fifty feet, mind you), then 45, 55. There's a land-for-sale sign, 20 acres for $500 an acre. The way I remember how big an acre is, I think about something totally unrelated, because I just don't care. I mean, really, an acre. Acreage. Am I ever going to buy an acre of something? I am 28, and I don't care how big an acre is. Nyeah, nyeah, acre. Okay, I'm done. An acre is 43,560 square feet, not to be confused with Acre, a federal territory of Brazil, which occupies 59,139 square miles. The acre is exactly 1/640th of a square mile; this means that Acre is 37,848,960 acres. I think (no, no, trust me, I have a minor in math. As a matter of fact, I liked two of the classes so much I took them each twice). I'm doing this for you - I gave up caring a long time ago. So, applying this newfound knowledge to our current problem, I calculate that you could spend up to $10,000 for one of the most desolate tracts of land in America. This is what math is good for. Try some math...today.

Our ghost town ("Gold Acres"), thirty miles from the I-80 exit, is a total letdown. There are no ghost buildings here. No ghost structures of any sort. There's a rusting ghost car from the ghost 1950's. It's been shot up with ghost bullets. It has an ancient, weather-beaten ghost copy of USA Ghost Today from 1992 in it. There are ghost cow teeth in the trunk (failed cow carjacking?). Ghost cow skull in road. A ghost beetle ambles over a smashed ghost porcelain telephone insulator. Scott and I are both glad we didn't delay this side ghost trip for tomorrow. We discovered later that we had each independently looked over at the SUV and thought, "if that thing doesn't start, we're totally fucked." No problem, vroom vroom. We flee the "ghost" "town" and get back on I-80.

Livestock must be
restrained at all times
-- rest area sign
Battle Mountain is a seedy town halfway between Elko and our motel destination for the night, Winnemucca (Scott planned all of this out ahead of time; I just brought tasty snax and hoped for the best). Everything here also features slots. "Liquor slots pizza deli." There's a van here, owned by someone called "The Rhinestone Cowboy." He's apparently running for governor, and probably tracking down some voters in the casino it's parked in front of.
Scott: "I'm glad we didn't stay here for the night...it was between this and Winnemucca."
Jeff (proferring bag): "Tasty snack?"
The radio blares an ad (1-800-95IMAGE) for cosmetic surgery, liposuction, and something that makes our skin crawl: "permanent make-up," as if make-up by itself isn't bad enough. We ended up eating at Subway. I think this was one of those quick reflex things; find some place "safe" and "familiar," scarf down some food and get the heck out of there.

Winnemucca was much nicer. We checked into the Val-U Inn, a SUP-R-MOD-urn motel, and prepared ourselves for the glorious exciting life depicted in "Vega$!" episodes. Get ready for...Casino Hoppin' with Scott and Jeff!

I drove up to "Parker's Model T Casino," and pulled up next to the door, with The Jamms "All You Need Is Love" blasting from the stereo. We were about to commit our first CASINO NEWBIE VIOLATION.

Jeff: "Check to see if it's open."
Scott: "You got it."
Casinos are open 24 hours a day. Every day. Forever.

Why would they close? The SUV is parked, and we enter. So this is a casino. It's not as gaudy as I thought it would be. It's noisy, however; clanging bells, and whatnot, lots of coins hitting metal pans. Very metal noise pollution. I kick myself for the thirtieth time this trip for not bringing a tape recorder. The slot machines are like a typographic explosion! I am mesmerized. The "Nevada Nickels" nickel slot machines are the most aesthetically pleasing, so Scott and I pull up chairs.

We're all winners here. Except for the vast majority of losers.
The machine I'm on has a super-duper jackpot payout of $256,084. There are two variations of the Nevada Nickels slot machines; single-line payout, and triple-line payout. Triple-line payout allows you to put in three coins, locking in not only the predominant scoring line, but the lines above and below it. I've heard people argue vehemently for each type of machine. I prefer the triple-line because there's more combinations, I just like seeing more combinations. Idon't know that there's any mathematical basis behind my choice (although I did take MTH 364, Statistics, my last and only class that semester, four days a week at Western, eight mother-scratching AM, while I lived in a sorority house with thirteen women. But that's another story). I score a big win on nickel slots almost immediately; two dollars in, five dollars out.
Jeff: "Okay, we're out of here. That's the first one."
Scott: "The FIRST one?"
Back in the SUV for a quick drive to the Red Lion Casino, looking grubby with our t-shirts, stupid-ass backward baseball hats (no, I don't get it either, it just seems appropriate), and shorts. We immediately sit at a pair of slot machines called Ultra 2000 or something like that. I like things named "Something 2000" because it's supposed to evoke feelings of futuristic space-age machines, when, in fact, it's only five years away. Check your calendars!
Waitress: "Cocktails?"
[I remain glued to my machine. Nickel, pull, rats.]
Scott: "No thanks."
[Two minutes later...]
Man (to Scott): "Can I help you?"
[nickel, pull]
Scott: "No thanks."
Man (pointing at flashing button, and flashing light atop machine): "You must have pressed the service button by accident."
[I pull lever furiously, ignoring all outside activity. Nickel, pull, rats.]
Scott: "Sorry!"
[Two minutes later...]
Another Waitress: "Can I see some ID?"
[Scott hands over ID]
Another Waitress: "Right, 1967. And you?"
[I hand over ID while playing...nickel nickel pull rats.]
Another Waitress: "1967 again. Where'd you get the fake IDs?"
[I like to hear things like this. Soon I will not.]
Scott: "Nope, that's us..."
[Nickel nickel nickel pull rats. nickel, pull, rats. This machine sucks.]
The Another Waitress engages Scott in a bizarre short conversation on the tragedy of aging while I look in vain for a "bathroom" button on my slot machine. This casino is the exact opposite of Model T's, where they left us alone to win in peace. I suppose gambling would be a lot more fun if I actually drank, but Scott starts noticing small signs that I'm getting hooked...like quickly extracting all the nickels from the Exploder's change holder while madly cackling to myself. We approach Winners Casino with what remains of our bounty, a piddly 75 cents.
Don't play all your winnings, dope.
There are money machines inside each of the casinos. Scary. I think we were in the Winners Casino for maybe five minutes, exiting losers. During our two hour reign of terror at the three casinos, we developed a special brand of CASINO TALK.
"My left hand will change my luck...for good!"
"I think I've found a way to BEAT this machine..." (breathy/slimy)
"This casino is SPENT." (just before running out into the night, toward casino n+1)
Neal's $2 of seed money goes quickly by the wayside. It was like a miniature model Savings & Loan thing, except for the part about me knowing exactly where the money went this time. Did anyone ever figure out where the S&L money went? I say, print some more. Job-shop it to Syria, if we have to.

We tally up our losses. This is serious business.

down $2.35
Wiped out in Winnemucca. We may have to cancel the trip. I have a tip for casinos: wash the money. The bottoms of the special money cups casinos provide turn black in an amazingly short period of time. As does your "money hand." Yuck. Dirty money.

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