Lincoln City, OR – afternoon

Finally back in Newport.  Or, more precisely, just north of Newport, still on the coast, in Lincoln City.  Since the trip home is looming on the horizon, I’ve been looking ahead to the best route back east.  “Best” meaning the fewest, easiest hills (for Roberta Verona) and no damn deserts (an imperative of my own)

I am _so_ happy to be back here.  When I left Portland (from a tire store–and “don’t ask, don’t tell” is my new policy on this kind of topic), a sign told me it was one o’clock and ninety-five degrees.  When I got into town here, a similar sign gave me the far preferable reading of three o’clock and sixty-three degrees.  I am sitting in a fresh seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean, where I was just served a crab cocktail with a scoop of Dungeness Crab as big as a softball.  And while the price is eye-opening, it’s not even as much as I paid for less than half this amount of not as fresh crab earlier this week in Portland.  And this cocktail sauce shows all the signs of being made in-house.  Oh, yeah, B.B. King is on the restaurant sound system.

And this was just some place I stopped because I was hungry and a sign said “fresh seafood”.  I haven’t found a place I didn’t like here, yet.

If I overhear someone say they’re looking for a computer guy or a guitar player (or, hell, even a bartender, at this point), Susie and Bill are going to need a plane to get their RV back…

Portland was okay, but to be honest, I was actually expecting a bit more from it.  It seems that once cities grow past a certain size, they’re pretty much all the same.  The zoo was pretty cool, and Suzy knew about a fantastic book store called Powell’s downtown.  I imagine that there are other really cool places scattered about, but for someone just in town for a few days, who doesn’t know anyone and who is not looking for anything in particular, trying to find them proved pretty futile

I’m still not sure if I’m going up to Seattle and Vancouver, which I never realized was just across the border.  For some reason, I always pictured it being more northwest than it is.  Part of me thinks Vancouver in particular would be awesome, but I’m concerned that it’s the same part of me that felt exactly that way about Portland.  Without knowing what in particular to do, I’m left driving randomly in a city I don’t know at all.  Not that that’s such a bad way to spend a day, but the reality of what I’m going to do with myself and how I’m paying for stuff once I get home has started to set in.  So I’m beginning to do mental math on possible stops for the trip home.  Newport made it (and when I got here, I extended my campground reservation an extra two nights.  Nyaah), Vancouver (and Seattle, which is on the way there) has not yet proven itself in my mind.  We’ll see.

I apparently will have ‘net access from here, but it’s back to the once or twice a day in the campground office.  I did get spoiled by the fantastic campground in Portland where I had phone lines in the RV.  It didn’t show up with extra updates (there wasn’t a lot to say, really, I spent the better part of two Portland days in the RV sick), but I did get caught up on the Dolphins’ preseason thanks to Curt Fennel’s great Dolphin site.  I have a feeling Peyton Manning is in for a rude welcome to the NFL Sunday…

Anyway, this late lunch is about over.  Too bad I just can’t eat any more, is was wonderful.  Pier 101 Seafood in Lincoln City.  Go there.

Portland, OR – morning

Well, it’s now pretty clear that I write updates as a substitute for human interaction.  One tiny update in the last week, but Suzy gets on the plane for home last night and here I am at breakfast, writing away.  This, coupled with the fact I’ve already mentioned in an update that I tend to write songs only after I’ve broken up with someone (I’ve written a few on this trip, but again, far away from people) make me wonder if I’ll only be able to pursue a creative career by cloistering myself far from human contact.  I’ll have to work on that issue.

Back to a couple things you all missed while I wasn’t writing.  After the extra day in Reno waiting for RV repair, Suzy and I hit the road for Crater Lake.  It was the most spectacular thing I’ve seen so far.  Painted Desert was awesome, but it was kinda one of those things you have to have a predilection for to really appreciate.  I can’t imagine anyone not having their breath taken away by Crater Lake.  Particularly the way you approach it from the south.  As the name implies, it’s a lake in a big crater that used to be the top of a volcano (actually, “crater” is not the correct geological term, but at this point, who cares?).  So you spend quite a bit of time serpentining up the mountain through some beautiful scenery, but with no indication of what’s ahead.  All of a sudden, you crest the rim, and there it is, blam, all at once.  The bluest thing you’ve ever seen.  I really hope my pictures came out (I shot more than three rolls of film), I had to learn something new about my camera to take many of them (the autofocus couldn’t “see” the water at all, and refused to open the shutter if the lake itself was in the center of the picture.  So in my brilliance I figured out how to focus all by my manual self).

The only thing left to say is that you really should go see it yourself.

After Crater Lake we went to Newport, where I wrote the brief Rogue Brewery update.  We came in on SR 20, because the map showed that it was about the most direct route west from where we were (if you’re playing our home game, we went north from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake, continued north to Bend, then all the way to the coast on 20).  Unfortunately, maps have this nasty two-dimensional limitation.  If I’d seen how much up-and-down ground we had to cover on 20, I would have gone any other way.

In any RV, hills are a bitch, both up and down.  Going up, you slow way, way down.  And with Roberta Verona, there comes a point in the day (after about two hours of driving) where “slow” becomes “stop” on hills.  We spent about an hour and a half in an alledged Oregon State Park that looked suspiciously like a Rest Area waiting for Roberta to decide that “up” was a legitimate directional choice again.  And down, you’re simply completely out of control.  One of the things that got fixed in Reno was the brakes, and if you’ve ever gotten new brakes, you know they can smell and squeal, just because they’re new.  Well, when you’re rocketing down the side of a mountain in an RV and you overuse the brakes, they’ll start to squeal and smell.  I am not nearly educated enough to detect the differences between these sets of squeals and smells.

The RV repair shop guy in Reno had talked about brakes and the importance of using lower gears when going down hills (I did this.  It seemed to have the same approximate slowing effect as does holding your hands out the side windows) in order to keeps your brakes from actually bursting into flames.  Which surprised me, because he also said tht brakes are made of asbestos, which is not a material that I thought was supposed to be particularly combustible, although I am aware of it’s carcinogenic effects.

So you can imagine my stress-free level of driving as I plummet down mountain roads in second gear, fairly standing on the brakes, the stench of asbestos cutting neatly through the piney forest air in its quest to give me cancer, as I wait for the flames to begin erupting out of every wheel well

But, hey, at least the engine was running cool.

So, we’re about fifteen miles from Newport, and I’m wondering which of the next couple turns is going to pull us free of all these mountains.  See, Newport is a coastal town, and coastal towns, in my experience, are different from mountain towns.

Well, how about that, more education.

It seems Oregon (and who knows what evil example they’re setting for Washington and Northern California) rudely stacks its mountains right up to the edge of the ocean.  I was nervous enough about stopping on some of these downhills without the threat of being pitched off into the Pacific, should I not quite make a stop sign.

Now, every stop I’ve made on the trip so far, I’ve called ahead to reserve a spot.  Sometimes only a couple hours ahead, but still.  Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a campground that was full.  And this includes more than a week in San Diego, during Comic-Con and some of the nicest summer weather you’re ever likely to come across.  For some reason (I suspect I had flaming cancerous death brakes on my mind, but I can’t be sure) I failed to call ahead to Newport.

Newport was freezing.  Well, okay, not freezing, but late afternoon when we got there it was high fifties or low sixties, and with a vicious wind.  Even the crabs and seals were like “Screw this weather,” and stayed in drinking.  The “beach” was the small area at the base of a cliff where the ocean was currently dashing boulders into their component atoms.

This was the vacation environment in which I arrived to be, literally, laughed at when I asked if there was someplace to park me RV.  The one time I didn’t call ahead.

Now, I thought this type of weather was fantastic, but I slept with the window open during the winter at Syracuse, which I have been told is not quite normal, so I was kinda surprised that everyone wanted to be here now.

Anyway, we did finally find a place, and we went out to the ocean and then got dressed (long pants!  I haven’t worn long pants since June 3rd…) and went to the Rogue Brewery, which I’ve already mentioned.  I drank enough to where I shot my immune system and ended up getting kinda sick.  I’m only now getting rid of my stuffed up nose and sore throat.

Well, I’ve long since finished breakfast, and I’ve worked on this off and on all day between napping.  I don’t feel like it’s particularly finished, but I’m done working on it, so that’ll have to do.

Newport, OR – late night

I may not come home.

After I drop Suzy off at the Portland airport on 9/1, I’m coming back to Newport.  And I might not come home.

I felt more comfortable here, 3500 miles from my house, than I have in several months.  It took me about twenty minutes at the Rogue Brewery Tasting House.

This was not the big restaurant where they serve Rogues.  This was the thirty seat Tasting House suspended up above the floor of the brewery and bottling facility.  I realize that this will mean little to most of you, but I sat and drank with John Maier tonight.

To give you some perspective, drinking with John Maier is in the same ballpark as tossing the pigskin with Dan Marino, swinging some BP with Ken Griffey, Jr., snapping some pics with Ansel Adams, jamming on guitar with Mark Knopfler, or knocking out some sketches with Carl Barks.

I was sitting, having what I consider to be fun, with the human being who does it professionally the best way that it has been done.

John was… well, John was just a guy.  It was obvious that he loved what he did, and had forgotten more about it than anyone else in the room had ever known.  I’ve brewed three batches of beer myself, and I intend to do more once I get home, and I feel like I learned more tonight just chatting with John than I have in three years of reading, brewing with others, and toying around on my own.

I did the geeky thing and got his autograph on a coaster.  Actually, some cool people I met and talked to got the autograph for me before I worked up the courage to actually bug John for it.  I’m looking forward to Labor Day weekend, when I intend to be back in Newport, buying cases of Rogues at the big sale they’re going to have, and talking and drinking with John at his bar/restaurant (there’s a blues act there next weekend he really wants me to see. I think I’d shoot my mother if he really wanted me to [no, Mom, that’s just an expression]).  I’m really enjoying referring to John in the second person familiar, in case you haven’t noticed.

Anyway, I’m really, really drunk right now.  Suzy has already… well, she’s not responding to me at any rate.

Let’s just call it a really good night.

Reno Hilton, NV – morning

Welcome to what I believe to be the first update written in the morning.  I just woke up in the Reno Hilton, and I’ve got a phone line, so it’s time for a quick update.

So why is the RV guy waking up in the Reno Hilton?  Well, Roberta Verona is at the doctor again.  This time, she needed more than a day’s worth of work on her, so the guy who runs the RV/truck repair center (who apparently has accounts to fix all the tour buses and shuttle buses for the all the hotels in the area) gave me a name to drop at the Hilton for a cut rate room.  Suzy got into Reno late the night before last, so she gets to partake of the windfall.

Although by about six yesterday evening I was doing fine, I swear, at noon, I was ready to quit.  The night before I had talked to Susie and Bill about the repairs that had gone on so far, and that there seemed to be a radiator clog (I tried to have the oil and coolant changed, but the quick lube place wasn’t able to get the coolant to drain, and the recommended I take it to a radiator specialist), so there might be another bill the next day or so.  Suzy flew in late late late at night, and we had to get up really early to get the RV into the radiator place first thing so that they could work me in.  Well, after getting there and unhooking the Tracker in a parking lot that simply was not adequately sized for the task, the guy at the desk (who was the one I talked to the night before and had said “bring it on in”) tells me of different place to take it to.  Grrr.  I had to rehook the Tracker and turn around in this parking lot.  No fun.

Then I get to the new place, and I’m a little relieved to see a bunch of RVs and similar vehicles around.  Apparently this place knows what they’re doing.  We drop off the RV and go to get some breakfast.

After breakfast, I called to get the estimate.  The guy had a novel’s worth of stuff that had to be done, no way to do it in a day, and it was going to cost…

Well, I supposer the actual number isn’t important.  But imagine what they charge an hour to work on these things, than multiply that by more than a day’s worth of hours, and add parts.  I really thought I was going to be sick right there in the restaurant (which would have made an unfair and inaccurate statement, because breakfast was actually very tasty).

I made some phone calls to try and figure out what to do, got a couple answering machines whose tape I probably completely used up (if you’ve ever gotten a phone message from me, you know I kind of run on.  Imagine if I’m in Reno [which, by the way, is very similar to Vegas, but without the classy finish…] with a sick RV and not enough money to make it well.

I’ll skip the other frustrating details and cut to the happy ending.  I have a really great family, and once we were actually able to talk, we got things worked out.  The RV is being fixed, and I’ve got my feet up in a nice hotel for cheap.

I think I’m going to go have another nice breakfast…

Tonopah, NV – evening

According to the menu here at the standard issue Nevada hotel/casino/24 hour restaurant 3 hours from anything in any direction, “Tonopah” is an Indian word that means either “little water,” “little spring,” or “water brush.”  Search me why they’d name this town any one of those things.

Did I mention that I had the worst shrimp cocktail ever at lunch today?  I know, “seafood in the desert?” what the hell was I thinking.  What I was thinking was that it sounded rather cold and refreshing after spending a couple hours in the RV on the side of the road.  I had mercifully nondescript turkey sandwich and some actually quite tasty cole slaw to complete the ensemble.

Okay I have to break in here with a dinner update.  My iced tea came in one of those litte six ounce glasses usually reserved for a two dollar serving of orange juice.  Sure, you get free refills, but still…  Anyway, apparently in an effort to make up for the puny size of the glass, they fill it right up to the top, we’re talking meniscus city, here.  Then they stick half a lemon on it.  Push the lemon in, lose half your tea.  And just _try_ stirring sugar into that thing.  So I make do, and she comes back for refill time, pouring warm tea, again, right up to the top.  No clue where they learned so much about surface tension.  But worse than that, there’s now no ice.  I had a rather scathing little monologue forming on the subtleties of the prerequisites for a glass being full of _iced_ tea, but I let it slide, cynically determining that most of the polysyllabics would have been lost on her, anyway.

Well, back to the story.  Of which there’s not much interesting: after lunch I put another quart of oil in the RV and enough fluid to make up for the amount that looked like it boiled out, and off I went.  And here I am in Tonopah, without further ado.  It’s only about seven thirty, and I’m just finishing dinner.  I’m going to go back to the RV and read and go on to sleep early, with the intention of getting on the road in the cool before the sun comes up tomorrow.

By the way, I successfully navigated my first back-in RV site tonight.  Up until now, all the campground I’ve stayed at had the easier to handle pull-through type sites.  But beggars can’t be choosers in the middle of the damn desert.  I suppose I should be glad I’ve got a place to plug in the air conditioner.

I know I’ve said this in a couple updates already, but, everyone, please be sure to remind me, that I am _never_ going to the desert again.  Perhaps if I’m passing through at high speed, with the windows rolled up and the AC going full blast, but only to get to someplace nice like San Diego.  I understand and accept the realities of my situation, so I’m being happy with what I’ve got, but all the ingredients are here for me to be absolutely miserable.  It’s at least 85 degrees HERE IN THE RESTAURANT.  There’s _no_ sweetened iced tea _anywhere._  The doors are always open, so there’s flies on my hands, computer, and tea glass if I stop swinging my arms around for a nanosecond.

But… Portland in September.  Cool.  Rain.  Rain, I can’t remember the last time I was in rain (of yeah, that big storm in the desert.  But still, it’s not rained much overall).  What’s above Nevada, Montana?  Yeesh, talk about your big square states… I wonder how long it’s going to take to drive across _that_ sumbitch.

But hell if I’m coming back through Nevada.

Middle of the desert, NV – afternoon

I was hoping to be in Tonopah by now.  Never heard of Tonopah?  Me too, but it’s right about halfway on the road between Las Vegas and Reno.  Unfortunately, a late start (I stayed up _way_ too late last night typing in that last update.  The things I do for pseudo-journalism) and the desert heat conspired against me.  Roberta Verona couldn’t stand it and I spent about two hours on the side of the road letting her cool down.  I had been watching the temperature gauge, it was hanging around just above the halfway point.  Actually, I’d been driving not at a certain speed, but to try to keep the temp in that middle range.  All of a sudden, when I looked down, it was red-lining, and I pulled right over.  The coolant tank was up to the top, but hadn’t overflowed.  As I stood there, wondering about how much time I was going to have to kill to be safe to run it again, it started bubbling.  Boiled with the engine off.  Yeesh.  So I just waited until the coolant went back down to a normal, non-running level.  I’m not precisely sure how long I was out there, but I was expecting to pass through this alledged “town” at noon, but I ended up stopping at two.  Might as well get some lunch and let Roberta rest more.  This is right about the midpoint of the driving I intended to do today.

Can you tell I’ll be glad to be out of the desert?  I’ll drive home through Canada if I have too, but Roberta and I just can’t take the heat.  Perhaps I should just sleep in the daytime and drive at night.  Actually, there is an RV park here…

No.  I don’t want to leave that big a chunk of land between me and Reno.  Perhaps I’ll try an early dinner (assuming there’s someplace to eat in Tonopah) and bed, and get up at like five in the morning to drive tomorrow.  Not quite as bad as it sounds, it’s eight to me, really.  Although I really think my body would prefer about a thirty hour day.  My sleeping patterns are kind of weird even out here.

Hey, so what if I’m babbling?  It’s either this or go throw money into the slot machines to kill time.  Yes, I’m in the middle of nowhere, but the truck stop/hotel/restaurant that, as far as I can tell, makes up the entirety of this town (whose name completely escapes me at the moment) has row after row of slot machines.  I guess it’s smarter to be in playing the slots rather than out driving in the heat.

Arrgh.  I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but my brain is fried and I have nothing more to write.  So there.

Las Vegas, NV – late night

My last night in Las Vegas.  The time I’m writing this qualifies as “late night,” but I’m actually in a casino at the moment.

No, not gambling.  I learned my lesson pretty quickly (more on that later).  I’m here having a late dinner.  All the casinos have all night restaurants in them, just so you won’t be tempted to actually spend any of your money elsewhere.  Oh, and you can bet on Keno and sports right from your table, in case the flow of money out of your pockets has slowed to a rate unacceptable to you.

I met a nice family (dad and two brothers who are a bit older than I am) at the Atari show.  To be honest, they were just about the highlight of my Atari show.  If this is the “World of Atari ’98,” it really is a small world, after all.  But I talked with these guys for awhile (one of the sons was also a comic collector.  I keep running into Silver Age DC collectors on this trip.  I wonder what that’s supposed to mean to a long-time Marvel Zombie?), and we ended up killing some time in the casino at the Holiday Inn Boardwalk, where the WOA ’98 was held.

The dad of this little crowd stuffed a ten into one of the nickle slot machines for 200 credits and started “playing.”  I put playing in quotes, because the activity consisted solely of pressing one big button to play three more credits (the machines that are labelled “nickel” or “quarter” or “dollar” actually only pay the maximum if you “play” three, four, and sometimes five credits at a time.  Again, can’t let you hold onto that money any longer than absolutely necessary).  He played for quite awhile, hovering around 120 credits, then losing all the way down to about 30 credits, then hit a couple big ones that put him back over 200 for awhile.  I think he cashed out at about 170-odd, which amounted to about forty minutes of slot “play” for a buck or two.  Actually, not nearly as bad as I would have guessed.

While he was playing, he was talking about how there are certain tricks to which machines to play when, how long to stay at one, playing the one “next door” a couple times in between playing yours, that kind of thing.   He also convinced me (and I must confess, to my eternal embarassment, that it wasn’t very hard) that it was a good idea to put a twenty into the dollar slot machines.  Those are the ones with some serious payoffs, and, as my slots mentor pointed out, “you never know when they’re going to hit.”  By hit, he meant give the “progressive” payout, which keeps going up, even while you’re there watching it, until somone wins it.

So I threw a twenty in the dollar slots.

Three minutes later, I was done with my slots career.  I think I “won” six credits along the way, but playing 3 coins a pop makes a total of 26 credits go really fast.

After I lost my twenty, dad put in his twenty.

Without going into too many painful details, after moving around to several machines and cashing out twice, he’d won about $350 over his $20 investment.

I opened my wallet.  It was so obvious, you just have to spend money to make money.  If you keep putting it in, it’s going to pay off sooner or later.

I had another twenty in my hand, but I was thinking about the last twenty and how fast it went.  I also thought about the night of camping, or two decent meals, or third of an RV tank of gas that other twenty would have bought me.  I mentioned already that the finances of my little odyssey are becoming an issue, and I was weighing options, here.

Of course, that $19 million progressive jackpot would keep me camping for the rest of my natural life…

I didn’t do it.  I’m glad I didn’t, I have an addictive personality, and I can easily see myself feeding bills to these machines until there’s no bills left.  And I imagine that’s the way it works, an awful lot of the time.  The folks like the old man, who don’t really care and are just passing time, win.  Then there are people who are in a hole, and think the progressive will get them out of it.  And they lose what they’ve got left.

I think that’s what really bothered me about Vegas in the first place.  The only way to enjoy it is if money is no longer an issue for you.  If you have earned, begged, or stolen more than you’ll ever be able to use, don’t bother giving some back or trying to help someone who hasn’t found the way, yet.  Go to Vegas and blow it all out your ass.  And if you’re not there yet, come to Vegas anyway, we’ll take whatever you have left and toss you in a deeper hole.

I didn’t mean for this to get quite this down on Vegas.  I actually had a good time in a couple places I’ll tell you about later.  But even those places are examples of reckless, over-the-top, conspicuous spending.  It seems to me that Las Vegas is a monument to selfishness and waste, and a freak show of losers hoping for that one spin that will change their lives while they keep throwing them away.

Okay, more upbeat now.

Ceasar’s Palace and the Mirage are actually quite cool.  New York, New York also had a couple fun points.  The Mirage first, though.

I went back to see The Secret Garden of Seigfried and Roy, a little zoo in the Mirage complex with a bunch of rare cats.  I went during a break in the Atari show, and so, unfortunately, did not have my camera with me.  Oh, well.

From the strip, you have to go completely through the Mirage to get to the secret garden.  Past the casinos are several shops, some of them kinda cool.  On the other side of those is the swimming pool, which looked to me to be a damn fine reason to stay at the Mirage, all on it’s own.  The lagoon out front (the one with the volcano) had left me with the feeling that I wanted to dive in.  Well, the pool lets you.  It’s got waterfalls and palm trees and fountains, and… it’s just really cool.  But they only let you in with a Mirage room key.  Poopie.

Anyway, past that is the Secret Garden.  The first exhibit in the Secret Garden is the dolphin habitat, so you know this isn’t your typical tomato garden.  There are several rooms underground with windows looking out into the habitat, and they were working with the dolphins while I was there.  So you could hang around and see the ‘phins pick up speed under water for those jumps and flips.  One of the dolphins was over nine feet long and weighed close to five hundred pounds.  I never realized they got quite that big.  But one of the windows was right underneath where the trainer was rewarding the dolphins with fish, so a bunch of them were just bobbing around there, not more than a foot away (through eight-inch thick glass, of course).  Huge, incredibly powerful animals.  And they do seem to love playing with people, a couple “charged” the windows, then turned away at the last second.  And of course they’re always smiling.

After that, you get to see the cats (and one elephant, which I’m sorry to say I simply don’t care that much about).  Snow White Tigers, White Striped Tigers, Heterozygous Orange Tigers (orange tigers that carry the recessive white gene), White Lions, a Snow Leopard, and two Black Panthers were out when I went.  My first trip through, every damn one of them was asleep.  Knowing cat tendencies, I went to get a slushy and came back about fifteen minutes later.  Sure enough, the big White Striped Tiger was up and around, and the Heterozygous Orange in the same habitat was beginning to stir.  The third cat in there, a Snow White, slept on.  The Orange noticed the White having a drink from the pool, with his back turned.  The Orange jumped off his little tree perch where she’d been sleeping, and crouched in the grass.  I’d seen that posture enough to know what it meant, and I told the guy with the video camera next to me to “shoot the Orange.”  Just in time, he turned the camera, as the Orange pounced on the White.  It’s fun enough to watch two housecats playing, just imagine when both the cats are three times as big as you…

The White Lions were also waking up, and I noticed some more behaviors familiar to those who live with cats.  It was great.  Unfortunately, the Black Panthers remained blissfully asleep.  I would have loved to see them roaming around in the light.  Black Panthers are actually leopards, and in the right light, you can often see the patterns in their coats.  But ’twas not to be.

I was pretty much done with the Mirage.  As I walked back through the casino to get to the strip, I saw a sign that said “High Limit Slots” and out of curiosity, I checked it out.  They had tons of $5 machines, then I saw $10, and $25.  They had a couple machines where a “coin” was fifty dollars.  And, like always, if you “play,” you’re going to play three “coins” at a time.  One hundred and fifty bucks, gone in two seconds, for those who have the means.  In-fucking-sane.

Back out on the strip, it was 110 degrees.  Rather than walk back to the Holiday Inn Boardwalk down the sidewalk, I went through Ceasar’s Palace, assuming Ceasar would have air conditioning (I was right).  The Forum Shops at Ceasar’s Palace are actually the coolest mall I’ve ever been in, thanks largely to having the coolest FAO Schwartz toy store I’ve ever been in.  This is a three-story toy store with two integral snack bars.  The snack bar on the third floor was in the action figures section and had a Star Wars theme.  Not “theme,” like music playing in the background, “theme,” like the place _was_ the Cantina, with four life-size Cantina band figures on a stage up behind the counter.

Even better, I found the X-Wing and Millenium Falcon “danglies” that I’ve known existed, but have never actually seen for sale because those are the ones everybody wants and buys up.  The Falcon was even marked half price.  I did have to dig through what seemed like hundreds of Death Stars and Star Destroyers, but just as I was thinking “well, not this time,” I found an X-Wing in the bottom of the last row I checked.  And is that…yes, the _very_ _last_ box, in the bottom of the last row, was the Falcon.  I assume someone must have hidden it there for later purchase (some of you may not know the subterfuge involved in simply buying toys these days.  In more than one Toys R Us, I’ve run across folks’ stashes, just by knowing the kinds of places they use to hide the rare and popular toys that come out of the freshly opened cases.  I’ve never stashed things myself, but I have bought things I’ve found in others’ stashes.  I know a guy who bought a suitcase at K-Mart [he had grabbed the one on the bottom of the stack, for some reason], and when he got home, he discovered four of the Holiday Barbies stashed inside [he returned them to the K-Mart.  I imagine that was an interesting day at customer service: “no, I didn’t _buy_ them, I’m just _returning_ them, no, I don’t want a refund, I’m just _giving_ them _back_ to you…]), too bad for them.

At one end of this mega-mall is the IMax theatre/ride Race For Atlantis.  It was ten bucks, and after having felt kinda bitten on the $5 roller coaster at Circus Circus (kinda crappy coaster.  The fact that it was indoors was about the coolest thing about it.) and considering the state of my bankroll, I decided to pass it up.  But when I came out of Niketown (have you _seen_ these “Niketowns?”  Unreal.  I can’t imagine they actually sell anything from these places.  You have to get your size sent down from the, I don’t know, attic, I guess, in these little elevator tubes, if you want to try something on.  It’s more like a museum than a shoe/sportswear store), the fountain in the cul-de-ac at that end of the mall had transformed itself into an animatronic stage, setting the mood for _Race For Atlantis,_ complete with shooting streams of water and flames (they really like fire flying around, here in Vegas).  The animation in the robots was incredible, they even had hand gestures.  And not just back and forth, the whole five or ten minutes was intricately choreographed.  I was impressed.

But not impressed enough to give them ten bucks for the ride.  Nyaah, nyaah.

That pretty much let me back out at the WOA show.  It’s getting real late as I’m writing this (somewhere up there, I finished dinner, and I’m back in the RV now), but there’s not a lot to say.  I was pretty disappointed in World of Atari ’98.  I was hoping to buy a 1200XL computer and a 5200 game machine, the only two Ataris ever available to the public in the US of which I don’t own an example.  No luck on either, and these aren’t what you’d call rare and valuable, the 5200 might be worth $50, the 1200XL a bit less than that.  The problem was there were exactly two types of dealers here, those that would have been at a local flea market if WOA hadn’t happened to come through town (I like these guys, I got a bunch a $1 cartridges I’ve never played.  Can’t wait to try ’em out), and the guys who have the only existing prototype copy of a never released game that they want $500 for.  Nothing in between.

The show itself was also a mess.  Everything was running late and no one seemed to be able to tell you when, for instance, the one o’clock auction was actually going to start.  Three different folks with “STAFF” badges would tell you three different things, and of course none of them would turn out to be true.  The auction mostly turned into a joke.  The first few dozens items were all of the “rare prototype” or “only available for three afternoons in Tanzania in 1982” variety, and their current owners (the three big sponsors, suspiciously enough) all had “reserves” on them that were higher than what comparable items have been selling for on the ‘net (a “reserve” is an amount that the item can’t be sold for less than.  Prototypes for some games were available in the dealers room for $30-$50 bucks each, then similar items would show up in the auction with a $75 reserve).  The auctioneer would look at the reserve, and try to start the bidding at an appropriate amount.  For the first half-hour or so, the most common reaction was that he was laughed at.  The good part about this was that a lot a people ended up just leaving the auction, and I was able to get a couple nifty items late in the game at reasonable prices (including a Commodore 64 with disk drive, printer, and a big box of software for $30.  The disk drive alone is going for twice that on the ‘net.  That’s what you get for trying to sell Commodore stuff at an Atari show).

And the people there.  Hoo boy.  Not counting the cool family I mentioned, I was sore afraid of at least 95% of the attendees.  I kid about knowing that I’m a geek, but compared to this crowd, I’m James fucking Dean.  I like the Ataris, but I also realize where precisely is their place in the world.  I’m not sure some of these people have been outdoors since 1978.

So I think I’ll get my Atari fix via Internet from here on out.  I’m glad enough I came, considering I was in the right area at the right time.  But I’d be severely pissed if I’d come out just for the show.

Las Vegas, NV – late night

I threw away one Las Vegas update already.

Those of you who know Vegas and enjoyed my Nashville update were probably looking forward to this; Vegas is far riper a target for someone looking to make fun of people.  And that was pretty much what the first update looked like.

But everything came down to the same joke:  people are stupid.  And saying “people are stupid” over and over gets tedious, even when there’s just _so_ much going on here that needs to be ridiculed.  I mean, _every_ casino advertises having the “loosest slots in town.”  The only joke I’ll make is to point out they all seem to be very proud of this…

But beyond being merely tedious, Las Vegas strikes me as vaguely sinister.  I mean, in Nashville, people come to hear the music, and the leeches have gathered around and put up wax museums and overpriced gift shops and whatnot.  Basically, they’ve dug holes for visitors to throw their money into.  People go to Myrtle Beach for the sun, sand and ocean, and the leeches have dug holes for them to throw money into.  It’s the same everywhere that people gather:  the leeches dig holes for you to throw your money into.

But it’s different in Vegas.  Here, the “attraction” is the biggest, deepest money hole of all.

Hey, if you enjoy the slots, or the dice, or whatever, that’s fine, but let’s call a spade a spade (note entertaining use of playing card lingo!): you’re just throwing your money into a hole.

There will be those who argue “but I won!”  Look, _somebody_ built that volcano out there.  _Somebody_ paid for the Eiffel Tower, for the pirate ships, for the white tigers.  The houses do not lose.  If you think you can beat them, have a blast.  Math will kick your ass a lot quicker than I can talk sense into you.

And about those white tigers…

I’m really conflicted about this.  Although I have not, and sincerely doubt I ever will, paid $90 to see Seigfried and Roy, you can see some of the tigers for free at the Mirage (not the Circus Circus, despite the clean, implicit logic of having tigers at the circus.  As a matter of fact, I can pretty much guarantee that asking “where are the tigers” at the Circus Circus information booth will get you an extraordinarily disparaging look from the cute booth chick who you’d swear was just checking you out mere moments before.  Don’t ask me how I know… let’s just say I got it from a reliable source).  So, back at the Mirage, I found the tiger display.

An incredible, magnificent animal.  The one cat who’d condescended to come out of hiding was a particularly large male.  I don’t think many people appreciate the size to which these cats can grow.  Check your encyclopedias, lions are not the biggest cats.  Like many “white” tigers, this one was palish orange in places, particularly across the back.  He plopped around in the water for awhile, which entertained a lot of plebes who assumed tigers were just big, stripey housecats.

I watched his muscles move under his fur for awhile (in some ways, I guess he _was_ just a big stripey housecat: I watch Scout the same way.  I’m too busy trying to stay unscratched to watch Kato for long…).  All this time, there’s a video running about Seigfried and Roy, and all they’ve done for the tigers.  It talked about the tiger matings they’d done (mating them with other tigers, you sickos), and came to a summary something to the effect that they’d “ensured the survival of this species for decades to come,” with pictures of tiger cubs rolling around with one of the boys (I’m not sure, but I think Siegfried is the pansy and Roy is the fairy).  I couldn’t help feeling that “that’s not a real tiger, at this point.”

I mean, on one level, I’m obviously glad that we’ll have these animals around in the future… but what if it’s only to gawk at?  How seriously can I take their line about respecting the majestic animals when it’s only to put them behind a window in the desert… or make them disappear in a puff of fire for 90 bucks a head?

I applaud the preservation of the species, but at the same time, I’d really like to see Seigfried with half his left buttock bitten off, Roy sporting three parallel scars from neck to groin, with a tiger muttering “I’m a _wild_ animal, you dipshit.  What the hell were you thinking, I’m Tigger, now?”

But then again, if I had the means, can I honestly say that I’d never try to get a tiger for a (for lack of a better term) pet?

Like I say, conflicted.  I guess I’ll try to be happy with the fact that they’re alive (the tigers.  I could give a rat’s butt for S&R) and here where I can see and appreciate them.

By the way, the pansy/fairy line popped into my head when I overheard two blonde girls with a charmingly tenuous grasp of the language wondering which of the boys was which.  I would have said it to them out loud, but I didn’t know how well Bigot would translate into Nordic… so I thought I’d inflict it here… hope none of you pansies take offense…

Some more by the ways, because as I reread what I wrote I realize I didn’t hit on a couple things I wanted to (those Nordic girls, mostly.  Just kidding.  Okay, I’m not).  First, I just had to mention the fact that this Kampground offers a free shuttle to the Riviera casino, on the strip.  The free shuttle costs two dollars.  But, oh, it’s really free, because once you get to the Riviera, show them this stub and they’ll give you two dollars in nickels!  Great.  When I get home, I’ll put them in a sock and give them back to you, just to complete the circle.  And there’s a tip jar on the shuttle bus.  I was half tempted to just sit on the sidewalk with a jar that said “THANKS” on it, and watch the loot pour in.

I saw a place that was called STRIP LIQUOR, and I realized it was just a liquor store on the strip only after I mentally acknowledged that that was the finest cross-promotion I’d ever heard of.

And, that volcano.  Should you ever decide that you’ve more money than you need, and have chosen the Las Vegas area as the recepticle into which you wish to throw most of it, do stop at the Mirage to watch the volcano erupt.  I recommend doing the geeky tourist thing and getting a spot right up as close as you can, with a good view of the volcano and one of the side waterfalls.    From there, you can really feel the heat when that lagoon bursts into flame…

Barstow, CA – evening

Back in the desert again.  It was a chilly 110 in Barstow today, and the locals are breaking out the wool and flannel as nighttime temperatures are expected to plummet into the high 80’s.  Honestly, I have no idea how people live here, much less seem to be able to look at it as being “normal.”  I do notice more casual tequila consumption than I’m used to; perhaps that’s the explanation.  I’ve had tequila nights where twenty-foot piranha bats seemed perfectly normal to me…

First, let’s get the bitching and moaning out of the way.  If you’re tired of this kind of stuff, just jump to the next paragraph.  Even though I did get here alive, Roberta Verona is still making those squealing sounds, which is no big surprise ( I can’t remember _ever_ having an automotive issue disappear all on its own), but as I came into Barstow, she was having trouble taking gas (what I would call “missing”), losing power, and backfiring, parfticularly on uphills, which is an all-new symptom.  But I get here, get set up, and decide to unhook the Tracker and it’s brand-new, state-of-the-art braking system and go have some dinner.  As soon as I turn the thing on, the big red CHECK ENGINE light comes on.  AAAAHAHHHHAHAHAH!  Why do mechanical things go all haywire around me?  I’ve actually heard of people who have very powerful electro-magnetic fields and can cause eletronics around them to fail, but I have no idea how I might be causing machinery to fall apart.  The sucky thing is that my repair bills have now gotten to the point where I have to take my bankroll in account while planning.  The odyssey may be coming to a quicker end than I’d originally hoped…

On the positive side of things, I just had one killer patty melt.  When you’re in the mom ‘n’ pop truck stop restaurant, go for the patty melt.  New heights of grease.  It’s difficult to type, my fingers keep slipping onto the wrong keys.

Yes, I have the laptop on the table here in the truck stop.  Some people read magazines while waiting for patty melts, I write updates.

Okay, I was in positive territory… Las Vegas should be less than three hours away, so I should be there before noon tomorrow.  I might be able to call a Geo place to see how worrisome this CHECK ENGINE message really is.  The odometer just rolled, so it might just be a mileage indication.  Unlike San Diego, I should have some free time in Vegas.  Most of the day Thursday and Friday will be free (Friday’s festivities are all reception type issues in the evening), and I haven’t decided when I’m leaving, Monday or Tuesday.  I need to be in Reno the 26th… Ooops, that’s 2am the 26th, better make that the 25th.  So apparently I _will_ be leaving on Monday…  If Roberta feels okay all the way in, I think I’ll set up the recording equipment when I get to Vegas.  If she doesn’t, I’ll probably check into it.  Sigh.

Hey, where’d my positive stuff go?  Actually, it’s sorts hard right now.  I’m trying to drive early in the morning while it’s cool, and that’s screwing up my sleep schedule even further.  I haven’t even recovered from San Diego yet.  So I’m _really_ tired, and I’ve got a headache from the heat.  I keep trying to drink a lot of water, and that’s making my feel real heavy.  The greasy patty melt was great tasting, but isn’t exactly helping in the feeling-like-a-lard-ass department…

Okay, I’m running a low-level depression, so I’m going to stop writing now.  Hopefully, I’ll sleep right tonight, roll into Vegas on time and with highly-performing vehicles, and get several song masters down.  Then I can write a more positive update.  Too bad that after so long without an update, when I get a chance to write I feel crappy.

San Diego, CA – late night

Well, it’s eleven pm here, and it doesn’t really feel like two am, my time.  I must be getting acclimated to the time change.  Man, the East Coast’s going to be a right bitch when I head home…

I’d really like to get to sleep soon, because I want to get up at six to get on the road tomorrow.  I’ve got another bout with the Mojave, and I’d just as soon do it before the sun fully wakes up.  One night in Barstow, then hopefully another early morning sprint into Las Vegas.  I’m expecting about four hours of driving each day.

San Diego.  I suppose I should do some kind of wrap up here.  It’s a really great city.  While the Comic-Con was running, my life kind of revolved around the convention center, Seaport Village, and Horton Plaza, and the several blocks walk between them.  Seaport Village I’ve already mentioned, it’s the kind of place where you can spend five bucks on an ice cream cone (I know I did), twenty bucks for lunch (did that too), and the sky’s the limit on dinner (I kept mine under sixty, but only just barely).  Horton Plaza is pretty much like every other mall in the world except for the fact that the stairs and escalators were laid out by M. C. Escher.  You can see where you want to go, it’s just right over there, but just try getting to it.  There’s a place there with the best, and quite possibly biggest, cinnamon rolls in the world, and a burger grill called Wichita’s, that I foolishishly assumed to be after the Kansas city until the dark complected girl who took my order told me to make out the traveler’s check to Wuh-CHEET-uhs.  We did giggle, but managed not to do it in her face…

I saw a little bit more around here (“here” being Chula Vista, which I think translates to “View of the shoe,” but I could be wrong.  Chula Vista is just south of San Diego, yet not quite Mexico, and is where the KOA Kampground is located) today, now that the show is over.  I saw the inside of a Midas brake shop, for instance, but, bucking the trend present in my recent history, after I handed over all that money, I found they had actually fixed the problem I asked them to (the Tracker’s braking system apparently grew old and died all at once.  I think I replaced most of the underside of the car, but the brake light now goes out, the brake pedal reacts before it gets within an inch or so of the floor, and the squeaking, scraping noise emanating from the passenger side front wheel is gone gone gone).  I found another great Mexican food joint (when you’re eight miles from the border and you find the Mexican restaurant where you’re the only customer not ordering in Spanish, you know you’ve hit gold) and had more fantastic enchiladas (despite a recommedation from a native I happen to know, I refused to have a “fish taco.”  Where I come from, “fish taco” is a dirty joke, not a lunchtime treat).

The Comic-Con was incredible.  The other time I came out, it seems like I got here later and had to leave earlier.  I know I had to fly out Sunday afternoon, which stunk.  Sunday is the best buying day at shows like this.  Dealers who had bad shows need to make table money, and dealers from far away would rather tote home cash than comics, so low-balling goes a long way on Sundays.  I actually had spent all I intended to spend, and Richard and I were just walking around, not wanting the show to end (the less hardy Sean and Jonathan had already retired to the floor of the lobby area for blister relief), when I practically stole a Tales To Astonish #27 (first Ant-Man) for $200.  I know that $200 for a comic book sounds nuts to a lot of people, but there’s something about a thirty-six year old slab of paper, designed to be thrown away (in that day, you were just supposed to read them and get rid of them, not plan on financing your kids’ college education with them), and yet it’s survived until now, and, actually, is in noticeably better shape than I am at only 32, thank you very much.  And besdies, even with the Overstreet Price Guide’s devaluation of low grade books, this one guides at about $400.  Not that I’m intending to sell it, but it’s nice to know when you got a deal.  I mentioned yesterday my theivery of a $550 X-Men #1 for $250 earlier in the day.  Sunday at San Diego rules.

So now, the big books I have left are Journey Into Mystery #1 ($260), Incredible Hulk #1 ($650), Strange Tales #1 ($255), Tales To Astonish #1 ($120), and Tales of Suspense #1 ($116).  All the prices given are for “good” condition books, which basically means all the pages are there, the cover is still attached, and the thing can be read.  Other than that, it can be pretty beat up.  That’s the kind of book I like, at least books of this age.  By the way, for comparison’s sake, Hulk #1 in “near mint” condition (looks like a brand new copy, fresh off the press) guides for $11,000.  That’s another reason I like low grade books…  Actually, as far as most people are concerned, the Hulk book is the only one of the above that’s really “major.”  I just defined the others as major because I consider them important to my collection.

Other nifty things I got: 2 more Carl Barks library sets (Carl Barks was the guy who wrote and drew the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories most of us and our parents grew up with.  In the eighties, Russ Cochran reprinted _every_ Barks Duck story in ten slipcased sets of three hardbound editions.  When I left home, I still needed half of them.  Now, I only need 3 more… and I know where to get one of them, I just need to see if I can afford it after this trip is over…), _A Game of You_ hardbound (Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was one of the best story books ever published, in any form.  This volume reprints a story that ran about eight months in the regular comic series.  I’m now missing only one of the Sandman hardbounds…), 8 or so paperbacks (my current “these things aren’t worth much, but, _damn_, they’re cool” collection is my Marvel paperback collection.  There are three main series:  Lancer’s late 60’s reprints of comics, Pocket Books’ early 80’s reprints of comics, and Pocket Books’ early 80’s novels based on Marvel characters.  I’ve also found both novels and reprint editions from oddball publishers at weirdo times.  I think I’ve completed the reprint editions [I need to find a resource on exactly what was printed.  The numbering system used, particularly on the Lancer series, suggest there’re more of these things out there, but I’ve got everything I’ve ever heard of being published.  Perhaps the “missing” numbers are simply not Marvel reprints], and I just need one more of the novels [which I swear I owned at one time.  Probably in some long forgotten box at my parents house, assuming mom didn’t sell it at a garage sale…].  By the way, the comic world has a way of following me around on this kind of stuff.  No one ever wanted the Marvel Masterworks hardbound reprints until after I started picking them up when they got discounted to half cover.  Now that I only need a couple more, they’re the hot, popular collectible, and it looks like the last couple volumes are going to set me back a couple bills each.  Three years ago, I got into collecting Marvel Treasuries, comics printed in a totally impractical and inconvenient 18 inch by 12 inch size.  I thought they were cool because they were reprints of normal comics blown up in size, so the art was just huge.  I used to pick them up for a buck or two each at shows, because no one wanted to have to store the damn things.  Guess what was on all the displays for 15, 25, and 50 bucks this year?  All my damn Treasuries.  So you heard it here first, Lancer and Pocket Books paperbacks will skyrocket in price over the next few years), 5 Seven-Eleven cups with superhero pictures on them (I have no excuse for this, I just thought they were way too cool to leave laying around), and 4 more of the 60’s Marvel cartoon videos (these things are truly atrocious.  They were apparently “animated” by cutting up comic books and sliding the pieces around in front of a camera.  Think low tech South Park, and you’ll be in the right neighborhood.  I really have no idea what attracted me to these things.  I do remember coming home from school to my grandmother’s house, when cable had just started to hit [you thought it was tough explaining vinyl albums to kids today, try explaining three channels accessed through an antenna].  Lipton also had some of the first big improvements on the Cup-A-Soup idea, and I remember eating mugs full of instant Macaroni and Cheese or Chicken Ala King and watching these pieces of crap on Turner’s fledgling empire all afternoon).

And actually, I got a lot more cool crap too, it’s just that I’m getting into things whose purchase completely defies justification.  Even my geek friends were looking at me funny about the Gear Cloth Dolls (if you have to ask, you don’t want to know).

The San Diego show is fantastic for a reason completely aside from the massive amounts of useless pop culture available for your spending needs.  It is still _the_ show for the industry to come out and shake its own hand, do a little insider business.  _Everyone_ is there.  The great part about this is that you often just run into heroes of yours, wandering the aisles, buying the same crap you are, looking in amazement at that which amazes you.  There was a small fire at the DC booth one afternoon when the wiring for their huge video display apparently heated past the combustion point of the fabric used to hide it from public view.  As I stood and watched the minor debacle, I found myself standing next to Grant Morrison again, and we talked a while more.  I think in the next couple years I’m going to stay at one of the hotels downtown, so as to run into these folks after hours.  I imagine Grant and I would have even more to talk about after dozens of Black and Tans…

And the sheer number of creators is overwhelming.  People who would be featured guests at shows back home, where there would be lines hours long for a quick autograph, are literally just sitting around at San Diego.  I talked with people whose work I’ve admired since I understood that there was someone “in” there, someone on the other side who wrote and drew so that I might get the message.  I got sketches in my own little notebook from people whose work you see on book covers in every Waldenbooks and Barnes and Noble in the world.  I talked philosophy with Neal Adams (I know, his name means nothing to most of you.  But if you know the name, you know he’s a living legend.  And he drew me a Batman sketch), I talked shit with Evan Dorkin (who deserves to be a legend, someday.  And he drew me a Milk and Cheese sketch: “No murder today, very sad!”).  So many artists and creators that I got to talk to, that drew a little something (in some cases, substantially more than that.  Let me show you my William Stout sometime…), that I got the chance to tell how much I’d enjoyed their work.

Well, I’ve probably spouted off enough about the show.  It’s another in a long list of things that I don’t feel I can explain to you unless you already know what I’m talking about.

I really enjoyed it.  I hope to be back next year.  I need to go to sleep.  Of course, I’m currently wired all to hell…