Tag Archives: road trip

Dreaming Spontaneity: A Las Vegas Survival Story

27 Aug

Driving west on I-70, through the steep Rocky Mountains and speeding by rich ski resorts or scarcely populated towns, I recollected the memories of the dream I had the night before. My friend, Kelly, and I were in a land much like Oz, yet somehow distorted and different. We were on a quest through a desert, but not to find a wizard. Instead, we were off to Las Vegas with a faded yellow road stretched out into the hot haze in front of us- to what purpose, I was unsure. The dream was prophetic, for a few hours after I woke up, Kelly and I had decided we needed a spontaneous adventure. With only $100 each, given to us as parting gifts from our parents, and several chicken sandwiches and cokes in a cooler, we were driving towards Vegas by 5:00 that very evening.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Around 10:00pm, we pulled into Colorado National Monument where we decided to camp, bypassing a ranger station at the entrance with a “Station Closed: Please pay park fee on your way out” sign, and we drove up the curving road in the dark. Arriving at designated campsites on the summit of the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, we came to another unmanned fee station requiring us to put $10 in an envelope for camping, but Kelly only had a debit card and I only had a $100 bill. Not knowing how to get change and not really wanting to spend any of our precious money, we decided to risk getting caught by the campground’s guard, whose trailer gave off a blue glow from his satellite TV as we drove by. After parking, rolling out our sleeping bags in the back of my car, and gazing off the cliff down at the tiny sparkling lights of Fruita, we laid our tired heads down, joking about the wrath of the Camp Man who takes revenge on those who don’t pay their camping fees, and went to sleep.
I awoke startled to what I thought was the sound of someone pulling at the driver’s side door handle. The Camp Man! I thought. He’s trying to get inside! I forced my eyes open, despite not getting enough sleep and the strong beams of light from the sunrise just approaching its climax over the Rocky Mountains in the east. I sat up on my elbow and peeked over the back window. It was the Camp Man indeed, a tall man walking away to the next campsite 30 feet away. As I sat up, he turned around to glare at me from under the rim of his blue-jean baseball cap, as if he could hear the soft rustle of my sleeping bag with his evil ears. He had put a fee notice and an envelope on the windshield of my car- it was the quick pop of the windshield wiper against the glass that woke me up. His wrath was upon us.

Sunrise at Colorado National Monument

Kelly and I quickly got dressed, walked to the edge of the now brightly lit red cliffs to admire the view, put the empty fee envelope in the trashcan not wanting to litter, and sped off. We had barely escaped and were glad to find that the “Station Closed” sign was still up in the window of the ranger’s station at the entrance of the park. After stopping at a local coffee shop in Fruita for our caffeine fix and cream cheese filled coffee cake, we made our way to Arches National Park, and arrived around 8am for a short hike before continuing on to Vegas. We parked at the trail head for Devil’s Garden and happily trotted down the gravel Primitive Trail into the desert, vaguely similar to what I had imagined in my Oz dream. Unaware that we had chosen to take the park’s longest trail covering over 7 miles of very dry, hot terrain, we didn’t wear sunscreen, nor did we bring water, thinking that we would only be walking on a 1 mile loop. We hunted lizards, scrambled over rocks, explored side trails, and balanced across the tops of the ancient red stone arches, but after over two hours of hiking, the trail end was nowhere in sight and we were thirsty- very thirsty. We sat down every 20 minutes or so to rest, complain about our increasingly scratchy throats, and examine each other’s darkening sunburns.

Me at the top of Private Arch

Once we reached Private Arch, three young, shirtless, and handsome men soon trailed in behind us and I goggled at them longingly, for one of them was carrying a gallon jug filled with clear water. The three set down their packs at the bottom of a rock and continued up to see the view.  I seriously contemplated chugging as much of their water as my stomach could hold while they weren’t looking. As I crept towards their belongings, thinking of nothing but how that water would sooth my dry lips and throat, a deep and enthusiastic “Hallo!” stopped me. I tried to look as innocent as possible and cracked my dry lips into a smile. “Where are you from?” he asked in a deep European accent, motioning for me to come up the rock towards him. I licked my lips, “Colorado, you?” Kelly approached from behind me. “Austria. I am Louis and they are Mike and Mike.” “Hallo!” the Mikes said in unison. The back of my brain felt heavy and I was worried I might start mistaking the Mikes for roasted chickens or giant glasses of water. “We go from Cali-for-nia by auto to this place and then to Las Wegas. The red rocks are getting too much for us now. What are you doing?” Louis inquired, staring at the both of us with his bright blue eyes. “We are going to Las Vegas tonight,” I said, trying to be cheery. “Hey,” Kelly interrupted, “can we have some of your water? We don’t have any.” My face brightened and I tried to put on a cute pretty-please grin. “Ok, yaa,” Louis said and the Mikes grunted and smiled in agreement. Kelly and I scrambled to the water jug and took big, long gulps. The three Austrians watched us from above. “Thank you!” we both yelled as we turned around to leave. “Good luck in Wegas!” Louis yelled back while Mike and Mike waved. From that point forward, we knew what we had to do: provoke as much pity as possible from everyone we passed. With our bright red faces, forced smiles, and sincere thank you’s, we managed gulps of strong blue Gatorade from a couple from Chicago, shared a water bottle with another couple from Portland, Oregon, took awkward suckles of several others’ plastic water bladders, and so on- most likely causing an outbreak of Cameron and Kelly cooties worldwide- but luckily making it safe and sound to the car in the parking lot.

"The red rocks are getting too much for us now."

At 9:45pm, after driving further west for hours on the freeway, we were bombarded with the lights of Vegas. Its blinding vastness stretched out over the desert like an Emerald City gone wrong. Traffic was horrendous with drivers weaving in and out of lanes, honking their horns, proceeding to rear-end cars in front of them, and after a few yells, fist shakings, and finger liftings, they were off to repeat the process further down the strip. This was our first taste of the almost frightening phenomenon of how time seems to slow down in Las Vegas. It took eons for us to get into the parking garage of the Venetian Hotel and once we got inside, the sensory overload had the effects of a ray gun that slows down time within a fraction of stopping it. We torpidly drifted down elaborately painted corridors, were consumed by flashing gambling machine lights, got distracted by the yells of losers and the cheers of winners, and somehow made it to the golden fountain in the front lobby, not remembering how we got there or realizing how long such a simple task as entering the hotel lobby took.
We met up with my friend Eric, who had offered us free sleeping space on the floor in his hotel suite, and he informed us that his brother had the door key and was out clubbing so we were unable to enter the room until very late. All hope for a shower and a quick nap after our hiking adventure in the desert was out the window, so after Eric skipped off into the casinos, Kelly and I struggled to make ourselves look halfway decent in the Venetian lobby’s ladies room. Both of us hopped in and out of several outfits as fast as our exhausted bodies would allow and smeared on eyeliner and lip gloss between large glasses of warm and cheap strawberry champagne we had picked up earlier in the day. Once the bottle of champagne was empty, I tousled my hair and frowned in the mirror at my deep red farmer’s tan. It was clear that no matter how much perfume I sprayed over my collarbone, I would stick out like a sore thumb. And so, Kelly and I went on our way to take pictures of the scenery and snicker at the people who had more to drink than we did. We never got around to gambling or doing much of anything within the stifling slow motion haze, and all was a blur until Eric’s 4:30am phone call gave us access to the suite and a long awaited sleep.

Farmer's Tan Fashion

Dorothy’s tornado had apparently struck twice. The suite was covered in food, empty bottles, bedding, and sleeping bodies strewn every which way. Kelly and I managed to clear a spot for ourselves on the floor in a corner and 3 ½ hours later, we woke up to cell phone alarms and the shrieks of our 10 suite-mates reminding us that we were in Vegas bitches and it was time to get up and drink! After everyone else finally filed out of the room, Kelly and I stayed behind, trying desperately to sleep in a little more and prepare for the hot and dawdling day ahead. Our breakfast consisted of tasteless $16 enchiladas that arrived at the hands of a sluggish wait staff and by the time we were out on the strip, it was past 1:00 in the afternoon. It was impossible to do anything outside in the heat, so we immediately stepped into the Ghirardelli shop and indulged in chocolate milkshakes. Our cold ice creams allowed our brains to think slightly more coherently and we decided to visit the art exhibit in the Bellagio, Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form. The exhibit included the artists Renoir, Picasso, Hockney, Lichtenstein, and Viola and was enlightening and refreshing compared to the rest of what I had experienced in the Sin City thus far.
Back at the Venetian, where we were guaranteed to get lost every time we went to and from our room, we played along with a Bachelor party’s scavenger hunt by giving them fake telephone numbers and letting them take pictures of the inside of our borrowed messy suite. We also had to make pleading phone calls to our mothers because our $100 dollars had mysteriously run out. Craving a break from the soggy sandwiches we had packed in our cooler two days before, we went to the Outback Steak House on the strip with Trong, one of our many suite-mates, and had a good time joking around with the waiter and discussing what our second night in Vegas could bring.
Clubbing was on our agenda, so after we were finished with dinner at 9:15, (Hadn’t we sat down for dinner around 6? Why did it take so long?) Kelly and I were on a rushed quest to find dresses suitable to get us past the bouncers at Tao or Pure or one of the other dance clubs that try their best to put on an exclusive front. Target was the only place we could find that was open, which was surprising since everything besides clothing stores seemed to be just coming alive. Night time in Vegas is for drinking and gambling, but definitely not shopping. We each grabbed and tried on the first dresses we saw and ran to the cash registers at 9:58 with the loud speakers threatening closure at 10.

The Venetian Hotel and Casino


Kelly and I headed back to our hotel,
but this time we were sleeping in the Stratosphere, thanks to my gracious mom who decided to donate more to our Vegas cause, most likely with the hope that this would be my last hurrah before I got a job and grew up. We were glad to no longer be sharing a suite with 10 other people. The Stratosphere, while much farther away from the main part of the strip than the Venetian, gladly let its true colors show. The guests there were dressed in ripped jeans and t-shirts and gambled with bright pink arms and hands from being out in the sun all day. I felt more at ease, rather than having to deal with the Venetian’s classy false-front that miserably tried to hide its overflowing sleaziness. At least at the Stratosphere, if you were sleazy, you were proud to show it. I was also looking forward to the promised 10:00am wake-up call instead of an 8:30am drink-up call in the morning- but first one last night in Vegas.
Kelly and I shared a cab ride with a driver who definitely wasn’t sober and two women whose conversation included debating whether one could see the continents of Earth from outer space, and we ended up at the Koi Lounge in Planet Hollywood. While waiting in line to get in, I was given a ticket from a promoter that allowed Kelly and I to jump to the front of the line, enter for free, and enjoy an open bar for $20. By the time Trong met up with us (apparently, Eric and the rest of the group had given up on clubbing, probably due to drinking for about 24 hours strait), it was 12:00am and we took advantage of the open bar and hopped in another taxi to the Tao night club inside the Venetian. As things mysteriously take forever in Las Vegas, we somehow arrived at Tao around 2:30am and because I have what I would consider normal partying stamina, I was beginning to tucker out. 9 hours of sleep in over 48 hours, 100+ degree temperatures, crowds, and alcohol, all in unbearable slow motion, were not things I was accustomed to. Nonetheless, we waited in line for who knows how long and Kelly stepped out of line to take a quick half hour trip to the bathroom. Once she came back, Trong and I were finally at the front of the line and Kelly stepped over the red velvet rope to rejoin us. Suddenly, the club bouncers were on top of Kelly like vultures. “You are not permitted to step over the rope,” a tall man dressed in a spiffy suit said sternly. He glared at me from under his black brimmed hat, with an uncanny resemblance of the dreaded Camp Man. I saw him grip Kelly’s arm above her elbow. “No, it’s ok. She is with us. She just ran to the bathroom really quick while we were waiting in line,” I insisted. The bouncer’s cold eyes met mine and he loosened his hold on Kelly. “I’ll be nice this time,” he growled, “but you are never allowed to step over the rope.” Trong, Kelly, and I sighed with relief but the tall spiffy-suited bouncer turned to his partner at the door and pointed to Kelly. “Don’t let that one in,” he told the doorman and went back to his post. Trong and I gave each other concerned and defeated glances, but Kelly was too busy cursing under her breath and rubbing the hand print on her arm to hear what had happened. Sure enough, we were turned away at the door. The Camp Man’s revenge had finally caught up to us.
After less than 5 hours of sleep, Kelly and I reluctantly got up the next morning, wandered around the Stratosphere, and found a Starbucks for breakfast. In small cotton shorts and pajama t-shirts and lattes in hand, we staggered to the elevators that go up to the top of the tallest observation tower in the United States. To our dismay, in order to get to the elevator, we were forced to take cheesy pictures in front of a green screen that was later replaced with touristy photos of Las Vegas and sold at the exit of the tower. We obliged, with everyone else in line watching us, and posed in our pajamas and tired eyes so that we could continue to the top and take in one last view of the strange, slow, and shining Emerald City before it was time to leave.

We aren't in Kansas anymore...

We were able to depart the slow motion city at 12:30 and drove back east through the desert with a final 12 hour drive ahead of us.  I gripped the wheel in a dream-like state while Kelly dozed.  We seemed to reach the town of Salina, Utah, 5 hours away, in a flash, as if all the built up time in Las Vegas suddenly propelled us forward in order to catch up with the rest of the world.  With such a time warp, I was unprepared to plan for my car’s gas consumption and continued to drive past Salina with slightly less than a quarter tank of gas remaining.  In any other place, a quarter tank would have sufficed, but not in the desert.  Between Salina and the next town, Green River, there is literally 100 miles of nothingness- no exits, no people, no buildings, and certainly no gas stations, only me, Kelly, our cooler that was down to 4 warm coca-colas, and the never ending dry sand and red rocks.  After about 30 miles, the gas gauge shot down to empty and the gas light flickered its warnings.  A green highway sign loomed ahead: 62 miles to Green River.  My stomach ached with nervousness.  Time was approaching 7:00pm and if we ran out of gas now, we would be stranded in 95 degree heat and desert darkness at the mercy of who ever happened to speed by.  I shuttered at my idea of who that person might be, imagining cold eyes peering out from under a trucker’s hat.  I slowed down from 80 miles an hour to 40, avoiding acceleration as much as I could and dropping the car into neutral at the slightest downward slope.  I counted the mile markers on the side of the road vehemently, a small squeak of relief escaping my mouth with every mile put behind us.  Through a miracle, we rolled into a truck stop and gas station in Green River, just as my car gave a final sigh of emptiness.  The last of our trials were over, and sleep was just on the other side of those tall Rocky Mountains.

The final moments of sunset as we pulled into Green River's truck stop

I woke up to my cat licking my nose around noon on Monday, dazed with a slight head cold and still unsure of what purpose our sudden adventure had served.  Maybe it will come to me in a dream.  Until then, one thing I do know is, there truly is no place like home.

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