Thursday, August 24, 2006

Eight Tracks & Mud Flaps

It's good to be back home here in Vegas. Although it was a very quick trip to Phoenix, it was just what I needed. I'd like to say that I'm refreshed and recharged, but honestly, I'm still a little tired.

Once I made my last post on Tuesday morning, I loaded up the truck with my luggage and such and took off by 11:15. I had to make the requisite stops for drinkables and cash, but after that it was just me and Sid on the open road with nothing but a collection of traveling music to keep me company.

I hit Hoover Dam at exactly 12 noon and figured I'd be in Phoenix less than four hours later. I popped in my favorite 'Redneck Road Trip' cd once I hit the Arizona line, and lead-footed it towards Kingman. Included on that disc are such hits as Ramblin' Man, Gypsy Road, East Bound and Down, Open Road Song, On the Road Again, Convoy, I've Been Everywhere, Home Sweet Home, and of course, the Most Holy Anthem of All That Is Righteous and Southern--Free Bird!

Traffic was easy once I got past the winding mayhem of Black Canyon, and I cruised at a leisurely 85 mph all the way to Kingman, where I noticed that gas was only $2.85 for regular, even at the usually-more-expensive travel stops.

But I didn't stop. I had a long way to go and a short time to get there, so I put the hammer down, good buddy. As soon as I turned on to I-40, I immediately thought of Angy driving east in new car with the top down and $370,000 of Warden Norton's money, severence pay for 16 years of service, and it made me laugh all over again.

Wait... that's not it.

But it made me think of Angy's road trip she took just two weeks earlier, so I had to give her a call and leave a voicemail. Then I popped in the ABBA cd, which is actually a pretty quick listen, and it got me almost all the way to Wickiup. At that point, it was time for some more authentic driving-across-the-southwestern-desert music, and out came ABBA and in went The Joshua Tree.

Ahh, much better.

I've got to tell you, seeing the wide-open vistas of the American west laid bare before me, cleansed by the daily monsoon showers, with emotionally charged songs like One Tree Hill playing in the background, it was a sublime pleasure racing my shadow along that meandering black highway, hopscotching between the shady parts where the clouds crossed between me and the sun. Some folks say that the drive between Vegas and Phoenix is dull and boring. They are either unenlightened or just aren't traveling in the right frame of mind. There's plenty of beauty to be found in the Sonoran desert, you just have to know where to look.

It's taken me several years of making that drive, but now I know.

I was shaken from my hypnotic behind-the-wheel trance when suddenly about 40 miles outside of Wickenburg, the non-existent traffic suddenly materialized at the bottleneck created by road construction. I was lucky enough to spend the next five miles crawling along behind a concrete truck doing 45 mph. It was kicking up all sorts of debris, doing his level best to ruin my paint job or crack my windshield, so I backed way off, certainly pissing off the drivers behind me.

Suddenly, there I heard the distinct clicking sound of a playing card shoved in the spokes of a bicycle moving at full speed, and my air conditioner stopped blowing cool air. Actually, it stopped blowing any air. I turned off the cd player while I tried to diagnose the problem.


Obviously, I picked up a leaf or a piece of plastic and it was blocking my air duct. I tried turning the fan off and on. I tried turning the AC off and on a few times, I switched from 'fresh' to 'recirculate' several times. Nothing worked. And I was at least forty miles from civilization, out in the middle of the damn desert in August, with temperatures somewhere in the triple digits. Slowly, the cab of my truck started to feel like my old bedroom in the middle of the afternoon. Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead and ran down my face, stinging my eyes.

Not wanting to stop and poke around under the hood next to a very hot engine, I kept going, trying to figure out what to do.

I tried the fan again--the clicking sound was gone, so the obstruction was gone, but there was no cold air. So I rolled down the window, providing a little relief while I literally and figuratively stewed, knowing that a trip back to the dealership was in my very near future.

Ticked off, because the main point of having a brand-new vehicle is the fact that everything should work like it's supposed to, I was getting madder and madder by the mile.

But then I noticed something. Highway 93 through central Arizona is one of the most dangerous roads in America. As such, a prudent driver like myself will drive with their headlights on at all times, even in the middle of the day. Well, it was super-bright outside, just like it always is, and I had my sunglasses on. And I noticed that with the headlights on, the interior and dashboard lights, like in every other vehicle on the road, go dimmer. With my sunglasses on, I was unable to read stuff like my odometer, trip mileage, or the radio display. Nor was I able to notice the amber-colored on/off switch for the air conditioner. So I took off my sunglasses, pushed the power switch to the AC, the light came on, and I was relieved by the blast of cold air that immediately greeted me.

Oh hell yeah! My truck didn't need a repair, I just learned the vitally important lesson that if you want to have air conditioning, you must push the 'On' button first.

Lesson learned.

Before long I was slowing down to avoid the speed traps that Wickenburg is famous for, and a few minutes later I turned onto the Carefree Highway, 30 miles from I-17, 40 miles from Eddie's house.

I called him and told him where I was and he said he'd be there about five minutes ahead of me. That last little bit of the road trip is always the worst, when it seems everyone ahead of you is conspiring to slow you down, but I finally pulled into the driveway at Eddie's new house, just as he was bringing in his garbage cans from the curb.

It was great to be back.

We grabbed my stuff out of the passenger's seat and I went inside, happy to be standing up after three-and-a-half hours in the saddle. Eddie has prospered in the 3+ years since I left Phoenix, and in addition to a huge new home in an upscale neighborhood, he actually has a beer fridge out in the garage. Back in the old days, the beer fridge was in the kitchen of his old house. And it held juice, pop, leftover pizza, and the occasional vegetable, too. Anyhow, he fetched a couple of ice-cold Pacificos with lime, and we relaxed for a bit while catching up on all the latest news and gossip.

I also presented him with his brand-new Hurricane Mikey t-shirt, which took a place of honor on the back of one of his dining-room chairs.

We had a few beers while relaxing and unwinding--his day was very hectic, too. He's heading to India on business for five weeks, and is buried under a flurry of last-minute preparations at work. So a beer with Mikey and a day off in the middle of the week was just the ticket for his mental health.

About the time his wife showed up, we'd moved on to chilling Patron in the martini shaker. Normally she's game to join us, and can pretty much drink me under the table, but she was heading to the gym to work out, and left us degenerates alone with the open liquor cabinet. We didn't do too much damage to it, as we had to drive down to the Camelback area for our evening's activities.

First thing on the agenda was dinner. I was starving, having not eaten a thing all day. Eddie was ready to eat, if only to provide an alcohol filter/sponge in the bottom of his stomach. One of my favorite joints in all of Phoenix is a place called NYPD Pizza down on 20th Street and Highland--it's easily the most authentic Gotham-style pizza in Arizona, at least at least to my semi-refined palate. We pulled in and were seated immediately, and attempted to order a pitcher of beer.

No more pitchers, unfortunately. But pints were available, so we went that route. Our waitress informed us that on Tuesdays it was Buy One, Get One Half Off, so we got pretty excited until we learned that it only applied to the pizza, and not the beer.


Oh well, the pizza is damn good, but we certainly weren't hungry enough to order two pies, much less carry around the leftovers in my truck all night, negating the power of my coconut-scented air freshener. Perhaps if we'd ordered the Hawaiian pizza instead...

We shared an order of honey BBQ wings, and our 16" Brooklyn Family pie arrived shortly thereafter. And yeah, it's better than Metro here in Vegas. Perfect thin-sliced pepperoni and Italian sausage, with enough fresh basil sprinkled on to give it good color and flavor, along with piping hot mozzarella and just enough sauce to glue the whole thing together. Their pizza is a work of art on a greasy silver canvas, and cultured fellows like me and Eddie can certainly appreciate fine art like that.

Dinner was excellent, and we ate until we were stuffed. Eddie wouldn't let me pay for dinner, so he covered the tab. Unfortunately, I'd left all the cigars back on his kitchen counter, so we had to make other arrangements for 'dessert'.

Luckily, one of our other favorite establishments was right up the road. Again, being well-cultured, moderately successful fellows, we figured that a night at the local ballet might be a good way to kill some time. Of course, you've got to be a bit optimistic about the show when there's a big sign on the door advertising $3 Heinekens on a Tuesday night.

We were properly frisked and metal-detected before being allowed entry to the pleasures awaiting us behind the red velvet rope, but luckily we were carrying no liquids and they didn't need to x-ray our flip-flops. We were granted admission, and we hoped that the girls inside did a better job of frisking us than the guy with the earpiece out on the front porch.

The first stop was the cashier.

Eddie said 'Cover and two Heinekens'.

That'll be $21 please.

What the...? How much is the cover charge?

Five bucks--you two are together, aren't you?

Yeah, but we're not on a date! How much for the beer?

$5.50 each.

But the sign says $3 on Tuesdays!

What day is it?

It's Tuesday!

Ok, $11 then.

Luckily she's working there at the strip club instead of the the drive-thru at Starbucks, or else you'd never get your Venti Frappuccino.

Then the tuxedo-wearing fellow took us to our seats, right down front and center. Not a good spot to be--along the wall is much better--so after about oh, thirty seconds, we moved to a better piece of real estate, opting for two seats in the back corner where we could scope out the entire club. Plus we figured with all of the handprints on the mirrors behind us, our seats were every bit as good as those guys sitting behind the dugout at Wrigley Field.

It took us about half an hour to realize that Tuesday night must be 'Regulars Night' at the Hi Lighter, because pretty much every chick was camped out in one spot. Only the especially freaky ones came trolling by us, but we refused their advances. I struck up a conversation with the hottest girl in there, the cocktail waitress, and since we were tipping her well, she hung around with us when not delivering drinks.

Damn, I love me some ASU coeds.

She said she'd be willing to hang out and go drinking with us, but she hadn't made her $200 for the night yet (hint hint), so it just wasn't possible unless we covered her losses.

Tempting as it was, because she was smoking hot, we opted to let her earn her money that night and do what she did best--fetch the girls we wanted and bring us more beer.

Pretty soon Eddie and I were both enjoying the company of some rather attractive and talented young ladies, while I kept them entertained by sticking water bottles to my head. But I think they got the better deal, at least financially.

And he's peelin' off those dollar bills, slappin' 'em down. One hundred! Two hundred!

Not to say we didn't enjoy ourselves, because we certainly did. So much so that after we'd reached our daily limit, we decided that we had to do it again--soon.

Eddie finished off his last Heineken, and I pulled the bottle off of my head to polish off the last of my water, and we headed for the door.

Creepy earpiece man was still out there, so while we walked by I raised my hands over my head and asked him Hey, wanna frisk me again? Last chance!

That got a laugh from both Eddie and the dudes waiting in line, but luckily he declined. I called Eddie B, but got his voicemail--we were pretty sure he was already in bed, as he has to get up at 4:00 am to oversee all of the electronic trades being placed for market open. I also gave George a call, but since it was after 9:00 pm, it was getting to be too late to meet up, since he lives in the far southeast part of Phoenix, and Ed lives on the far northwest side.

Instead of opting for more buffoonery or nekkid chick-flesh, we decided to head back north. We stopped by a local pub called Legends for a few rounds, got to see a little drama with a drunk Indian, and laughed a bit as we relived the previous few hours. By that time, we were dragging and needed to get back to the house. We stayed up for a bit watching tv and such, but we were so tired that we called it a night. I took a glass of icewater for my nightstand and headed up to the guest bedroom. I collapsed and passed out around midnight.

I must've really needed my sleep, because I didn't wake up until 10 am the next morning. I stopped by the facilities to do my morning toilette, put on some swim trunks, and went downstairs to find Eddie working in his office. Of course, he wasn't all business--he had a tall Bloody Mary in his hand and ditched the work as soon as I made an appearance.

I told him Dude, I've got to say--with this new house, and working in your office like Mr. Brady with his 'plans', and having a beer fridge in the garage and such, it's like you're a *grown-up* now.

He told me he felt the same way, but he didn't actually feel like a grown up until the day Michelle (his wife) made him buy a wine fridge for the kitchen.

Yep, that would've never happened at his old house... She even made him take the R2-D2 cookie jar off the top of the fridge and hide it in a cabinet. (And remember kids, those are dog treats in there--not cookies!)

Quick story about R2-D2. A long time ago (in a galaxy far far away), long before he ever met Michelle, Ed used to host two excellent pool parties every year--One on Memorial Day weekend, and one on Labor Day weekend. It was always a great time with about 20 or 30 of us hanging around, tapping the keg, grilling steaks, playing volleyball in the pool, getting high in the toolshed, doing shots around the kitchen island, and basically getting good and liquored up before crashing in various spots around the house and sleeping it off.

Well, one time Ed got started a little too early, had done too many shots, and was basically unable to continue his duties as a host by like 7 pm. Somehow, he'd also lost his swimming trunks, too. He was running into the house though the sliding door off of the patio, slipped, fell down, and decided that he'd just had enough and was going to lay where he fell. Luckily for the rest of us, he was face down at the time.

So there was this drunk naked guy passed out on the threshold between the kitchen and back patio, with a party raging around him. His party. At his house.

One of his other buddies decided that we should salvage what was left of his dignity, and maybe find something to cover his ass-crack, so the rest of the drunks there weren't temped to do naughty things to him (there was a crockpot full of Little Smokies in BBQ sauce on the counter, and several people came up with the same bad idea at the same time). So instead of a towel, or at least a dishcloth, somebody set R2-D2 on the crack of his ass and left him there while the party continued on into the night. And since the robot was full of dog treats, the dogs were especially interested in sniffing around. As you can imagine, at the time it was about the most hilarious thing any of us had ever seen, so those that had cameras took the opportunity for blackmail material.

Luckily Eddie eventually tracked down every copy of that photo and destroyed them, but I think he's still afraid to run for public office, because somebody will somehow dig up an old copy to sell to the Enquirer.

Gotta love partying at Eddie's house...

Anyhow, breakfast drinks were the order of the day, and I went with a Skyy Screwdriver topped with a splash of Grand Marnier. Damn, was it ever tasty. We downed those and headed for the pool.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and just like old times, we were floating around drinking Pacificos and listening to Jimmy Buffett. You can't ask for a better day!

It was hot as hell, but the water was a perfect temperature to keep us cooled off. The only time we got out was to change the cd from Boats, to Beaches, to Bars, and to fetch the occasional replacement bottle of Pacifico.

At one point, there was a huge crack of thunder, followed by an immediate rainshower, so we took shelter under the covered patio and spent the remainder of the afternoon smoking our Partagas and nibbling on some hot wings and sandwiches we had delivered from Barro's.

Finally, the sun and beers had taken their toll, so we went inside and fell asleep in the family room watching tv. I woke up just as Michelle was getting home from work, because my cell phone was ringing. George was calling, saying they were heading down to the restaurant a little early to hang out in the lounge before dinner, and if we wanted to join them to come on down.

We thought that was a good idea, so we all three set about to getting ready for dinner. The plan for the evening was that ten of my best friends in the world were going to join me for dinner at Donovan's Steak and Chop House down on Camelback Road. We had a group reservation, and they even went above and beyond and gave us a private room adjacent to their cigar lounge.

When I made the reservation, they also offered us complimentary limousine service, and for some unknown reason, I turned it down like a dumbass. I told Eddie about that perk and we decided to use it, so I called them back hoping we wouldn't have to drive, but unfortunately, three other parties had reserved it already.


Oh well. We got dressed and prettied up, and all piled into Michelle's car for the trek down to the city (Did I mention that Ed lives way the hell out in West BFE?). We got there about 15 minutes early, and found George and Marlisha already sipping martinis in the lounge. As soon as I walked up, one of my oldest and closest friends (Mike) who I hadn't seen in almost five years was sitting there with them. Somehow they'd already met each other and figured out in that crowded bar that they were in the same dining party--having never seen each other before that night. Pretty cool. We all gathered around, ordered cocktails and waited for the rest of the gang to show up.

Finally, about a half hour later, everyone was there and they led us to our dining room. First of all, a word about Donovan's. It reminded me of an old-school supper club--lots of dark wood and subdued lighting, tuxedoed waiters and waitresses 'Captains', and the ghosts of Rat Packers and mob bosses lurking about. It had an excellent vibe. It was definitely upscale, and most everyone we saw was 'dressed' for dinner. It had the potential to become a favorite spot.

Our private room was only semi-private--they left the doors open, but we weren't planning on being loud or obnoxious--it just looked like we were VIP's to the rest of the patrons in the dining room.

The wine list went to Eddie to pick out some good bottles and he chose an excellent Oregon Pinot and some sort of Red Zinfandel that was a big hit. Appetizers were ordered, and pretty much everyone got the bacon-wrapped scallops, except for Marlisha, who went with the Calimari, and Julia, who is pregnant with twins and 'saving room for dessert instead'.

I guess it would make more sense if I identified the Usual Suspects in attendance. Besides your humble host, my best friends from the early days at ASU, and the first people I met once I got to Phoenix, Mike and Julia were there. I hadn't seen them in over four years, so it was great to have them join us. Of course from Vegas trip report fame, Eddie B. and Eddie W. were both there, with their lovely wives Regina and Michelle. And rounding out the group of buffoons were George and Marlisha, who some of you might recognize from my comment section as 'Big Tips' and 'Big Stogie'.

Not everyone in the group knew everyone else beforehand, so I was more like the hub for all of the spokes. But everyone got along famously and we had a lot of laughs, and I'm fairly certain that new friendships were formed and everyone is going to keep in touch with everyone else. Mike is even going to join George, Eddie, and me for that fishing trip out to San Diego that we've been talking about, so just on the strength of that plan, the evening was a smashing success!

Anyhow, once the appetizers and wine arrived, they also brought out hot-from-the-oven bread and butter to nibble on, too. Julia had to make a run to the ladies room, and while gone, went on a scouting mission around the dining room, and came back to report that the steaks were indeed huge and they all looked fantastic.

Or maybe she said They're real, and they're spectacular. I can't remember which--she had some good lines though.

I opted for the 24 oz. Ribeye 'Chop' which was a huge bone-in ribeye steak. Other people tried that, too, but I remember Michelle and Mike both ordering the peppercorn filet and raving about it. Eddie W had the lamb chops, Regina had a HUGE lobster, and Eddie B and George also had some variation of super-sized prime cow flesh. And it was all excellent. The dinners came with potatoes, not a la carte like most upscale steakhouses, but I still ordered some delicious wine-sauteed mushrooms on the side. The entrees also included sugar snap-peas and baby carrots, both of which were excellent.

The food was so good that most of the conversation almost came to a complete halt once the entrees arrived, except for the the occasional grunt or moan of satisfaction. But once the initial shock wore off, it was back to our usual entertaining banter.

As good as it was. I could only get about half of my steak eaten. I had them box up the meat and the mushrooms, (which of course I drove off and left in Eddie's refridgerator), while a few others had leftovers, too. But that didn't deter us from dessert. Eddie and Michelle split a chocolate mousse cake, Mike and I had warm apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream, Julia and Regina went with the triple fudge chocolate brownie, and Marlisha had strawberry cheesecake. In honor of Doc Al and our trip to The Palm in March, George ordered the Creme Brulee, and refused to let me near it with my Spoon of Destruction.

It was all very good, my only small gripe being that the cobbler crust was way too thick--it was almost like an Apple Pot Pie. Otherwise, the entire meal was excellent, as was the service. They broke up the tabs individually, and mine came to $98 before tip. Eddie had the wine on his tab, and I think the bottles were between $40 and $50 apiece. So for a great meal in an almost elegant setting, it was well worth the price. Everyone raved about the experience and there was a unanimous vote of 'Lets do it again next time!'.

After dinner, Mike & Julia and Ed & Regina headed home. I walked them out to say our goodbyes before joining everyone else--the Diehards--in the cigar lounge for a smoke and a nightcap. George and I really loved the lounge--it was adjacent to the bar with comfortable leather chairs and couches, and adorned by pictures of famous cigar smokers. And the wait staff was excellent, cutting and lighting your smokes for you and bringing whatever drink you could imagine from the bar. Just a fine, fine place to relax and enjoy the company of good friends.

We were in there quite awhile, being the second-to-last party to leave for the night. As tired as we were, nobody seemed to want the night to end, it was that much fun. But again, we said our goodbyes in the parking lot and I headed back up north with Ed and Michelle.

We were all quite exhausted when we got back--a day out in the sun, followed by a huge, rich meal with wine and cigars was almost anesthetic. I spent a few minutes packing before succumbing to the come-hither look of the guest bed, and I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.

But we were up bright and early this morning. I grabbed a quick shower, gathered up my things and got on the road about the same time Ed and Michelle left for their respective day-cubes. I filled up the tank with (relatively) cheap gas, and followed the signs pointing to this neon playground I call home. I would've gotten home sooner, but Highway 93 is only two lanes wide for a whole lotta miles through the desert, and I somehow managed to land in the middle of my own Convoy of big rigs, with me and my pretty red truck playing the part of the eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus. It took me awhile to get around all of the trucks and up to a good cruising speed, but I finally made it home around 11:30.

I almost forgot--I was delayed getting to Hoover Dam, too, because somebody had a suspicious looking rental van at the security checkpoint, and they made them turn around, drive all the way back to Kingman, and go through Laughlin to get to Las Vegas. And all of us at the checkpoint (I was first in line) had to wait in the distance while the state troopers made them turn around and go back the other way.

Interesting times we live in.

But it's good to be home!


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