The Lost Art of Travel

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Note: This post is still not complete, although it continues to grow. I will complete tomorrow and add pictures and links as I see fit. I encourage clicking on all the links, it will expand your knowledge.

The age of air travel and the on-the-go mindset have led us astray. As a society, and I’m guilty of this as well, we value the destination far more than the journey itself. 2 months ago, I would have said that the destination of any endeavor is the most important, that the results of one’s actions or journey is all that counts. I was wrong. Spring break is to thank for this. After reading this post you will: 1. appreciate your winding travels more than the destination 2. realize how awesome driving across America is and want to experience it for yourself immediately 3. gain an enlightened perspective on the human psyche 4. post lots of comments on this blog entry.

I was sitting in my room enjoying the cold filtered taste of Natural Light one evening while enjoying an especially offensive episode of South Park with my fraternity brothers. We were discussing the possibilities for spring break and how, as seniors, we needed to go out with a bang. Something epic had to be in store. Our minds were focused on some exciting foreign destination in the Caribbean or South America. We were destination centered, paying no attention to the value of the journey that would lead us there. We wanted to be like every other college guy in America: go to the beach, crush beers, hit on women that we will never see again. Actually, my cousin is married to a girl he met on spring break in Cancun…….but I digress. Unfortunately, as we priced out our options it became increasingly clear that this trip was unaffordable for some members of our group ( I had recently experienced a night at the Bull Run where I was friendly enough to purchase everyone sitting at the bar margaritas….EVERYONE LOL). Our next move was to look at domestic destinations in Florida and Texas. Decision factors at this point: 1. what is the scumiest dirt bag hotel we can find on the beach? 2. where is the nearest rental car company stupid enough to rent to 6 college guys going down to Florida? 3. is it cheaper to purchase adult beverages in PA and bring them down? 4. where is Girls Gone Wild filming that week? These questions answered, we broke up into two coalitions, it was reminiscent of MGMT 101. The first coalition explored the Panama City Florida and the second focused on Daytona Beach. These prices were much more reasonable and I was leaning towards Daytona because my grandmother lives there and I was certain I would have been able to scam a few good meals out of her. It was at this moment that the beer gods smiled upon Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity and planted a wonderful idea in our heads: my fraternity brother’s house in San Diego.

Although originally suggested as a joke, this idea began to gain traction over the next few days. Once we had gained permission to crash at the house for a few days we began exploring transportation options. Our line of thinking was that if Enterprise would rent us a car, they would certainly rent us an SUV or van for a cross country excursion. This was not the case. Budget? No dice. Alamo? Tough luck. Hertz? Well, they just laughed at us. Apparently, its not cool to rent anything larger than a 2 door Kia if your under 25. This moment was extremely depressing and I began to think that this trip had been torpedoed by greedy corporate America. (JK, I am greedy corporate America and there is no way in hell I would rent me a van!) It was at this moment, with the help of a Manhattan (always order these up and with good whiskey, otherwise you are wasting your time. I prefer bourbon in mine. Basil Hayden or Knob Creek will do fine) that only a Bucknellian could conceive: If we can’t rent a van, lets buy one!

Craigslist is an excellent resource. An excellent resource that is, if your looking for a good time or if you need to buy a van. At the time I was using the term van very liberally, basically anything with four wheels that could fit six people would have sufficed. With none of us being overly privileged Bucknellians, the budget for our van was rather meager and quite restrictive. $1000 was our sweet spot and the criteria were as follows: mileage, condition, pimpness. I self appointed myself to head the van acquisition committee and brought on my brother George who is a resident of the keystone state to actually sign the papers and insure our chariot. My first call was to a man, we will call him JR, who lived in Bloomsburg. JR, from what I gathered during a rambling and somewhat inane 20 minute phone conversation, is most likely an alcoholic deadbeat who needed money to tide him over until his next welfare check came through. No, I’m not being mean, there were several things mumbled in our conversation that allowed me to infer that with a high degree of certainty. His van was a 1989 Chevy conversion van with 203k miles on it. It had some rust, a questionable transmission, probably reeked of all sorts of illicit substances, and had just traveled 4000 miles to and from Arizona. I was informed by JR that Saturday before 1pm or after 5pm would be the best times to see the van because “I ain’t gunna miss none of my Nascar.” What a gentlemanly sport. Saturday morning rolled around and I called JR to confirm our pre 1pm meeting. He had completely forgotten that we had talked and proceeded to have another inane 20 minute conversation with me. At the end of his profanity riddled diatribe, he proceeded to inform me that he had some people driving up from Doylestown to buy the van. Thanks JR, glad you penciled me in to your busy schedule, best of luck selling the van.

It was at this point that I went into crisis mode. What I failed to mention at the beginning of this post was that our trip planning didn’t begin until about 2 weeks before spring break, so we were a little scrunched for time. The Van Acquisition Committee hoped into my car and drove down route 15 with the intention of stopping at every single car dealership from here to Harrisburg. No one had vans. NO ONE. I must have assumed wrong when I thought that every dealership would want a slice of the lucrative shitty van market. Feeling dejected, our final stop was a Kia dealership. The used car manager (yes Kia is still classy enough to refer to used cars as used cars and not pre owned or pre obsessed over) informed us that while he didn’t have any vans, he did have a 1986 Lincoln Town Car sitting at his mother-in-law’s house only a few minutes away. We took the bait and went to go check the car out, because hey why not? We were pretty much SOL. Unfortunately, by a few minutes, he meant half an hour off the highway in the middle of nowhere. I guess the directions should have been an indication of how far off the beaten path this car was. “Go up past two churches, around the bend, the road is going to fork, you’ll see an old abandoned silo. From there make a right and continue up 3 big hills…..etc”, you get the idea. The car was a disappointment and we continued back to Bucknell. This is when I remembered how much I love Blackberries.

In a last ditch effort, I checked Craigslist one last time for vans. The beer gods once again smiled upon us and we saw a short post with no pictures about a van located in Jersey Shore. That’s Jersey Shore PA. Why there is a town in the middle of PA with that name baffles me. I’m from Jersey, I go down the shore. This town does not do the Jersey Shore justice. I mean at least put up a bill board of Snookie or something! I called the man whom we will name “Ken” and informed him that we were en route. Ken lived in a development that was a delightful mixture of trailers and manufactured homes. I had a smile on my face as this felt exactly like the type of place we would find the perfect van. And we did. It was an excellently glorious moment as we pulled into Ken’s driveway and saw this beauty. It was clean, shiny, and had a two tone purple and white paint job. My fraternity’s color is royal purple so we knew that we had to have this van, it was perfect. Ken came out side and started telling us about the van, how many owners, service history, etc. He then agreed to let us take it for a spin up the road a few miles. The fist time I entered the van, it was magic. Full blue velor interior, real wood inlays, four captains chairs, a back row bench that electrically folded down into a bed, and track lighting on the ceiling. This 1992 Chevy Astro Van was in prime condition and had only 212,000 miles on it. We started her up and continued up the road. She drove like a dream, the steering was loose and imprecise, the brakes had to be slammed to the floor before any stopping force was applied, and the transmission was a little dodgy. I had to remind myself that this was not a reflection of age but rather a reflection of early 1990’s American quality. Now it was time to negotiate price. The listing said $1500 firm for the van, which was a little beyond our price range.  Ken was a nice guy, but I’m a shark and there was no way we were paying that much for the van. Then Ken let it slip that he had been trying to sell the van locally for several weeks and that his wife wanted it out of the driveway. Big mistake Ken, now I know that you are desperate to sell. Ken then proceeded to show us a project car in his garage that he needed more money to complete. Mistake number two Ken, now I know you are extremely desperate to sell. Never show your full hand in a negotiation. I could see that $1000 was going to be a stretch and quite frankly I did believe the van to be worth at least $1500. I didn’t want to low ball it, but I needed to work that number down a lot. We started negotiating and I could tell that he didn’t want to move very far on his price. This when I pulled the trump card. I pulled out a wad of Benjamins. $1000 that should have been going to JR for his van. I let it sink in for  a few seconds that the Committee was very serious about purchasing a van and that if the price was right, it could be this one. This is when I made my offer: $1200, $1000 right now and $200 upon delivery. Done. Deal. Committee disbanded. With the van taken care of, my focus shifted to acquiring other trip essentials and booking hotels and campgrounds. This part is mundane and not the least bit exciting, I will spare you the details.

Day 1 – Departure

We began loading the van at 10am and by 1pm we were ready for departure. I hopped in my car, which we would be leaving at the airport, and the van followed me down to Harrisburg. We had decided as we were planning the details of the trip two days prior, and with the help of nice single malt (I recommend Glenlivit or Glenfidich if you haven’t gotten your scotch on yet, although I prefer Lagavulin) that we were going to leave the van in San Diego and have Fred’s family sell if for us after we flew back. This was going to allow us to see a lot more of America. After dropping the car off in the long term lot, I took the first shift driving down to our destination. We were headed to Lexington KY that evening and had about 10hrs of driving ahead of us. Its very depressing looking at distance to destination numbers on the Garmin when they are that large. As we got on the highway and began to bring the van up to speed, we discovered that it shook at 70mph and between 50 and 65. Crap, this is going to add hours on to the trip. Ironically, the sweet spot was at about 69mph. Think about it, its funny. Things I learned on the first day: 1. West Virginia is a Godforsaken state with an extremely high obesity rate. 2. the pizza in WV is very very cheap. 3. I discovered the connection between the two. We arrive at the first hotel just after midnight. Because we are cheap, I only booked one room for 6 people so we had to pull around the back to hide from the manager when I checked in. We were not about to pay the higher occupancy charges. $10 is $10.

Day 2 – Epicness and Budweiser

The second day began with an incredible breakfast at the Waffle House. Why aren’t there any near me in NJ? This stuff is great. We then proceeded to our fraternity headquarters, which are located in Lexington, and took some pictures outside. It was now time for the fun: Budweiser. We arrived in St. Louis in time to catch the 2:30 factory tour. It’s quite an impressive facility and I highly recommend you visit if you ever make it down to St. Louis. They had tanks filled with more beer than a human could ever consume in their entire life. I challenged that statistic but quickly realized that one would succumb to cirrhosis of the liver way before the goal was accomplished. We saw the Clydesdales and the packaging facility and a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t as cool as the huge tanks of beer. At the end of the tour, Budweiser kindly invites those of age to enjoy two free beers in the hospitality tent. Being the responsible Bucknellians that we are, we immediately elect a DD and set out trying to find ways to scam as many beers as we can. We discovered that the bar tenders changed after every tour or two, so we would just wait until a new tour group came into the hospitality tent and get in line with them for more beer. I also discovered that they had Stella Artois on tap (thanks InBev) and that they were serving it in the traditional Stella glass. This was an important development because all of the other beer was being served in a 12oz glass as opposed to the pint sized Stella glass. After several beers each, we noticed that security was starting to eye us and we decided not to push our luck and headed to the van. On the way out we asked the receptionist where a good place to get a burger was and she pointed us to a bar around the corner called Big Daddy’s. This is when the day begins to get slightly fuzzy as I consumed several more Anheuser InBev products at with dinner as well as a Manhattan. At the next gas station, my receipt indicates I purchased a six pack of Hoegaarden and some Slim Jims. What a great combination, quality wheat beer from Belgium and disgusting processed meat snacks. We made it to Tulsa that night and by the grace of the beer gods, I was somehow able to check us into our hotel. It was the most comfortable floor I’ve ever slept on lol.

Day 3 – The Longest Drive Ever

Day three began our trek out west. It was our intention to drive for 15hrs and make it from Tulsa all the way out to Sedona AZ. Sedona, by the way, is incredibly beautiful. I’m not really into rocks and archeology, but if you ever get a chance, definitely try to make it out there. Not a big fan of all the hippies and new age medicine bs people that inhabit the area, but its still something you don’t want to miss. The day began with breakfast at a local diner, where we met “Millie”, a lovable grandma type waitress. She was captivated with our tales of adventure and debauchery. After taking a picture with her, we set off on the road. Although we missed the World’s Largest Praying Hands in Tulsa, we did mange to catch a glimpse of the largest free standing cross in the northern hemisphere. It was about this time that we began seeing signs for The Big Texan restaurant where they have a 72oz steak challenge. This has been chronicled on many television programs including Man vs Food. Basically, you have an hour to eat 72oz of steak and all the trimmings (roll, beans, etc). If you are able to complete the challenge, the steak is free and you get your picture on the wall. If not, its $72. Texas had just become a necessary side trip. Just after 1pm, we pulled into the Big Texan parking lot, which slightly resembled an old western village. The restaurant was set up almost like an amphitheater with all the tables surrounding a stage in the back center of the room. This, as we would soon learn, was the proving ground for those with large enough cojones to accept the Texas sized challenge. Not five minutes into our adventure, two Texan gentlemen entered the battle ring. The large timer above their heads began, a crowd gathered around to watch, and the cooks started heckling them from the kitchen. This was also about the time that our waiter informed us that a pitcher of beer was too big for one person and that it would be irresponsible for him to serve us each a pitcher. Someone from Texas telling me something is too big? This is ironic. I decided that I would be responsible and drive the chariot for the next leg of the journey so I backed down and accepted a pint instead. Three of my brothers saw this as a challenge equal to that of the 72oz steak. They promptly ordered the next size down from pitcher: 32oz jug. This apparently can be served to one person and there is no limit on how many jugs one is allowed to consume. The waiter, seeing that his efforts of resistance were futile, brought each of them two jugs. (64oz vs 60oz, challenge met. Fiji 1, Big Texan 0.) The steaks were delicious, the rolls buttery, the beans methane producing, and my brothers were in a beer aided good mood. Little did I know that the decision to take this leg of the trek, instead of the guy from California, was a great idea. We drive for a few hours and stop for gas in the middle of nowhere, everyone is asleep and its my turn to pump. Disclaimer: I am from New Jersey and have extreme difficulties pumping my own gas. I have spilled gas, screwed up pumps, and been to the auto parts store on more than one occasion to buy a new gas cap after forgetting to screw it back in. This gas station presented a new challenge: it was not digital and the pumps were at least 30 or 40 years old. Where does the credit card go? How does this weird pull/crank lever thing on the side work? Why is it so difficult for me to properly dispense gasoline? This was my Texas challenge. I figured out that you had to go inside to pay first and then the pump was activated. Once this occurred I pulled the lever thingy until the pump read zero. I took this to be a step in the right direction and it was, because gas began flowing. I have mastered the ancient gas pump. Back to the open road. After traveling another hour or so (by this time we had figured out that if we got the van up to 85mph it stopped shaking, so we were moving along at a rather brisk pace) the sky turned a very ominous dark gray and I saw something that I thought I would never see in New Mexico: snow. Apparently the New Mexicans were equally as confused but continued to travel at normal speed even as the roads worsened. The conditions deteriorated to white out conditions and the highway was evenly divided between two types of people: smart out of staters who know how to drive in snow, and inexperienced New Mexicans blowing by us at 70. By this point it had been decided that it was lucky that the person from California was not the one doing the driving. Then traffic ground to a halt. After sitting at a full standstill for 30 minutes, we learn from a trucker that there was a multiple truck/car pile up/jackknife about half a mile up the road. Crap. There was no way we were making it to Sedona that night and with 5 inches on the ground, it was unlikely that we would be able to plow across the median and take a different route. This however, did not stop others from trying. Every 30 mins or so, a few SUVs would successfully make it across the median, albeit barely, with four wheel drive. Then, like clockwork, about two minutes after, some genius in Civic or Corolla would try the same thing. They would make it 3/4 of the way across, lose traction and slide into the middle of the v-shaped median. They would then try to make it back to our side of the highway, but would always find their car stuck back in the middle of the ditch. Some towing company must have made out like gangbusters that night! Finally, after four hours at a standstill traffic began to move and we continued to Albuquerque, where I had booked another cut rate motel room. (Blackberry saved the day once again) This motel was a gem, the kind of place you know you can rent by the hour. It was so classy, the shower didn’t have a nozzle or running water. Its amazing what $27 can buy you these days. Time I spent driving the van: 9.5 hours fml. Energy drinks to the face: 4. Fraternity brothers I almost strangled while sitting in traffic: 1.

Day 4 – The Best Day Ever

Its only fair that the worst day be followed by the best day. Beer gods were smiling once again. We started off bright and early with the intention of plowing straight through to the Grand Canyon and then on to Las Vegas. The stressful drive of the day before had taken its toll on my body and I was not feeling well at all. I began to think that I might be coming down with the stomach virus that one of my brothers had had the day previous (I left out the part of the drive where we were tossing bags of vomit out the sliding door of a van moving at 80mph). After eating some breakfast and taking more than the recommended amount of over-the-counter meds, I began to feel slightly better. With the Garmin routed to Grand Canyon National Park, we were taking a straight shot to our destination. That is until we saw signs for the Petrified Forest. Who wouldn’t get distracted by some sweet wood? We pulled off the highway and journeyed into the park. After a quick lunch at the visitors center, we proceeded to the main gate to pay our entrance fee, only to find out that the wood was a good half hour drive into the park. Screw it, we were already there. We blew through the park at amazing speed and still managed to stop at almost every scenic overlook. We must have looked insane to the other tourists as we pulled in, tires screeching, jumped out of the van(still running and usually not in a legal parking spot), found some unsuspecting tourist to take group picture, and then took off as fast as we came. The petrified wood was cool, and we were glad that we had gone. (yes we made just about every innuendo with wood as we blasted through the park) On to the Grand Canyon! Or not. Along the way we were side tracked again by the chance to see the crater left by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Intriguing and only 5 minutes off the highway, according to a suspiciously tourist trapy looking sign. The crater was in fact only 5 mins off the highway, however as we walked to the entrance, we learned that admission was $15 a person. Ha yeah right. Why would I pay $15 a head to see a hole in the ground when there is a much much larger hole in the ground 2 hours away? As we were walking back to the van, we saw a guy wearing a Bucknell sweatshirt. Small world. Someone shouted, “hey Bucknell” and the guy and his family turned around. It was professor McGuire from the math department and his family. Really small world. They too were dissatisfied with the exorbitant price requested to view a hole in the ground. We Bucknellians know a value when we see it, and this crater was not one. We chatted for a few minutes and were again on our way to the Grand Canyon, for the third time that day.

This was my second trip to the Grand Canyon and I can honestly say it is absolutely breath taking. I highly highly recommend visiting the Canyon as soon as humanly possible. You will be in absolute awe as you digest the magnitude of its creation and existence. A quick trip to the golden arches, and we were hurtling towards Vegas at break neck speed. The trip was spent discussing our plans for the evening and deciding which casinos to visit. On the way there we got a pleasant surprise as the Garmin routed us over the Hoover Dam at night. This was also pretty cool. Not Canyon cool, but still cool to drive over at night. After arriving at our hotel, The Excalibur, we headed to the room to shower and prepare for an epic night of sin. I was comped two free drinks when I checked us in, so I went to redeem them quickly before everyone was ready and found out that there were free drinks available. Two Jack and Coke’s later, I threw on my sunglasses, popped the collar, and we hit the town. The first order of business was to acquire more drinks and walk the strip. Vegas, being as progressive as it is, has no open container law. Lewisburg would be wise to adopt this as it would save us all a lot of hassle on the weekends. With drink in hand, we proceed to make our way to the Belagio because hell, we’re in Vegas and we’re going to lose our money at the nicest place on the strip. All six of us make our way to the poker room. $200 buy in. Sweet. We get our names on the list for the $1 and $2 blind tables as these are the lowest stakes. I was trying to play tight, but I made some bad calls and before I knew it, I was down $70. Time to throw in the towel on this one. At least I got a few free drinks. For those who are unaware, cocktail waitresses circulate the gaming tables and as long as you are gambling, you get free drinks. As many as you want. Vegas is an awesome place. With my other 5 brothers still at the tables, I now need to find two things: 1. A cigar 2. The Blackjack tables. I make my way to the row of shops inside the casino and find what I am looking for. $16 for a Macanudo. This is obscene, but its Vegas and I have to accept this fact. Cigar in hand, I make my way to the Blackjack tables, only to find my self distracted by the nickel slots strategically placed around the casino. The spinning lights and colors amuse me, however they do not serve you free drinks at the slots so this does not continue for very long. I make my way back over to the poker room to find that 4 of the 5 remaining brothers had cashed out. One guy decides to continue playing, and the rest of us hit the strip. For those who have been to this magical oasis in the desert, you know that on almost every corner there are gentleman handing out cards soliciting erotic massage services and a wide variety of gentleman’s clubs. One shameless promoter even bragged about a new “donkey on midget show, we got everything you like”. No thank you sir, that is not what I like, or for that matter what normal human beings like. I’m not even sure what kind of a show that is and I’d rather spare myself the years of therapy it might cause than find out. We make our way over to Caesar’s Palace, no Caesar did not live there and it is not his actual palace, to hit the roulette tables. Unfortunately, all the small money tables are full and none of us are feeling inclined to hit the $1000 min tables. Then, we hatched a brilliant idea: gentleman’s club. Three of us decided that it would be in our best interest to visit a normal establishment and not the type that advertises donkey shows on the corner. After getting a cab for two of the guys who wanted to head back to the hotel, three of us get the concierge at Caesar’s to flag us a taxi that had coupons for free cover or free drinks. This place, as we would soon discover, was Sapphire, the largest gentleman’s club in the world.  As we puled up, I took special note of the three large bouncers guarding the door. I would not have been surprised to find out that they killed unruly guests on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the coupons we received from the taxi driver were for free drinks and not for free entry. This sucked immensely, as the cover charge was $30—considerably higher than other establishments that I have visited, but I guess this is Vegas. We made our way to the bar to redeem our free drinks before we sat down and discovered that the drink vouchers were not such a bad deal after all. $15 for a Heineken. Are you serious? I can enjoy a full case of Natty for that kind of bank. Again, this is obscene. The three of us decide to settle around a table with our $15 Heinekens and I re-light my equally atrociously priced cigar. Enter “Candy”, the first of many entertainers at the club shamelessly attempting to lure men into the VIP suite. I put Candy in quotes, but honestly this probably was her “real” name. Candy is about as dumb as they come. When entertaining people who can actually afford the prices at Sapphire, one should be versed in a wide variety of topics, even if its only to a superficial level.

Candy: Hi, whats your name and what do you do?

Me: I’m Christian and I’m an internet millionaire in Vegas for a technology convention

Candy: Wow that sounds fun, I’m really into the internet

Me: (did she say in it or on it?) Cool

Candy: So where are you from?

Me: New Jersey

Candy: I knew you were from the East Coast!

Me: What gave it away? My accent?

Candy: No, I’m from Florida

Me: How does just being from Florida help you figure out where people are from?

Candy: Well, isn’t this enough (she sits on lap)

This was the point where Candy invited all three of us to the VIP lounge and informed us of the pricing options: $40 per song, $100 for 3….. or a private room: $360 for a half hour, $500 for an hour. Wow, dancers understand economies of scale! Maybe Candy is smarter than she looks. These prices, like everything else in Vegas, are obscene and I respectfully decline. The other two members of my party, who may or may not have received more free drinks than me at the casinos were intrigued and agree to go check out the $100 special in the VIP room. Three songs is roughly 12-14 mins, so I planned on holding down the table until my party returned. This however, was not the case and 15 mins turned into 45. In the mean time, every single dancer in the club tries to make the same pass “Candy” did on me. The conversations were strikingly similar in their lack of depth. Why would I spend that kind of money on someone who isn’t going to work for it? “Crystal” came close though, because she was a negotiator and I respected her effort. I think she saw that none of the girls were taking anyone back and realized that she needed to negotiate if she wanted to make any money, but the price was never quite where it needed to be. After an hour and no return calls from the other members of my party I decided to leave the club and get an hour or two of sleep. I made it back to the room at about 5:30am. At 6:00am brother #1 rolls in and informs us that he just got a free limo ride back from the club. Looks like someone threw down some bank. Although I know the details of the evening and how he ended up with a limo ride, some things are just best left in Vegas. Around 7:00am, we began to grow concerned about brother #2 who was still MIA. I presented two possibilities to the group: 1. His credit card was declined, the bouncers took him to task, and dumped his body by the airport. 2. He accidentally killed a dancer and is dumping her body by the airport. Both of these events, considering the day we just completed, seemed plausible. Luckily, for brother #2 and for us, he rolled in at 8:00am completely exhausted and with the lightest wallet out of the six of us. Vegas had claimed a victim.

Day 5 – Vegas and Death

We decided against sleeping and took showers in preparation for the day. Because I cheaped out on the hotel again and only reserved a room for one occupant, Excalibur was kind enough to provide us with only three towels. This meant I had to use a wash cloth to dry myself off. Awesome. 9:00 am, I need two things immediately: a mimosa and a roulette table. Done and done. I sat down at the table, mimosa in hand, ordered a second immediately from the waitress,  and proceeded to purchase $20 of inside chips. This was when I met “Jimbo”, a redneckish looking guy who was chain smoking cigarettes and had managed to consume enough tequila by 10am to warrant the dealer cutting off his drinks (he and JR would have been good friends). In conversation, I learned that Jimbo was a local at the casino for the day with his wife and son. Jimbo’s wife and son were in a similar condition to Jimbo: decked out in Nascar, drunk on tequila, and smoked like chimneys. If I were to guess, I would say Jimbo had at least $600 on the table and based on the description above, we all know Jimbo was not the kind of guy to have that kind of money to toss around on the roulette table. First impressions aside, he was wildly entertaining. If you haven’t watched drunk people try to gamble, I highly recommend a trip to a casino. Their strategy defies logic and they try to argue the rules of the game with the dealer. Anyway, I was trying to develop a hedging strategy that would give the house the smallest edge and hopefully provide me with a little economic gain. Some of the older players, including Jimbo, were ridiculing my strategy. They were confused as to why I would want to bet against myself. I played most of my game on the outside, which provides a lower payout but a greater chance of winning whereas the seasoned players were putting their chips on the inside, hoping for that one big payout. In a game like roulette, there is no luck. It’s probabilities of outcomes. I also never made any large bets and limited my exposure to 20% or less of my pot. After 20 mins, I had turned my $20 into $140. That’s called ROI Jimbo, I’m cashing out. I wish I could say this was the end of my Vegas experience and that I had come out ahead, but alas, the draw of the blackjack table and the promise of another free mimosa were too great for me to handle. It took me 30 mins to lose $100 of my new found wealth. I took my $40 and left the casino with my tail between my legs. So ended my bout with Vegas. Back to the Hoover Dam to see it in the day light. This thing is absolutely massive and a definite must to see when you are in Nevada. Sober up for a few hours, take a bus from Vegas, and walk across this thing. Unbelievable. Now it was time to continue to our destination for the evening: Death Valley National Park. The van ride was pretty uneventful until we stopped for gas a sandwiches about 45 mins out. This is where I discovered a nectar sweeter than that of Natural Light. While perusing the beer selection, I was slowly coming to the realization that we would be drinking Busch Light that evening when something caught the corner of my eye. It was a can of Hurricane High Gravity Malt Liquor, an exciting malt beverage illegal to sell in most of the east coast. As I was reaching for a can, there above I saw a light, a beer angel spoke to me and showed me the way. Atop the refrigerator in the far right hand corner was a rack of the devils nectar: Cammo Black Ice, another wonderful malt beverage coming in at 10.5% alcohol. And with 24oz coming in at only $1.19 it was too good of a deal to pass up. We purchased several cans, as well as a cleverly hidden case of Corona. Traveling down into death valley was a somewhat painful experience for me because my right ear, for whatever reason, has huge problems adjusting to sudden atmospheric changes. Our camp site was like a hidden gem among the barren salt flats and sand dunes that make up the base of the valley. We set up our tents under a glen of trees and got the Cammos and Coronas on ice. My ear was killing me, so me and George took the van to the general store up the road to get some decongestant and fire wood. As we pulled in we discovered a saloon next to the store and decided that the medicine and fire could wait. It was time for a beer. After a long hot day on the road, this was quite possibly the most satisfying beer I’ve ever consumed. With our spirits lightened, we purchased our supplies and headed back to finish setting up camp. I decided against having a Cammo after taking the Sudafed but I can attest that the remainder of the evening was quite interesting for those who partook in the Black Ice. It is the beverage of a real man. A few Coronas plus the Sudafed made me tired quickly and I went to bed early.

Day 6 – The Day Our Garmin Tried to Kill Us

Because I had gone to bed earlier than everyone else, I was ready to go by 7am and starving for food. A trip to the cafe in between the general store and saloon was in order. One of the other guys decided to come with me and get a bite to eat. As we were pulling out of the camp ground, we were flagged down by a ranger at the check in booth. This booth had been closed the night before and we thought that we had gotten lucky by not having to pay. Ranger “Dick”, as we will call him, had the typical attitude of a low level government employee: he took his job way way to seriously.

Ranger Dick: Whoa Whoa, where do you boys think you are going?

Van: Just going to grab some breakfast before we pack up

Ranger Dick: I don’t see a park sticker on the front of this van, you boys all paid up?

Van: No sir, we got in late last evening. How much is it?

Ranger Dick: It’s $20 and you should have come to see me first thing this morning

Van: (it’s 7:30, exactly when were we supposed to come see him? We give him the $20)

Ranger Dick: Here’s  sticker and park map, next time you come remember to check in immeadiately

This conversation was all in a very serious tone and Ranger Dick was very insistent that we perform a physical impossibility. In his defense, 7:30am apparently was late morning in death valley. Most of the other campers had cleared out and were in the park for the day. After a delicious breakfast burrito, we headed back to the camp to pack up. Again, we were flagged down by Ranger Dick, who proceeded to have the same exact conversation with us he had had 30 minutes prior. This time however, he ended the conversation with “But seriously guys, seriously, take it slow when your driving through the camp.” This was a bit of a non-sequitur as it had absolutely nothing to do with anything we were talking about. We pack up the tents and load the van just in time for our 3rd run in with Ranger Dick. He flags our van down a 3rd time and again proceeds to have the same conversation with us. Exactly how many crappy white and purple vans with PA plates does this guy see in a normal day? At the same time, we realize that we had left the first park map the ranger gave us in the cafe, so we asked for another. This began another stream of questions from Ranger Dick who was not willing to part with a second map. Dude, we just gave you $20 and we are all tax payers, I think you can spare a $0.10 map. We convince him to hand one over and are on our way. Our plan was to head south to Badwater, the lowest point in America, but along the way we managed to stop several times to hike up some canyons. The second stop had a natural stone bridge about 1/2 a mile off the trail and some of my brothers wanted to jog there. Exercise and sweat are two of my least favorite things, so I passed on the run and took a break. We finally made it to the lowest point in America, which is a huge salt flat that has a few naturally occurring springs. As we took a group picture by the sign explaining why Badwater was called Badwater (its because the water in the springs is extremely salty and loaded with all kinds of bacteria), a woman took a water bottle, filled it with the bad water, and took a drink. We were astonished. There was a sign right next to her that explained how crappy the water was and about all the fun bacteria living in it. She turned to us and proceeded to explain that “I drink this water all the time, ain’t nothin bad ever happened to me.” Ok crazy hippie lady, have fun with that bacteria as it eats away at your liver. I think that water had gotten to her head. After this strange encounter, we proceeded to walk out into the middle of the salt flat and carve “Fiji 2010”. The average rainfall in Death Valley is only about 1.5 inches a year and there have been some years where no rain has fallen. Our etching will be there for a while.

After the low altitude experience, we packed into the van and headed towards Joshua Tree national park. Our original estimates had us driving a good 5 hours to reach our camp ground for the night. However, when I plugged the address of the camp ground into the Garmin, it told us that we would be at our destination in less than 3. Awesome, technology is great, this thing found a quicker route! We drove for about 2 hrs on normal roads and highways when the Garmin, in a pleasant British-accented voice, commanded us to exit the highway. It took us on an extremely bumpy road that looked like it hadn’t been paved since the Truman era. This road paralleled the highway for several miles before veering off to the right. As it took us further and further into the desert, we saw less and less civilization until all we could see on either side of us was desert and canyon. I remember I found it odd that we hadn’t seen any signs for Joshua Tree even though, according to the Garmin, we were 40 mins away.

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8 Responses

  1. you better finish this post because I actually read the whole thing.

    • Kelly – I am proud of you for dedicating this much time to read my post. You have single handedly inspired me to finish it,

  2. I’m going to make this comment before I finish reading your post Christian because it’s soooo long. I guess senioritis only applies to normals mundane school work, not the opportunity to write about an epic adventure that opened your eyes to the best way to travel.

    I’m going to begin by saying that I remember you talking about this trip at the bar over drinks (your usual scotch I think and my random beer from the Bull Run Beer Run list, thank God I finally finished that thing) and I knew from that moment you mentioned van, roadtrip, and spring break that you were in one hell of a ride. I knew this because I myself have been on more roadtrips in my life than I can remember because of hockey and family traditions. Even if it takes longer and can be cramped at times, the conversations, stories, and money saved always make roadtrips the better choice. If there’s one piece of advice that I can give you (and Christian would agree with me on this), get a good group of friends and plan a roadtrip for fall break, spring break, summer vacation, etc. You won’t regret it!

  3. The Wagner’s have been taking road trips in the “Wagon” for over three generations. There is something magical about hoping in the car and driving to the end of the Continent.
    It’s a great way to see the world.
    DW

  4. Well Christian. I am quite pleased that you finished this post. I am highly inspired to take a road trip during my senior year (although I doubt I will wind up with quite as many stories like this). I am honored to have ridden in this van…even if it was only from Taylor back to Hunt.

    • sadly it is still not complete, although i appreciate your continued interest. its taken quite a bit more time and words than i thought. Rome was not built in a day. and yes, consider yourself honored to have graced the van with your presence

  5. OK, so I haven’t finished reading this post yet, but there is something to be said for going on a road trip. Growing up we almost always drove for vacations (and I am talking about going from California to Michigan and Chicago, not just a quick drive down the 1). They were bonding experiences that I would never give up; even when I wanted to kill my brother for half of the car ride. Nothing teaches people to be creatively entertained like a 10 hour car ride between hotels. It also allowed me to see so much of our country that most others will never get the chance to experience. Also, to anyone who wants to do a road trip like this I advise purchasing an adventure pass to all of the national parks and then camping along the way because it makes things super affordable.

  6. at last i finished to read ur post..its better to have a long trips with permissions throegh proper channel.
    so that there would be no complications in between ur enjoyment

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