Thursday, June 05, 2008

Catching Up, Part 1: The Trip West, First Leg

Yeah, been busy. So busy between work and trying to find myself an hour or two of fun time away from the computer at odd moments that the blog had to gather dust for a few days.

So be it.

It was a week ago Sunday that I loaded the Yaris up with way too many bags and began the long drive west, destination WSOP. The first question, of course, is "Why drive?" Answer #1 is that 50 days or so in Vegas without a vehicle would drive me fucking nuts. Answer #2 is that I don't fly that well, especially when I'm out of practice. Answer #3 is that because I did need to bring a lot of stuff --- "need" being relative, of course --- I saved myself some hefty airplane surcharges.

But my hoped-for 8:00 AM Sunday morning start became something more like 11:30, as I finished up some late work on stories before heading to the tollway and aiming west. Illinois, Iowa... old-home country in a sense, since I went to college in the state many years ago. I stayed at it and drove through Council Bluffs/Omaha around the dinner hour, then ran into one of those hellish thunderstorms at Lincoln, NE that were plaguing that region at the time.

Small cars aren't designed for 70 MPH wind gusts. Still, loaded down as I was, I was able to slug on through at about half that speed.

West from Lincoln, I-70 is straight and flat, and with night coming on I figured I'd drive as long as I could. Sometime after 11:00 I reached North Platte and ate a late-night dinner at one of those 24-hour aluminum railroad-car diners that now only exist in places like western Nebraska. But $7 gets you more food than you can eat; my order of hash browns alone was probably some Idaho spud farmer's entire crop.

After that I slugged it out for another 40 minutes to Ogalalla, which is about as far west in Nebraska as you can go before the interstate splits, one part heading up to Cheyenne, WY and the other swinging southwest to Denver. When you're exhausted, the bed in a Super 8 is as soft as any. Trivia question: Where do motels still take cash, and not bother with plastic if you don't want to? Answer: Ogalalla, Nebraska.

Amazingly, the Internet was awesome, and I hooked up with boss Caldwell on Skype the next morning. (He's an early riser, often up and at 'em by 6am Left Coast time, so this was no surprise.) I handled a couple of tasks, then searched for a bit more food to start the day. On Skype, our inside chuckle was when after telling him where he was, he typed back, "You're only that far?" LOLs all around. For those unaware of the geography, you can drive in Nebraska about forever, and I'd snuck into the Mountain Time Zone and within about 200 miles of Denver, not bad for a start.

But where the Internet connection was solid and the water in the room piping hot, the continental breakfast was... scary. I snagged an okay donut, coffee and OJ after seeing a sixtyish couple fuss with a soggy-looking English muffin; after five minutes, they said, the toaster was starting to warm the thing up. On the other wall they had giant, clear-glass cereal dispensers; the Cheerios looked congealed and I swear to good the Raisin Bran had a greenish tint.

Last step to the road -- gassing up. Yaris get g00t mileage, even at interstate speeds. Still, I had to chuckle when I saw the small sign tacked above the entrance to the gas mart:

And the road in front of me was even longer. A truck driver, a la Slime, I could never be.

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