Monday, September 30, 2013

Next Stop: The Cliffs of Insanity

So, apparently, Ted Cruz and his insane clown posse Tea Party patriots are determined to drive the clown car over the Cliffs of Insanity.

Many people don't know how a government shutdown will affect them, if at all. Here are 10 ways a government shut-down may affect your life.

Some people in the Republican party think shutting down the government may cost the Republicans the House next year. I don't think most people pay that close attention. What do you think?

The buying opportunity I laid out on September 18 is still in play, but it shouldn't be for a few days yet -- the real crisis comes after the deadline, and then there are usually a couple days of shouting and handwringing until a solution is worked out.  Or maybe Boehner can punt this into next week or next month; there is a lot that is hard to predict here.

US Mint Silver Eagle Sales Dip in September

We have one more day to go in September, but unless there's a HUGE splurge of buying in silver eagles, we are going to see a trend broken. And that is the trend of higher sales of US Silver Eagles year over year.

Every single month in 2013 saw higher sales than in 2012. Except September.  One data point does not a trend make.  But this bears watching.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Before You Get Too Bullish on Gold, Look at This Chart

Gold is rallying today on news that A) the Fed might not taper until 2014 and B) the Republican leadership has focused on the debt ceiling, "strapped a bomb" to their collective chest, and are making a "Dear Santa" list of demands.

Meanwhile, for his part, President Obama "understands that he cannot repeat his blunder of 2011, when he mistook the GOP’s debt-ceiling threat for an invitation to engage in normal fiscal bargaining."

Worried that this time they really mean it, Wall Street is selling stocks and buying gold.

The sell-off/pullback in stocks should play out pretty much the way I laid out in this post on September 18.  My view on the major stock indices hasn't changed. But what about gold?

(Updated chart)

Looking at a chart of the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), which tracks gold closely, you can see that gold broke down from its uptrend earlier this month. It rallied hard on the news that Ben Bernanke wasn't "tapering" Quantitative Easing, then has slowly given all those gains back. Its rally today is within the parameters of a pennant pattern.  Pennants are continuation patterns, and "fly at half mast."

The likelihood is that when the Debt Ceiling Crisis in Washington is resolved, gold will break down lower out of the pattern and perhaps find a new, lower base.

Also note that the 20-day moving average is about to turn lower through the 50-day moving average. This tells you all you need to know about short-term momentum.

So, I expect we'll see a deeper correction in gold. It doesn't have to work that way -- some new development could send gold much higher. But if things work out the way I expect, then that next leg down will probably be a great buying opportunity.

Why? Because all the long-term bullish forces in gold's favor remain in place.

Also remember the old Wall Street saying, "when it's the best time to buy, you won't want to."

You can draw your own conclusions. You're in charge of your own investing destiny.  Good luck, good trades, and have a great weekend.

I'll be in Baltimore next week. I hear they have Internet connection there in the Big City, so I should be posting.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

11 Charts on China -- See If You Can Spot the Trend

I'm trapped in the Palm Beach County Courthouse, waiting to be called to serve on a jury. And before you lecture me about how our forefathers fought for this right, believe me, they already guilted me about it. Meanwhile I do have internet access, and these charts from Reuters on China are really catching my eye.  See if you can spot the trend ...

First, China's PMI and Industrial Output ...

While fairly flat, PMI is also turning up.

But we're told that the Chinese fake their economic numbers. Well, you can't fake power use, can you? Let's look at that ...

Well, one reason they're using more power is all the aluminum they're making ...

But here's the funny thing -- they're also IMPORTING more aluminum ...

And China is also producing more copper.

And China is importing a lot more LNG, I guess to produce all that power ...

And it's also importing more coal.  My friend Jeb may find this next chart interesting ...

China's oil imports are up year over year.

And those hungry-hungry Chinese are eating more, so they're importing more grain.

Meanwhile, China has imported 600 tons of gold year-to-date (hat-tip @KoosJansen)

And that leads us to how much gold China is stocking up.

What do you suppose they're stocking all that up for, eh?

So, what all these charts tell me is ...

  • China's economy is growing
  • China is using more commodities of all types
  • China is getting richer.
  • The richer they are, the more food the Chinese eat and the more gold they buy.
  • China's government is very keen on gold as well.

What do all these charts tell you?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More Nevada Gold Goodness: 2nd Interview with Corvus Gold

Here's more video I shot in Nevada last week -- an extended interview with Corvus Gold's Chris Brown. Chris is a geologist, and he talks about Corvus Gold's plans for this next year, how the geology of this gold-rich trend was formed, and much more. Plus, I visit the core shack and check out one of the drill sites on Corvus' North Bullfrog gold project.

And if you want to see the other Corvus Gold interview I shot last week in Nevada, point your browser here:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

This Nevada Gold Project Is a Real Sleeper

Last week, I visited five different gold miners/developers across Nevada.  One of them was Paramount Gold and Silver (PZG on the AMEX) and its Sleeper Project.

Sleeper isn't even PZG's main project -- that would be San Miguel in Mexico. But it IS a project with potential, and geologist and US Project Manager Nancy Wolverson gives us the scoop ...

Funny enough, at the next project I visited, I met another geologist who worked on Sleeper for a previous owner.  His theory -- and he's helping his current employer strike paydirt with his theories -- is that Sleeper is not a "solo" deposit. In other words, this other geologist firmly believed there is ANOTHER Sleeper out there in the same area.

And the original Sleeper was a rich, rich deposit.

Part of what Nancy and her team are doing at Sleeper is looking for that other, sister deposit. She's sharp enough that she could find it.

And in a side note -- these geologists often know each other or at least know of each other.  Many have worked on the same projects under different companies. if you're an independent cuss like Nancy, you might even consult on multiple projects at the same time. While I was flying back to Florida, an email landed in my inbox from a mining company that hoped I would come visit their gold project while I was in Nevada (they didn't know I'd already left, and my time was very constrained anyway).

I just started doing preliminary research on this other company, and guess who's doing some geology work for them? Nancy! Small world, ain't it?  But it's not surprising that multiple companies recognize talent.

I'm keeping the name of this other company close to my vest for now -- I haven't checked them out yet.; Stay tuned, though. I'll be going back to Nevada for sure.

And I'll also be writing more about Paramount Gold and Silver, too.

As I've been saying, just because I post this video, it is not an official recommendation. Do your own due diligence before buying anything.

China's Shocking Land-Grab in Ukraine Is The Tip of the Iceberg

I've been reading about how China inked a deal to farm 5% of all the land in the Ukraine (9% of all arable land).

Quartz reports:
Under the deal between China’s Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, or XPCC, and KSG Agro, an Ukrainian agricultural company, crops and pigs raised in the eastern region of Dnipropetrovsk will be sold at preferential rates to two Chinese state-owned grain firms. The project will launch with 100,000 hectares and eventually expand to three million.

Here are some graphics that caught my attention.

First, the size of China's land lease in units you can actually get your mind around ...

This is just the latest overseas agriculture acquisition for China, which just last month bought Australia’s biggest cotton farm.

And in South America, the Chinese agro-firm Beidahuang acquired 234,000 hectares to grow soybeans and corn in Argentina, while Chongqing Grain paid $375 million for soybeans plantations in Brazil and $1.2 billion for land in Argentina to grow soybeans, corn and cotton.

The South China Morning Post reports that China has over 2 million hectares of land abroad that it uses for agriculture. This was before the latest Ukranian acquisition.

So why is China doing this? Because it's the only hope China has of feeding its population, which is developing a larger appetite as its wealth increases. 

The fact is, although China's domestic grain output had grown for 10 straight yearsChina imported nearly 14 million tonnes of cereal and cereal flours last year, an increase of more than 150% from 2011. Food security is China's Achilles' Heel.

Also, China isn't the only one doing this. Check out the next table ...

China's Ukrainian deal isn't on here, which will put it on the top of the list. China's Ukrainian deal is a lease, not a purchase, and I'm not sure if those are broken out differently in the data for this Ritchie King/Quartz graphic.

Again, from Quartz's story ...
Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, the US and other countries have been buying up foreign farmland, especially after the global food price spike of 2007 to 2008 that spurred global riots. According to a report last year by the nonprofit Grain, the main target of these purchases has been Africa but also Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia. Between 0.7% and 1.75% of the world’s farmland is being transferred from locals to foreign investors.
Quartz seems to be quoting from a report by the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences of the United States of America. The study found between 0.7 and 1.75% of agricultural land is being transferred from local to foreign hands. Along with the countries listed above, the report also names South Africa, Israel, India, and Egypt as foreign land buyers. 

And the "greener pastures" include Congo, Sudan, Indonesia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Australia, according to the report.

The report from the PNASUSA (I hope that's their acronym, because the full name is just way too much of a mouthful) says that along with land, foreign countries are grabbing something else, too: Water.

This story is getting more interesting all the time.

Update: Here's another interesting chart to keep in mind on world agriculture:

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Case for Pipelines

The market seems confused lately, and not only by the Fed. After rallying hard last week when the Fed announced it was NOT going to taper its $85-billion-per-month quantitative easing program, the market ended the week by giving it all back.  I still think we could see short-term market weakness due to the looming budget battle in Washington. But longer-term -- say, the next 6 months -- I'm more sanguine. I think the US economy and market could do pretty well over that time frame.

So, what to buy?  I'm bullish on US energy production -- I think we haven't seen the top yet, and won't see it in the next six months, anyway. Therefore, those companies that transport oil and gas through pipelines should see increased business.

We are seeing rising nat-gas production from the Marcellus Shale (Haynesville Shale production has fallen, but not enough to matter yet). Natural gas production from the Marcellus is expected to continue growing as infrastructure constraints in the play ease up. Second-quarter results from Cabot, Range, and other Marcellus producers highlighted the issue of backlogged wells – those that have been drilled but are not currently producing, mainly because they lack pipeline connection.

As backlogged wells are connected to pipelines and brought online over the next several months, production growth this year could top even last year's levels.

Meanwhile, US domestic oil production looks like this ...

Put oil and gas production together, and, according to the US Federal Reserve, US oil and gas extraction increased in August by 11.4% from a year earlier to the highest level since the Federal Reserve began reporting data in January 1972 -- more than 40 years ago!

Sure, some of that product will transport by rail, and some by barge. But a lot will transport by pipeline.

The AMLP is a basket of companies including Enterprise Product Partners (EPD), Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP), Magellan Midstream Partners (MMP), Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and more. You have one guess as to what business these companies are in, and that guess better start with a "P".
The pipes have a meter and they charge for the amount of oil or gas they pass.  While they are in the energy business, their fortunes do not particularly depend on energy prices, because people need oil and gas delivered whether it is expensive or cheap.  In this respect, pipeline MLPs are like utilities.  

And utilities were one of the beneficiaries when Ben Bernanke shocked Wall Street by NOT cutting quantitative easing at at the most recent Fed meeting. 

Side note -- reports that Chairman Bernanke shouted "Who's Your Daddy? I'M your Daddy!" while keeping QE intact have NOT been substantiated.

Anyway, no QE cut means that bond yields go back down, and utilities, which offer yields that compete with bonds, went up rather nicely last week.

Utilities actually saw a poor end to the week, so their rally potential is still questionable.  Still, there's no doubt that with bond yields falling, stocks and funds that pay nice dividends are looking more attractive than before the Fed's announcement on QE.

And that brings me to my next point, which is that the AMLP sports a 5.82% dividend yield. 

Now, let's look at a weekly chart of the AMLP itself ...

You can see that the AMLP rallied sharply last week, much like utilities, and on strong volume, too. It still has to break through resistance, and nothing is certain.  But I think this is a good bullish bet for the next 6 months.

Not everything is rosy. Fund expenses can eat up some of the dividend yield. And your own tax situation will also affect total return. Let's add in the uncertainty of the oil business, which is a boom-and-bust business. Finally, there's the generally confused mood the market finds itself in. This may lead to more short-term weakness in the AMLP. But that's probably a buying opportunity considering the intermediate forces I've mentioned.

Bottom line, investors would consider the AMLP because it is a play on rising US domestic energy production, and all that oil and gas flowing through pipelines.

This is not an official recommendation. You are in charge of your own investing destiny. Do your own due diligence before buying anything. And before you buy, make sure you know at what price you will sell.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Interview with Midway Gold in Nevada -- 2014 Production Target

While in Nevada, I interviewed Bill Neal, VP of Exploration for Midway Gold (Ticker symbol: MDW on the AMEX)

The damned Nevada wind tried to get in the act on this one.  But most of the video is of decent quality.

 Midway has an ambitious plan to start producing in August 2014.  It's a good company with smart people, it has money and it will be able (I think) to finance the rest that it needs.

August of 2014 is very ambitious considering that they haven't begun construction yet. And we also know that roughly half of all mining projects experience delays. So, if there was a delay in Midway's plan, that might cause the stock price to pull back, and that potential pullback might be a good entry point, if an investor was keen on this company.

Then again, maybe everything will go on schedule. In which case, picking up a near-term producer close to support, well ...

(Updated chart)

This is not a recommendation.  You're in charge of your own investing destiny, and please remember to do your own due diligence. There's a lot more to investigating a company than watching a video and looking at a chart.

You can see other videos I've taken on my recent tour of Nevada by clicking here:

I'm traveling back to Florida today so I have to keep this short. Good luck to us all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Millionaires & Madmen of the Comstock Lode

Today, I'm in Virginia City, Nevada. I'll be checking out a gold miner, and I'll post videos and an analysis when I can.
In the meantime, Nevada is so rich with mining history that I feel compelled to share a little of it with you today.
A Precious Find
The first big discovery in Nevada was placer gold in a stream flowing into the Carson River. This discovery was made by ‘49ers on their way to the California gold fields. It led to other discoveries, and finally the outcroppings of the Comstock Lode in 1859.
Two miners, Peter O’Riley and Patrick McLaughlin, prospected on a mountain slope near a small stream. They found some gold, but also large clumps of heavy blue-black mud that made it difficult to sift out the fine gold.
Closer inspection revealed that the blue-black mud was almost pure silver. It could be dug out by the ton with a shovel, and each ton was worth $2,000!
Enter the Villain
Enter Henry Thomas Paige Comstock. Comstock was a shady character with an advanced degree in weaseling. He came across O’Riley and McLaughlin, saw their discovery, and declared that he had a claim on the ground. That was a lie, but the panicked men didn’t want trouble. So they gave Comstock and his partner shares in the claim. This project became the famous Ophir Mine.
The silver rush was on! Prospectors, drifters, and ne’er-do-wells poured into the valley to work silver claims.

Grubby Prospectors Became Instant Millionaires
You probably already know one of those adventurers – a man by the name of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Twain found the mines of the Comstock Lode were a beehive of activity, and Virginia City was a festering den of scum and villainy.
Twain wrote:
“The country is fabulously rich in gold, silver, copper, lead, coal, iron, quicksilver, marble, granite, chalk, plaster of Paris (gypsum), thieves, murderers, desperadoes, ladies, children, lawyers, Christians, Indians, Chinamen, Spaniards, gamblers, sharpens; coyotes (pronounced ki-yo-ties), poets, preachers, and jackass rabbits. I overheard a gentleman say, the other day, that it was ‘the d—dest country under the sun,’ and that comprehensive conception I fully subscribe to.”
We like to think of Las Vegas as the original, 24-hour Sin City. But Virginia City claimed that title much earlier. In 1863, the number of arrests equaled one-third the town’s population of 30,000 people!
The wealth of the mines fueled Virginia City’s growth. Nearly overnight, grubby prospectors became instant millionaires. The boom extended to Wall Street, where stock speculators made fortunes from the Comstock boom.
The Comstock Lode hit peak production in 1877, producing more than $14 million of gold and $21 million of silver that year. But three years later, the mine was mostly played out.
As for the people who started the boom ...
  • Henry Comstock took his profits from the Ophir Mine and opened a series of businesses, every one of which failed.  He committed suicide in 1870.
  • Patrick McLaughlin, one of the original discoverers of the Comstock, sold his share for $3,000, lost that stake, worked a series of odd jobs and died a pauper.
  • Peter O’Riley did better, holding on to his stake and finally selling for $50,000. He spent that fortune tunneling into the Sierras, certain he would find a richer claim than the Comstock. He lost everything, went insane, and died in an asylum.

Now, not everyone who dug for Comstock riches ended up broke. Some great American family fortunes were dug out of the mud in Virginia City.
  •  James Graham Fair was a poor Irish immigrant who parlayed his Comstock fortune into a railroad empire and a U.S. Senate seat.
  • John MacKay was another Irish immigrant and silver miner. At the time of his death he was worth $30 million.
  • George Hearst made a fortune in Nevada, a fortune later parlayed into a publishing business by his son, William Randolph Hearst.

In fact, there were many people who did well in the Nevada boom and stayed rich. But many more made fortunes and lost it all. So this gives lessons we can all live by …
Don’t underestimate the potential of a great discovery. If McLaughlin and O’Riley had stood their ground and hung on to their blue-black mud, they could have given Thomas Comstock the bum’s rush.
Don’t expect every prospect to turn into a winner. Do your due diligence. No whims, tips, fantasies, or wheeling and dealing. Just good, solid research, and discipline.
You don’t have to be a miner to make a fortune. While a minority of prospectors became fabulously wealthy, many more stock investors made fortunes without ever seeing the inside of a mine. The same holds true today: You can build your wealth quite nicely by buying the right stocks.

Importantly, never think you know it all. I learn something new on every trip I make into mining country. I can’t wait to see what I learn this time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Your Next Buying Opportunity ...

Many investors get frustrated because the market takes off when they least expect it. Then they get so frustrated they chase the market. That's not helpful or productive longer-term. There are ALWAYS pullbacks. And thanks to the miracles of government, those pullbacks are getting pretty regular.

To see what I mean, look at this chart of the S&P 500 ...

(Updated chart)

You can see the last six major pullbacks since 2010 all had a government trigger -- either in Washington D.C. or in Europe. And now we've had this big, long bull run.  Gee, if only there was another made-up government crisis to give you a buying opportunity.

Enter Ted Cruz.

Personally, I find Ted Cruz hilarious.  He was born in Canada, his father fought on Fidel Castro's side in Cuba, and yet he wants to run for President. His personal history is all the things Republicans make up about Barack Obama, and yet Ted Cruz is a Republican, and the far-right of the Republican party is just fine with him. 

And now he wants to shut down the government.  It's true that John Boehner is nominally in charge of the House of Representatives, but Mr. Boehner is very ineffective, and seems to have lost control of the Tea Party wing of his party, which is being led (for now) by Cruz. People like David Brooks say that Cruz is running against his own party, and is willing to push the country into a crisis to do it.

A fight is brewing over the debt ceiling.  Boehner is content to let Cruz lead the Republicans on this one, taking the position that the debt ceiling will not be raised

But what about Eric Cantor, you ask? Surely he'll put a stop to this plan, which is just going to make Republicans look extreme. Nah, Cantor is going along with Ted Cruz's plans, too.

I expect the usual Washington/media histrionics on this totally avoidable crisis. And if history is a guide, this totally avoidable crisis will send stocks lower.  And if you believe that there is more drama than real crisis to the budget battle, that might be a buying opportunity.

Of course, I don't have a crystal ball. I'm just looking at previous chart action as a guide. You'll have to make decisions for your own investing needs.

By the way, if you're wondering about my Nevada trip, I have two more interviews in the can, and I just edited a 14-minute video of my trip into an underground mine. That looks great! But I've asked my bosses if I can post those videos here on the blog or if we'll use them at Oxford Club. So stay tuned.

Today, I'm going to go visit another company. First, I'm going jogging. These mining-camp meals are murder on the waistline.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Visiting Gold Projects in Nevada

Today, I'm going into a high-grade, underground gold mine.  This will be the third company I've visited in three days.

First, I visited a company that is developing a high-grade gold zone inside a halo of low-grade gold. It has to raise money, but it will have plenty of news to drive the stock higher, and the company has a lot of excellent drill cores that aren't incorporated into their mine plan or even released to the public yet. I could see buying this on a pullback. But I still have more research to do on that one.

Then I visited another company that is fast-tracking a million-ounce+ gold project for production (hopefully) to start in August 2014. 
Gold-bearing breccia at the surface.
The company has multiple projects, including this previously worked pit that has rock grading 0.75 grams per tonne gold.

That colored rock in the middle is the gold-bearing ore
The company has plenty of money, but it going to get loans from banks and equipment makers (Caterpillar) rather than burn through its cash. It's talking to banks about getting a loan at LIBOR +4%, and that shows you how highly everyone thinks of this company. The resource is open on all sides. It has multiple projects, including a joint venture with a large miner, and it can exercise an option to be carried for 25% on that JV.  I'll crunch the numbers when I get back to the office.

As for the mine that I'm visiting today -- it has a cut-off grade of 7 grams per tonnne, and it has visible gold in its veins.  I would like to wait for a pullback to buy this one because it just put out news. Again, I'll crunch the numbers when I get back to the office.

I'll check out two more mines later this week.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Giants in the Earth

Gold is down again this morning, as investors fear the Fed is going to taper its stimulus. Cue the gnashing of teeth.

I visited one project yesterday, and I'm leaving soon to visit another project, this time near scenic (?) Elko. And I'm going to another project tomorrow, and more projects through Friday.  I think Nevada is the happening place for mining, especially now that Mexico is talking about raising taxes on miners.

Driving through Nevada, it's amazing how empty of people this state is.  But there's still plenty of stuff here -- mineral stuff. It bubbled up millions of years ago, as the Pacific tectonic plate ground against the North American plate. Along with nearly ripping away California, it twisted, bent, and thrust the earth enough to push metallic deposits near the surface.

The grinding of those two plates along the fault lines dividing them also aggravated the "hot spots" of volcanic activity, which is why there are volcanic cones and caldera all over Nevada.

Do you know what volcanoes can bring bubbling up to the surface? Gold, silver, copper and other minerals.

These minerals were laid down millions of years ago. They were covered by more rock, and that rock has been eroded away over time. That's why early explorers found rich outcroppings of all sorts of metals.

Now we're on to the next round -- rich deposits that weren't visible on the surface. They're still there, though. Lots of them.

Driving through Nevada, you can see these huge upthrusts of rock lying all over the countryside, like sleeping giants. And it makes me realize how our ancestors could believe there were giants in the Earth.

And some of those giants are guarding some of the richest treasure troves imaginable.

For me, it's amazing how passionate people get about gold, both for and against. As I pointed out recently, there are plenty of other things you can invest in right now (solar ... oil services stocks ... Budweiser, etc).

In fact, I think the broad stock market still looks like it can go higher.

But I keep coming back to gold. For a couple reasons:  It's insurance against a corrupt financial system, the laws of supply and demand still apply, and many miners look dirt-cheap.  What's more, if current short-term trends hold, they may get cheaper.  That's fine by me.  I'l buy 'em cheap as long as the long-term trends hold.

Hey, let me share a chart with you. It's a chart (sort of) of global population density.


More people live INSIDE that circle than OUTSIDE of it.  You know what they generally have in common? A cultural affinity for gold. And now millions and millions of them are joining the middle class. Since a trend like that exists, I want to be on the right side of it.

The giants in the Earth are stirring my friend. They're slow to waken, but when they do, be on their good side. Good luck and good trades.

Mining Tour Day 2 -- Corvus Gold

My first stop on my week-long gold tour was in Beatty, Nevada, where I visited Corvus Gold (KOR on the TSX).  There, I spoke to geologist Chris Brown, and he gave me (and you) a short geological overview of the project.

You can watch it here:

Sorry about the "shaky cam."

I have a lot more video I shot at Corvus, which I'll be editing and sending to subscribers over the next couple weeks.

This video is not a recommendation. Do your own due diligence. Corvus is a developer, not a producer, and the company has to raise a considerable amount of money to get its North Bullfrog project into production.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mining Tour Day 1 -- Las Vegas

I don't want the first day of my trip to sound like a downer. I'm not some James Howard Kunstler who sees the world through piss-colored glasses. However, I'm writing this at 3:00 am because a parade of drunks have wrestled with the exterior door of the motel I'm in, and they VERY LOUDLY slam, stumble and chat their way through the door and down the hallway.

Also, Charles Durning is wheezing in the bathroom.

Wait, what?

Okay, it's like this. I landed in Las Vegas just fine. And I got my car okay. When I told the guy at the Alamo rental desk how I was going to drive around the Nevada desert, he stared at me with a look I'll call "worried", then showed me a picture of the very little car I was renting, and told me bluntly that the A/C in that car would not keep me cool on my journey.

So, I upgraded. And that turned out to be a great decision! Why? Because Alamo lets you choose any car in the row of your size of vehicle, and so naturally I asked the attendants which car they'd choose. And one of them -- a bright-eyed fellow who can size up a customer -- said, "the one with an XM radio."

Sure enough, I have a Hyundai with an XM radio, and I've already programmed in my four favorite stations, First Wave, Outlaw Country, Jimmy Buffet and Pulse. This is going to make day two of my journey -- which involves a 7-hour sprint through the desert between two mining projects -- SO much better.

Problem #1: A Drunken GPS

But that's about where the good news ends.  What went wrong?

Well, it turns out that I went to Vegas, and my GPS got drunk. And by that I mean, I typed in the address of the Crestwood Inn Suites I'm staying at and the GPS told me it didn't exist. But I was able to choose an address across the street. Crestwood Inn Suites has been here for, oh, I don't know -- 20 years maybe, judging by the stains in the hallway and on The Chair That Must Not Be Sat In. Garmin GPS, you're drunk -- go home!

Anyway, I got to the hotel.  The desk clerk was very nice, so the motel has that going for it. But Crestwood Inn Suites is the saddest hotel or motel I've ever been in in Las Vegas -- and this is a town that has its own spot on the spectrum of misery. 

I tried to take a photo of some of the stains in The Chair That Must Not Be Sat In, but they defy the camera. Maybe the spots are vampire splooge or something. There is a deep disinfectant smell in the outside hallway that masks another, more terrible smell I can't put my finger on, and probably shouldn't put my finger on without a round of shots.

You probably thought I was making it up about The Chair That Cannot Be Sat On. Especially because the stains on it were invisible to photography. But check out the exterior door at the same hotel, the door near my room. It is covered with bird poop. I've seen horror movies that are more hygienic

And yes, I'll get to Charles Durning in the bathroom. Don't rush me.

Hot Time in the Old Town

Since I'd been buckled in a US Airways flight for hours on end, I decided to walk to a nearby Subway for dinner. This was after the sun had gone down, but the tarmac was so saturated with heat it was like walking through a pizza oven. 

On the way over, I had time to reflect on my decision to do this trip on the cheap. See, Oxford Club insists that A) I pay my own way on this tour, and not let mining companies comp me for rooms and such, as they do other analysts and B) my boss emphasized that I need to keep expenses down, especially as my new publication hasn't launched yet.

So, I've lined up a bunch of hotels across Nevada based on cheapest price. We'll see if I come to really regret that decision. The exception is Virginia City, where I'm staying in a historic hotel, because damn it, I REALLY want to see a ghost.

I've never really liked Las Vegas, even though I've had great times here with fun people. The problem is this town reeks of desperation even when you're on the strip, and especially out in the suburban sprawl where I am now. The crowd in Vegas is laughing, but it's the laugh of the gin-soaked old clown at kid's birthday party. And by that I mean forced, not very funny, and somewhat terrifying in the long pauses. Or maybe I'm overthinking this as I listen to drunks wrestle with the door. Pull, you idiots, not push. Pull!

Las Vegas is the epitome of the American Dream. And I don't mean the American Dream that politicians talk about, I mean the REAL American dream -- the Money-for-Nothing, bet it all on black mentality ensconced in a city that sprang to life seemingly overnight. This mirage of a city lives on water that is piped in and NOT unlimited, and a thousand years from now, I bet whoever comes next will be scratching their heads and telling bored students about those crazy 'Merkans that built a unsustainable city of lighted fountains in the desert.

And there I go, sounding like Kunstler again. Sorry about that.

Charles Durning

Anyway, let's deal with Charles Durning, that wheezy bastard in my bathroom.

See, the first time the drunks woke me up (at 12:30-ish), I lay in the semi-darkness, waiting to fall asleep. Las Vegas is never really dark because way too many streetlights are on all night. There's a glow through my curtain akin to twilight; I could probably go jogging in this light, and maybe I will.

Anyway, I'm lying there in the semi-dark, and I start hearing a wheezing noise.  "Oh great," I say to myself, "I'm going to have to listen to the guy next door snore all night."

But then, to my deepening dread, I slowly realize that the wheezing is coming from INSIDE my hotel room.

Naturally, I flash back to the movie "When a Stranger Calls." And by that I mean the 1979 original, not the remake. You know the story. A girl (young Carol Kane) is babysitting for kids that are upstairs. Some weirdo keeps calling her, asking "have you checked the children?" There are all sorts of "boo" moments as she wanders around the darkened house, but between the weirdo calling and other scares, she never gets upstairs to check those kids.

Also, she has a nice policeman trace the calls. And that nice policeman, played by Charles Durning, calls her back and says "The calls are coming from inside the house! Get out!"

So then the girl tries to get out of the house. It was my great fortune to see this movie with a college audience, which is the best audience to see a horror movie with next to a black audience, because both groups yell and give people in the movies advice and they scream, scream, SCREAM. And now some people are probably thinking, "don't stereotype," and yeah, well, F___k those people. I know what I like, and I like to see horror movies with either a mostly black audience or a college audience, because they scream like banshees.

I should probably see a horror movie with a black college audience. I might have a heart attack right then and there.

Anyway, in the movie "When a Stranger Calls," Charles Durning tells Carol Kane to get out of the house. And she tries. But the door is stuck. And then, when the door opens, comes the most terrifying moment that I have ever seen a movie audience experience -- every single one of us was standing up in our seats, screaming our heads off in absolute terror.

What's behind the door? I'm not going to ruin it for you. Rent the movie. And rent a dozen college-age kids while you're at it, to watch the movie with you. And watch it in the dark.

Okay, that particular scene had nothing to do with my experience in the hotel room tonight, except that along with the sound of wheezing in my bathroom making me flash back to "When A Stranger Calls," I also flashed forward to a police investigation finding my murdered corpse in this Godforsaken hotel room.

And then I remembered why the wheezing reminded me of Charles Durning. There's a scene in the movie where Mr. Durning chases after the bad guy. But Durning weighed ... I don't know ... 400 pounds? It was actually cruel and amazing by turns. He was running and wheezing and panting, and I half-expected him to drop dead. That would have been a stunning turn of events in the movie.

Somehow, my half-asleep brain has convinced itself that Charles Durning is wheezing in my bathroom. That can't be real. Right?

So I get up and investigate. And it's not Charles Durning. It's the toilet in the bathroom, which is making this weird wheezing noise.

And it's still making that noise. But it's not scaring the bejeezus out of me anymore.

Well, the drunks have stopped. It is 3:44 AM local time. I'll get up in a couple hours, but I'll see if I can sleep beforehand.

The sooner I leave this place in the rear-view mirror, the better. I am very much looking forward to my first visit to a mining project in the morning.  I'll try and post tomorrow night, but it will be late. Stay tuned.