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.


  1. I have always wondered what Bukowski would sound like if he was also a mining analyst.

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