On The Road To Las Vegas

We were driving full boar to SLC Airport with nothing but a couple of backpacks and days off from work. We were heading down to Las Vegas to visit my brother, Patrick. It was a joint mission. Erin was going to see Ani DiFranco on Friday night and I was going to help my brother move the remaining boxes from our old house. In between, I figured we get some drinking done, maybe record a PubCast and spin a roulette wheel.

If it was only that simple…

Speeding along North Temple for a 1pm flight on Friday, we fought with construction and traffic. North Temple is a wreck but there is definitely a glimmer of hope when they finish the spur to the airport. My 1999 Toyota Tacoma was humming along until we got to Redwood Road when something felt afoot. Most of the electrical displays on the dashboard were buzzing in and out and I was losing tons of power to the engine. Oh boy, this isn’t good! As everything is going haywire on the car, I realize my only hope is to drop the hammer and get to the airport as fast as possible.

Sputtering, we made it to the ticket gate for long-term parking when the engine died. We were literally at the entrance getting a ticket when the truck went kaput! Without hesitating, I jumped out and started pushing the truck up the long road looking for a parking space. Erin was steering from the passenger seat as I was joined by the Good Samaritan of the week. This whale of a man (and I mean whale: blowhole, tail and ability to eat a ton of krill) joined me at the back of the truck and helped push the truck along long-term parking looking for a turn in. The place was packed, our window to check-in was closing and my new best friend looked as if he was going to have a heart attack.

We eventually stopped pushing when we realize that there was no place to leave my truck. I thanked the man and promised him a dozen orders of nachos at Keys On Main. One of the few upsides to the increase in security at the airport is that when two fat guys are pushing a truck around an international airport, people tend to get involved. We were in the process of calling AAA when we were met by an airport tow truck driver. We were looking at 45-minutes to take-off when he asked to help. I told him to tow my truck to the yard and I would deal with it when we got back on Sunday. We gathered our stuff and ran to the shuttle.

I still felt we had a chance to catch our plane at this time. Even though the airport shuttle was slowly making all of the pick-ups, I knew we would be at the terminal in a few moments. 35-minutes to catch our flight. We jumped off at the Southwest terminal and ran towards security. Darting between people ambling around aimlessly we ran right into the biggest cluster of people I have ever seen at the airport. Holy shit! This isn’t good. There must have been 300+ people waiting to get through the TSA. It wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that there was only ONE PERSON checking tickets! We got into line and started praying.

The world changed on 9/11 and the clearest example of it is the extremes we have to go through in order to enter a secured area of an airport. The serpentine line to make it to the ONE TSA AGENT was moving at a snail’s pace and to make matter worse, there were clocks everywhere showing how little time we had to make it to the gate. The upside to the increase in security is that we are all in it together. Because I am dripping sweat after pushing my truck a quarter of a mile and Erin explaining what happened to the truck, people’s better angels came out and were letting us cut in line halving the distance to the ONE TSA AGENT. With ten minutes left to make it to the gate, we finally made it to the front and cleared the guy checking IDs.

To go through the body scanners, you basically have to strip down to your birthday suit. I was ready to pop through the machine after throwing all of my stuff on the X-Ray scanner and waited to get through. Erin was ahead of me and I told her to meet the plane. I passed through the scan, grabbed all of my possessions and sprinted to the gate carrying my shoes. With five minutes to go, I ran to the FURTHEREST GATE IN THE AIRPORT at full speed weaving in and out of slower passengers trying to make the flight. I kept thinking as my lungs burned that all we needed to do was make the flight and this trip would be saved. Even though I haven’t worked out in almost two months, I pushed through the pain in my bare feet to make it the gate. I honestly thought we had this.

The bubble broke when I saw Erin standing at the ticket counter shaking her head. My watch said we had two-minutes to spare but the ticket agent said it was too late. They had just given away our seats to standby passengers because we were two-minutes late. After everything we went through, we missed our flight by 120-seconds. Left with only one option, we elected to take the next flight to Las Vegas by getting routed through to Los Angeles. The upside is that Erin would make it to her concert. The downside is we just added five hours’ worth of travel time to our trip.

We waited for a half hour and boarded the plane to LA. It stunk that we were not taking a direct flight to Vegas but I knew we were going to get there. Because the flight was packed, we were going to have to sit seperaely. Not a problem. The only problem that I saw was when boarding the plane, I saw one of the few available seats in the airplane was next to Danny Thompson. For those that don’t know him might I suggest you re-read one of my earlier columns and you’ll know immediately that there was no way I would be able to sit with him. I would have found myself hog-tied by a sky marshall as the plane was getting diverted to a landing strip in Tonopah Nevada if I had to sit next to him. Instead, I ducked into a middle seat between two large men and buried myself into a book.

The flight was painless after two Miller Lites. I listened to my iPod, read and tried to rest. I knew we had a 90-minute layover in Los Angeles and my brother would be picking us up as soon as we got to Las Vegas. To kill time at the airport, Erin and I got a drink at a bar and shared a small pizza. I might not like LA but I will always be grateful for the wine pour they gave her. They literally filled a fishbowl up with Malbec and gave it to her. Between my truck dying and missing our flight, this was definitely the first upside on her trip.

After waiting around, we eventually boarded the plane to Vegas and settled in for the short trip. We landed without incident and made it to my brother’s car. It was fantastic to see Pat and Annemarie but even better that this trip was finally getting back on schedule. With two-hours to spare before Erin’s concert, we went to dinner. Ani DiFranco was playing at the Hard Rock Café on the Strip. Fighting traffic, I hopped out of the car with her to make sure she was going to be okay and to schedule a place for us to pick her up. I felt bad about how the entire day was going but I felt like we had finally made it. As I was walking her into the venue, the place was filled with very distraught concert goers. Erin went to a security guard to find out where the show was at and then the third bad piece of news came crashing down on us like a bucket of water: Ani DiFrano cancelled her show. Strike three!

I hope you are laughing right now because I sure was when I heard this. It was both the funniest and saddest thing I had heard all day. I couldn’t believe after everything we went through that this happened. Didn’t Ani know that Erin had endured a constant stream of insults from her boyfriend’s truck taking a dump, getting screwed by TSA, missing a flight and ending up in LA? At the very least, she should have sent a card. We got back into the car and tried to make the best of the rest of the night. Fortunately for me, Las Vegas sells Jameson.

We spent most of Saturday going through boxes that Pat and Annie had collected from our old house. Their garage was filled with possessions all of the kids, Mom and Grandma had left in Las Vegas after Mom had moved and Grandma had died. It was a really bittersweet moment going through pictures and memories of almost an entire millennium and trying to figure out what to do with everything. Once again, Erin’s strength is legendary. She helped us consolidate and pack up dozens of boxes. We put together two filled boxes for ourselves and one for my brother, Mike, who is living in Massachusetts. We took them down to the UPS store and shipped them home at the cost of $130.

I have said good bye to Las Vegas twice in my life. The first is when I graduated from high school and left for the University of Nevada Reno in 1992. The second is when I left Las Vegas for Salt Lake in 1999. Salt Lake is where I hang my hat but Vegas is always home. As much as I push away from Nevada and for as many years I’ve racked in Utah, Las Vegas is home. I grew up there with my family. All three of my siblings cut our teeth at Doris Hancock Elementary, endured being bused to Booker 6th Grade Center and graduating from Bonanza High. We grew up under the lights of the strip experiencing first loves, ridiculous adventures, our parent’s divorce, losing our home and knowing that the world is equally small and ginormous. Revisiting Las Vegas is both exciting and depressing. It feels like stepping back into a bad relationship that was better served when both parties split up so long ago. I miss it and I hate myself for longing for her as much as I do.

The reality is that there is no going home. The 48-hours I spent walking well-travelled paths in Southern Nevada just remind me that leaving Las Vegas was not just the right decision but a move I should have made sooner than I did. Salt Lake City is a bastard of a town. Home court rules. I could have chosen a million other places to live but I made this place my home. Of all the decisions that I have made, this is one that I am not only certain of but proud of.

Erin is the best for so many reasons but any short list of her best traits would be her ability to role with the punches. This weekend was nothing short of a 15-round heavy weight prize fight. This trip could have been ruined on no less than a dozen occasions but Erin’s resolve made sure that we didn’t end up like one of those awkward couples badgering each other in a public. I couldn’t have imagined doing it with anybody else.

We said good bye to Pat and Annie early Sunday morning at McCarran Airport. We slid through security quickly because they had a baker’s dozen worth of TSA agents checking boarding passes. After choking down a breakfast burrito, we got on the plane and headed back to Utah. The weekend was over but not the adventure. I still had to get my truck out of the impound lot and to my mechanic. I figured the worst was behind us when we landed at SLC until the pilot overshot the terminal and had to unload us at a different one. A simple mistake that tacked on another 15-minutes to an already too long of a trip.

Erin’s mom picked us up and took us home. As soon as I got to the house, I turned around in her car and went back to the airport. I had called AAA to meet me there with a tow truck. Bailing my vehicle out set me back $45 but the biggest insult was when trying to leave the area they made me pay an additional $2 for parking. Instead of just waving me by after the entire debacle we had endured, they told me that pulling into parking was a minimum of $2 for under an hour. If I didn’t want to go home as bad as I did and if I wasn’t driving Erin’s car, I would have ran the gate and headed to Sugarhouse Pub with a smile on my face.

As it turned out, my alternator shorted out on Friday. Along with some other problems my truck had I got spanked with $500 worth of repairs. So much for a quick trip to see my brother and let Erin see one of her favorite artists. Regardless, it wasn’t the worst trip I have had. I felt bad about leaving work for the weekend but I knew I needed to help my brother sort through some stuff. Erin and I needed some time alone away from SLC but I think we got more than we bargained for. All of the inconveniences added up to a trip that will never be forgotten and hopefully will be used as a warning the next time we head to Las Vegas.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Subscribe, rate and review his podcast, SLC PubCast on iTunes. Clark Griswold has nothing on him.

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