pawn shop/lounge/restaurant

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WOW! IT’S A STREET WITH A ROOF. THE FOLKS BACK IN FAIRVIEW WON’T BELIEVE THIS.

DAY FIVE

We didn’t have anything planned in the morning, so I drank more bourbon and watched more Bosch. Because vacation, damn it. This totally would have been the time for me to work on my novel. So much for that.

Eventually I sobered up and went to In-N-Out again. Afterward, I drove Renée to one of the dozens of outlet malls dotting the desert before we went to dinner with Brandon.

We went to Beauty & Essex in The Cosmopolitan. The Manhattan-based establishment is a pawn shop/lounge/restaurant. Seriously.

Afterward, we went to the Fountains of Bellagio. The aquatic display was set to the Pink Panther Theme.

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No video for you!

Then, since our car already was parked there, we went to Bond. A 12-year-old Scotch was among my drinks. I do not regret it.

DAY SIX

On our last full day, we once again took it a bit easy. We ate at China Poblano, which we dubbed the Wong Gonzalez of Vegas. I considered getting ceviche there, because I was disappointed by the ceviche I got the day before, but passed. There’s probably some good ceviche in Richmond somewhere. I haven’t found it yet. But I also don’t get ceviche all the time, despite loving it so much. I said ceviche a lot in the paragraph. Ceviche.

Afterward, we drove through Red Rock Canyon. It was a little late so I couldn’t do the Scenic Drive. If we ever go back to Vegas, I really want to do that drive. I was driving, so I couldn’t take any photos.

CHAIR IN THE SKY

On our final day, we returned Giovanna and called a Lyft back to the airport. The driver missed us on the first go round. His air freshener barely covered the scent to weed in his car. It was 9 a.m. Pacific. We had 12 hours to go before getting home.

We had to change flights in San Diego. The little bit that I saw was beautiful. I kinda want to visit there.

But the airport is terrible.

It is the nation’s busiest single-runway airport, it’s hemmed in by development and the most recent plan to relocate it was killed by voters. We had to go through a second security checkpoint to get to our connecting flight because of the terminal’s layout.

Things got better on our second flight, which stopped in Atlanta on the way to Richmond. I ordered two vodka cranberries and then turbulence led to the flight attendants not coming around to charge us for them. I got a bourbon and ginger ale on the last leg. I had to pay for that one.

We arrived in Richmond at about midnight. We had hoped to order food but no restaurants deliver on early Tuesday mornings. So I went to Wawa.

While we were gone for the week, people have gotten worse at parking in our parking lot. The spaces are close to being the exact width of a car, which means one SUV or poorly parked sedan throws everything off. Previous pavement striping showing through a quick asphalt overlay adds an extra degree of difficulty. I’ve taken to parking in a what’s left of a space because I have gotten tired of having to hunt for a better space and my car has reached an age where I don’t car if it picks up scratches and dings.

Because of the amount of travel, the amount of time away from my car or a combination of both, I broke my routine and still had my phone in my hand when I got out of the car. I dropped it trying to squeeze out of the driver’s seat, My screen is only operational because the screen protector is holding it together.

The following day, I got stuck in the parking lot for 20 minutes because a garbage truck broke the gate.

Welcome back to Richmond, right?

“everything is 45 minutes away”

OUR THIRD ANNIVERSARY

After witnessing a robbery that was brushed aside, I got a beer and stayed up later than I planned. We left late for Los Angeles. Renée drove in because we were curious about traffic and an adage that New York people hate Los Angeles.

Because I was tired from the day before, I dozed off a few times we as traveled through the vast emptiness the 15 cuts through. When I was awake, I was struck at how the road stretched into the horizon and drank in the beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a sign noting the San Andreas Fault.

Traffic was atrocious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Renée as angry as she was as we tried to exit into downtown LA when getting to Rodeo Drive seemed out of the question. We were going to visit El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula to wait out rush hour. Taking the exit was arduous in itself.

We were getting hungry, and I suggested eating at Musso & Frank. There wasn’t any (cheap) parking nearby, so that was right out. We reached a point where I was certain Renée was going to start mowing down Californians when a cursory search for restaurants noted that The Stinking Rose had a parking lot.

We got to Beverly Hills after all.

After we ate, we shopped at Beverly Center — where I replaced my Vegas-ruined shoes — and met up with Ben, a fraternity brother from our George Mason University chapter.

We managed to see him because we left so late and because we got stuck in traffic heading to the Santa Monica Pier.

We had no idea there was a concert going on, and it let out as soon as we arrived. It was pure pedestrian chaos. Luckily, I was driving at this point. We missed sunset from the pier, but we made it to the Pacific Ocean.

Before we met up with Ben, he mentioned that he was 45 minutes away from where we were. I apologized, saying I hoped it wasn’t too out of his way.

He said it wasn’t a big deal because, in Los Angeles, “everything is 45 minutes away” and everyone is chill about traffic because it’s a given.

I also couldn’t handle the relentless traffic. Be said he likes it more than DC traffic. I hate DC traffic. Los Angeles is my third least favorite place to drive after Boston. At least it didn’t make me fly into a blind rage like Washington and Boston. (New York isn’t even in my top 10; I actually like driving around New York.)

Afterward, it was time to head back. I didn’t want to drive through the night through the desert, but that’s what happened. There were a few traffic jams on the way back, but driving through the night through the desert as our anniversary turned into my birthday was an amazing gift. So was the sunrise over Las Vegas.

MY 34TH BIRTHDAY

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Four days in, we finally saw Las Vegas.

We had to take a glorified nap because we had to return the Esportage. Originally, we planned on not driving on the second half of the trip. Then we decided to rent a convertible. Then the price shot up for the convertible because it was Friday. Then we got an Altima.

That made me happy because I drive an Altima. I named her Giovanna because that’s the name of Nicole Cobb’s sister in my novel (the Cobb sisters’ parents are Italian and Irish from New Jersey).

After going back to sleep, we prepared to go to Circus Circus to get steak at THE Steak House with my fraternity brother PaulAnthony and Linda. If you’ve been following this blog since the early years, or are a friend from my college/early journalism days, you remember those names.

I dressed formally. I was told twice that I looked like a hitman. One man appeared to hope I would say I was.

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Tonight, he sleeps with the fishes. I promise.

I had the best steak of my life and it was very, very good to see PA after all these years. Additionally, I discovered that day that another brother, Brandon, was visiting from Virginia. I made plans to see him the following day. I hadn’t seen him since going to Maryland to see The Revolution.

After dinner, I wasn’t ready to end the night. Because it was my birthday. We drove around the Strip and eventually ended up in the actual city of Las Vegas. I have more photos, video and a video I was going to use to get stills. It would have been too much effort to do that and post these entries in a timely fashion. Perhaps later this month.

Also, the following photos do not have captions.

The Fremont Street Experience truly is an experience. The canopy created a humid microclimate. Passersby smelled of booze, cigarettes, weed, sweat, desperation. We entered a souvenir shop where a woman was perched on a wheeled platform ladder to scan for shoplifters. We pushed through the crowds to get inside the Golden Nugget to go to the bathroom. We lingered for a while. I got three glasses of Makers, neat. I wanted a bottle. I got one.

On the way back, I got McNuggets. Because Tipsy Elliott loves McNuggets. Being able to get, for the same price, 20 McNuggets nearly 3,000 miles from home is all that is good and bad about America.

We took some city streets. Having a familiar feeling so far from home also is what is good and bad about America. If you had told me I was actually in Virginia Beach, I would have believed you.

I completed my birthday by downing more bourbon and watching Bosch, an Amazon series based on a series of crime novels I’ve been obsessed with since 1996. It is superb.

Still exhausted from driving through the night, I slept for a very long time.

an american tail: elliott goes west

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Really west

DAY ONE

I neither gambled nor worked on my novel during this trip.

Our Lyft driver came sooner than expected, so we didn’t get a chance to take the garbage out. Additionally, I had turned the thermostat up into the 80s. As we dashed downstairs, I hoped for the best.

The trip to Las Vegas was uneventful. I had decent sleep, wasn’t hungover and ate before we took off. I was dreading the temperature, though. The Southwest was in a heat wave and  it was 116 when we landed.

A dry heat just means it feels like an oven. It wasn’t terrible, but I was disquieted by the lack of sweat. I understood how people wind up passing out/dying here and made a note to constantly drink water.

The cabbie who transported us to our North Las Vegas hotel (it was cheaper and quieter) played Crazy Train as we rode. I took that as a good omen.

Because of the time difference, we had to at least stay awake till 11 p.m. That was as far as we got. Before bed, we went to In-N-Out Burger because it was nearby.

We walked. I wore white shoes. I had to clean them afterward.

Because of the heat, the asphalt roads weren’t completely solid. My soles were pitch. The lane markings were smeared with grey to the point that some were nigh invisible. Bott’s dots were the only hope.

In-N-Out’s burgers bore a slight resemblance to Smitty’s Better Burger. Hands down, Smitty’s would win in a fight.

Afterward, we willed ourselves to go out to stay awake. The last thing I wanted was to be up before dawn each day. We went to a local bar a few blocks down (we got a ride that time). It was terrible, even for me. We then went across the street to the Cannery Casino, we were disappointed in large portions of it being closed for the night. Then we remembered it was a Tuesday.

“Because who’s here on a Tuesday?” I said at one point.

Next up was our first road trip: the Grand Canyon by way of the Hoover Dam.

DAY TWO

We still got up a little earlier than I wanted, but it worked out. As our Lyft driver headed to our rental car in Henderson, he played a ’50s radio station as we passed countless lawyer ads and a cell tower incongruously disguised as an alien pine. I was starting to groove on this arid, quirky place. Part of the route was on U.S. 95. I noted how we traded one 95 for another.

We didn’t get the SUV we requested. Instead, we got a Kia Sportage (or, as the receptionist said it, “Esportage”).

It did not have fantastic acceleration. I drove to the Hoover Dam.

From there, I drove through miles of Arizona desert and mountains to the Hualapai reservation to their portion of the Grand Canyon. It was two hours closer than the national park entrance and I wanted to give natives my money.

It goes without saying that the canyon is utterly beautiful. Our tour included two overlooks. The best was Guano Point, where I scaled numerous rocks to get sweeping views of the canyon. Additionally, I survived taking a cliffside selfie.

Renée got altitude sickness but was a trouper and drove back to Vegas. Once we returned, I walked to a 7-Eleven to get her a soda.

The 7-Eleven got robbed while I was there.

california (and nevada and arizona) dreamin’

Since I last left you, I saw a friend become a naturalized citizen and our vacation has fully come into view. Beyond that, I’ve just had a cycle of dog poop, cook, work, dog poop, sleep that I can’t wait to break for a few days.

I have a terrible case of senioritis. I hate that it comes with three solid days of extra duties at work.

All I can think about is driving to the Hoover Dam and a Grand Canyon overlook, spending an open-ended six or so hours in Los Angeles and seeing what else there is to do in Las Vegas beyond gamble.

And having a change of venue to write.

And celebrating my birthday and my anniversary.

And how this very well could be our last great trip before we leave the 18-34 demographic.

This will be my 18th epic trip since keeping track in 2004 and my first one to states I haven’t driven from Virginia. This is a big step for me. As I said last year, I have nothing against flying — I just love driving that much.

So, of course there will be driving. I’m mostly pumped about renting a car and going to Arizona and then heading to L.A. because I’ve heard so much about how I’d probably hate it because, in general, people allegedly are New York people or L.A. people and rarely both. I have absolutely no idea what we’re going to do there. I don’t have anything I want to see in that city except the Pacific and maybe the Watts Tower, and I’ll be utterly shocked if Renée doesn’t want to go to Rodeo Drive. I have vague plans to meet one of my fraternity brothers and get food. My goal is to arrive no later than 2 p.m. on whatever day we go there and leave no later than 9 p.m.

We played Miami (and our spontaneous trip to Key West) loose, and I enjoyed it that way. I hope to replicate that.

The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the heat. The current extended forecast has it being no cooler than 112 in Vegas the entire time, the mid 90s along the Colorado River and 90 in L.A.