7 October 2012
I drink coffee from my Wonder Woman coffee mug and listen to Rachael Yamagata’s eponymous EP. I discover this album while walking around Athens, GA one day. I stop into SchoolKids Records (which I believe is now defunct), walk over to the listening station and press play. I am hooked from the moment the drums pump into my ears.
We are in Wendover with The Hippo’s parents and Adamantium. Wendover is a gambling city on the border of Utah and Nevada. Wendover is the line between blond men and women who wear magic underwear and old women in short skirts and corsets selling drinks to adults mesmerised by instant opportunity and flashing robots.
We stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats rest stop. We take pictures. Three persons ask The Hippo to take their photograph. The lone woman in the group compliments The Hippo on her necklace, which is a coat hanger symbolising America’s dark past (and present) of limits on access to abortion. Adamantium and I throw rocks onto the salty ground. The Hippo and I race toward the distant mountains as a joke. As we run, we note that the distance we run for the joke is equal to the distance we have to return to the car and reality. We stop in our tracks and walk back. If only the Donner Party had our adherence to reason and understanding of our own limits.
Ready to get on with our own hopeless venture into quick riches, we return to the car. The car does not start. The Hippo’s dad thinks the car hates him. We wait for 10 minutes, which is the trick to get the car started again. We have to wait for two 10-minute sessions before we can proceed. We are only nine miles from Wendover.
The drive is sagebrush, white salt flats, hazy mountains, yellow wildflowers and brown rocks. A train chugs parallel in the distance. All the train cars are the same.
I move on to Xiu Xiu’s Women As Lovers. Wonder Woman looks at me suggestively with her lasso of truth over her shoulder like a trench coat she is ready to remove. Now I feel strange about drinking coffee from a hole in her head. Maybe this is how she gets her kicks. After all, William Moulton Marston wasn’t the most conventional guy.
We arrive in Wendover and drive to the Peppermill straightaway for lunch. Darkness. Sounds. Flashing. Buzzing. There is no time here. Smoke. Money going down the drain. I order breakfast. Neon and fake light and dimness. Reds. I imagine vampires would/do live here.
I know we are in the right spot when we all have our first sighting of an old woman in a shiny cap (gold).
We sit around the table after our meal and catch up on one another’s lives. We have not all been together for a couple of weeks now. The casual chat is to become my favourite part of the outing. I joke that my meal of eggs, chicken-fried steak, hashbrowns and toast will provide me the energy I need for gambling. I forget the more energy I have, the less tolerable gambling seems. I wish I had chosen a more enervating meal. Later, I have a mildly dulling gin and tonic. It is not enough.
An older woman in the restaurant wears a sweatshirt. On the back and at the bottom (assuming she is wearing the sweatshirt properly) is the word “cute.” The “U” is red to indicate support for and allegiance to the University of Utah, which is called “The U.”
I lay awake last night trying to think of a comedy bit about the need to throw all religious leaders in jail and why pastors are, in many ways, more dangerous than imprisoned criminals.
We split up after lunch to throw away our money. I play games called Rich Girl (which I was sure would be my ticket out of debt) and Mine Mine. The Hippo plays a game called Fiesta Chihuahua. She wins a bonus and piñatas fill the screen! Lights flash! Bonus spins activate! Five bonus spins!
She wins a quarter.
The game is in Spanish. We press the translation button and “ganancia” becomes “winnings” and “winnings” become zero (which is the same in both languages).
I order a cappuccino from a tiny, pregnant woman whose nametag indicates I can call her Joceline. I remember our lunch server says, “Thank you so much” at least 50 times during the meal and flashes a large, toothy grin just as frequently.
I spend $17 on gambling. I set aside $20, but it just seems I should not continue. I look forward to the dinner buffet, as I have never had a buffet in a gambling city.
A man works here. He wears an oversize green jacket with the sleeves hanging at least three inches over his hand. The Peppermill is out of rooms. The Rainbow has rooms for $180 per night.
I get up to pee. Is it a good idea to drink coffee after 6:00 pm when I need to go to sleep by 11:00 pm? If she knows any better, Wonder Woman certainly isn’t saying.
We visit Blue Boutique, a store geared toward sex-related items (books, clothing, games and videos). We look at parody porn videos. One is based on Superman. Upon looking at the back of the box, the parody seems to have little to do with Superman except for one scene in which a man wears a knock-off Superman costume. The store contains edible clothing and a book about anal sex positions. The book confuses me, because I imagine anal sex positions would be the same positions as vaginal sex, just with a slightly different location. But then again, I grew up Southern Baptist, so what do I know?
We leave the Blue Boutique and drive to the liquor store. We clearly want to get in as much sin as possible before returning to Utah. I buy a red wine called Vampire. On the back of the bottle is a quote from Lord Byron. The clerk at the store asks if I’m here for the concert hall. I say no. She says Cheech and Chong are playing, which I know from the advertisements. She says she does not like them. She says they are too old to be making marijuana jokes.
We go to the Montego Bay for dinner. We eat at the Oceano Buffet. The persons working at the buffet wear black pants and blue shirts with images of fish printed on them. The carpet has images of fish. The light fixtures feature images of palm trees and the lampshades are covered in thatch. We eat in a tropical simulacrum in some strange, lazy future. The neon signs tell me where I can find DESSERT, ASIAN, SEAFOOD, BBQ, CARVING and PIZZA. The food is exactly what I hoped it would be. I eat shrimp prepared in five different ways.
We eat and get to the real reason we are at a table in a shiny, reflective aluminum dis/utopia: catching up some more. We talk about school and writing and online gaming and enjoy one another’s company as my stomach wonders why a person would choose to eat shrimp in so many different forms when it is just going to destroy them (the shrimp) with acid before sending the results to oblivion.
The Hippo’s parents and Adamantium wander back in to the casino. The Hippo and I sit and talk. I drink coffee. I get sleepier the more coffee I drink. We get up and walk over to the Wendover Nugget. We get there via sky bridge. No reason to go outside. I find something oddly appealing about traveling with no need to be out-of-doors.
I finally win at a game called Fast Food. The bonus round involves feeding a hungry man different foods with various point values. I learn the soda always has a high point value. I feel smug and disturbed.
We all meet back up and begin the drive home through the alien, desert landscape. In the distance are the lights of the waste-treatment facility. We breeze through Tooele, UT, where my friend Justin and I stopped one night in 1999.
I could not have predicted I would end up living in Utah twice in my adult life. I am here and I have a second family. I am in the midst of mountains that care as little of my life as the trees with which I was raised. I am in the midst of a religion just as deadly as the one I know from childhood. I am just as alive in the sere browns as I am in the verdant greens.
Somehow, I am still home (and only out $20).