We were late, again. We got out of Santa Fe around 3 pm, just in time to drive through the desert during the heat of the day. Incidentally, there are large swaths of desert that are as uninteresting as large swaths of the plains. I drove, guzzling overly sweet canned iced tea, for a million hours, until my eyes were too tired to focus on the endless miles of highway and we stopped for dinner.
We stopped in a little strip town in New Mexico, the name of which I cannot recall, though I can recall the dozens of shops claiming to sell “Indian Fetishes”, which I found to be a weird and possibly offensive phrase. Even if they were selling sex fantasies, I am pretty sure the more appropriate way to reference them is Native Americans, or perhaps First Peoples. Wouldn’t you get annoyed if your local sex shop was called “Cracker’s Wet Dreams”? (Actually, I would totally shop there. Also, this is a joke. Fetishes are like ethnic knickknacks, I think.)
Zack found us a restaurant, the Badlands Grill, which had some of the highest ratings of restaurants in whatever town we were in. Turns out, it was a semi-fancy steak house, the kind of confusing place where everything is lit by candlelight but the tables are covered with white paper instead of linen. They were piping in 90s pop country music. Various dead animals featured prominently in the decor, while green chiles featured prominently in the menu. We ordered green chile wontons, served with green chile marmalade, and split a plate of “sliders”, monstrous burgers with 1/2 pound of beef, green chile, and cheese. I am not sure if this restaurant really didn’t understand the concept of a slider, or if they were just trying to out do Texas. I guzzled coffee and went to the bathroom while we waited for our food. On the way there, in addition to the heads of half a dozen ungulates, I discovered a fish tank. Filled with glass fish, hanging from the aquarium lid on strings. The bathroom was equally funny; a sign over the potpourri admonished the reader “Do NOT eat!!”. In the defense of whoever first ate the potpourri, it did look a lot like rock candy.
The food was pretty good, if the coffee was somewhat watery. The best part of the whole experience, I decided, was the taxidermied squirrel hanging above the bar, holding a bottle of what was either Windex or a wine cooler. This being a classy joint, Either way, someone probably needed to speak with the squirrel about his drinking habits. Maybe he wasn’t taxidermied–maybe he was in fact pickled from drinking Windex. On our way out, while I peered more closely at the squirrel–the bar tender informed me that the squirrel was holding a bottle of Hypnotique. I suppose that’s not far off from Windex, is it?
After dinner, Arizona happened, which was not all the interesting, save for the discovery that McDonald’s now serves espresso and their chicken McNuggets taste just like they did when I was a kid.The shape of the chicken McNuggets, which is vaguely boot-like in many specimens, remains as perplexing as ever. I wonder how they did the market-testing on nugget shape. I perused an article on USA today on the ways we are incorporating mourning and death into our digital lives. Did you know that you can get a QR code on your tombstone? Now you know. The espresso I ordered was better than I expected, and got the job done, in that I was subsequently able to avoid running off the road on the rest of our way to Vegas.
We drove in to Vegas so late I could barely focus my eyes any more. The heat, even in the middle of the night, was impressive. (Perhaps more so because I thought the desert got cool at night?). We were staying in the Mirage hotel, which purportedly had dolphins. However, we were so exhausted that after waiting a ridiculously long time for the frat boy in front of us to check in, we headed straight for our room. Well, as straight as you can ever go, in a casino. We wound our way through the maze of slot machines and restaurants before finally locating the elevators, which took us up 18 floors to a room with the most virus inspired hotel art I have ever seen. If you so much as brushed the weight-sensitive mini-bar, they’d charge you $10 for a bag of sour gummy treats. Our room looked out on to the Strip, which under normal circumstances might have been pleasant. As it was, I closed the curtains as quickly as possible, using all of the fabric available to block out the neon until only a dull green glow remained, leaking out from the top and bottom of the curtains.
I was not feeling Vegas, this time around. I didn’t have the energy for the lights and the people and the disorientation. So, on waking, Zack and I left the strip in a hurry, passing a Zombie Apocalypse Supply Warehouse on our way to an Indiana-themed hash house, where the portions were giant but the food otherwise mediocre, as though they took the total flavor of a normal meal and spread it out over more mass.
We couldn’t get out of town, and out of the desert, fast enough for me. Even still we didn’t get off until around 2 pm, heading off through the desert towards California, aiming for the Sequoia National Park.