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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Thursday, March 10, 2005

On The Road

Despite last-minute difficulties in getting my car out of the body shop after a horrendous stretch of luck involving a car accident and a very shady shop owner, I managed to get my wheels under me and hit the road last weekend for the road trip I had planned weeks ago.

How did it go? Glad you asked...

In Cahoots - I met my friend Mark and his girlfriend for dinner at a country bar in San Diego. I've never been to a country bar before, but I was forewarned that there was just one rule to their dress code: Tuck in your shirt. Check. I got to the door and also found out that hats must be worn forward. I guess the rule is that brims must be in the front. Cowboy hats have 360-degree brims, and there were plenty in the bar.

The special of the evening was a six dollar steak, baked potato, and beer meal, which was impossible to argue with. It was pretty good, too. The place also had some decent drink specials - $2 High Life bottles.

The bar was really spacious, with a big dance floor in the middle, overlooked by a balcony. Every song had its own dance - the Jitterbug, the Texas Two-Step (which is not the same as a regular Two-Step, I was informed), and so on. There were also line dances. I was not going near the dance floor; I can't even shake my ass with rhythm in a club, let alone pull off something with steps. However, it did look like fun, and the music was lively.

Another thing was that the place was incredibly friendly - everyone there seemed to know each other, and people would leave jackets and purses on tables unattended while they danced with no fear of anything being lifted. Country is a different mentality, certainly, but it's also appealing in a way.

OK Go - The concert was at a venue called The Casbah, which is located directly under the flight path of the San Diego airport, so when you're outside the place, planes are flying directly overhead, probably within 200 feet of the rooftops. It's kind of freaky. The venue itself was very small - it probably holds about 200 people - but it's perfect for a band that draws about that many people. There were about 150 people in the crowd for the show.

I'd heard OK Go's CD a couple times before the show, and although I liked it, I was a little skeptical about it translating well into a live performance. Something about the songs just didn't strike me as the kind of songs that would play well to an audience. The band, and the lead singer in particular, were surprisingly good though, and very engaging, even responding to the crowd a few times. At one point, the singer introduced the guitarist, who had just joined the band 12 days before the concert. Then, when someone later called out the name of a song he wanted to hear, the singer had to explain that while normally they love to take audience requests, you can only learn so many songs in 12 days and that one just wasn't one of them, so they were going to have to stick to the setlist.

Nothing could have prepared anyone for the encore, though. When the band took the stage again, the singer said that, yes, he was telling the truth and that the guitarist didn't know any more songs...but the audience did deserve something. At that point, he asked for some space to be cleared in the crowd, and the band jumped into the audience and proceeded to do an elaborately choreographed dance to the previously requested song, played from their CD. It was flat-out hilarious. I'm sure it would have been easier for the guitarist to have learned another song or two instead of the dance, but as good as the music was, the dance was far more entertaining.

Mexicali - For some reason, I imagined a resort town without beaches. I'm not quite sure what I was thinking. Mexicali isn't a tourist attraction; it's a regular Mexican city of 800,000 people. Getting into Mexico was very easy. I just drove across the border. No stop, no questions asked. Once I was in Mexicali, I drove around for about 20 minutes just looking around (and trying to find a parking spot). Mexicali looks, well, like a run-down city, except with signs in Spanish. There's nothing glamorous about it. There are a lot of Chinese restaurants, though, which is attributable to the fact that Mexicali was once a railroad center back around 1900, when Chinese immigrants were used for cheap labor on the railways.

I parked my car and walked around for a while, hoping to find somewhere to eat lunch that looked respectable. I'd guess that none of the places I saw would get an "A" grade from the Los Angeles Health Department. The brothel I passed definitely wouldn't. Finally, I realized that I should probably get some pesos instead of getting screwed on an exchange rate in a restaurant. I found an ATM and withdrew 100 pesos, the smallest amount possible in "fast cash." I took my money to the one restaurant I found that had a menu in both English and Spanish. I might as well have been wearing a huge "Gringo" sign. The waitress didn't speak a word of English, so I used the old "point at the menu and mumble" technique of ordering. The food was pretty good - chicken tacos and a tostada - but, American that I am, I have to say I would pick Baja Fresh over the real deal. After I paid for my meal (50 pesos, including the tip, which I assume you leave in Mexico as well), I talked briefly with an English-speaking patron in the restaurant. He told me I should have gone to Tijuana instead. Eventually, I plan to.

It's a little bit tougher to get into the U.S. than into Mexico. I sat in line for about a half hour at the border crossing while locals tried to sell me all kinds of really garish trinkets. For some reason, there's an abundance of bootleg Spider-Man and The Incredibles paraphernalia in Mexicali. Go figure. Even though I wanted to get rid of my remaining 50 pesos, I decided that I would rather have the 50-peso bill as a souvenir than anything they were selling. After I got to the border crossing, I had a very brief exchange with the guard.

"What's your citizenship?"
"U.S."
"Are you bringing anything back?"
"No."
"Where are you going?"
"Phoenix."

He waved me on. Guess I brought my passport for nothing. By the way, I paid for a can of Diet Rockstar on the U.S. side of the border with my 50 pesos. I got the drink and two dollars in change.

Dateland, AZ - Somewhere around Yuma, AZ, I saw a billboard advertising the world famous date shakes to be had in Dateland, Arizona. These shakes may be world famous, but I've never heard of them. Since I had the time, I figured I'd stop off in Dateland and get one. Apparently southwest Arizona is a big date-growing region. And date shakes are delicious. I think they chop up dates, put them in a blender with soft-serve ice cream, and make a milkshake out of it. It's thick and sweet and awesome. I highly recommend picking up a date shake if you're ever driving along I-8 through Dateland.

Spring Training - I'm glad to say that I can now check off "Go to a Spring Training game" off my life's to-do list. Royals-Rangers, at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona, to be exact. It was the third game of the spring for both teams, which share the facility as their spring home. The Rangers were the home team for this game, although they both wore similar blue jerseys.

The stadium itself is very nice, built in a Phoenix suburb that's one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. In fact, the stadium was built only three years ago to draw the Rangers and Royals from Florida to Arizona for Spring Training. If you're an investor, I'd recommend buying some land or some of the newly built homes in Surprise. It's only going to increase in value. But I digress.

As I was saying, the stadium is nice. It seats about 7,000, I'd guess, not including the neatly banked lawn that overlooks the entire outfield. The fences are covered with ads for local businesses, and it has the feel of a minor league game, except without the excessive promotion geared toward 10-year-olds (although there is still a little bit of that). Also, I happened to come on the day when they had their dollar dog, soda, and peanuts promotion. I only had two dogs, though, because I came prepared with a bag of sunflower seeds.

The game itself was enjoyable - your typical early Spring Training game. Both teams used six pitchers, none of whom went more than two innings. Only four players played the whole game. It was a close contest, with the Rangers scoring three times in the seventh and once in the eighth to come back and win, 5-3.

However, the game was unique in that I saw an extremely rare play, the kind of play that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what exactly you just saw. In the top of the sixth inning, Rangers prospect Jose Veras plunked Eli Marrero, then gave up a single to Terrence Long. Justin Huber tried to sacrifice the runners over, and Veras tried to throw Long out at second, but instead didn't get anyone out. Down 1-0 with the bases loaded, Calvin Pickering stepped to the plate. Pickering was third in AAA in homers last season despite playing over 40 fewer games than the two hitters who beat him by one homer, so I was looking forward to this at-bat. Sure enough, Pickering launched a towering drive to left-center. Gary Matthews Jr., the left fielder, went back to the fence, but despite the height of the ball, it had just enough distance to clear it. Meanwhile, with no outs, the runners were holding at their bases to see if the ball would be caught.

The next thing I know, Pickering stops rounding the bases. Both managers come out of their dugouts to find out what's happening. Turns out Pickering passed the runner on first when he put his head down and went into his home run trot. Maybe he glanced up, saw Huber, in his blue uniform, holding at first, and confused him for Chris Richard, the first baseman. Whatever the reason, Pickering ended up with a 380-foot three-run single and an out. I've never seen anything like it before, and I probably never will again. Fortunately for Pickering, his team lost by two and not one. Plus, it's the spring, so it doesn't count. I'm sure the kangaroo court heaped it on him for that blunder, though.

U.S. Route 93 - I had no idea this would be one of my favorite parts of the trip. About 220 miles of the drive from Surprise to Las Vegas is on this road, which, for the most part, is not a highway, and for almost half of it, is a two-lane road. It's the kind of road on which car commercials are filmed. The scenery is breathtaking - Saguaro cacti, Joshua trees, and impossibly stacked boulders dot a landscape that stretches for miles in each direction to mountains on the horizon. Unfortunately, nightfall set in halfway through the drive, which was also drizzly at times. One day, I'd like to return with a convertible roadster on a sunny day and make that drive again. It's perfect for someone like me, who loves to drive. On the two-lane stretches of road, I got to put my car into high gear and roar past the trucks and slow-moving minivans that stood between me and the bright lights of Vegas. That was another charm of the ride - in the mist and darkness in the air, even before I reached the Hoover Dam 30 miles from Vegas, I could see the sky glowing with the lights of America's Playground.

Vegas - Upon arriving at Vegas, I drove to the Bellagio, where security at the parking garage was tighter than at the Mexican border - they made me pop my trunk so they could take a look inside. We watched the famous fountain show, first from the side, where it was choreographed beautifully to "Con Te Partiro." Then we watched it again from the front, reminding me of the end of Ocean's Eleven. And then we crossed the street to Paris, where we went up the Eiffel Tower and watched the show again from high above the Strip. The Strip from high above at night is truly one of the most unique and impressive sights in the world.

After dinner, we went over to the Palms, a casino I hadn't been to before. The crowd there is much younger and livelier than the crowd at a lot of the Strip casinos, probably thanks in large part to the exposure that shooting the Real World there gave it. Also, the Maloofs seem to do a good job keeping their finger on the pulse of a younger, cooler crowd (not to mention keeping their names everywhere - even the felt on the tables declared proudly that the Palms were "A Maloof Casino Resort.")

Unfortunately, I got killed playing blackjack. It wasn't my night. The dealers (Peggy and Chevelle) kept showing aces and faces all night long, and I kept drawing to 24. At least I had the pleasure of sitting next to a charming (read: hot) girl from Honduras named Vanessa. Vanessa proudly wore a Honduran soccer jersey made for a 10-year-old. She had much better luck than I did (it didn't hurt that another guy at the table kept tossing $25 chips at her, which she took despite his repulsiveness), and my stack ran out, forcing me to relinquish my seat. What you withdraw from an ATM in Vegas stays in Vegas. At least I gave my cash to the casino, and not to the girl in a futile effort. If you'd seen the guy who I'm talking about, believe me, you'd know it was futile. Or could it be that I'm jealous because a guy who looks like such a tool has money to burn like that? Ah well...wait until I graduate law school...

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  • At Friday, March 11, 2005 8:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Alright, what will it take to get you to change the layout? I can't stand it anymore. I want the old one back. (Signed: You know who)

     

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