Sunday, February 8

how the west was won

Pictures have been updated and are here.

The road to Las Vegas passes through the Lake Meade Recreation Area and over the Hoover Dam. A Depression-era engineering feat, the Hoover Dam is best known for housing Megatron until his escape and demise at the hands of Shia Labeouf in the streets of Los Angeles. Standing on the dam looking down towards the Colorado River more than 700 feet below, the first thought in your head is a breathtaking, "Holy shit," followed shortly by, "How the heck was such an incredible piece of engineering built back in 1935?"

The Hoover Dam also marks the border between Arizona and Nevada. This change is noted, not by a change in scenery, but by the casino located about a mile from the dam. This establishment is placed strategically in case you cannot wait to flush money away in Las Vegas. If you can avoid the urge to gamble for thirty minutes, your patience is rewarded with a sweeping view of Vegas as the mountains fade into the desert.

Las Vegas was once the nation's fastest growing city; now it has one of the highest foreclosure rates. Nevertheless, the Strip at night is electrifying and overflowing with hundred thousand dollar cars, gambling addicts and illegal immigrants who are paid to hand out advertisements for strip clubs and escort services. Even if your idea of a good time is not losing exorbitant amounts of money in mere seconds, it's impossible to not be excited by the flashing lights and the whirring of slot machines.

I met up with some friends who were staying at the Venetian on business and after a few drinks in the hotel, we hit up the casinos. I threw down $50 at the blackjack table and was out after eight hands. My friend lost $400. With only $1 left--that I was willing to spend--I sat down at the penny slots and walked away 24 cents richer. I proceeded to lose the entire $1.24 playing video poker while waiting for a drink at the bar. After all that excitement, we wandered around Caesar's Palace until we realized it was two in the morning and my friends needed to be up for work in three hours. It was off to bed for a quick nap and a drive to Los Angeles the next day.

While watching the Weather Channel the next day, I noticed the forecast called for clear skies across the country and rain throughout the entire state of California. Four hours and a few hundred miles later we were sitting on I-10 in Los Angeles, stuck in rush hour traffic and the only day of rain the city will see all year. Another hour and ten miles later, we had parked and were sitting in the Broadway Deli, a great restaurant on the Santa Monica promenade. Afterwards, I met up with my brother and some of his friends at a bar near his office.

My brother and his friends work in Hollywood and, consequently, are the only people I really enjoy hearing talk shop. They never fail to have the inside scoop on celebrities or movies that you can't get on any entertainment blog. When we left LA to begin driving up the Pacific coast I was up-to-date on all the latest Hollywood gossip.

We spent the night in a small town north of Santa Barbara and woke up to more gray skies and pounding rain. I planned to spend the day cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway and rain was certainly not an integral part of that plan. Fortunately, whether by luck or divine providence, the rain slowed to a drizzle and when we hit the coast the clouds parted and the sun broke through.

Driving along the PCH is like every experience in the west: dramatic. The highway snakes around cliffs that fall hundreds of feet into the Pacific Ocean. We stopped in Big Sur and hiked down to one of the many beaches where writers such as Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac found peace, beauty and inspiration.

You really haven't seen a coastline until you've visited Big Sur. The isolation, the pristine beaches, the jagged rocks and cliffs all contribute to a landscape that can only be described as epic. I spent half an hour sitting on the beach staring at the surf and breathing the sea air wondering why the American West was gifted with such incredible beauty. I also wondered why anyone would live on the East Coast when the West has so much more to offer. I live in the East and couldn't give myself an adequate answer.

The sunshine and perfect 65 degree temperature made leaving an arduous task. It was time to press on to San Francisco where we would be spending the next two nights in Berkeley.

I have never been to San Francisco and the city exceeded my expectations in many ways. First off, the city was much bigger than I had ever imagined. My previous knowledge of San Francisco revolved around Grand Theft Auto III and a couple of racing video games where you speed up and down the hilly streets in a Corvette. Two of my friends were in the city this weekend (one actually lives in LA) and they took us on an extensive driving tour that covered nearly every major sight in the city. We went from Coit Tower to the famous switchbacking Lombard Street to Golden Gate Park to the Haight where the hippie movement and the Grateful Dead were born in the 60s.

Again the weather was miserable and a thick fog covered most of the city. However, luck was on our side as we arrived at Golden Gate Park. As we turned a corner for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog lifted, the sun emerged and the bay was bathed in sunlight. Shortly thereafter the clouds reclaimed the sky and the rain returned, but not before we saw the Golden Gate Bridge underneath blue skies.

Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Redwood National Park on the way to Seattle. I would expect the next update by Wednesday night at the latest.

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