Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Grades, delays, and regular balloons

The deed is done. My sister is officially married. The complete story will follow over the next few posts...

Last Friday, we loaded Mrs. T.'s van and headed out to Vegas for the festivities. While the drive's first half was indeed uneventful, the van's "Check Engine" light decided to brighten as we headed up a notorious mountain grade in the desert, popping the hood atop the grade and searching for trouble.

Rising from 1,000 feet to nearly 4,700 twice in a 30-mile stretch, that grade is no picnic for even the hardiest vehicles. What's worse is -- since it's in the midst of the high deserts of the eastern Mojave -- you just have to run your air conditioner the entire time, lest you wilt before your car does. A few days later, we still have no idea what brought on the "Check Engine" light; we're guessing it was some kind of emissions issue, and in the wake of our return to more normal altitudes, the light has indeed extinguished itself.

But that stop atop the grade was a time and nerve burner. We spent about 45 minutes there cooling the engine, and another 45 or so getting gas and coffee in the self-appointed post-desert oasis of Primm, Nv., a Starbucks and McDonalds-equipped hotel town that sprung up around slot machines and craps tables for those who just can't wait another 30 miles.

Between our time there, our one-hour lunch stop in scenic Barstow, Ca. (the state's true armpit), and some misdirection from Yahoo Maps on the route to our hotel -- thank you, Yahoo, for first asking us to find an unmarked and under-construction highway exit; then for putting us on a road festooned with traffic lights every 500 feet, and naturally, we did not catch a single green; and finally for leading us to the geographic center of Henderson, Nv., instead of to our hotel -- we wound up arriving in Vegas safely, but about two hours later than expected.

After a 15-minute freshen up, we headed for Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, located in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip at the Flamingo Hotel, for a meet-and-greet with the rest of the wedding party. I had the Cheeseburger in Paradise, and after watching his uncle-to-be Mikey sporting the traditional "Parrothead" animal-balloon hat, our Boy punctuated the meal with his spoken request: "I don't want an animal balloon! I want a regular balloon!"

The meal came and went, the margaritas flowed happily, and after another three hours, Thorne and family headed back to the hotel for a blissful night of sleep, all in preparation for the big day tomorrow.

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