I only rarely go to McDonaldʼs; maybe three or four times a year. So I was surprised and delighted to find itʼs McRib season!
The McRib is the finest fast food sandwich there is. Better than a double Fisch Mac. Better than Starbuckʼs Thanksgiving panini. Yes, better than Chick-fil-a.
Itʼs never McRib season in Las Vegas, so for the seven years I lived there, I had to make my own — Driving three hours across the Mojave Desert to the nearest McDonaldʼs that had them, in Barstow, California. I never did find out why the McDonaldʼs franchises in Vegas donʼt carry McRibs.
Here, in Houston, McRib does exist, so I grabbed a loaf of that sweet, smokey, salty, crunchy, sesame seeded goodness.
Pro tip: Serve the sandwich on top of a pile of fries so that the sauce drips onto the fries, and you donʼt waste any of it on the plate.
Annunciation is old-school, in both style, architecture, and message. While I did the special kind of musty funk that fills old American Catholic churches, Iʼve never been able to get used to using a Communion rail. Perhaps I have weak knees. Or I donʼt like people looking at my butt.
Still, if youʼre looking for a just-barely-this-side-of-Vatican-Ⅱ experience, this could be the place for you.
I never thought I would miss the smell of creosote, but I will. When the rain falls on tumbleweeds, it makes a weird wet dog smell. The outflow boundary from the thunderstorm carries the smell far and wide, and is a much more reliable indicator of rain coming than radar is.
If you're ever in a slot canyon or a dry gulch, and suddenly you smell a wet dog, run. I've lost count of the number of stories I've seen in the newspapers this year about hikers and homeless people killed in flash floods. Dozens, at least. Always under blue, unsuspecting skies. The news helicopters sometimes follow a flash flood coming off one of the mountains as it weaves through the gullies and washes. Once, KTNV showed a car speeding down the road trying to outrun the water. It didn't.
Todayʼs coffee is Goose Bumps from Vesta Coffee in Las Vegas.
The coffee is pretty good, considering it comes from a city that prides itself on being artificial, superficial, and doing things “good enough.” Itʼs very smooth, which might be attributed to the relentlessly mineralized water that Vegas siphons from Lake Mead, before returning it to the lake after being processed by four million kidneys. The stated notes are “chocolate, graham cracker, sweet.” I certainly get the chocolate, and a bit of the sweet. But Iʼm not sensitive enough to detect graham or any other type of cracker in my coffee. Still, this desert coffee isnʼt a dessert coffee. Itʼs a nice weekend morning coffee, or a good reward in the afternoon after accomplishing some minor, yet dreaded, task. Iʼd buy it again because I like my coffee the way I like my women: wholesome and surprisingly good.
I got a new Atari cart today. Itʼs Poker Plus, the Sears version of Atariʼs Casino.
This is the text label version, which is what I prefer because that means its an older version, and what I would have had in my home, if my family had this cart in 1978. But we didnʼt.
The version of this game with the Sears picture label is more unusual, but not quite what one might call “rare.” Just seldom seen for sale.
Itʼs a very minor topic of discussion in the realm of Atari nerds that Sears spent a lot of time and money making its own artwork for the Atari games it licensed. There are plenty of debates over which is better. I donʼt have a preference. But I do note that the Sears imagery is often racier than the Atari version.
Here are the Atari and Sears picture labels of the same Casino/Poker Plus game.
The Atari one is fine, featuring a slim young woman in a strappy white evening frock engaged in severely constrained enthusiasm. The Sears one features a Vegas showgirl wearing low-rise panties, a feathered headdress, and nothing else. Sheʼs covering her breasts with her slender arms, but not out of shame, based on her smile.
As a resident of Las Vegas, I am uniquely positioned to decide which label is more accurate. And I can tell you that the Sears version is more correct.
Not because there are lots of gregarious topless showgirls roaming the casinos of Sin City. There arenʼt. Except for street buskers, the showgirls are all gone. Itʼs Miss Atari who is wrong. The notion of Vegas casinos being populated by well-dressed, glamorous, interesting people died in the late 1980ʼs. If she was done up in crop-top football jersey with a tattooed beer belly hanging over pajama bottoms and Crocs, toting a three-foot-long empty plastic beverage container and a grudge against Southwest Airlines, then she would fit right in.
But graceful white evening dress and statement jewelry? This isnʼt Monaco.
The atmosphere is having a nice little hissy fit in Las Vegas right now. A touch of rain about an hour ago, and now a windstorm. More interestingly, we had some thunder. We hardly ever get thunder here, because with the effort involved in getting over the mountains, thereʼs usually not enough energy for lightning. Itʼs the same story in Seattle.
People talk about all the rain in Seattle, but itʼs almost always a very calm, gentle rain. What the Navajos call “female rain.” I donʼt know what the Quileute in La Push, Washington call it. But when we visited, Darcie took a smooth rock home from the beach, and didnʼt find out later that youʼre not supposed to do that. We ended up having all kinds of bad luck right after that. Go figure.
Thereʼs a Door Dash guy trying to deliver something soggy and greasy to my neighbor, and the wind just made off with his big red bag. Run, Dasher, run!
I like toads. I always have. But I donʼt know if Iʼm supposed to like this toad, or not.
Itʼs a California Toad, a subspecies of the Western Toad. The problem is that itʼs living on the edge of a very small spring that is the only home of the hyper-endangered Amargosa Dace, a type of pupfish.
The pupfish only live in this one little hole; nowhere else on earth. The toads live all over the West, from the Rockies to Alaska to Mexico.
In centuries past, settlers populated the isolated springs and oases of the Mojave Desert with frogs, in order to use them for food. Tiny, slimy, amphibious cattle. In doing so, they wiped out many populations of endangered fish.
Thatʼs why this toad may not belong here. He may be a descendant of hungry and industrious settlers of the 1800ʼs. Or he may have been here all along, since this is still California Toad territory.
Iʼd ask someone, but these are COVID times, so none of the nearby ranger stations are manned.
You think youʼre a bad ass? You think youʼre hard core? You ainʼt nothinʼ compared to the burros of the American West.
The lesser-traveled parts of this nation are infested with feral burros. They were brought out here to help the miners. When the miners went away, they left their companions behind. Itʼs all very sad.
Today, there are far more burros than the sparse desert environment can support, and many of them suffer. The federal government spends your tax dollars doing what it can to try to keep the population down, but a burroʼs gotta burro. Every now and again, there is a roundup of feral burros, much to the howls of online environmentalist poseurs who have only seen them on the internet, have never actually studied them in person, and donʼt have a better solution.
The captured burros are offered for adoption, but just like with humans, there are never enough homes for all of those who need one. Unlike humans, some of the adopted burros end up in illegal slaughterhouses, and thence as food for people and and pets in Asia, and rumor has it — France.
These burros are in the town of Beatty, Nevada. Theyʼre so used to being around people, and not giving fuck one what anyone thinks of them that they regularly block traffic, stare in windows, and generally make a comic nuisance of themselves.
They are the unofficial mascots of Beatty, and there have been some efforts to make them a tourist attraction. But tourists generally donʼt cuddle up to attractions that take a dump wherever they like.
I think one of the reasons that people like the ghost town of Rhyolite is because it balances itself in that special state of decay where you can see that itʼs all going to be dust soon, but thereʼs enough left that you can imagine slices of what it used to be when thousands of people lived here and it was called “The Chicago of the West.”
Rhyolite used to have bars, hotels, gold mines, and several competing newspapers. Today, it only has one resident. But that may change soon. A Canadian company is doing some work to determine if itʼs worth re-opening the old gold mines again. If it happens, it would be really interesting to see if the town comes back, or if its designation as a quasi-state park will make that impossible.
Hereʼs a very sad picture. At least in modern times.
In centuries past, this little hole in the ground was a life-saver. For pioneers, for local indian tribes, and for many others it provided vital water in the desert wilderness. Today, though, itʼs a reminder of things gone wrong.
This is Longstreet Spring, at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Itʼs a boiling spring, which isnʼt a reference to the temperature of the water, but to the way the water forces itself up through a layer of sand at the bottom, making it look like the bottom of the pond is boiling.
This used to be the home of a thriving population of endangered fish. The fish are gone now, eaten by frogs brought by the pioneers. Today, all that live here are frogs and the insects that feed them.
A friend of mine is mad at me because I wouldn't go have dinner with him when he was in town last week. Too bad, the COVID positivity rate in Vegas is through the roof. Iʼm not going to just hang out in a casino like nothing is wrong.
His entire family had it and recovered, so he thinks it's OK to take everyone to Vegas for his daughter's birthday. In his mind, if he's safe, that's all that matters.
Never mind the maids, bartenders, airline staff, janitors, and everyone else that has to risk their lives so he can have a good time. He should know better, because he's a scientist. Then again, as I've learned getting older, being smart at one thing doesn't make you smart at everything.
I know a doctor in Chicago who thinks drinking his own pee will help him live forever. I know a TV anchor in Phoenix who doesn't believe in dinosaurs. Not as a religious thing. They just don't fit into the way her brain works. My old neighbor is an international airline pilot, and doesn't believe COVID is real.
I guess everyone is crazy in their own way. I wonder what my major malfunction is.
There were clouds in the sky this morning, so we had a nice sunrise. Iʼd forgotten that this area can have some pretty nice sunrises, but you need clouds to make them happen.
We even got what I call a "double sunrise" — the sun coming up turns the clouds over Arizona all pinky-orange, and when it starts to crest the eastern mountains, it lights up the clouds over California, too, so thereʼs a nice sunrise no matter in what direction you look.
On clear mornings, we get what I call a "false sunrise," which is when the sunʼs rays bounce off the bronze glass of the casino towers and make it look like the sun is rising in the west.
Most people here never see the sunrise, or the sunset. The houses have few windows, and people generally keep their shades drawn at all times. They might as well live in a steel shipping container.
Darcie and I enjoy the sun and the sky and let in all the light we can. Or at least all the light the windows will allow. They have several layers of coatings on them to keep the heat out, and it kills most of the color, too. This morningʼs sunrise was blood red in plain air from the balcony, orange from the dining room windows, and just a bland yellow from the library.
When I was starting on my career path in my 20ʼs, I made sure I went into a field that would keep me from spending all day locked in an office like my parents were. I guess I screwed that one up.
I predict that when we donʼt have to wear masks anymore, women will go nuts wearing bold lipstick colors just because they can. Equip your wife appropriately before the rush starts.
According to todayʼs paper, you can now crush a car, operate heavy machinery, shoot a machine gun, detonate explosives, drive a monster truck, launch flaming arrows, blast flame-throwers, and drink yourself into a stupor all in one place. Because doing all those separately was too much work.
Oh, and thereʼs a brothel on the other side of the ridge.
I can only assume this started with someone from Texas saying, “Yʼknow, thereʼs just too many rules around here.”
Las Vegas is a different place since things have opened up a bit. Because the hotel rates have dropped so much, itʼs brought in the worst people. This is something that Darcie has known from day one, but itʼs only hitting the front pages of the local newspapers now.
Rooms that used to be $675 a night are now $100 or less. Itʼs gotten so bad that the head of Wynn Resorts went public saying that her regular customers are afraid to come to Las Vegas now. She says that some who have come to town have been afraid to leave their rooms, and wonʼt ever return.
Itʼs simply unprecedented for the head of a resort company to say anything bad about the industry, or its guests. But things are pretty bad out there now.
I went to the supermarket yesterday. I think itʼs the first time since April.
It looks like theyʼre skipping Halloween this year. There was just one small Halloween display. No aisle dedicated to candy and decorations and such. Pumpkins are only five bucks. I donʼt think Iʼve ever seen a pumpkin for under $15 here. Workers were putting together Thanksgiving and Christmas displays, but those, too, looked small. It seems like the supermarkets are mostly skipping all of the holidays this year.
Maybe because hardly anyone goes to the store anymore. It was almost vacant when I went there on Friday at 6pm. Still, even with no customers, there were still large gaps in the stock. The toilet paper aisle is about ⅓ full, which is an improvement. Still no cleaning supplies, though. Half the deli is empty. No salami or corned beef to be found anywhere, so I had to settle for pastrami. Pasta and soup sections were mostly empty. So were some other sections that I couldnʼt identify because they were not only devoid of product, the store didnʼt even bother to put up price tags.
Todayʼs coffee is Morning Blend from Cowboy Joe up in Elko again.
I actually ordered a single Buckaroo Blend from the web site, but they ran out. Since Cowboy Joe is literally a one-person coffee shop, Joe sent me two Morning Blends as compensation.
Every roaster seems to have a “morning blend.” Iʼm not sure what it is about any of them that is supposed to evoke morning, but this is a good coffee. Basic, but nice and smooth and low-acid, the way I like it. Itʼs the sort of coffee Iʼd give to someone visiting the house if I didnʼt know what kind of coffee they liked, or if I ever had visitors.
Iʼve lived in Las Vegas for seven years now, and had exactly one visitor — a friend of Darcieʼs from Poland. This, even though pretty much every person Iʼve ever met has come to visit the city since I moved here, but then only told me after they left. Perhaps thatʼs meaningful.
Las Vegas locked down is a weird place. With no humans on The Strip, the city is being taken over by waterfowl.
Local media has been showing photos and video of geese and ducks all over the casinos. The theory is that they're attracted by the people-less fountains. Last week, I saw some video of a family of ducks that have made a home in one of the revolving doors of The Bellagio.
The good thing about the plague is that itʼs made things quiet again.
When I first moved to this block, almost all of the homes were military households; mostly Air Force and Nevada National Security Site people (mathematicians, nuclear physicists). Couples, no kids. It was always so silent around here, and I would sit on my bench on the front stoop and read my newspapers in peace.
Then last year all of the military households were relocated en masse. New people moved in. An architect family. A massage therapist family. A guy running some kind of fleaBay business out of his garage. A family from New York via Malawi, Frankfurt, and Copenhagen. Ordinary people and many many kids.
As recently as last weekend, the block was alive after 3pm and on weekends. The guy tinkering on his car. The knot of ladies and their fashion accessory dogs. The guy flying model airplanes and home-made drones at the end of the street. Mexican polka music wafting through the palm trees. And about 20 children running, jumping, throwing things, and playing at murdering one another. Noise. Noise Noise.
Now everyone is afraid to go outside. The block is silent. Once again, the block belongs to me, my newspapers, and my coffee.
One of the things I miss about not working in the office anymore is that I canʼt squeeze in a quick lunchtime mass anymore.
I sometimes used to go to the noon mass at Guardian Angel Cathedral, but it wasnʼt exactly a contemplative atmosphere. Standing room only, and half of it tourists. Thereʼs a special Catholic church just for the tourists, paid for by the casinos, but the tourists still end up at Guardian Angel. I guess being a cathedral, itʼs got more gravity.
I see stories in the media all the time saying that church is dying, but I canʼt help but think this is just a cliché, and not based on facts. Yes, churches in Chicago are closing all the time, but thatʼs because of bad decisions made by the archdiocese in the early 1900ʼs.
Because the various immigrant groups in Chicago couldnʼt get along, instead of having a church for each neighborhood, each neighborhood was given several churches — one for each ethnicity/nationality/community. So, Bridgeport, for example, had a bunch of Catholic churches: one for Germans, one for Poles, one for Lithuanians, one for Irish. But now that everyone gets along, all those churches arenʼt needed, so theyʼre constantly consolidating. The church I went to in Chicago (Assumption) was an Italian church, formed because Italians in that area of town werenʼt welcome at what is now Old Saint Patrickʼs Church.
Here in Las Vegas, and most of the southwest, there simply arenʼt enough Catholic churches for the number of people who want to use them. I go to Saint Elizabeth either for the 4pm Saturday, or the 6am on Sunday, and both times it is absolutely packed. This is a church with a capacity of at least 750, which to me seems pretty big. Iʼve heard from a person I know in Ohio who says itʼs the same situation there.
There are Roman Catholic congregations here that meet in the lyceum of the Lutheran high school down the street, for lack of space. We had a similar situation in Seattle, where the noon mass at the cathedral was so packed that there was another Catholic mass down the street at the Unitarian church.
I feel bad for the people who live in small towns around here. Amargosa Valley and Pioche are 250 miles apart, and have to share a priest, so they only get a single mass every other week. Other towns only get mass once a month. Because of this, we have special dispensation from the Archdiocese of San Francisco to watch mass on TV. The church I go to records a mass on Thursdays that is broadcast state-wide Sunday morning. Thereʼs no communion, naturally, but it still counts somehow.
This is where I go sometimes after work to just sit and think. Thereʼs nothing here except a picnic bench, some tumbleweeds, and the occasional wild horse. The helipad is used to remove the bodies of the injured and dead tourists who donʼt take the desert seriously.
When I load photos of Valley of Fire into programs like Lightroom, they automatically crank the color down 15 notches because the programmers at Adobe in Seattle canʼt conceive of a place that isnʼt as humid and grey as where they live.
Seeing a cactus skeleton is a good way to understand how much water they store.
The large black things are hare droppings. The tiny black dots that cover everything is called cryptobiotic soil: “cyanobacteria that cement the soil together. It provides nutrients for plants and seeds, and increases the soil topography which allows greater moisture absorption. This crust is only a few millimeters thick and is easily destroyed when walked on. Recovery can take between 7 and 250 years. Please donʼt walk on it.”
So this guy rolls up on his motorcycle, pulls a suit bag out of his pannier and hangs it in a tree. Then he pulls out a big tub of Windex Wipes and gives himself a full bath — underbits and all — while standing in the parking lot. Then he unzips the suit bag, puts on a tuxedo, and walks away down the street. Ta da!
If the local government encourages you to take your family to one of the county shooting ranges on Christmas Eve and discharge firearms to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you may live in Nevada.
If youʼre fleeing from the police, donʼt try to hide under the bush in front of my office window. Because when the cops catch up to you and you try to run, your purse will get snagged on the branches, and no amount of texting will keep you from being frogmarched down to the curb in handcuffs.
Meanwhile, in Nevada… a dead brothel owner whom the newspapers say police suspect was poisoned by 1990ʼs “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss after going for a midnight drive with diminutive porn star Ron Jeremy following his 72nd birthday party with a bunch of hookers has won the 36th District.
“Hi, there. Iʼm building a temple to my Earth goddess in the abandoned Burger King across the street, so Iʼm collecting samples of all the trees in the neighborhood to sacrifice in my Gender Studies class. Can I rip some branches off of your tree and put them in my blue bucket? K, thanks! Also, Iʼm high as fuck.”
Telling the barista that your name is “Vegas Strong” so they have to yell “Vegas Strong!” across the coffee shop when your drink is ready was cool for the first couple of weeks after the massacre. But now that everyone does it, nobody knows whoʼs drink is whose.
Most people donʼt realize that there are other “areas” in the Nevada National Security Site besides Area 51. This railroad engine used to haul nuclear rocket engines around Area 25 before it crashed.
In other news, “nuclear rocket engines” are a thing.
Hereʼs whatʼs on the plaque:
GENERAL ELECTRIC 80-TON, #L-3
In 2006, the Nevada State Railroad Museum acquired this 500 horsepower, 161,000 lb. diesel-electric locomotive from the U.S. Department of Energy. It was built in 1953 by the General Electric Company and initially served at a U.S. Naval facility before being overhauled and relocated to the Nevada Test Site in 1964. There, the locomotive was routinely used to transport nuclear powered rocket engines to various test stations.
The nuclear rocket program began in 1955 when the Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Air Force began various thermal reactor studies for the first assembly of a prototype rocket engine. During the 1960s and 70s the U.S. Government constructed several rocket development stations at Area 25 and connected them with their own series of railroad tracks, thus allowing easy movement of the rocket engines from one test station to the next throughout the sprawling site.
The unique name “Jackass and Western” stenciled on the side of the locomotive comes from the geographic location in which Area 25 is situated. Jackass Flats is one of several flats located at the Nevada Test Site, such as Frenchman Flats and Yucca Flats where most of the actual atomic testing took place during the mid to late 20th century.
The Jackass and Western Railroad operated as a charted common carrier until the U.S. Government suspended the nuclear rocket engine program in the mid-1980s at which time the locomotive sat idle and was put into storage.
People on the internet laugh because this cemetery is supposed to have a grave marker reading “Unknown man died eating library paste July 14 1908.”
The full story is that he was a hungry hobo who found a pot of paste in the trash behind the library and ate it because it tasted sweet. It tasted sweet because back then paste contained alum. Which killed him.
The words have been removed from the grave marker because boors from the internet used to flock here to take pictures of themselves with it, as if the death of a homeless guy is something to laugh at.