vulture bait day -1: pre-liftoff.

Picking up Rental Car 1 in Phoenix from super-tweaking Dollar rep. Richardson's red chile cheese enchiladas for home use. Soccer in the desert.


vulture bait day 0: wikieup trading post.

Wikieup Trading Post: super cute old diner, but can't say much about the food. I think grilled cheese and fries was the only vegetarian option other than a cheese enchilada, which was just not going to happen, curious though I was. It seemed unwise.


vulture bait day 0: phx to vegas.

Driving. Northern Arizona. Wikieup Trading Post. Navigator/Photographer/Documentarian. The Saddest Palm Tree In The World. Sunset on The Strip. The Venetian. Very very good food at Yardbird (watermelon with lemon oil and farmer's cheese; roasted/blackened carrots with coriander and cumin, really great; and pretty definitely the best mac and cheese I've ever had). And a $15 cocktail so unexpectedly delicious that Nelson had two of them, called a Southern Revival (Wild Turkey 81, lemonade, passionfruit, Thai basil). Many games of pool at Dino's Lounge until bikers rained on our parade. One as-fast-as-possible beer at Club Platinum not pictured due to the absolute wrongness of it all.

vulture bait day 1: breakfast in las vegas.

I hadn't been to Las Vegas in 20 years. You forget how easy it would be, given a proper bankroll, to lose entire days there, because it's never nighttime in a casino. Or always nighttime. The lighting never changes, nothing ever closes, everything is always possible. Denver omelette at 4pm? Sure. Martini at 8am?  Coming right up. Just as long as you keep spending money.

This would also be the beginning of my recognizing the arcaneness of American menu terms to non-Americans, specifically diner breakfast lingo. "Do you want hash browns or home fries with that?" Ehhm...."Red-eye gravy? Grits?" No idea. "How do you want your eggs, over easy? Sunny side up?" I'll just have pancakes, it's easier.

Pictured: Denver omelette, hash browns, biscuit; short stack with fresh strawberries. Bottomless cups of coffee. Winning big at slots.


vulture bait day 1: death valley in color.

So we pick up the van from a very unpleasant woman named Sandy in Las Vegas. Her underling, who seems frightened to death of her but must really need this job, tells us as he's putting our paperwork together, "OK, so...there are really only two 'no-go' areas, mkay? Mexico, and Death Valley". Me: "Mm-hm. Yes. What exactly do you mean by 'no-go' areas?" Underling: "It means you, well...can't go there. Our insurance doesn't cover us there."

Me (to myself): "Ehhhhhm."
Me (to him): "OK, yeah. Yeah, sure! Got it."

Then I signed and initialed lots of papers that I'm pretty sure said I wasn't going to take their van to Mexico or Death Valley.

Then? I followed the fucking plan and drove directly to Death Valley. This is the badlands of Zabriskie Point, both with and without Team Photographer Nelson.

Oh yeah, and hilariously, Kevin the van spent the week toying with our nerves by not starting sometimes. The first time he pulled this shit was at Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, pictured below, which is, of course, located in Death Valley Junction where none of the three of us were supposed to be. Imagine my face at the sound of the uselessly clicking ignition.

vulture bait day 1: death valley desert noir.

That sign says "BROTHEL".