Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

What Happens in Vegas

Posted By on September 28, 2009

Taffy, a third-generation melon-farmer in Green River.

Taffy, a third-generation melon-farmer in Utah.

Green Valley, Utah to Las Vegas: 410 miles. Three states: Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.

Stella and I are up early because, although it may be a perfect morning, this day promises to be a scorcher; in spite of the costly last-minute repairs, I have little faith in the air-conditioning of the trusty but about-to-cross-115,000-mile car. Green River is luminous in the crisp morning light. The aspen trees glitter and the sun glints off water and rock with the heartfelt promise of a glorious rafting day, the splashing of water against heavy rubber, white-water thrills and lukewarm tea from a camp-stove. But that day is not to be my day.

Wait - where am I today? Green River is the Melon Capital of it.

Wait - where am I today? Green River is the Melon Capital of it.

At a rest top just west of Grand Junction, a lady who became an instant best-fried of Stella had told me that Green River is the melon capital of, um, somewhere. The West? And last night on the way home from Ray’s I spied a shadowy but promising ghost-farm stand. Now, it is anything but ghostly, with a multitude of multicolored orbs being offered to the motor-home and motor-cycle drivers assembled, oohing and aahing over piles of watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydews. I heft three lovely (50-cent!!), cantaloupes to the check-out table, where Taffy, whose grandfather—she tells me—has been growing melons here since 1958, is presently holding court (a little sign says “If no one is here, put the money in the box.”).

Taffy is apologetic: “I’m afraid they’re really $1.35. Um, is that OK?” I allow as the price seems reasonable, and fork over the four dollars. Taffy is thrilled by the symmetry: “Did you plan that?” she asks breathlessly. I intuit that Taffy doesn’t like making change.

One hundred and fifty miles later, the outside temperature is kissing 104 and I’m nursing the thermostat so that the fan never gets to level 5; as soon as it does, I crank up the the inside temp by a degree: 74F. 77F. 79F. Every few minutes I switch off the present book (which has my mind distractedly believing I’m in Cornwall in either 1913, 1975, or 2005) to listen to the straining compressor, which according to my car repairman could—in spite of the new filter—be flooded by microscopic flecks of metal at any time. (“Thanks,” I had told him, less than 24 hours before blastoff, as I handed him $1500.)

North Las Vegas is not a place of deep and resonant beauty. I’ve chosen Las Vegas for my final night purely because of its position on the map, and the availability of a free night at La Quinta. Inadvertently, while trying to avoid the clusterf**k of the Riviera, I chose the “Nellis” La Quinta, ie right across the street from Nellis Air-Force base, in a neighborhood where people evidently pump themselves $4 worth of gas. If you think about Las Vegas at all, and I try not to, you might imagine that people keep themselves in air-conditioned prisons. But I’m here to tell you that there are an awful lot of people who can’t afford to. And theirs is not a particularly comfortable lot.

In our energy-efficient room (the a/c doesn’t come on until you insert your key-card into a green-lit slot on the wall), I resolve that we will stay put. Hard as it might be, I resist the urge to go out and watch blue-haired, slurred-word ladies hopefully pump their last few quarters into obscenely-lit machines, while all around people behave as though what happens in Vegas can be wiped from their brains with some sort of cosmic Delete button.

After all, I’m not here to have “fun.”


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