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November 2 , 1999

Well, there were big festivities this past weekend for the adults in the Atkins' household. It was Chuck's birthday, so in honor of this event (which would be classified as a national holiday if he had his way) Chuck and I jetted off to Las Vegas for a quick overnight getaway.

Friday morning, Chuck and I left for Vegas. We had a few hours to kill between the time our flight arrived and check-in at our hotel. What to do? What to do? Well, there is only one thing we Atkins' can possibly do when in that part of the country: GO TO THE BOOTH.

So we rented this car. A 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse. A convertible. We are so damned madcap. No baby: rent a convertible. Chuck thought it might be wise for us to rent a four wheel drive vehicle considering we were driving out into the middle of the desert, but there are people who've gotten to the booth in a Miata. What the hell. We could do it. Besides, a SUV was going to cost us $100 per day with only 100 free miles, then something like $.20/mile. That rental car bill was going to start adding up faster than a New York taxi stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel in rush hour. We'll take the convertible, thankyewverymuch.

So, off we went.

For those of you who are curious, the booth is a quick hour's drive from Las Vegas. Beats the hell out of the 5 hour drive it is from LA.

After a quick stop at the Boot Barn to pick up head coverings--a baseball cap for him, a bandana for me (we hadn't planned on renting a convertible so we were without the appropriate attire for a long freeway road trip), we were off.

The speed limit on the road out there is 70 mph. Not a lot of

fabulous headgear
traffic at 11:00 on a Friday morning, so we were making good time.

Some hard-core classic rock station was blaring on the radio (our choices were that or country music; I opted for rock). It knew it was hard core classic rock when Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird came over the airwaves. I felt compelled to memorialize that moment on film:

Freebird is playing when I took this picture

We finally reached our turnoff. Cima Road.

We stopped for a quick pit stop at the gas station/truck stop/tow place just before the turnoff to the booth. Lots of Area 57 memorabilia there, including sunglasses which reflected pictures of aliens in the mirror/holographic lenses.

We're back on the road. We take the turnoff to the booth.

OK, so the road is pretty divot-y, to put it mildly. Chuck steered around the worst of it and we were on our way. The road seemed to get a little worse and I was getting a little worried, but far be it from me to be a complete killjoy.

We pass the farmhouse. Ut Oh. Big swerve. Cows in the middle of the road.

We press on.

The road has now gone from divot-y to covered in huge sand dunes.

We press on.

I'm getting worried. I tried to look calm. We get about three miles from the farm house. Chuck takes one look at the road ahead of us and says we'll never make it. Damn damn damn damn damn.

We can see the line of telephone poles about a half mile ahead in the distance. How far is it from the poles? Oh, about three miles. OK. We're not going to walk. I'm wearing the ubiquitous penny loafers without socks. We have no water. Not going to do it. No way. We wuss out. (This is so unlike Chuck you have no idea.)

Chuck turns the car around. Now I figured if we got this far it would be a cake walk getting back. I have this to say about that: HA!

We're going back to Vegas. Back to check into our hotel. Ready to start our weekend of gaming.

This time we travel on the other side of the road. Let's call this side the side less traveled.

I should point out that as we were driving toward the booth we traveled in the path other vehicles had clearly driven in. We'd slowed down several times and nearly lost traction, but kept going. Now we were on virgin sand. I will tell you that Chuck was doing an admirable job.

For a while.

Until we got stuck. Really big time, no shovels, no water, no nothing to help us, stuck in the sand. The front end of the rental Eclipse was totally buried in really deep, soft sand. The front wheels buried to the middle of the hubcaps. We were stuck.

OK, in the front window of the truck stop was an 800 number

you could call if you needed towing-24 hours a day. We, of course, failed to jot down that number. We also failed to pick up water. I had picked up some peanut butter filled cheese crackers at a 7-11 by the Boot Barn in Vegas, but without water those things are the kiss of death.

While I didn't think we were going to perish out there, I wasn't relishing the walk back to the farmer's house in my penny loafers on that soft sand.

Chuck was getting a little more irritable with each passing moment, though he was doing a fine job of maintaining his outward composure. I could tell though, because his ears started turning red. Not sunburned red. Holding in the anger red.

What the hell were we going to do?

Oh, but wait, we're from LA. We have cellular phones. Chuck decides to call the Baker Highway Patrol. They can refer us to someone who can come and get us. OK, well, FYI, Baker has no highway patrol. We were referred to Barstow. Barstow referred us to Stateline Towing. I thought we were making progress. Chuck seemed to be getting slightly more irritated with each phone call. Until he talked to someone at Stateline. He explained our predicament to the towing guy: we're in a rental car, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, stuck in sand.

Then I hear laughing. From Chuck. What the hell? Then Chuck told me that the tow guy asked if we were on our way to The Booth.

OK, so we're not the first schmucks to have gotten stuck out here. So, we're not the first, but Chuck should have known better. He's done this before. Oh well.

So, he asked how long before we could expect someone to come to our rescue. Oh, about 20 minutes. Cool. Then we discussed the fact that what we were going to have to pay in tow fees would more than have paid for the rental of a SUV, but oh well. Too late now. So, we dug in our heels to wait.

Does that come in black?

I had the recent issue of In Style with me so I hunkered down to finish some critical reading. I made some calls to 800 numbers for merchandise I was interested in. It was altogether time well spent.

After about the 20 minutes the tow people estimated we see a truck coming. Ut oh, not a tow truck. Well maybe whoever it is can help us. Well, it turned out to be Charlie: owner of the farm we had just passed; owner of the dirt road we were stuck on; man immortalized for being the person living closest to the most famous phone booth in the world; drunkest tow person I've ever met; and all around nice guy.

A man, his scrapbook, and his truck

Charlie hauled his phone booth scrapbook from the front seat of his truck. He and Chuck swapped phone booth stories. Chuck pointed out to Charlie that he was the man quoted in one of the stories in Charlie's scrapbook.

Charlie pulled us out of the sand. Twice.

Tow me baybee

Maybe we should have just gone to Hoover Dam.

Until next time. . .