"This is Puny Human territory," I say to Mr. Billy, car careering around the bend, four-wheel drift toward the car-size gap in the guard rail, torn metal edges hanging over the void, I can't help images flickering across brainscreen of Mr. Billy and I in our metal box, hurtling end-over-end, whistling air broken by crunch against cliff wall once, twice, three times before slamming to rest at the bottom of the gorge, our meat mixed with metal and glass, buzzards circling.
Rocks the size of semis hang above, crags and trees below, and ahead, spread out like a centerfold, deep blue of Lake Tahoe, twinkling at us, lolling in the late afternoon sun.
We are sharing a condo with old friends Punkin* and Blueberry*. Mr. Billy & I get the loft bedroom, no door, but a shallow window that peeks out at the parking lot. Downstairs off the living room is a deck that juts out over the beachy shores of the lake, and a voyeuristic view of the hotel swimming pool and jacuzzi.
It's late when we set out for dinner, Punkin at the wheel casually telling us, as he misses another turn, that his night vision is "for shit", we blast out into the night, pointed toward the state line, $8.95 prime rib dinner sounds good to me.
We open the doors of the casino, wary of lizards, that homey casino aroma of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol-soaked carpets wafts into our faces. I am weepy with nostalgia.
Tahoe casinos are Vegas without the glamour, the class. The machine clamour muted and sad. Greasy-haired white folk hunch over slot machines, yanking methodically, prayers on their nicotine-stained lips, "Thistimethistime, baby, giveittome baby giveittome." It's weirdly quiet, slot claxons muffled, no dinging bells, no coin clatter heralding a win anywhere on the floor.
Punkin veers toward the machines, quarters shining ready in his fingers, but Blueberry isn't having it, she speeds up her pace, beeline for the restaurant, and we stick at her side. I've always thought that being born in Vegas immunized me against the desire to gamble, softly glowing machines holding no promise, no seduction for me. Punkin is squinting at the slots as we pass, "One of these has to take quarters, c'mon honey, just three quarters, that's all," but we're already at the feeding place and Blueberry pulls open the doors.
She scans the scene, greenish-hued humans crank their eyes up at us, then back down to their heaped, glistening plates, poking dispiritedly at the brown mess collected there.
"No," says Blueberry, "we aren't eating here." Punkin has caught up with us and he nods in agreement, his appetite for prime rib and slots slackening in equal measure. We turn on the spot, back through the casino, down the stairs, past the two-story high stone fireplace, me casting one look backwards, if I were Lot's wife, I'd be a pillar of salt, and out into the night.
To be continued...
*Names changed to protect innocent friends who did not know their vacation would be Material.