Rock Star

Taylor, Michigan, a shot-and-a-beer suburb of Detroit plagued by an over-abundance of mullets and homemade tattoos, isn't exactly the kind of place where you'd expect to encounter a celebrity. Especially at a bookstore. But that's exactly what happened today when Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx visited Border's Bookstore to sign copies of his new book, old Motley Crue album covers, skateboards, bass guitars, and whatever body parts were placed before his Sharpie marker.

And by pure happenstance, we witnessed the hoopla. We were driving through Taylor when a radio station announced his mid-day appearance: Well, shout at the devil! Lunch today will be at the Southland Mall food court! And take the camera, we will!

Several hundred people were lined in front of the mall by the time we arrived. Sixx's appearance is probably the biggest thing to happen in Taylor since native son Steve Avery went to pitch for the Atlanta Braves twenty years ago. In a city where many residents trace their roots to the backhills of the rural south (the city is known locally as Taylortucky, a reference to when the town was an enclave for southerners moving to Detroit to gain employment in the car factories during WWII), having a bona-fide rawk star like Sixx visit is a big deal, indeed.

Sixx (born Frank Feranna Jr.) was in town to hawk The Heroin Dairies, his auto-biographical memoir drawn from entries he scribbled in his private journals during the height (or would it be the depth?) of his heroin addiction. The book chronicles his life from 1986-1987 and is equal parts do not do as I did because it almost killed me and no shit, there I was, snorting ants with Ozzy from the sidewalk next to the tour bus. We didn't wait in line for a copy, but we did ask this young man from Indiana (who looked like he could have been a member of Motley Crue, circa 1982) what he said to Sixx during their three second encounter. "I didn't know what the f*** to say", he said. "So I put my arm around him instead." Today, in all honesty, was probably the biggest day of his life.

We do have to give Sixx credit for being one of the most humble and unassuming rock icons out there. If you've ever watched him interviewed on TV, you can't help but be impressed by how articulate and introspective he is. We listened to a recent radio interview where he spoke with clarity and honesty about how he used drugs to mask long-standing unhappiness that, over time, compacted into a festering bullet wound on his soul. Instead of blaming fame or the wrong crowd, he blamed himself. It was a breath of fresh air from the usual chorus so often heard from self-absorbed rocker narcissists who have long lost the compass bearings of self-awareness and humility.

The crowd was vintage Taylor, even if many in attendance drove from somewhere far away. Aging Barbie dolls wearing fishnet stockings and barbwire tattoos sauntered about as if they were next in line for a backstage pass on the Girls Girls Girls tour (We overheard several lascivious comments from the silicone queens, most of which are not repeatable. The funniest was when one gal, long past her skanky 80's prime, blurted how Nikki Sixx is the only rock star she'd be willing to catch a STD from. Er boy). Young and old rocker types, the kind that play in metal cover bands doomed to advance no further than weekend gigs at bowling alleys, brought guitars to have autographed and copies of demo tapes that no doubt went straight into the dumpster. And then there were the trolls, the ones who live on the far outer fringes of society in permanent 1980's exile, where the record players spin Motley Crue songs over and over and the wait for the return of the Rule of Metal goes on and on and on.

But those days are long past, and will never return. Except when Nikki Sixx came for a visit, and Livewire was heard blaring from a Camaro as the driver burned rubber on Eureka Road. For a halcyon moment, it was 1983 in Taylor, Michigan, once again.


The Biggest Little City in the World

Allrighty now. It's time to wrap up our 2007 Big Trip Out West thread. Hope you enjoyed reading about it in the last several postings. Next up- hopefully we'll back in the canoe for an early look at fall colors, which have just started showing their brilliant oranges and golds.

So our last night was in Reno, where our trip began. There are two groups of people: those who think Reno sucks in comparison to Vegas, and those who'll take Reno over Vegas anytime. We belong to the latter. Vegas is too crazy, too loud, too crowded, too hot, etc. Reno can get crazy too but it's easier to get away from it. And the people are friendlier.

They liked us so much at Harrah's they put our picture on their outdoor teletron.

Thanks for all the "free" rooms, by the way. We'll come back someday so we can hopefully win back how much they really cost. You folks had us figured out from the onset.

Here's the Silver Legacy, the largest of the downtown casinos. Nice place too- in our opinion, the Silver Legacy is Reno's schwankiest casino.

Behold the Silver Legacy at night. What a nice shade of green, too. Hey, isn't that the color of money? What a coincidence!



The Sierra Nevada mountains were ablaze as we drove from Oregon to Tahoe.

Smoke from the fires muted the usually crisp outline of North America's second deepest lake. Notice the concentric lines on the calm lake. That's a sign of cyclic loading- the geophysical indicator of the torque and weight and pressure of billions of gallons of water in a confined space. Look it up if you think we're full of shit.

Later that day, after the western winds increased, we rented a jet ski from a resort in Zephyr Cove and crossed the lake. The wave action was so big we might as well been on Lake Huron. Luckily they issued us a GPS unit or we would've been out there for hours trying to find our way back.

We passed by the SS Dixie in Emerald Bay.

Back at Harrah's Tahoe, we enjoyed "free" beers while playing Let It Ride. And a "free" room for three nights too. In the end, free really wasn't so free after all.

We also got sucked into a condo timeshare gimmick where they give gullible tourists $100 to sit through an hour-long sales pitch about Lake Tahoe timeshares that cost $14,000 to $50,000. At the end of the spiel, this kid lays on the heavy sales pitch: isn't this too good of a deal to pass up? What about this deal can you say no to? He went on for several minutes and nothing we said seemed to quell his fire. We finally told the young Dale Carnegie to listen and listen good: Your Jedi mindtricks won't work on us. Now give us our hundred bucks so we can go squander it at Let It Ride.

Later we went for a gondola ride and hike at the Heveanly ski area. Don't hike here because of revegetation efforts, read the sign. Doesn't look like they're having much success with that. Kinda like our efforts at Let It Ride.


Museums of the Absurd

We took the time to stop at various roadside museums on our recent Oregon/ Tahoe/Reno trip, and oh gosh- there's some crazy shit on display out there. Like this diorama at the High Desert Museum near Bend, where we witnessed upclose how turkey vultures eviscerate a car-hit deer. Since we passed a half-dozen real occurences of the exact same event during the car ride to Bend the day prior, we can't say we got much out of their crude educational attempt describing how carrion play an important role in removing road pizza from highway medians. We did feel sorry for the parents with toddlers at the museum: good luck explaining to your crying four-year old what the mean birds are doing to poor Bambi.

The insanity continued when we stopped at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. Here we found Toonces the Mumified Cat mounted to a branch like he was a hunting trophy. The card in the display case read This unfortunate cat was collected in Genoa Nevada many years ago and may be one of the first domestic felines in the state. Well, latee friggin' da. We're overwhelmed with history. It's a dead cat- so why not save us from having to look at the ghastly thing and go dig a hole and bury him and let Toonces rest in peace?

And it continued when we walked the wooden sidewalks of Virginia City, where nearly every saloon or gift shop has a sign advertising some kind of tacky museum. Here at the Museum of the Comstock, we found two bear cubs on display, permanently immortalized as one week olds. Notice the one on the right: barely able to stand with his mouth open and wailing, forever waiting for momma bear to come back with some fresh possum. We've never seen anything so sad and pathetic.

And it continued at the "Red Light Museum", below the Bullette Saloon, admission one dollar. Not much "red light" history here, other than some ribald black and white photographs on the walls. Random junk is a better description: old medical tools, low-end indian artifacts, and this human skull, sitting on velvet in a glass display case. Absent is any historical data about the item, leaving us to wonder why an old skull with a gaping hole is sitting in the musty basement of a bar and not in a ground with the rest of the skeleton.

We finally discovered a museum with a sense of history at the Gambling Hall of Fame in Virginia City, filled with old slot machines dating back to the infancy of gambling in Nevada. Like this Caille Brothers nickel draw poker slotmachine, circa 1902. Now here's some interesting history: Adolph and Arthur Caille were Detroit furniture makers who built coin-operated devices like candy machines and music boxes. Their company, along with the Mills Novelty Company and the Watling Manufacturing Company, pioneered the mass production of slot machines, an invention which has generated untold billions since first introduced in the 1890's. At the peak of their reign, Caille Brothers slot machines could be found in saloons across America and Europe, often with a swiss music box attached to the bottom in an attempt to evade classification as gambling devices.



For the second time in a year, our rental car was upgraded to a convertible because of over-booking. Sweet. Here we sit above Bend after driving across the desert with the top down and XM radio blasting.

It was a beautiful day,
the sun beat down
I had the radio on,
I was drivin

Yeah runnin down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin on a mystery,
goin wherever it leads
Im runnin down a dream

The only thing that kept us from pushing the gas pedal to 110 mph on the straight stretches were the livestock lurking along the roadside.

We recalled Newton's 2nd law from 9th grade science class:

Momentum= mass x velocity. Acceleration = GM/r^2\ propto M/r^2\propto Mass/Surface\Area.

Let's do the math: an object weighing 3,487 pounds accelerating to 110 mph collides with a stationary object weighing 1,200 pounds. That would make for one heck of a science expiriment, eh? We choose not to try it.

Old wrangler cabin near Frenchglen.

Lava fields south of Bend.

A dead pine sits perched above the barren volcanic moonscape.


Northern Nevada

Abandoned gas station near Winnemucca.

Winnemucca town cemetary.

Red light district, Winnemucca

Desert highway.

Abandoned building, south of Denio, NV.

Welcome to Oregon.


Vapor Trails II

We're going to take a break from posting about our recent western trip to follow up on our Vapor Trails posting. We used our sharply-honed investigative skills (i.e.- google) to track down the recipient of the postcard Bob at Purdue sent to Kirk at Bowling Green in March of 1984. As luck would have it, our attempt was successful. The following are excerpts from Kirk's emails:

I'm happy to share a bit of history behind the card:

Bob is my longtime friend. He is very adept at cow tipping and snipe hunting. He also has some local historical acclaim as a freelance groundskeeper allowing various machinery and equipment to work unaided by human hands. A vehicle he once owned was very attractive to local deer. They worked around the clock to improve the aerodynamics of that car, ultimately impacting(no pun intended) his ability to be on time when picking up friends to attend local "dances". These dances were often held on baseball fields, usually with a band on a flatbed truck and several trucks dispensing beer in 1/2 gallon jugs. When the 1/2 gallon jugs were almost empty they were rocketed into the air, spewing their contents on everyone below. Speaking of spewing, it was always fun to watch a couple mashing (the very drunk version of a makeout session) see one of them stop to throw up, and then both continue mashing. Any guesses why this county had the highest alcohol consumption per capita in the United States!

Bren(da) was Bob's neighbor, just two or three houses down the street from him. They started dating in high school, separated and attended different universities, ultimately keeping in touch and getting back together. This is certainly a tribute to the saying "abscence makes the heart grow fonder". They married soon after graduation. They live in Ohio and have four great kids, the oldest soon to go away to college. I'm not aware that this child has any romantic attachments to other neighborhood friends, so it appears that future in-laws will have farther to travel to meet each other than Bob and Brenda's parents.

The statement "Been to any Proms lately" is an inside joke referring to the fact that Brenda was once my Prom date.

Bob and Brenda are happily married and enjoying all the trials and tribulations associated with family life, their careers, aging parents, the first child leaving the nest, etc.

I hope your other readers enjoy this information in your Vapor Trails.


Then we asked if he recalled the history of the postcard:

I really don't have additional details about the card. I don't usually get rid of things with sentimental value, so I'm not sure how this ended up at a bookstore. My best guess stems from my continuous purchase of old fishing books and subsequent release back into the used book world after I've lost interest or focused on a different type of fishing. I would guess that I was using it as a bookmark accidentally let it go.

I would imagine that it has been out of my hands for several years. Just reading it makes me feel like I last saw it yesterday.


The amazing thing about the internet age is how it facilitates the human connection. We've never met Kirk or Bob or Brenda. But we enjoyed finding their 1984 postcard in a pile of 10,000 plus postcards at a musty Ann Arbor bookstore and writing about the vapor trail.


Virginia City

We're back! Back from our annual sojourn to familiar haunts in the sagebrush desert of northern Nevada and southeast Oregon. We filled our 1gb memory card with lots of pics from Lake Tahoe and Reno and numerous places you've probably never heard of: Denio, Burns, Fields, Rye Patch, and so forth. Perhaps therein is the draw: in these trips we combine the action of Reno and Tahoe with the wanderlust fun of being in the buttcrack of nowhere, where desert mountain ranges heave endless horizons and the few signs of mankind are rusting away in lost towns with storied pasts and long-faded dreams.

So we'll start off with a posting about one of the most famous towns of the American west: Virginia City, just south of Reno (by the way, we arrived in Reno as the annual Burning Man festival was winding down. We didn't go- we're too old to go camping in the Black Rock desert with 40,000 hippy freaks with their glow sticks and bad sanitation and weird rituals. Additional reasons can be found in this humorous piece by Brad Bynum of the Reno News & Review. Driving on Interstate 80, it was easy to tell who attended Burning Man 2007: cars/vans/micro-buses either had a red stick figure painted on a window or were covered in layers of tan dirt from playa dust storms).

Back to Virginia City: gold was first found in the area in 1850 by panners on their way to California. Nine years later, miners tapped the Comstock Lode, the largest known concentration of silver ore ever found on earth. By 1876, 40,000 people lived in Virginia City- including a cub reporter for the local newspaper named Samuel Clemens. The vein produced a total of 1.2 billion dollars of silver and gold, equaling $500 billion dollars in current value. Mining ended before the start of the twentieth century when hot water from underground geothermic wells burst into hundreds of miles of mine tunnels and, overnight, the town was virtually abandoned.

Now, less than 1,000 people live in Virginia City. While a small operation extracts gold flake (also known as "invisible gold") from old placer mounds, most people eke out a living catering to tourists. On our visit, the streets were filled with noisy Harley riders from California and British tourists in town to see the annual camel races. We ducked into the Ponderosa Saloon and watched U of M get trounced by Oregon on national TV before a most agreeable PAC 10 crowd. During halftime, we paid Buckskin Bax (seen here) four bucks for a tour of the 500' deep Belcher Mine, one of the many portals into the byzantine system of tunnels that run under Virginia City.

Buckskin regaled the history of the mine: how investors pumped 1.2 million dollars into money pit that only produced $450 in silver, where the dynamite was kept, how the average miner lived no longer than 40 years, how the best way to leave the mine at the end of a shift was make sure you were still friends with the guy running the cable elevator, etc. Listening to Buckskin was at times difficult, as many of his sentences went like this: Back in 1860, when the yarschkadarsh lijadarsch keppadarsh was in full operation, the heppadarsh skippidarsh skilladaggaway went deeper and deeper. Well allrighty then!

We listened intently and thought maybe he's been breathing too much bad mine air. Carbon monoxide must cause a man to slur and ramble. Then we caught a whiff of 80 proof burpage in the close quarters. Er boy. There might not be any gold in that thar mine, but we suspect there's some Goldschlager down there.

So stay tuned. We'll be serving up plenty more from our western trip. Next up: the southeast corner of Oregon, where the sheep and cattle outnumber people by 200 to 1.

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