A Scouting Life: The Hangover

March 9, 2010 | Sam Hutchins

I’m sure being stabbed in the head is uncomfortable, but it can’t feel much worse than I did when my alarm went off at five.  I sprung out of bed, caught my leg in the sheets and fell face first on the floor.  Thrashing my way out of the tangle, I scrambled across the floor in a panic.  Springing to my feet, I tensed up in a karate attack pose, which would probably be more helpful if I knew karate.   I stopped and forced myself to hold still, take a deep breath and assess the situation.  No immediate threat is apparent.  I’m alone in a hotel room.  It is dark, it is Vegas.  That’s right, I’m in the Luxor.  It’s all coming together for me.  Unable to properly focus my eyes.  My God, I’m still drunk.  Then the panic hits.  Shit, I’m late, need to go.  Need to get out of here.  Can’t be late.  Drinking cannot prevent me from doing my job.

Turning up the lights in the room didn’t help my eyes focus, it only made everything bright and blurry.  Dimming them to a slightly less painful level, I felt my way around the place, shoving everything that wasn’t bolted down into my suitcase.  Dunking my face in a sink full of water didn’t help the stink of booze come off me, but I didn’t know if I’d survive a shower.  Maintaining a standing posture seemed unlikely at best.  Can’t risk it.  Despite a careful idiot check, I wound up leaving several critical cords and chargers behind.  So be it.

I really, really didn’t want to be late.  Although I was ambushed with the early call time, I still had a job to do.  When at work I’m more dependable than the U.S. Mail.  My slogan might swap out something about booze for rain or snow, but I’ll retain the “dark of night” bit.  Hustling down the endless corridors, I saw they were littered with the detritus of other people’s long nights.  Disgusting.  Caesars would never allow a mess like this in the halls.  By the time I got to the front door I had a light sweat working.  I don’t imagine I smelled very pleasant.

Being Vegas, the valet didn’t bat an eye when a wild-eyed guy reeking of booze handed him a ticket and told him to hurry the hell up with the truck.  I greased him generously for his discretion.  After popping the hatch and loading my gear I realized I was the only one there.  The hell?  Where were my partners?  Feeling too unsteady to navigate the hotel again I shrugged my shoulders and climbed behind the wheel.  Cranking up the AC to maximum I reclined the seat and closed my eyes.

When I was young we once drove to Disney World as a family.  We had stopped for gas in West Virginia in the middle of the night.  I remember waking, Sissy and I snuggled in the back of the station wagon, and feeling comforted by the vibrations of the car.  As I drifted back towards sleep, “Under the Boardwalk” played on the radio.  We started heading south again and all was right in my world.  Something about being in the truck brought this to mind, and the world was fuzzy and soft around the edges as I drifted off with the engine running once again.  The guys found me passed out in the truck and eased me into the backseat where I gladly returned to my dreams.

A few hours later I woke up in a small town called Caliente, Nevada.  We were parked at a western diner and Stephane was shaking me awake.

“Would you like some coffee, man?”

“Huh?  Where are we?  What the hell?”

“We had to wake you, man.  You were snoring like a big bear.”

Darius joined in, laughing.

“Ooh, look, the bear is out of his cave.”

“Seriously man, you were snoring like an animal.  We thought you were hibernating.”

Heading inside, I was terrified at the thought we might want to scout the place.  I was in no shape to pitch anyone at the moment.  Mercifully, Kar Wai was not interested.  Taking my dopp kit, I went into the bathroom, filled the sink and took a whore’s bath.  Feeling just refreshed enough to pass out again, I headed back to the truck.  Kar Wai was giggling and plugging quarters into a slot machine as I passed.  He might have gone around the bend, but I couldn’t worry about it just yet.  Climbing in the back seat I drifted off.

When I woke again I was confronted by the bones of a thousand dead animals.  I heard the gravel crunch under the tires as the truck pulled to a stop.  We were parked in front of a large cabin of sorts.  The land behind it was fenced in, and every inch of the enclosure was topped by the bleached-out bones of game successfully brought down.  I was too disoriented to be scared, but a little disgust did manage to creep in.  A very parochially urban outlook on the situation to be sure, but like Popeye or the scorpion I am what I am.

Climbing out of the truck and stretching, I felt at least half-human again.  The cold, crisp air helped.  Looking around, I tried to get my bearings.  Although still a little bleary and worse for wear, I could see we were on a plateau pretty high in the mountains.  According to the sign on the cabin we were someplace called Majors Place.  Kar Wai asked me to see if they were open.

The place was locked up and there were no hours posted on the door, so I rattled it for a while.  Eventually an older woman came and opened up.  It seemed like she was expecting us.

“Come in, come in, I just put on a pot of coffee.  It’ll just be a minute.  Unless you want something stronger?”

We assured her that just the coffee would be fine.  I started explaining who we were and what we were up to while the guys poked around.  The place seemed to have a bit of everything.  There was a pool table, a few slot machines, and a table for card games.  Whiskey bottles lined the back bar and a basic food menu was thumbtacked to the wall.  Taxidermied animal heads and more bleached bones kept the general “death” theme consistent with what we saw outside.  She reacted as though she was approached by film scouts from Hollywood all the time; that is without the slightest surprise or excitement.

As it turns out, she was one in a long line of proprietors who were used to unusual visitors to Majors Station.  It was the site of one of the earliest trading posts in the state, eventually being used as a Pony Express stop.  The name came from a fellow named Alexander Majors, who was the main architect of the Northern route of the Pony Express, which ran from St. Joseph to San Francisco.  This place had been host to oddballs dropping in for over a hundred and fifty years now, which explained her lack of surprise.  We were just another group of travelers passing through.

Once again I marveled at what I do for a living.  My current office was a cup of coffee on a bar in an old pony express stop.  I snapped a picture of the scene in front of me before taking my coffee out to the front porch.  The air was damned cold but it didn’t bother me.  I sat, sipped my coffee, and enjoyed the view.  Saying a short prayer for the animals whose bones lay before me, I hoped that their deaths had served a good purpose and their spirits had been honored properly.

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