Recently, our friend PPP had some problems encountering a Southern California traffic jam. He wrote about it in the post here. But his discussion of it only took up a single paragraph of his blog post.
Just the other day, I drove from my L.A. home to Vegas and also encountered traffic difficulties. But I will get an entire Rob-sized blog post out of it. Because I'm just that good. Note: If you wanted me to end that last sentence with the word "verbose," please let me know when you get a horse and I will be happy to give you and the horse you rode in on a proper greeting.
Of course, because it is me, I have to make not one but two digressions in order to properly tell this story. So, as usual, you will have to indulge me.
The first digression involves the fast food hamburger chain, In-N-Out Burger. I believe most of the In-N-Out locations are located in the West Coast, and it has developed a cult-like following. Those who prefer their burgers to other fast food chains are almost like religious fanatics in their belief that their burgers are far superior to anyone else's. It would be fair to compare it to the cult of Apple—you know how annoying people who worship at the foot of Apple products are, right? In-N-Out cultists are like that.
I was never part of the cult. I didn't find their burgers appreciable better than most of their competitors. Now back in the day, I used to eat a lot of fast food crap, but as I've gotten older I've tried to eat better and I indulge much less frequently.
But sometime last year, I was treated to an In-N-Out Burger by a member of the cult, our pal Lightning. He is denied access to In-N-Out in his own neighborhood in Illinois, and it is a tradition for him to pay a visit to the In-N-Out on Tropicana, just down the road from the MGM Hotel, each time he comes to Vegas. On this particular visit, he treated both Nick and I to this fine cuisine, and I had to admit that it was a lot better than I remembered it. It might be because it had been so long since I had had a fast food burger, or it might have been because I didn't pay for it—that always helps. But I did find it rather tasty. I don't think I ever blogged about this meal, however, probably because I couldn't figure out a way to get boobies into the story.
Flash forward to this year, when I started playing poker at the Player's Casino in Ventura. Somehow, I started noticing that, on my most "normal" route to PC from my home, I was actually passing no less than six In-N-Out Burger joints. This struck me as odd because there are lot less of them than there are McDonald's or Burger Kings. Or even Jacks-in-the-Box. I found it unusual that there were so many that I passed getting to my poker session.
And so I started eating there for my pre-poker session lunch. Because having a fast food burger in your belly seems appropriate for an afternoon of poker. It's a relatively harmless indulgence since I don't play poker that often when I'm home. If I tried this before every Vegas poker session, I'd probably be dead by now.
Anyway, I mentioned this new "tradition" to my pals LM and Woody, mostly because I found it so odd that I drove by so many of this particular burger chain (one of which is in their neighborhood) going to play poker. And then I didn't think much of it.
But as I alerted LM and Woody to the fact that I was leaving for Vegas the next day, Woody made a bold prediction. He predicted that I would stop at the In-N-Out Burger located midway between L.A. and Vegas for a burger on the way up.
To explain why this was so absurd, I have to take the second digression. For those of you who have never driven from L.A. to Vegas (or vice-versa), let me describe the drive for you. Now it takes me about an hour from my home of driving east to get on the I-15. That's the freeway you see that is just west of the Strip when you're in Vegas. In fact, as you are driving thru Vegas on it, you can see the In-N-Out Burger on Tropicana, but that is a totally needless digression.
Once you get on I-15 in Southern California. You are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There are some really small towns you go thru, but it's a lot of dirt and vacant land and some mountains in the near distance. There are three "cities" that you drive thru before you cross into that state where you can legally gamble on pretty much everything but Daily Fantasy Sports.
First you come to Victorville, which is noteworthy for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Then you come to Barstow, which I always say, is a city that exists for the sole purpose of being midway between L.A. and Vegas. And then there is Baker, noteworthy for a big sign that says "Gateway to Death." Actually, what it really says is "Gateway to Death Valley." If you ever want to visit Death Valley, Baker is your way there. Baker also is home to "The World's Tallest Thermometer." Or as all my friends refer to it, "The World's Largest Rectal Thermometer." Of the three, Baker is the smallest—basically it's two miles of one street with a lot of fast food joints and gas stations—Barstow is the biggest, almost worthy of being called a real city—and Victorville is somewhere in between.
And south of Barstow, there is a huge mall with a collection of outlet stores, which also has a bunch of gas stations and pretty much every fast food you can name—including In-N-Out Burger. I believe that this is the only In-N-Out Burger on the I-15 until you get to the one in Vegas on Tropicana.
Now, I've made that trip from L.A. to Vegas more times than I care to count. In the old, old days, when I had a regular 9-5 job and would only go for a few days at a time, I'd leave L.A. real early, like 7-7:30AM. That was easy as I was used to setting the alarm before 6AM—sometimes as early as 3:45AM. But now I set my own hours, and my own hours don't get me started anywhere near that early. So it's much more likely that I get on the road between 8:30 & 9:30 AM.
Since this is a four-hour or so drive, that gets me in town soon enough to hold off on having lunch until I arrive in Vegas, where I have many preferable choices to just a fast food burger. Except for a few times when I left L.A. in the afternoon or evening (due to work obligations), I have almost never stopped for food on the trip up. I can recall a couple of exceptions, once when I slept really late and got a late start, and once or twice when I encountered traffic problems delaying my arrival.
So when Woody predicted that I would be stopping at the one just south of Barstow (presumably because of this new "tradition" of hitting an In-N-Out Burger before poker), I told him that was ridiculous. I said that I hoped to be passing by that location before 11AM, and why the heck would I have a hamburger that early in the day when there were so many better options just two hours away? I even said that if I actually did stop at that In-N-Out Burger for a meal, it would mean something had gone horribly wrong, and I would be really, really pissed.
So I left for Vegas the next morning, more-or-less the time I had anticipated. I was making good time. All was well. Now of course, although I don't stop for food, I do have to make the occasional pit stop during this trip to answer nature's call. I know all the "good" places to stop, as my bladder dictates. And the older I get, the more likely it has become that I will have to make a stop—or two—or three—along the way. When I drive up, I always have a cooler full of Diet Mountain Dew at my side to quench my thirst and to make sure I have enough caffeine to keep me awake during the drive. This of course adds to the likelihood of multiple pit stops.
Anyway, I had been on the road for a couple of hours and was on schedule. I was approaching Barstow and assessed whether I needed to make a stop at that outlet mall to unload the Diet Mountain Dew. I felt like I did not need to stop. I did feel like I would not be able to make it all the way to Baker without stopping, but there is a great place just north of Baker where you can get off and back on the freeway really easily and use the Jack-in-the-Box there for the only thing it is good for—taking a piss. Traffic had been light and moving very well, it would be another 10-15 minutes until I got to that Jack-in-the-Box. Getting off to pee at the Outlet Mall would take much more time, as it is heavily trafficked. The place north of Barstow was a much better option if all you need to do was use a urinal.
So no stop at the Outlet Mall. Next stop, the aforementioned Jack-in-the-Box. And I would say I was no more than a minute or two past the exit for the Outlet Mall when I noticed red lights up ahead, and all of a sudden traffic came to a complete and total stop. Uh Oh.
After the complete stop, traffic started moving again. At the brisk pace of approximately 10 feet every minute. Or less. Yikes. Now, of course, I would have been unhappy with the traffic being so bad under any circumstances—after all, this was Vegas the traffic was delaying me getting to. But seeing as how I had skipped the rest stop less than a mile behind me and was now stuck in one hell of a fustercluck of a traffic jam, I was incredibly outraged. I managed to find out from the traffic station on the radio that they had closed two lanes (out of three) up ahead for repaving And they said that the jam up would continue until well past the intersection for I-40, which I figured to be a long, long distance from where I was stuck, especially at the pace I was travelling. Furthermore, the next off ramp ahead was for a state highway that they said was partially closed due to mudslides the week earlier. I wasn't sure if that meant the ramp to it from the I-15 was closed or not, but even if it wasn't, getting on the ramp to a road that was closed didn't seem like a good option for me.
I didn't have any good options. I was stuck in the middle lane and couldn't have gotten off the freeway—or to the side of the freeway—if I wanted to. But as soon as that traffic jam started, suddenly the urge to pee changed from just mild to "get the f*** to a Men's Room this second."
It might have been psychological. You know, just knowing that it was going to be awhile before I could get relief made it 1000 times worse than it really was. But I have to say, for the next hour—yes hour—I kept looking over to the side of the road, when I could see it, and was seriously considering just pulling off to the shoulder and peeing right there on the side of the road. Alternatively, I was looking at the empty cans of Diet Mountain Dew I had. I was really strongly considering taking my sunshield, covering myself with it, and peeing into one of those cans as I moved forward at a foot a minute. I was really, really getting desperate.
I was really dying, it was one of the most uncomfortable situations I could remember being in. I was in total agony, to be honest. Meanwhile, the traffic from the lane to my left started merging into my line as that lane was closed ahead. The real reason for this being an especially bad traffic jam was that on the right side, after there was traffic merging on from that state highway, the right lane closed as well—this was just a natural gore point of the freeway design. So at the point of the normal gore point, reducing the freeway from four lanes to three, you had two lanes on the left closing and merging into the one remaining lane for the repaving project. You couldn't pick a worse place to do this. I want the designer of this project brought up on charges of treason, at the very least.
I was still south of Barstow proper, there was only one lane of traffic, and still not moving, and I was still dying. Face it, we've all been there, having to really, really having to go. At least I was on the right side of the road, and I could pull off to the shoulder if I had to do. Was I really ready to pee with an audience (and also be committing a crime, I'm sure, public urination). I was just hoping that there'd be an exit and I could escape and find any place to go. Suddenly, I saw a sign for an exit, and there was actually an "exit only" lane for it, and there was no traffic in that lane. I got in that lane and saw it was for "Avenue L" which was south of the main part of Barstow. I had never taken that exit before, but it looked like an Oasis to me. I took my opportunity and the exit. It was the first time I had gone more than 5 miles an hour in the past 50 minutes. As I climbed the off ramp, I saw a big sign for a Home Depot to the left. Great. A Home Depot will have public restrooms.
And there was another thought as well. It was now past Noon, and my thought of waiting until I got to Vegas to eat lunch was pretty much shot. I figured when I returned to the freeway, it would be jammed for awhile and who knew when I would get to Vegas. Up until the traffic jam, i had been debating in my mind which one of two places I would hit for lunch when I got to Vegas. But now I realized that it made more sense to eat in Barstow and forego a better meal in Vegas.
So I was kind of hoping that the Home Depot was in a bigger shopping center that had some fast food options and I could kill two birds with one stone. And I have to admit that, if I hadn't seen that Home Depot sign, I think I would have just pulled off the road at that exit and just whipped it out right there, I was that desperate. The area was pretty desolate, nothing really around there.
But I thought I could make it to the Home Depot, if barely. And so....I proceeded to drive right past it! Seriously, from the road it looked like the entrance to it was actually the freeway onramp to the I-15 south, pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was get back on the freeway! So I blew by the Home Depot and eventually came to a traffic signal. I noticed that the street I had come to was Main Street and there was a sign that said "Barstow" that pointed right. However, I was in the left lane, hoping to make a U-turn. When I saw a "No U-turn" sign, I thought I would turn left and see if there was a fast food joint down the road I could stop at instead (such a law-abiding citizen!). But it was mostly nothing except a few industrial/construction type places, machine shops and the like, nothing that would have a public restroom and no fast food.
I double backed and this time I found the entrance to the Home Depot. There was nothing else there, no fast food, no gas station, just the Home Depot in the middle of nowhere. But if it had a working Men's Room, it would be like Shrangri-La to me. I parked the car and pretty much ran to the entrance. Just then, my cell phone rang. I looked to see it who it was. It was my pal Woody. WTF? Why was he calling me? He knew I was driving to Vegas so why was he calling me? I sent it to voicemail as I was in no condition to have a conversation.
There was greeter at the entrance. "Welcome to Home Depot." My only response was, "Where's the Men's Room." She pointed me in the right direction and saw the most beautiful urinal I'd ever seen in my life. Phew. However, to add insult to injury, after washing my hands, I saw that they were out of paper towels. No hand drier either. I was stuck shaking my hands dry as I walked back to my car.
I then listened to Woody's message. It started with, "Oh, I just remembered, you're driving to Vegas. You're probably at the In-N-Out in Barstow having a burger right now..." He went on to ask me about an Air Conditioning repair I recently had. But WTF? I mean seriously, WTF? He calls me just as I was about to get the desperate relief I needed, and after I had already decided that I was indeed going to have fast food (most likely a burger) in Barstow?
And then I realized his "prophecy" was indeed coming true—well, almost true. I wasn't going back to the In-N-Out, but I was gonna be having a burger in Barstow. And after I told him I would be really pissed if I had to do that, and there he was making jokes about it on my voice mail! And then I of course realized that this entire nightmare was all his fault. His joking prediction that I would be doing In-N-Out in Barstow had totally jinxed the drive up, and that was the reason for my driving nightmare.
It's just like in poker when some player not involved in a hand calls for a card that would change the result of an all-in and thus makes it inevitable that that card hits (see here). That guy calling for the 9 to screw me over was just like Woody calling for me to eat a fast food burger in Barstow that day. Totally his fault.
I mean, I can't explain it logically, but come one, every superstitious poker player (and is there any other kind?), knows it's true.
Anyway, I was not in a good mood, despite my relief. I decided to drive back to Main Street, drive thru Barstow, and find a fast food place to eat. I started recognizing the road and realized I would be coming to "Main Street Station" in Barstow, home of what was once the world's busiest McDonald's (I think that designation now belongs to one in Russia or China). But across the street from that I knew there'd be a Burger King, which I prefer (and is also easier to get in and out of). I did indeed find that Burger King, and had a double whopper (no cheese) and a salad.
The good news was that getting back on the I-15 there, the traffic was gone. I had somehow gone around the rest of the big jam-up and when I got back on the freeway, it was clear sailing the rest of the way. But with all the delays, what should have been a 4-hour drive to Vegas became a 6-hour drive to Vegas, and boy was I pissed.
The irony is that I've been to that In-N-Out in Barstow two times over the years. Once when my friend's wife insisted we stop in so she could get some french fries. And once to use the Men's Room.