I slipped him a $20. "If you wouldn't mind, please park it up front," I said. A gleam appeared in the valet's eye as the bill disappeared into his pocket with the skill of a magician practiced in the art of slight of hand. "Of course, sir," he said in a professional tone that suggested the gratuity was wholly unnecessary. He stepped back and admired the car while I started my post-flight procedures. "What is it, a '58?" He was beaming now, eyeing the sleek lines and stepping back to take in the entire view. "It's a '60," I said, almost before he could finish the question. My daily drivers are nice enough, but they've never been worthy of the prime real estate in front of the hotel. This was my chance, and I was determined to see it done. For twenty bucks, it seemed like a steal.
The valet brought me a trolley as I gathered up the luggage, discarding the mountain of flotsam that collects in the back when you're traveling with kids--candy wrappers, empty juice boxes, a couple receipts and old napkins. Samantha and Parker were dead to the world and my rummaging through the back seat did nothing to disturb them. When the trolley was loaded, I gave Samantha a nudge and she opened her eyes, blinking at the light. "Where are we? Are we there yet?" she said slowly as she began to slip her shoes on. "Yes, sweetie, we're there," I whispered, "I need you to walk so I can carry Parker."
She obliged, and staggered off ahead of me into the lobby. I performed a dead lift on Parker, getting him onto my hip and then positioning his head on my shoulder so I could remove him from the passenger's side of the coupe without hitting his head. Sedans are far more convenient when you're trying to extract sleeping children, but as Billy Crystal was fond of saying on Saturday Night Live, "It's better to look good than to feel good, my darling."
I pulled my credit card out with one hand and managed to sign God-knows-what using my wrist to keep the paper from sliding all over the marble counter. The man at the front desk seemed oblivious to the fact that I was holding a corpse and had a zombie in tow. I would have thought that in such circumstances the formalities could be suspended until morning, but apparently the sleep-and-scurry crime is a common occurrence in Las Vegas. To be fair, my sweaty t-shirt did nothing to add to my credibility. Parker lifted his head up and looked around briefly, then planted it into the small of my neck, nearly knocking off my glasses, which had slipped down to the end of my nose. The man at the front desk offered me a water. "Um, no thanks," I said. Obviously this man had never carried a 48 pound sleeping six year old; it's not something a person does with a bottle of water in one hand. "Ok," he said, "your room is 35132. The elevators are at the end of the corridor on your left."
I shifted Parker to the other hip and reached up to slide the card off the counter, summoning Samantha with an awkward wave of my head. She had sprawled out on a large leather chair a few feet away. We made it upstairs and I fumbled with the electronic lock, then staggered into our dark air-conditioned room. After thirteen hours driving through the desert, the air smelled like fresh linens and I breathed it in, feeling the coolness caress the inside of my chest. I pulled the kids' shoes off and shoveled them into their beds just as the bellhop arrived with the luggage. I gave him a five and then confirmed that the kids were both sound asleep before slipping out of the room in search of a drink. A Pepsi clunked heavily out of the machine. I grabbed it, twisted the cap and then headed back to the front of the hotel to relax outside and check my messages.
The valet saw me emerge and struck up a conversation. As promised, the Pontiac was parked proudly beside the door, flanked by a gaggle of Maseratis, Bentleys and high dollar Mercedes. We chatted for a few minutes and I regaled him with stories of our epic road trip that was now nearly complete. We talked about how beautiful the country is when you get out in the wilderness and he volunteered that he had spent some time in Alaska. Apparently he had worked on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea for six years, a boat called the Intrepid. For the second time on the trip, I found myself talking to someone who had first hand experience with the insanity featured on the television show "The Deadliest Catch." He scrolled through pictures on his phone of a younger version of himself in a rubber suit surrounded by crabs and icicles the size of jackhammers. I mentioned the other guy I had met, who had been on the Cornelia Marie at about the same time. He didn't recall the name but said he knew the captain fairly well. I marveled at the photos and the coincidence. There are some damned interesting people out there when you get out of your office.
* * *
This road trip had been a dream of mine almost from the minute Samantha was born. In August of 1982, my parents, my sister and I piled into a '78 Dodge Omni replete with a rooftop carrier and headed west out of Pennsylvania to see America. Of course there was no a/c. We went as far north as Yellowstone, down through Utah, into Colorado, and then headed back east across the Great Plains, traveling some of the same roads my father traveled as a boy in the back of his grandfather's late-'40's Olds. It's the only way to see America. When you fly over it, you get a sense of the immensity of the continent, but you don't see the diversity. You don't smell it, you don't touch it, and you don't interact with the people that make it go, the people who pay the bills. Only in the car do you get to see the scenery roll by like a flip book animation. It's a non-stop Vaudeville variety show out there. It's beautiful, and this time, I got to act in the role of Dad. I killed it.