Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Tales from the Dens


Two Up Front, One in the Bed

On our first trip to Vegas, we crossed the Arkansas River and hit I40 West sometime in the mid-morning. We crossed the forested hills of western Arkansas, passed across the border into the dry gulch country of Oklahoma, skirted the Staked Plains in Texas and New Mexico, climbed up the Colorado Plateau, and at last banked right and crossed the Hoover Dam slipped into the dry wasteland that lay around Las Vegas. It took us 24 odd hours of driving in a pickup truck with two up front and one in the bed.

I’m not going to swear to it, but I think it was Mac Golden (one of the three founders of Troll Lord Games) who early on pushed our attendance at the GAMA Trade Show in Las Vegas. The consolidator Wizards Attic picked us up for distribution in 2000 and the trade show’s purpose was to introduce retailers to publishers, their wares, discounts, offerings, people, and other sundries. Mac of course couldn’t go, and Davis (the other of three partners) was out west on an archeological dig, so it fell to me. I enlisted Todd Gray to travel with me, even though he really wasn’t working for us in those days, and a good friend of mine Kenneth Neely joined for the fun of riding out to Vegas. Kenneth and I were veterans of meandering as we had annually traveled east to poke around the eastern seaboard back in the 90s.

 Flying wasn’t an option on the TLG budget, and no train takes you easily to Vegas from Little Rock, so driving was the way. There wasn’t really a debate. The black top calls and all that. What was discussed was how to fit the three of us in the cab of the truck, Old Blue as it affectionately became known in later years, comfortably for the 21 or so hours it would take us to get to the Orleans Hotel, that lay just off the strip.

 Our solution was wonderful, probably illegal, definitely dangerous, and rather funny. Old Blue came to me stripped down, very basic. My mom always says to me “you’re a pretty simple man” (I assume that’s a compliment, but perhaps not) and all my vehicles are fairly stripped out. I don’t care much for gadgets. At any rate, I had the back window knocked out and replaced with a sliding glass, purchased an aluminum camper shell that had a sliding glass in it, and mounted that on the rig. This little arrangement gave us access to the bed of the truck from the cab.

 We loaded our extremely heavy backdrop of 3 4x8 ¾ inch plywood carpeted panels into the truck. This elevated the bed a few inches, but there wasn’t much space to begin with, maybe 3 feet from bed to the top of the camper. We then slid my old army cot in on the right side, put the cooler next to it and tossed some pillows and a sleeping bag on the cot. The cooler of course was filled with food and Dr. Pepper. Todd has an old radio we put in there (later replaced with a small tv). We hung a small fluorescent light from the top of the camper shell. All the rest of the troll gear, racks, posters, books, etc. we piled around the cot and cooler. We ran a cord from the dashboard lighter through the two sliding glass windows, bringing power to the light and tv, all in the bed of the truck.

We were ready to roll. I believe Kenneth took the first leg in the rig, I took the second, and Todd later. It was an interesting way to travel. Two up front and one in the bed. There was no room to sit up back there, and it got cold crossing into the mountains west of Albuquerque and into Arizona, but overall it was comfortable. We closed the sliding glass windows as much as the cords would allow, so the cab could stay warm and the humming sound of the tires on the road wouldn’t crowd either party out of music or chatter.

 I remember my turn in the bed, stretching out in that cot, turning the light on, and tuning the radio into whatever local radio station we could pick up. In the back, it was a feeling of weightlessness. Laying there in the cot, warm in the sleeping bag, looking out the plexiglass window at a world dark on the landside but crowned by deeper shadows of mountains and stars a’plenty. The towns and houses in the plains and mountains shone that peculiar yellow-white light that they do at night, a light that always conjures images of a happy couple sitting in their easy chairs, between warm walls, feet soaked into shag carpet, enjoying some half interesting show on a tv with rabbit ears stretched high for the signal’s sake. I lay that way for hours, sleeping some, but watching mostly. Watching the world rumble by. The radio offered a nice distraction but picking up stations was challenging, as it would catch one, but within a few minutes we’d leave its range it would be gone, and the search would begin all over again.

 We drove that way to Vegas for at least four trips until we shifted to airplane travel and eventually abandoned the show altogether when times got lean and budgets had to be cut. But I can still feel the road on the cot and see that blackened horizon as we climb into the mountains like few others before us.

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