Friday, December 3, 2010

The Hotel 93 Liftoff, Jackpot, Nevada


    I was caught in the November blizzard and otherworldly scheming was not on my mind as I head south, hoping to get to Las Vegas in the early evening. I was doing okay and passed through the ramshackle gambling town of Jackpot Nevada at the Idaho and Nevada border. About twenty miles south of Jackpot in front of the lone Hotel 93, traffic suddenly backed up. There was a long line of traffic on the two-lane blacktop and no one was moving, not even slowly.
    I sat there with about 30 other cars, trucks, and campers; after twenty minutes I became concerned as there was no traffic coming from the South, a bad sign. Traffic was not moving in either direction. The snow was coming down hard and something was seriously wrong. I felt uneasy, a sense of dread. But at least there was the Hotel 93.
    After another ten minutes a plow truck with flashing lights came out of the south. I got out as the driver stopped and talked to some of the people in front of me. When I joined the group the driver summarized: there was a horrific accident 10 miles ahead, to make matters worse the road was snow-drifted. They were closing the road for the night in order to clear the wreck and snow. They hoped it would be open tomorrow morning. The driver asked us to turn back, or take a room at the hotel. I digested this new information, and then looked around. There were no police cruisers, just the men in the snow plows. Where was the Nevada Highway Patrol?
    An older gent peered at me: “You getting a room?” He queried.
    “Lucky us.” I replied, nodding towards the sprawling Hotel beside the road. “Not many cars in the parking lot; the Hotel 93 should have plenty of rooms.”
    He grunted and went back to counsel with his wife who was anxiously studying the discussion. I watched as some of the cars in the line U-turned, heading north on US-93. Most of those in the line made a dash into the Hotel 93 parking lot. I joined the group deciding to put up for the night, hoping that the road would be clear in the morning.
    I easily got a room on the third floor with a nice view of the snow-covered rolling hills and the desolate North Nevada plain. Just south of Jackpot was truly isolated and a curious location for the lone Hotel 93, which was set by itself. Odd, but lucky for us or so it seemed.
    My room was spacious with two queens and although a non-smoking room, there was a lingering acrid smoky odor familiar to all Hotel-Casinos. I made a few calls, and then went to the restaurant where I saw some of my fellow travelers. I took a side booth and the waitress came with the menu, introducing herself as Stormy. She said the special was broasted chicken and urged me to try it. Later she returned with the crispy chicken and lingered, sliding into the bench across from me.
    She looked at me intensely, as if studying me, sizing me up. “Nice you are joining us.” Stormy said with a sly smile. Then she leaned across the table, doing a feminine, almost feline, stretch and she gushed. “I never dreamed I‘d meet a guy like you. This is such an adventure for me. My first trip.” Stormy paused, then added. “How can I be so lucky on my first trip?”
    “I’m just here one night.” I said, not understand the context of her comments. “Tomorrow when the road is open I’ll be on my way to Las Vegas.”
    “Maybe you will; maybe you won’t.” Stormy said playfully. “Maybe you are mine for the duration. And it is a very long trip.”
    I looked at Stormy who was dressed in tight jeans and a white t-shirt. She was medium height, slender, cute with a round face and a wide mouth. Her eyes sparked electrically and she grinned at me, a young tease. Then she abruptly left as the waiter brought my carafe of wine.
    He also lingered but remained standing, introducing himself as Tinos He shrugged indifferently when I asked him about the road. Tinos seemed to be sulking and eyed me with hostility.
    Later when I finished my dinner and was leaving, Tinos came up to me and took my hand. “You forgot this on the table.” He said, motioning as if he were putting something in my palm. Then he added: “Leave tomorrow morning before three-thirty.” He whispered urgently. “Stormy is mine and I will keep her, so I am giving you a chance. I don’t want you on the trip.” He added fiercely.
    I stopped and looked at Tinos but he shook his head. “Just leave this place before three thirty.” He repeated, then he gestured as if directing me through the casino back to the hotel. “Don’t look back,” he added. “Remember, don’t look back!” And then Tinos scurried away.
    I set my alarm, crazy as it sounded. It dinged at three and I got up, gathered my tote bag and headed out. I crept down the steps toward a side entrance, not sure why I wanted to avoid the front desk. But Tinos’s warning had chilled me. As I reached the exit, I suddenly heard a rumbling and felt a shuddering, then the loud grinding of metal on metal. I bolted out the exit door into the fresh snow just as the frame slid away from the hotel and retracted under the hotel.
    I ran around to the parking lot and got into my SUV, starting the engine. I watched in amazement as I saw the hotel-casino facade sliding away and retracting under the base of the hotel, which was now a stainless-steel V-shaped craft, reminding me of the Air Force’s experimental flying wing bomber developed during the Cold War.
    In the front section of the gigantic V, yellow lights went on and blinked, then the craft started to hum, sending up a cloud of steam in the snow around the gleaming silver body, a ghostly apparition in the frigid night air. The hum increased to a roar and the craft effortlessly rose from the ground, slowly pivoting ninety degrees and facing south. The gigantic wing hovered over me. Then the hum became a high-pitched whine and the craft began to move up and away. It was maybe a thousand feet above me where it hovered for a few seconds and then there was a sharp bang, followed by rolling thunder. The majestic silver craft was gone, taking with it my hundred or so stranded fellow passengers. I jumped out of the SUV and looked up to the Nevada sky, which was resplendent with clear stars. To the south a saw a streak, then nothing but the distant stars.
    I wrapped myself in a blanket and huddled in the SUV, waiting for the crack of dawn. Then I cautiously drove down U.S. 93 until I saw an open Chevron Station, a lonely outpost. I filled up and went in and poured myself a large coffee.
    I asked the attendant what time the road had opened. He looked bemused and said it had always been open. I asked about the snow drifts and the horrific accident. He said he didn’t know about any accident and he had not heard about any snow drifting, though it did happened now and then, but usually not this early in the winter.
    I left it alone. What had happened? They closed the road, so many of the stranded would naturally go to Hotel 93. And then….what did they do with them? Where did they take them? But not for Stormy, I would be on the trip. The irony was Tinos had saved me, but only because of his desire for Stormy.
    I went back to the SUV and headed south to Las Vegas. I titled the rear view mirror away, staring intently through the windshield and the road ahead.
    “Don’t look back.” Tinos had warned me.

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