We finally left Santa Monica on the eastward journey (on the Christopher Columbus transcontinental highway) as the rain started falling on the windshield of the Dodge Grand Caravan. The storm was coming from the north and I expected we would pass through it by the time we reached the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles, which stretch on and on until they finally subside into barren desert. But instead, the rain stayed with us almost to Barstow. Near Barstow we passed the hotel in whose parking
lot my friend Richard and I and my cat Xerox slept on my journey from the East Coast to the West Coast more than a decade ago. We had planned to stop in Las Vegas then, after a grueling trip from New Mexico. But the rodeo was in town and there was no room in Vegas. At least not any that we could, in our weariness and ignorance, find.

This time, Rika and I were prepared, and had already booked a room at the Excalibur (going almost solely on price, not on the aesthetic appeal of its legoland like turrets and battlements). It was a good choice. Though the bed left something to be desired (pillows that wilted at the slightest touch and a mattress that made me feel, all night, as if I were about to roll off the side of the bed), the accomodations were ok and the view of the Strip was grand. Felix stared raptly out the window at the flow of cards, at the golden lion in front of the MGM Grand, and at the tram below us that looked like a black viper as it issued forth from its station on the way to the Mandalay Bay casino.

We left Las Vegas at ten in the morning and headed up Interstate 15 towards Utah. Passed a Wal Mart distribution center in St. George that looked big enough to have its own weather. St. George is at the crossroads of the route to Salt Lake City and the route south to Arizona. There were some rather large new apartment buildings, seemingly abandoned, at the outskirts of town. And I wondered, as we drove by, how many others of the many many new brown tile rooftopped houses in St. George were owned by the bank, or by many banks and investors in tranches. A strip across America that includes its less-populated areas seems like a good way to take a sounding of the depth of the bubble and its bursting over the last few years. It seems the tide was a huge one. And when it receded it left a lot of places dry. I read somewhere that nearly all of the growth in the GDP over the past decade was due to investment banking and other forms of investment trading. It is amazing to see how far its effects reached. It is also instructive to see how many people in this country live in trailers, as Annie Proulx has written about in WYOMING STORIES. Trailers dot the landscape, as do the remnents of failed ventures. Stegner wrote how, in the East, a ghost town would be swallowed up by nature whereas in the West it leaves a scar.

Around Nephi it began to rain again. I had been expecting this entire trip, at least until we got through Nebraska, would be dry. And my thoughts kept returning to those 100 books we have in the back of the minivan, each encased in its own cardboard mailing carton, but certainly not impervious to the dampness. Books are like barometers. They do react to the humidity (though they cannot forecast storms).

An hour or so later the rain paused and a double rainbow arched across the road. As we climbed out of Nevada the land seemed to become less hardscrabble. Though its mountains are many and forbidding, in its valleys Utah looks, as one of its towns is named, quite bountiful. Livestock and horses grazed in fields. The grass by the side of the road and in the median was a beautiful pale yellow color, almost a platinum blond.

Now here we are in Layton, Utah, home of Gibbs Smith, Publisher. We will visit there tomorrow. And then I will approach my first two bookstores.


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