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page created: 8/6/07

The Bits at EMA 2007!

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The Bits Goes to EMA: Day Four - Meteor Crater, Here We Come!

Doogan here. Bill has asked me to chime on in with our official coverage of EMA Day Four, which is a safe bet for him considering there's no real coverage of the show going on this day; so the PR folks with the studios won't be mad that I missed something. This was the vacation portion of the trip for all three of us - where the real fun began. Sadly, it was the most tiring day of the whole trip... but man, was it worth it.

Day Four started out as any day should, with a hearty breakfast. I decided to take the lead and announce that we were going to a buffet. I needed a better breakfast than what was available at the Venetian food court or the Denny's next door. Jahnke said that he thought he saw a buffet at the nearby Harrah's Hotel and Casino during his zombie walk the night before. We quickly figured that any casino built around bringing older people to Vegas HAD to have a cool buffet... so onward ho! we went. Sure enough, Jahnke was (and still is) a effin' genius. Harrah's had the greatest breakfast buffet in all the land. Making it even better, as we stood in line, a nice Casino lady asked us if we wanted $5 off in exchange for all our personal information. Hey, it seemed like a fair trade at the time. I guess we'll see later how wise a move this was, after we see what kind of mail we get sent to the various Digital Bits offices.

Breakfast was a grand affair: Cheesy eggs, sausage, bacon, french toast and juice was had by all in repeated servings. After breakfast, we headed back up to the room to gather our stuff. Then, after a quick stop off to leave what happened in Vegas in Vegas (if you know what I'm talkin' about), we jumped on the road and headed toward a big hole in the middle of Arizona. On a side note, all during the whole conference experience, I kept asking Bill and Jahnke if there was a quicker why into our area of the hotel, because man, was it a hike. They would tell me no, and I would just mutter; "That just can't be possible. Only one way in?" Well sure enough, on the way out, Jahnke spied this hidden hallway that would have shaved like 10 minutes of time off our repeated "to the room" travel. Figures. Time check: 11:45 AM.

Now, it's important to know that our original Day Four plan, which we all wholeheartedly signed onto I might add, was to roadtrip to the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, New Mexico to see the final resting place of a hero of the three of ours: Ham the Astrochimp - the first chimp who made it into outer space. He was the commander of Mercury-Redstone 2, an early NASA mission that's near and dear to us. After that, we were going to swing by Roswell to check out the infamous alien crash site and UFO Museum, and then head back to Nevada for some quick Area 51 touring. I guess we figured we'd maybe get a picture of Jahnke hitting the famed Black Mailbox with a bat or something. But thankfully, Sarah's impeccable trip-planners logic (and her good common sense) prevailed. You see... our original plans would have called for a trip of something like 27 hours on the road (not including tour time) and about $250 in gas. So we wisely decided to scale the trip down a bit and do the Hoover Dam and Meteor Crater in Arizona instead. It turned out to be a good thing. As it was, our scaled down trip took something like two-thirds of that time and money. We soon realized that those extra hours on the road would have killed us.

Anyway, all good road trips need music, so the three of us each brought our iPods along. Bill voted me roadtrip DJ, with Jahnke serving as backseat navigator. I love music. And I seem to have a story, fact or idea about every single song I own, so I would just play a song, rattle off a thing - apologize for doing so - and do it all over again, like a continuous audio commentary. I never realized I did this as much as I do, until Jahnke and Bill pointed it out about 3 hours into the trip. Apparently, I need a radio show. Thankfully, the music would soon take a backseat to the grandeur of the Hoover Dam.

I'd never been to the Dam before. And honestly, I don't really know if I was EVER actually there, because the thing about the Hoover Dam is; you can't see the damn thing. You're on it. So unless you twist yourself and kinda hang over the side precariously, all you see is a gift shop, a parking ramp and concrete road surrounded by jagged canyon rocks. So that was a bit disappointing. But we did get to see Oskar Hansen's Winged Figures of the Republic and rubbed their toes for luck. Jahnke pointed out they must not really be all that lucky or 114 people wouldn't have died making the Dam. That Jahnke is a true optimist. Of course, we all rubbed the toes anyway, because you can't be too sure.

After Bill bought gifts for his family (they're collectors of National Landmark memorabilia apparently), we decided to get back on the road. The only thing standing between us and our car were the Hot Stairs of Death, a four or five flight staircase that led straight up and back to the car park. We didn't really think much about these stairs when we came down, but as we started back up, we all sort of looked at each other and realized we were enduring some kind of strange torture. We were actually crawling up the stairs, gasping for breath, and we weren't even halfway up yet. I seriously don't think we could have made the full climb if there had been even one more flight of steps. Between the searing 116-degree heat, and the fact that none of us were used to exerting ourselves in the higher elevation, we almost didn't make it. We seriously considered turning around halfway and heading into the gift shop at the bottom to get some water before attempting it again. Fortunately, and with great effort, we reached the summit. Jahnke lit up to celebrate the moment, and Bill and I rushed to the car to replenish some fluids.

Back on the road; I'm still playing DJ. Jahnke is catching some z's 'cause of his late night of being propositioned by hookers, and Bill is announcing we need gas. Oh, and it's my turn to pay. So I whip out the trusty debit card, hand it over to Bill and tell him to go wild. Meanwhile, I head inside to get more supplies for proper desert road trip hydration. Now, I'm sure I could pull out my receipt and tell you exactly where this gas station was, but I'm too tired to do that. But this was a weird gas station. It seemed to be run by an entire family. Not just a Mom and Pop styled family, but rather the whole family was there, wearing station vests, filling shelves and coolers, manning the registers and monitoring the pumps. No kidding, there was like 13 people in all, some carrying around babies yet still dressed for work, running around this place. It was really odd. Jahnke and I discussed the finer points of Cream Soda while standing outside watching Bill clean the windshield and then ask us if we needed to use the restroom before heading out again. Why this guy isn't a Little League dad, I'll never know.

The funny thing about driving from Las Vegas to Arizona is the terrain changes. One moment you're in a desert - miles of sand and canyons. Next, you're in an expansive, open plain - grass everywhere. Then you're in a forest, before it's back to desert, forest, plain and desert again. It seemed that the separate hours were marked by the differing environments and it really starts to mess with your head. You start to worry that, if you're not careful, you might miss Meteor Crater for thinking it can't possibly be at the end of this changing wonderland. But there, at the end of this glorious rainbow, it is. Two things help to tell you that you're almost there. First, the super flat landscape. You can see forever here. It's amazing. It's like staring out across the ocean, with no end in sight. Second, there's the low-power AM radio station that the signage advises you turn to for information about the crater. We did, and at first all you hear is static. But slowly, growing clearer and clearer, the words "Experience the Impact!" can be heard over and over again as part of a 3-minute looped recording. By the time we got the the crater, it was screaming at us.

As we turned off the exit to Meteor Crater, the first thing to jump out at us were the number of signs reading: Watch for Baby Calves. We didn't see any, but we want you locals to know that we did indeed watch. Had we seen any, the calves would have been safe with us. We also started seeing these big circular signs proclaiming some of the wonders of the crater, the best of which said: See Movie in Modern Big Screen Movie Theatre. We ultimately couldn't resist its siren call, but more on that in a bit.

The Crater itself is magnificent. It really is. It's huge. And deep. Everything you'd want or need from a giant hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere. Plus, as we learned from the Crater's official website (linked above), they even have a Subway sandwich shop right on the edge of the crater. We'd already made our plan to Eat Fresh on the way out. But first, the crater called. Outside, Jahnke, Bill and I stood on the edge of prehistory, and we felt so small. And wet. Dammit, it was starting to rain... and here I was with my $3000 video camera in hand. I had to hightail it back into the building before it really started to come down in buckets. But, oh no - it's stairs and heat and elevation again. What the hell is with this? Nothing makes you feel out of shape like nearly having a frickin' heart attack in the heat, rain and thin air. Bill, of course, rushed in with me. But by the time we realized that Jahnke was still outside yelling at God to strike down and light his cigarette, the Movie in the Modern Big Screen Movie Theater was about to begin. Both the film (read: video) and the theater are very dated. Modern not so much. But yes, it was a big screen. Jahnke unfortunately couldn't get in because the doors close when the show starts, so as we Experienced the Impact!, he headed into the museum area. When we finally met up with him afterwards, he was calling for us to see this super badass photo of these stoic miners standing around a hunk of meteor they'd just discovered. So we naturally decided to recreate the photo (you'll find it in our EMA Gallery), and I think we did a fine job of it too.

Anyway, we were told by the ranger dude (who was on hand to give tours and information) that the Crater was some 50,000 years old. I asked how that was possible, since God made the Earth only 6,000 years ago. He just looked at me and said, "Oh..." and walked away. Good times.

After a couple of rounds of watching Jahnke figure out ways to destroy the Earth with falling debris using a software simulator called (surprise) Impact!, we decided that it was high time to grab our souvenirs and hit the Subway for those sandwiches. I was thinking of getting one toasted, because it seemed appropriate for Crater sub milieu, but alas... the sandwich gods had other plans. You see, Meteor Crater closes at 7 PM. And it was already 6:50. As we purchased our trinkets in the gift shop, we confirmed with the very chatty gift lady that the sandwiches were available until closing. Too bad we didn't ask the sandwich guy, though, because he'd already shut down by the time we got there. We walked up to the counter and he looked at us and said, "Sorry fellas, we close at 7." To which Bill replied, "Yeah, but it's only 6:50." Jahnke and I nodded in agreement. The Subway guy would have none of this. "Well, I have 6:55," he said. To which Bill cocked his head and responded, "Okay... it's 6:55. That's still not 7." Finally (and best of all), the sandwich guy closed with, "Yeah... well, we're out of ice. So all I can sell you is chips or a cookie." And with that, we were done with Meteor Crater.

On the way out, we heard ranger radio chatter about the town of Winslow, which lies a short distance away from Meteor Crater, experiencing a complete washout due to all the heavy rainage. Indeed, the clouds on the horizon were ominous looking and lit up by huge flashes of lightning. You could see tons of rain falling from them in various places all around. So that seemed to us like as good a time as any to get our picture taken in the middle of all of it, better still under the only vertical metal object we could find. Thus, we hurried back to the See Movie in Modern Big Screen Movie Theatre sign and snapped our picture in the electric air. We never said we were smart. Witty, yes. But not smart.

A great picture taken at some risk...

But as we headed West down Interstate 40, back the way we'd come originally, hunger pangs started setting in thanks to our snub at Subway. Luckily, I remembered seeing the back of a place called Black Bart's Steak House or something along the road on the way in. We kept our eyes opened for signage, intending to stop for dinner, but saw nothing. So I decided to call 411 on my cell to get directions (or be told that I was imagining the place). Sure enough, the kindly operator confirmed Black Bart's existence... and that we'd passed it about 30 minutes back. I wanted to turn around, Bill was on the fence and Jahnke said no, pointing out that 30 minutes back was really an hour added to our schedule which, admittedly, was a good point. So I said to our faithful navigator: "Find the next city on the map, tell me what it's called and I'll call 411 to see if there are any good steak houses." Jahnke quickly came back with Kingman, Arizona. Cool. I made the call and was speedily informed of two good steak places right off the same exit on I-40. Now... it should be noted that Jahnke, though a genius in many ways, can't really read a map very well. Because a short time later, we passed a road sign helpfully informing us that Kingman was, in fact, still some 300 miles ahead of where we were at that moment. You do the math on that. 75 or 80 miles an hour for 300 miles is, what? A little under 4 hours, best case? Time check: 7:45 PM. We wouldn't reach Kingman until 11 PM or so. And in our experience, not a lot of steak places stay open past 11 PM. Naturally, we made fun of Jahnke for so long on that, that we didn't even think to look for (and call) a closer city. Instead, we continued on to Kingman, hoping and praying that we'd make it before closing time. Bill really did wonders behind the wheel of the Magnum, driving safe but fast, and we made it to Kingman just under the wire at 10:50 PM. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, as both steak joints closed at 10 PM. Our remaining options were a Whataburger and Chili's. We chose Chili's and ordered the best steaks on the menu. They were pretty damn great for Chili's steaks, we all had to admit. We salute the fine cooks at the Kingman Chili's. You guys rock.

By the way, if anyone has a review of Black Bart's, please let us know. We looked online and saw that the wait staff there offers a "nightly musical revue of old time favorites." Once we learned that, Bill and I ended up feeling like we'd missed the steak opportunity of a lifetime. Anyway, drop us a line if you've been there and share the fun with us second-hand.

Not a whole lot happened after we hit the road post Chili's. Jahnke and I fell in and out of sleep but every once in a while, out of the corner of my eye, I'd see Bill pushed up against the wheel and windshield staring at the sky. In a moment of clarity, I asked what the hell he was doing, and he said he was looking at the stars. Sure enough, the sky was beautiful. Living in the big city for so many years as we all have, you kind of forget what it was like back when you were a kid visiting the country, just lying on your back and looking up at the night sky. Remember all those stars? Multiply that by a thousand, and that's what we saw on this night. You could actually see the edge of the Milky Way the sky was so clear. At one point, Bill pulled off onto a side road so we could all get a better look. It wasn't exactly a quiet place - there were semi trucks pulled over everywhere with their engines running, presumably so their drivers could catch some shuteye. I took advantage of a port-o-potty in the middle of two dumpsters in which someone had apparently dumped medical waste judging by the smell. Bill and Jahnke, coming from North Dakota and Montana as they do, just whipped it out and peed on the tumbleweeds. I guess I'm more of a gentleman (if that's what Jahnke meant by calling me a pussy - thank you, Jahnke). But after the peeing bit, it was all star watching for a while and it was pretty damn cool. We eventually decided to get back on the road after another truck suddenly pulled up nearby with its headlights pointed at us and the driver just sort of staring at us in a creepy way. Earlier, I'd made up the legend of the Roadside Rapist as a joke to kill time... but suddenly it seemed like an all too real possibility, so that was that. We hastily jumped back in the car and headed down the I-40 quick.

By the way, the biggest danger when driving on the Interstate in the middle of the night? Tired truckers. Most are fine people I'm sure, but twice we were almost run off the road by 18-wheelers that drifted into our lane. Thankfully, Bill has superior cat-like reflexes and saved us from certain death each time. I don't know if I'd be so lucky behind the wheel at 2 AM. I'd hate to end up a highway casualty like that.

Speaking of which... after we descended out of the mountains and made our way into the L.A. area, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 AM, traffic totally jammed up behind a CHiP car that was swerving in front of traffic to slow us all down. Jahnke was in the back seat and muttered, "Oh no." I was all like, "What?" And Bill said, "That's a traffic break, dude. Standard procedure after a fatal freeway crash." Sure enough, after about an hour stopped in traffic, we were finally able to creep up past the wreck. There, lying dead in the middle of the road, was an unfortunate biker in the shape of a lower case letter 'q' covered by a yellow tarp. Fifty yards up ahead, his crotch rocket was perfectly wedged under the front of some poor guy's car. The driver of said car was standing next to a cop with his head down, weeping. We felt awfully bad for both the driver and the dead guy. Although, probably owing to the lack of sleep, I did call the following out my window at one point at about the 30 minute mark during our wait: "Someone better be dead up there!" Yeah, not my best moment. I'm apparently not a very nice guy. Witty, yes. But not a nice guy.

We eventually made it to Jahnke's place and we dropped him off. We all hugged and cried and whatnot, and then Bill and I jumped back in the car for the last hour of our trip back to The O.C. where Bill and Sarah live. We arrived at their house at 5:43 AM, just as the sun was rising, bringing the entire day's journey - what with all the touring, rancid rest stopping and hellacious driving - to a grand total of 18 action-packed hours. Our hero, Ham the Astrochimp, will have to wait for another trip.

As we unpacked the car, Bill's wife Sarah came running out all excited. She'd been up the whole night taking pictures of two families of raccoons that apparently live in their neighborhood and started showing up in their backyard a few days prior. It must be some kind of gift from the Universe to have a family of raccoons magically appear at the house of a professional animal photographer. [Editor's note: Or it might have something to do with the food she leaves out for them...] Anyway, the pictures she took are incredible, so hopefully Bill posted a few at the bottom of this report.

In the end, Day Four was literally a day and a half. It was super-great fun to just hang out, keeping it level with Jahnke and Bill, my two brothers from other mothers. There's just something about driving, talkin' smack and experiencing the kinds of things that only happen a few times in your life, that I was really happy to share with them. Good times.

The whole Vegas adventure was exhausting but worth every minute. Thanks to everyone at HTF, TV Shows on DVD, EMA, the studios and all the participants who made it an unforgettable weekend.

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