I wondered if my parents had begun looking for me yet as we drove over the bridge of Lake Havasu. Surely they had no idea how far away I was. Perhaps by now they knew that I was with Byron since he and his sister were missing as well. Honestly, I didn't care. I'd had enough with the unfair punishments for things I hadn't actually done wrong. I knew in my heart and in my mind that I was a fairly good kid and I didn't do half of what they had accused me of. Yet, day after day I went home to screaming and anger, punishment and rejection. I was ready to start a life somewhere else, where nobody knew me.
Jodie had moved to Arizona when I was a kid though. I knew she and the family still lived out there. My parents got Christmas cards from them every year. Still, Phoenix Arizona was a big place. The chances of seeing Jodie or any of her family were slim, and it had been so long since I had seen them that we wouldn't know one another if we stood face to face in a grocery store.
We got to Las Vegas around 1:00 in the afternoon. Byron exited the freeway and we began to drive the famous Las Vegas strip, staring at all of the huge casinos. It was the prettiest town I'd ever see, but also the ugliest. The half naked pictures of women scattered across advertisement littering the streets disgusted me. They were everywhere. Obvious prostitutes walked the sidewalks in broad daylight. Skinny, drug-riddled people sat on the bus benches, waiting for their rides. The city lights masked it all.
We saw New York New York from a distance and were mesmerized by the roller coaster around the building. Everyone wanted to go for a ride! Everyone, that is, but me. I nearly fell out of a roller coaster as a kid, and had it not been for my mother holding me in, I would have been collected with a shovel to put into a body bag. A sharp pang gnawed at my intestines. I hoped she knew I was still alive.
We parked at New York New York and piled out of the car. My legs were so cramped that it took a moment to be able to straighten them out completely. As we walked into the casino, every one of us couldn't help but to look straight up. The entire inside of the casino looked like New York City at dusk. There were pizza parlors and street lamps. Man hole covers steamed in the walkways. A small stone bridge crossed a small man-made creek in the middle of the casino. Stephanie pulled a penny from her pocket and tossed it in.
It didn't take long to find the staircase leading to the "kids" area upstairs. The line wasn't long on that early afternoon week day, so the four of us got into the coaster right away. I had been reassured by Byron that the coaster didn't go upside down, so I knew I'd be fine getting on it. The entire climb up I had a death grip on his hand. When the coaster rolled into a higher speed, I settled back and enjoyed the ride.
Suddenly, I looked ahead of us. The tracks turned suddenly and I couldn't see where they went. It looked as though they went straight down, but I was certain that couldn't be the case. Then we hit it. The coaster went straight down, alright - for about 3 feet. Then suddenly it jerked around and we were up side down on this coaster. My back began to slide down the back of the seat, my narrow shoulders coming through the harness. I grabbed the harness with all of my strength, shoved myself back into the seat and screamed with every ounce of breath I had. Suddenly I was back at Knots Berry Farm, sitting in that coaster with my mother, scared for my life.
When we got off of the coaster, I couldn't help myself. I looked Byron right in the eyes and said something that, to this day, I still can't believe came out of my mouth.
"Lets do it again!"
Jason liked me a bit more after that. He knew I had been truly scared, and yet I had wanted to ride it again. Unfortunately, it used more than half of our food money, so we didn't have enough to ride it one more time. Just as unfortunate, the ride was so slow that the ride manager offered to let us ride for free. Me and my big mouth.
After our second round on the coaster and a slice of New York pizza, we wandered from one casino to the next, looking, talking and enjoying the beautiful day. The MGM held a special interest for us. I loved looking at the gorgeous lion, and he was putting on quite a show that day. That was about when Stephanie started holding Jason's hand. The Hilton was especially fun with the Star Trek theme they had, but we couldn't stay there long since they had gambling and alcohol. We were still under age, even the oldest in the group.
At dark we drove to the bad end of town where we found a run down hotel. The rooms were available by the month, week, day or hour. Byron and Jason decided it would be best if we kept moving and found a place to put up the tent again.
Around 11 at night, we still hadn't found a place to put up the tent. Out in the middle of nowhere, we found a little blue motel just off the freeway even worse than the first one we stopped at in Las Vegas. Even as run down as the hotel was, we couldn't afford a room for 4 people. Jason had checked us in since he was old enough to travel, and the rest of us hid in the car until he got the key.
The lock on the door was broken and a padlock had been provided. Roaches scattered when the bathroom light was turned on. Dark stains dotted the carpet, remnants of red wine or long dried blood. The sheets had holes in them and the comforter smelled like moth balls. Even the window latch was broken. Byron propped it closed with a stick he found outside.
Once more we all slept in our clothes. We piled in to the one bed together, Stephanie and I in the middle. Byron was on my right while Jason was on Stephanie's left. It was a long and uncomfortable night, but we survived it. In the morning it was obvious Jason hadn't slept at all. He had been up all night waiting to hear someone try to break into the room. He had grown to be rather protective of Stephanie.
Around 5:00am, a loud rattling woke us all up. Someone was at the door.