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I started to jumble my words on the freeways heading into Chicago. Not truly badly, or to the point where I was nonsensical or in any way reminiscent of Steve Miller Band lyrics, but just enough that alarm bells started to ring.

So, while we were at McDonald’s, getting coffee, on the outskirts of town, Zara gently quizzed me.

‘Hey, what state is Hobart in?’

My mind was a foggy, cotton-wool blank.

‘Um… I know it’s not Western Australia, so maybe it’s… uh… fuck. I have no idea. Where is it?’

‘Tasmania,’ Zara said.

‘Oh! Yeah! Tasmania. That’s right. It’s the capital city of Tasmania. Well, I knew it wasn’t Western Australia.’

Even though there were only ten minutes to go to Gina Frangello’s house, it was unanimously decided at this point that Zara should take over the driving.

We woke up in Des Moines, home of the infamous Carol and our war-wounded late-night ex-USMC saviour, G. Smith, to the sight of puffy grey clouds flowing sluggishly across the sky through the hotel room window. There was mist rising from the river, and the concrete pavings outside the hotel lobby doors had that thin dampness that speaks of moisture seeping out of the air, rather than rainfall.

What kind of man is it who goes to the Rocky Mountains, and through determination, skill, and (I assume) access to a wide variety of power tools alone takes a space where there was no attractive and charming two-storey wooden house with electricity and running water and says ‘Here. Here is where I will build an attractive and charming two-storey wooden house with electricity and running water’?

A kind of man who is a man totally unlike me – that’s what kind of man. Because I would have given up and gone crying down the mountain road before I was even done measuring out the ground with my stride as soon as I realised that there might be a bug in the woods.

I clawed at the unforgiving cushions of the back seat of our rental Camry, sweat pouring from my brow and running down the sides of my neck to pool unpleasantly around my shirt collar, my back arched as my muscles clenched and spasmed. I don’t know how long the drive was, only that the minutes screamed endlessly, like a man getting sucked into a wind tunnel in a better class of action movie. Traffic lights shone bright – so bright! – scorching my retinas, flaring like an ammunition dump explosion in a lower class of romantic comedy.

If you ever get the chance – and yes, I am aware, chances of this nature are thin on the ground – then take the drive through Utah into Colorado.

There is a lovely Denny’s in Utah.

Goddamn Vegas, man.

Nothing – nothing – is real in that place. The Venetian Hotel has an interior roof painted to look like the twilight sky, and gondolas weave down canals filled with water of the kind of deep and rich blue that you see in children’s storybooks (See Spot Run Into Trouble At The Beach, Courtesy Of BP). The air is gusted with perfume to disguise the stench of cigarette smoke and when my body started craving salad (little did the poor chump know that a roadside Arby’s was soon to prove its nemesis), the closest I could get was a sole lettuce leaf alongside a turkey wrap that was not a colour I will ever believe could be found in nature. Unless it was the colour of Mother Nature puking after a night on absinthe and green chartreuse. That, I could believe.

But it’s not as if we went to Vegas for the authenticity.

No.

We came for the prostitutes.