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Morning. Hot. Shades drawn. Where are we? A squinting glance outside reveals a hilltop vista, St. George, Utah; off to the right below, amidst trees is a large and eerily white 19th century temple, first big Mormon edifice in Utah. We are lords of all we survey. Alas, it’s not enough. We pack up, drive off without Paul M, come back and get him, make a beeline for the nearby Starbucks, obviously a critical stop.

This Starbucks, tucked into a maxi mini mall, has the innocence and high energy of the first Starbucks openings in California, pardon our indulgence in 1990’s nostalgia. The place is packed. The Utahans are excited to be here, and we groggy Angelenos are not. We are here to inject awareness into our spent neurons. The thrill is gone. To go, please. Oh, that’s right. It’s all to go. We drive. Utah is perhaps the most beautiful state in the country, if your tastes lean to the desert end of the spectrum. I-15 south disputes the notion that there’s nothing to see on the Interstate system. The road plunges through spectacular sedimentary rock formations, some twisted into steep angles, and we watch the Yukon’s outdoor temperature gauge climb from 108 to 114 as we hit the lower upper desert floor. We’re crossing a vast desert plateau.

Gas in Mesquite, NV, our 30th state of the tour. The plan was to stake Paul M to $100 and set him loose at the poker tables, but home beckons. Maybe we’ll stop in Las Vegas.A while later, we murmur, sighting the hazy distant skyline of Sin City. This is our last chance. Much debate as we approach, pulled by the attraction between the fabricated gravitas of Gomorrah and our own gambling lust. Paul L suggests putting the cash box on red on the roulette table and letting it ride. We could double our money, then double it again. Naturally, objections are raised to this simple plan.

Now we’re approaching. Now we’re in the city limits. Now we’re considering offramps. Rob, perhaps the most deeply conflicted, is at the wheel. Is he going to pull off? Shawn urges no. Tortured ambivalence from the two Pauls. What’s going to happen?Rob lurches off the freeway. This is no surprise to anyone. He proposes a faux sensible plan for breakfast at the Golden Nugget. Then we’ll see what happens. The weak willed Hawks assent. We circle downtown. There’s no parking. It’s blazing hot. We get back on the freeway. Oddly enough, the freeway entrance is not as well marked as the offramp. But we find it.

We’ve done it. We’ve resisted Las Vegas, for the first time in the Hawks tour history. It feels okay. Not great. Sober, sensible, not great.There’s a last exit before the open desert heading southward to L.A., and we take it, get adequate breakfast at an adequate restaurant. Paul L loses a nickel in a video poker game. We drive.

This trip has been memorable as always, but we feel we’ve struggled against a wind of mildly bad luck. Many little incidents have dogged our path across this vast land. Probably wise not to further test the spirits in Las Vegas. But we’ve prevailed, with our spirits and beings intact. Big thunderheads flank our corridor through the Mojave desert. We’re in heavy Sunday afternoon traffic. It’s amazing how many people drive to Las Vegas on the weekend. Somewhere before Baker a miraculous rain falls upon us and our fellow travelers.Traffic opens up. We stop at an apocalyptic gas station just outside Victorville. Mad Max was a prophetic vision. Shawn Nourse threatens Victorvillean Neil Morrow, a ’50’s oldies singer he works with, with a visit, then lets him off the hook. We drop down the Cajon pass, make it through the Inland Empire on the 210 in record time. L.A. looks balmy, a more muted and soiled green than the mountain and midwest green we’ve been immersed in for weeks.

Suddenly we’re at Chez Nourse. We open the Yukon doors. Surprise. It’s very hot and humid, like Chicago was. This is not regular L.A. weather. These are strange times. Strange and good to be home.