10.23.06 The Information
I am a huge fan of Beck, and was both amused and bemused to see that his new CD, The Information, comes with a blank cover and a sheet of stickers so purchasers can create their own artwork. I guess this bonus (along with the companion DVD) is supposed to forestall the inevitable obsolescence of physical media; personally, the only CDs I buy these days are ones I can't download from the (legal) site eMusic. I'm perfectly happy to have everything on my hard drive instead of in a shelving unit.
Anyway, I can't decide what to do with my copy of The Information (which is, as usual, a slightly mixed bag but has a few absolutely brilliant tracks, like "No Complaints" and "Cellphone's Dead"). I found this page, which features a lot of very clever cover designs, made and uploaded by Beck fans. Should I spend a few minutes playing around with the stickers, or should I just leave the sheet intact? Artistically, I'm not a terribly creative person; I was the sort of child who always colored inside the lines and enjoyed putting Legos together according to the photo on the box. To those of you who have bought the CD: what have you done with the stickers?
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10.22.06 I'm Going To Get Jury Duty, I Just Know It
Pretty much every year since I moved to California, I have received a jury summons. I got them several times in Baltimore, as well. All in all, I'd say I've gotten around 14-15 summons. Out of those, I have had to report three times; every time, I've been sent home after a few hours, without ever making it to the point of jury selection. What are the odds, I wonder?
I got a summons a few weeks ago, just over 12 months after my last one. It was for the week of Sept. 18, the week we were due to leave on vacation. I requested a postponement and got a new date of Oct. 31.
There is no way I can continue getting off the hook like this. It just seems inevitable that on Oct. 31, I'll be reporting for duty in Oakland (at least this summons was for the closer courthouse, as opposed to the less convenient Hayward Hall of Justice, which requires transferring from bus to BART). Stay tuned.
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10.20.06 The Very Belated Books Post
I was catching up on some of the blogs I didn't have time to follow while I was on the road, and this entry by yellojkt reminded me that I forgot to share my September reading and book-buying. Without further ado:
Books read, September '06:
Solomon vs. Lord by Paul Levine
Immaculate Midnight by Ellen Hart
Life, Death and Bialys: A Father-Son Baking Story by Dylan Schaffer (Watch the trailer!)
My biggest misconception about our trip was that I'd have soooo much time to read while we were on the road. I pictured myself sitting poolside at some glamorous resort, enjoying a book. Not so, unfortunately. Next vacation: more reading, less driving. (I can't read when I'm a passenger in a car; it makes me feel nauseous.)
Solomon vs. Lord was "assigned reading" for my book group and I would never have picked it up otherwise, as it was marketed as a Carl Hiaasen-like wacky legal thriller. I like Hiaasen well enough, but I usually shun lawyer books. Well, turns out I loved it and read all 550 pages of it in two marathon sessions over Labor Day weekend. It's laugh-out-loud funny and I liked the characters so much that I wound up buying both sequels. But that'll have to wait 'til next month's post.
Incidentally, I was really relieved to come across this blog entry today ("The Ultimate Review of 'The Departed'" by Jim Emerson) because I was sure I was alone in feeling that Martin Scorsese's new movie was overlong and overrated. (Well, not quite alone; Joe agreed with me.) I'm glad to see some prominent critics taking it to task. I still hope Scorsese wins that Best Director Oscar someday, though. Heck, I wouldn't even mind if he won it for "The Departed"; everyone knows it would be a career achievement award at this point.
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10.19.06 There's No Place Like...
After nearly four weeks and 4,000 miles by car and 3,500 miles by air, we are finally back home. Originally, our plans called for us to drive from Vegas to L.A. and then up the coast via scenic Route 1. However, I felt like I was going to scream if I had to drag my suitcase into one more motel, eat one more free-breakfast bagel, or unwrap one more bar of miniature soap. So we spent 11 hours hightailing it back to the Bay Area, including one hellish hour in a traffic jam in the middle of the Mojave Desert due to road repaving. It felt good to see the familiar exit signs begin to appear: Livermore... Castro Valley... MacArthur... San Pablo... Ashby...
So now we're back, and our dog is back, too. I have started chipping away at my backlog of work. Joe still has a week off before he needs to return to his job.
A couple of items from recent reader comments:
James: "Have they pretty much given up on the idea of being family-friendly? I know that was the city's big push in the mid-1990s, but some of my friends have told me that since then Vegas has decided to show its seedier, sleazier side again."
We saw plenty of people with kids; there were signs posted in the casino advising parents not to leave their children alone, which made me think of that episode of "The Simpsons" where Marge becomes a problem gambler. (A lot of things remind me of "The Simpsons.") However, despite the fun over-the-topness of Vegas, I don't think I'd consider it a swell place for a family vacation. Joe and I were unnerved by the people hanging out on practically every street corner on the Strip, passing out cards advertising escort services. Every so often a truck would pass by promoting HOT GIRLS WHO WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU!, complete with huge, sexy photos of said girls. How do you explain that to your 10-year-old? There were several youngsters at the Nathan Burton magic show, which was pretty mild despite the presence of Burton's showgirls. The whole "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" slogan shows that LV is trying to attract adults—in other words, people who are old enough to drink and to gamble.
yellojkt: "If I were to go back to Vegas, I would want to see 'Love', Rita Rudner, and Penn & Teller. The rest of it all looks so tacky. There must be at least 5 other Cirque Soliel shows going on at any given time."
Besides "Love," four other Cirque shows—"Mystère," "O," "Ka," and "Zumanity"—are all playing in LV. "Zumanity" is supposed to be their "naughty" show. (Speaking of the seedier side of Vegas, there are a ton of other adults-only shows on the Strip, including "La Femme" and "Skintight.")
Since Vegas shows are so expensive, I was curious if there was a local equivalent to the TKTS booth in Times Square. There is: it's called Tickets2Nite and is located next to the enormous Coke bottle across from New York New York. We also managed to find a $10 off coupon for Nathan Burton's show in one of those freebie magazines full of ads and event listings.
If we ever return to Vegas, I'll definitely push for a visit during the week, since it's much cheaper than visiting on a weekend. Monday-Thursday is the time to find hotel values. Our room at the Flamingo was $100 cheaper on Monday night than it was on Sunday night. For now, though, there's only one place to be, and that's h-o-m-e.
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10.17.06 Viva Las Vegas
OK, I know this is going to amaze y'all, but I would go back to Las Vegas someday. I have to admit it: The place got under my skin. Granted, I didn't want to spend another night there—two really was perfect; more would have been overkill—but we really had a lovely final evening there and it left me with happy memories.
My previous record for most expensive event tickets I've ever bought (around $95 each to see "Avenue Q" on Broadway) was shattered when Joe and I picked up two tickets for the late show of Cirque du Soleil's "Love" for $125 a piece. Yikes. I had never seen a Cirque show before; all I knew about them came from the Patton Oswalt routine about how Cirque is "what a horny gay French dude sees in his head." But "Love" features the music of the Beatles, so I figured, at least the soundtrack will be awesome. The in-the-round auditorium at the Mirage had been specially configured for the show so that music came from everywhere, including your very own seat! It gave me goosebumps, in a good way; it wasn't overly loud, and definitely nowhere near rock-concert level.
"Love" is like the dessert buffet at the Flamingo: so delicious, and yet after you've eaten all of those yummy pastries, you just want to go lie down for a while. The impossibly young, lithe cast comes at you from all directions: they're suspended from the ceiling, they're roller-skating up ramps, they're driving Volkswagen Beetles onstage... there are always about 80 things going on at once and it's all mind-bogglingly incredible. The song selection seemed weighted toward the trippy side of John Lennon, though I was glad they found room for my personal fave Beatle tune, Paul's "Hey Jude," right before the end.
Some of the set pieces are a little incongruous—what does "Lady Madonna" have to do with dancing rain boots?—and the one segment where they veer away from the music ("Blackbird," which is recited by a cast member) doesn't work. But on the whole, the show is a knockout, the kind of insanely over-the-top entertainment you expect from Vegas.
Afterward, we walked around the Strip at midnight, and Joe won $80 playing blackjack. The enormous Sphinx at the Luxor, the fabulous Roman architecture and statuary at Caesar's Palace, the gigantic lake in front of the Bellagio, the Statue of Liberty guarding New York New York—everything looked so crazy and so beautiful, and it wasn't because I was seeing it in a drunken haze, since I never did get around to having that foot-long margarita. I knew then it was time to leave.
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10.16.06 Food, Magic and Gambling
There's a really entertaining essay by David Foster Wallace called "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," about going on a Caribbean cruise. That title has popped into my mind more than once during my sojourn in Vegas.
When we checked in, the woman at the registration desk looked at our reservation and asked, "Just two nights?" Just two? Who would have the stamina to spend more than 48 hours here? I call my parents and my dad says that after filling out a customer satisfaction survey for a hotel they'd stayed in, he'd received a call from the hotel chain offering him two free nights in Vegas with the purchase of a three-night stay. "Madame, I will go to my grave never having visited Las Vegas," he told her.
And yet, I feel it's important to come here, that visiting Vegas is a crucial step to understanding America. Joe and I walked down the Strip this afternoon, and we passed by Paris Las Vegas, a hotel that features replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc d'Triomphe and the Palais Garnier, all crammed together. People on the sidewalk sipped drinks out of glasses shaped like the Montgolfier balloon. Down the street is New York New York, with its mini-Empire State and Chrysler buildings. It's like an Epcot Center for adults, chock-full of glitz and glamour. The icing on the cake is the possibility that you could get rich.
In the Aladdin's shopping arcade, a store displayed a couple of vintage 1940s Mills quarter slot machines; I would love to own one of those babies someday. My aunt and uncle have an old nickel machine that I used to play when I was a kid. The fact that slot machines today don't pay off in coins (they only take bills, and if you win, there's a faux coin-dropping sound effect and you get a boring slip of paper to take to the cashier), and don't require you to pull a lever, seems wrong to me. The sum total of my gambling so far: $5, which I lost. I don't think I'll gamble away more than that; I've never been a believer in get-rich-quick schemes of any kind.
We took in an afternoon show featuring Nathan Burton, the affable magician who appeared several times on NBC's "America's Got Talent" over the summer. He does a frenetically-paced hour-long show, and it's funny and entertaining. We sprang for the "VIP tickets," which got us seats in the second row, and despite looking carefully (I tried not to be distracted by his troupe of four showgirl/assistants), I still couldn't figure out how he did his remarkable illusions. Highly recommended, if you ever find yourself here.
Afterwards, in another effort to have the quintessential Vegas experience, we ate dinner at the Flamingo's buffet. The food was good, but what really impressed was the mind-boggling selection of desserts. There were about a zillion different kinds of pastries and a soft-serve ice cream machine. We each tried three kinds of sweets before stepping away, defeated. So I've had the buffet, the show, the slots—now all I need to do before we leave is to buy one of those frozen margaritas in the crazy foot-long glass and drink it while walking along the Strip (none of those pesky open container laws in Vegas, baby!).
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10.15.06 What Happens In Vegas Winds Up On This Blog
Things I hate:
So what better place for me to vacation than Las Vegas?
My main condition of coming here was that we splurge on a really awesome hotel room so I could retreat when I got overwhelmed. Our room has a plasma TV, plus an additional TV that's set into the bathroom mirror. It also has an entertainment center that lets you hook your iPod into it, and there are switches by the bed that open and close the curtains. We have a view of the Strip and the fountains at the Bellagio.
LV reminds me of Times Square, except much, much bigger. We walked around for about an hour and tried not to get swept up in the huge mobs of people.
This is definitely not my idea of a vacation paradise, but it's obviously a place beloved by lots and lots of people, judging from the crowds. I'm glad to have the opportunity to experience it once, anyway, and that I have such a fantastic room to hide in when it all gets to be too much.
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10.14.06 A Canyon Filled With Tears
The trip has entered a crummy stretch. Last night, we had the misfortune to be staying across the hall from a bunch of noisy college-age kids. At midnight, they were slamming their doors and yelling right outside our room. Joe told them a couple times to cool it, and when that didn't work, he called the front desk. Things were quiet after that for all of five hours, when the door-slamming began again. I have never stayed in a hotel with such slammable doors. As an experiment, I tried loudly slamming the door of our current hotel (a Best Western) and was unable to do so, whereas at the $#@& Holiday Inn Express at the Grand Canyon, the doors slammed unless you made a conscious effort to close them very slowly. It was by far the worst night of the entire trip for me; I'm a light sleeper, and even taking a sleeping pill didn't help.
When we went down for our free breakfast (bagels, sugar-laden cinnamon rolls), it was pouring down rain. After eating, we decided to go see the IMAX movie, hoping that it would eventually let up. Due to the inclement weather, the visitors' center was jammed with people, also planning to see on film what they couldn't currently see in person. The movie was pretty cool (I've always enjoyed IMAX films), but when it was over, it was raining harder than ever—that kind of sideways rain that gets you soaking wet. Even in my REI weatherproof gear, I wasn't up for hiking when it was raining cats & dogs. Plus, it was only 45 degrees.
We sat down at a table in the café and reluctantly decided to move on. So we traveled all that way to spend a grand total of three hours actually viewing the canyon. We might have stayed the rest of the day (we had booked two nights) were it not for the fact that the Holiday Inn's Internet access had gone down shortly after I posted yesterday's blog entry, and it showed no signs of coming back, so I wouldn't even be able to work in our room as the rain poured down. Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to go back to the canyon, and I know where I won't be staying.
I derive some solace from the fact that at this point, we are within a day's drive back to the Bay Area.
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10.13.06 Into the Vortex
There's a lot to catch up on, due to the miserable Internet access we suffered through in Tempe and Sedona. The Best Western in Tempe, a place with all the charm of a state prison, wound up giving us $15 off our bill because of the sporadic Internet service. In Sedona, it was even worse, but I was kind of OK with that because the manager of our hotel said it had to do with the weird energy around that town. A local who sometimes visits to use the hotel's lobby wi-fi chimed in to agree. Blame it on the vortexes!
I know that this will prove controversial, but I didn't care for Sedona. It's not my kind of town. It's extremely beautiful, certainly. We arrived around lunchtime, and stopped at the Wildflower Bread Company, a recommendation from my cousin Carrie. (Thanks, Carrie!) The WBC was probably the peak of our Sedona experience; we enjoyed delicious sandwiches and soup while sitting on a patio overlooking the red rocks. Plus there was a couple with a Boston Terrier dining a few tables away from us. The weather was perfect and it was just serene and beautiful.
The town itself seems to be growing by leaps and bounds; there are people hawking time shares all over town (shades of Cancun!). Lots of T-shirt shops and stores selling New Age crystals and the like. We stopped in at the Well Red Coyote, which is owned by a mystery writer, but it seemed to have way more New Agey stuff than whodunits. I suspect that if you don't sell that kind of stuff, you won't last long in Sedona.
We drove around a bit, walked along a couple of trails, climbed some rocks (carefully—falling off the rocks would definitely be a sign of bad karma). Around sunset, we made our way up toward the small local airport, which was supposed to provide an excellent vista point. We parked in a lot across the street from the point, which was actually fenced off. A guy in a cowboy hat was charging people $1 each to get in. I think the property belonged to a resort on the hill. I guess I looked really disgusted because he wound up waving us in and saying the $1 fee was a "suggested donation," but for some reason, it really rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed like a symptom of the commercialization of everything in town.
At another scenic point (accessible with a $5 pass you can buy at the chamber of commerce—not one of the many other "tourist information centers" in town that are actually fronts for time share salespeople), we overheard a guy who claimed to be descended from a shaman. He talked about how the spirits are angry because of all the development in Sedona. It would have been interesting to see it, say, 20 years ago, before the fancy resorts and time shares came along. In all fairness, I will note that if you drive about 15 minutes out of town and hike on one of the trails, you'll have the place practically to yourself; if I ever go back, I plan to do that as much as possible.
We left this morning and drove north to the Grand Canyon. I had always heard that the Canyon attracts millions of tourists a year and I didn't want to be stuck in a herd of people, so I figured mid-October would be the perfect time to go. After his trip to Yosemite this summer, my friend Neal (of Albuquerque fame) informed me of what I have come to think of as Neal's Rule: If you visit a national park or other crowded natural area, walk half a mile away from the nearest parking area, and you will enjoy instant solitude. Joe and I started off by parking near the visitors' center and walking along the Rim Trail, which is completely paved and described in guidebooks as an ideal trail for beginners, children and wheelchair users. The Rim Trail is about as challenging as mall-walking (though wouldn't you much rather look at the Grand Canyon than at the Gap or Wet Seal?). However, despite the clots of people (including a busload of French folks) at Mather Point, after about five minutes, we only passed maybe four or five other people during an hour-long stroll. The Grand Canyon is big, big, big, just amazingly big. You've seen it on TV and in pictures, but you just can't grasp how vast and majestic it is until you see it in person.
Around 3 PM, it started raining, so we headed over to the Camping Services area and did our laundry. (Yes, even non-campers can use the laundromat.) They have about a zillion washers & dryers and a TV, so Joe was able to watch the A's lose yet again.
The forecast calls for rain again tomorrow, so we may just have to go and see the Grand Canyon IMAX movie instead of visiting the actual canyon. I hope there's some let-up; there's a lot more canyon to see.
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10.10.06 By the Time I Get To Phoenix
I ended our brief sojourn in Tucson by going on an hour-long horseback ride through the scenic desert landscape surrounding the Westward Look. They started out as a dude ranch, and while they're infinitely more glamorous now, a few dude services remain. I hadn't been on a horse since my Campfire Girl days, but the guide let me ride an exceedingly gentle horse in his 20s named Morgan, so it was a very mellow experience. A few hours later, I am afflicted with Horse Butt (the condition in which even a well-padded rear end aches from having spent an hour on a hard saddle). Horse Butt may or may not be related to Pyramid Leg.
Because Joe wanted to watch the ball game (which went very poorly for the A's, I'm afraid) and I had accumulated a whole bunch of work that needed doing, we tore ourselves away from the Westward Look and checked into what has to be one of the most boring, dingy, dimly lit motel rooms in the Phoenix metro area. At least there's nothing here to distract me from my tasks—no spectacular mountain views or desert hiking trails. Sigh.
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Even though this is really Joe's sabbatical, he let me plan most of it. I had a strong desire to see saguaro cacti, so off we went to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, and the grand and fascinating Desert Museum. I can now say that I have seen saguaro—thousands of them. I am completely satisfied by the level of saguaro here.
I also persuaded him to splurge on a tony resort called the Westward Look. I suppose in the best of all possible worlds, we would be staying at places like this every night, but that would be a savings account-draining experience. I keep forgetting the name of the resort and referring to it as Rancho Relaxo, from the "Homer Alone" episode of "The Simpsons." We have an enormous room with our own little balcony. The resort, which has been here since the early 1900s (with a number of expansions), is vast and beautifully landscaped. Like the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, this is the kind of place you can imagine yourself staying in for a week or two, alternating between lying by the pool and hiking in the foothills.
Joe's priority right now is being someplace where he can watch the A's playoff games against the Tigers. Luckily, all hotel rooms, from mega-fancy to plain, seem to come with TV sets.
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Here is a piece of advice that will serve you well if you ever find yourself in Albuquerque in October: Do not drive to the balloon fiesta. Take a bus, take the park 'n ride, but DO NOT DRIVE YOUR CAR. Don't do it. Trust me on that. Just don't! You will find yourself in a traffic jam the likes of which you have never experienced before, and I say that as someone who lives minutes away from one of the most congested freeways in America. Having said that, once you finally arrive, walking around on the field among the hundreds of balloons, and watching them inflate and they fly away, is pretty amazing. Unfortunately, it was not ideal ballooning weather and some of the "shape balloons," including the Wells Fargo stagecoach, an eagle, and a pair of cartoon bees, were unable to take off; many of those that did rise into the sky didn't get very far. The festival continues for the next week and a half, so hopefully the conditions will improve.
We're getting ready to leave Albuquerque and I still really like it here, except for a few things:
1. No all-day talk NPR station
2. Both local newspapers are fairly bad
3. Only one Trader Joe's, and it's in the suburbs
4. The state's famous red & green chile sauces are usually made with meat! Whoever heard of meat in a condiment? Luckily, some places, like the Church St. Cafe, offer vegetarian versions.
1. The mayor appears with his rescued dog on billboards
2. Free wi-fi EVERYWHERE, even on city buses (!)
4. The panoramic views of the mountains
5. Except at Balloon Park during the fiesta, it feels like you've got some elbow room here, unlike the too-crowded Bay Area.
It's been fun to spend a week here getting to know the city, and we're already looking forward to coming back someday. Mega-thanks to our pal Neal for putting up with us and showing us why he loves this place! And cheers to Joe, who is not a fan of heights, for agreeing to ride to the top of the mountains in the Sandia Park Tramway, definitely a highlight of the trip for me.
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10.4.06 Homes Away From Home
Our pal Mitch said the plug we found in our rental car was a relay, but wasn't sure what exactly it was for. In any case, we gave it to the folks at the car-rental place when we returned the auto. We didn't tell them that we thought the car had been mysteriously entered and moved. I'm just glad whoever was in our car didn't take our newly purchased Spottiswoode CDs.
Paula wrote in the comments (thanks!), "I... really love hotels and prefer to stay at them rather than at someone's house." I enjoy some aspects of hotels, especially the fact that you leave your room in the morning and when you return, it's magically clean (unless you're staying at the place I mentioned in this entry, where to add insult to injury, our room was ignored by housekeeping). The privacy is nice and you don't feel like you're imposing on someone. However, unless you're paying big bucks, chances are you'll be staying somewhere fairly anonymous. So far on this trip, we've stayed in a half-dozen different hotel chains. Here are some of my observations:
Beds: The most important thing. Pretty much everywhere we stayed, even the Scary Motel, had a decent bed, but so far in our travels, only Holiday Inn Express offers two different kinds of pillows: firm and soft, labeled as such on the pillowcases. I prefer firm pillows while most hotels give you soft & squishy, so this won big points with me.
Showers: Holiday Inn Express offers fancy showerheads, but Homewood Suites has the best towels. I've found that even at pricey hotels, small, scratchy towels are the norm these days. I guess they want to make sure you don't steal 'em.
High speed internet: The one thing we insist on. It has its quirks at most places we've stayed, but at least I've been able to check my e-mail. Beware; at higher-end places, there's often a fee for internet connectivity (or it's included in a bogus "resort fee"), while it's become standard at almost every budget-priced chain.
Breakfast: Like internet service, most inexpensive lodging aimed at business travelers comes with some kind of free breakfast. Hampton Inn and Best Western have the best selection, with cereal, bagels, and a refrigerated case of pre-made omelets and waffles that can be microwaved (Hampton in Raleigh, NC) or a make-your-own-waffle bar (Best Western in Kingman, AZ). Others only offer the dreaded "continental breakfast" of muffins or Danish. Personally, one of the things I miss the most while traveling is my daily bowl of Kashi with fruit and rice milk, but in a pinch I'll take a bagel.
Amenities: Props to Holiday Inn Express for being one of the few chains to give you a shower cap and conditioner, both things I use (on alternate days, of course). Although it took me a couple days to figure out what HIE's shampoo and conditioner smelled like: cinnamon. (They provide warm cinnamon buns for breakfast; avoid them, unless you like getting an entire day's worth of sugar before 9:30 AM.) I don't particularly want my hair to smell of cinnamon, but I appreciate the gesture.
Express check-out: Some places, like Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn, just slide a statement under your door so you don't need to go to the desk to check out; others, like Clarion and HIE, don't. When you're on the go, being able to skip that last step is appreciated.
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10.2.06 Creepiness in Carolina
Last night, Joe and I stayed at a Hampton Inn near the Raleigh airport. We had attended a killer show by one of my favorite comedians, Alonzo Bodden, and returned to the Inn around 10:30 PM. The parking spaces close to the motel were all full so we wound up parking way in the back. There were two other motels next to the Hampton Inn and they all surrounded a big parking lot.
When we went out to the lot after checking out in the morning, for a moment, we couldn't find the car, a pretty nondescript silver Chevy Malibu. Then I spotted it. This is where it gets weird—Joe was almost certain that the car had been moved. Since I hadn't been driving I hadn't paid as much attention to where it was parked. Then I got in as Joe put our suitcase in the trunk. Oddly enough, the seat belt was buckled around the steering wheel. I knew Joe hadn't done that. Also, there was a strange, four-pronged plug in one of the cup holders.
Someone had obviously been inside our car, and maybe even moved it! But the car had been locked. Nothing was missing—there were several CDs inside the arm rest. How could somebody have gained access to the car, and why did they leave the plug and mess with the seat belt? We were able to drive about 70 miles without incident, so the car seems fine, but we are both thoroughly creeped out and looking forward to getting back to New Mexico and our own car.
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