Once a week, usually on Tuesday, I have lunch with Josh, Brad, and John â€“ three gents who, like me, are scientists. They are astronomers, planetary scientists, professors at our local university. Theyâ€™ve had experiments on the Space Shuttle. Josh has been the scientific advisor on a couple of major Hollywood movies, most notably â€œDeep Impactâ€ (the comet looked a lot worse before he was brought in). These are smart guys. We share a common guilty pleasure, which often forms the basis of our lunchtime conversations: our love of all things Star Trek. Joshâ€™s outspoken spouse once joined us for lunch and was soon shaking her head at that dayâ€™s topic, which I think had something to do with the technobabble on that weekâ€™s â€œVoyagerâ€ episode. â€œNerds,â€ she said simply. From that day on, we were the Nerd Lunch Bunch, or NLB for short. One wintry day near the turn of the millennium, Josh suggested something that at first seemed completely outrageous, yet oddly titillating: we should go to Las Vegas to see â€œStar Trek: The Experienceâ€ at the Hilton. Weâ€™d all heard about the exhibit, of course, and for Trekkers like us making the trip would be the equivalent of pilgrims going to Mecca. You have to realize, however, that the NLB is composed of introverted, 30- and 40-something men whose idea of a wild night is attending a Trek convention in nearby Denver or mixing a little crÃ¨me de cassis into the sparkling wine at a dinner party. When we get together, we donâ€™t exactly paint the town red â€“ more like a soothing, non-confrontational earth tone. The very idea of a trip to Sin City was a bit intimidating for all of us, I am embarrassed now to admit. My own take on Vegas then was that it was a city designed to steal your money and break your heart. It was built by mobsters and con artists, solely to lure people with way too much money and time on their hands and to mess with their heads, convincing them that they were having a good time while emptying their bank accounts and threatening their retirements. In short, Las Vegas was an evil place like the one that lured Pinocchio to his near-doom. Loud, bright, obnoxiousâ€¦but of course still seductive, even to someone with my limited life experience, so I was â€“ to my surprise and chagrin -- extremely intrigued. I ended up enthusiastically endorsing Joshâ€™s suggestion, even though in the back of my uninformed mind I was convinced that the trip would end in tragedy, with us wandering the Strip penniless, dazed, and completely emotionally overwhelmed. But at that time I felt a need to fill a void -- to have some kind of Kerouac-like â€œon the roadâ€ experience, as it had been decades since my last such trip (1980, Santa Fe, New Mexico, communing with artistsâ€¦â€™nother story). There was no way I wouldnâ€™t go. Josh agreed to make all the arrangements, seeing as it was his idea. As die-hard workaholics, we agreed that none of us could spare more than one dayâ€™s vacation, so the trip would have to be a weekender. Flying was out of the question for tightwads like us, and I was the only one with a car in halfway decent shape, so I agreed to provide the wheels. That would mean that a great deal of the trip would be spent on the road. John decided the whole idea was a waste of time and money and bowed out. That left Josh, Brad, and myself. After rejecting several weekends through the first several weeks of 2000 (itâ€™s amazing how three guys with no social lives canâ€™t find one weekend when all are free), we finally nailed down the weekend of 17-19 March. Josh wanted to stay at the Hilton so as to be in close proximity to The Experience, and he was able to find us a good rate: I think it was only about $110 for Friday and Saturday combined. Remember this was in early 2000, when it was still possible to get low weekend rates even at a fairly nice (albeit off-Strip) place like the Hilton. The idea of sharing a room did not appeal, especially after I admitted to snoring like a buzz saw, so we opted for separate accommodations. Josh was also interested in seeing a production show and was a Cirque du Soleil fan (does that come with having a French wife?), so he pushed hard for â€œMystereâ€. When I heard about the ticket price (which in 2000 was a mere $80), the tightwad in me screamed in protest, but I grudgingly agreed. Eighty bucks to see a circus act? I convinced myself before we ever left that I would hate it. Would we gamble? Hell, no. We were Nerds with a capital N, and Nerds donâ€™t gamble. All our money would go for gas, hotel, meals, show tickets. (Ah, the best laid plans oâ€™ mice and menâ€¦) My job was to plan the road trip. My wife has told me on several occasions that I must have been a travel agent in a previous life, since I enjoy planning trips as much or more than actually taking them. I sat down with my trip planner software and within minutes had a route plotted out, complete with updated construction information, rest stops timed out, refueling points indicated, and mileage measured out to the hundreds of yards. (I did say Nerd with a capital N!) I estimated the trip from Lafayette, CO (our home and that of the annual Oatmeal Festival) to Las Vegas, NV, via US 287 and Interstates 70 and 15, would require approximately 15.1 hours and put 743 miles on the odometer. Course plotted and laid in, Captain! Departure time 0600 hours, 17 March 2000. I am not a morning person. Had to continually slam down Diet Mountain Dews to keep the nods away. (I have since found Red Bull and its knockoffs to be far superior for this.) A crisp, sunny Colorado late-winter day. Adrenaline surging. Tank full. Spirits high. Wallets as full as our budgets would allow (which ainâ€™t much!). Josh and I each had a single duffle bag packed, with a small cooler full of caffeine-laden drinks between us, but Brad stumbled out of his house with enough luggage for a weekâ€™s stay. I began to protest that the car, a woefully underpowered 1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara, would have enough trouble getting over the Rockies without all that extra stuff, and what the hell did he have in there anyway? Brad said nothing, but instead unzipped one of the larger bags and began to pull out food. Lots of food. Huge Tupperware containers full of neatly sliced and proportioned fruit. Bags of chips and sweets. Large glass bottles of organic juices and non-carbonated beverages. As Brad was moving this stuff to his appointed place in the back seat, Josh pulled me aside. â€œI know we said weâ€™d share the driving, but for Godâ€™s sake donâ€™t let him drive. Not if you want to survive the trip.â€ My eyes went wide but I hastily agreed, deciding not to try to find out how Josh got his information. As we set off, the sun just beginning to color the eastern sky, loud chewing and slurping sounds began emanating from the back seat. Brad had dived into a large container of orange slices. This began an eating marathon the likes of which I had never seen. Whenever weâ€™d stop for gas, he would go into the convenience store and purchase an entire meal, eat it in the five minutes we were there, and then continue to eat from his stash in the car. He never offered to share. He barely spoke, because his mouth was always full. When he wasnâ€™t eating, he slept. The guy is so thin he disappears when he turns sideways. Heâ€™s not bulemic. Where does he put it? To this day I havenâ€™t figured it out. The man has astounding gustatory abilities. Josh, meanwhile, had pulled out a container with several cassette tapes in it. They were all books-on-tape and yes, they were all Star Trek novels, read by the stars of the original series. I am as avid a Trekker as anyone, but I swear that, after 30 hours of books-on-tape (well not quite -- there was the occasional hour or two of silence after Iâ€™d screamed â€œENOUGH!â€), I donâ€™t care if I ever hear the voices of James Doohan or George Takei or William Shatner ever againâ€¦ The Suzuki had a hell of a time negotiating the mountains. Chugging up I-70 to the Eisenhower Tunnel (at about 11,200 feet) took everything the poor girl had. Right hand lane with the foot on the floor, and 40 mph was all I could manage. Thank God, though, for Suziâ€™s 4-wheel drive (Nerds name their cars, didnâ€™t you know that?). On the other side of the tunnel, winter was still very much in evidence. We were, after all, still in prime ski season and were driving past some of the best ski areas in the country. As beautiful as the Rockies are when covered with snow, there is no sicker feeling in the world than knowing that youâ€™re now blasting down an 11% grade toward Silverthorne, and your wheels have all left the pavement and are skating on a layer of black ice. I felt my life flashing before me as I dared take one hand off the wheel to reach down and engage the 4WD. Forget the Mountain Dew, I was wide-awake now!! This scenario, in various forms, repeated itself several times until we had passed Glenwood Springs and had headed down the Western Slope. Finally the road dried and the temperature rose above freezing. With hands trembling, I turned command over to Josh and spent the next several hours trying to push my blood pressure back down. I could have used a few minutes in a holodeck right about then! The afternoon found us in Utah. Desolation like nothing Iâ€™d ever seen, even worse than Nebraska, or Kansas, or eastern Colorado for that matter. Why did the Mormons stop here? Weird rock formations, kind of like what youâ€™d see in a Star Trek movie, now that I think about it. Grayish-green, scrubby little plants. No trees. Gee, one of us would say, wasnâ€™t â€œGalaxy Questâ€ filmed somewhere around here? Strangely beautiful, but I still got nervous when weâ€™d see signs like â€œNo Services Next 100 Milesâ€ posted on a major interstate highway. Thank God itâ€™s not the middle of summer and 110 degrees. Check the cell phone â€“ oh great, â€œno service, now in power saving modeâ€ says the display. Whew, fortunately all other instruments still show green, main drive is still online and functioning. Forward sensor sweeps negative, Captain. Steady as she goes, helm. The hours crawled by; George Takei droned on about first contact with the Vulcans; Bradâ€™s maddening crunching and gulping was creeping under my skinâ€¦Daddy, are we there yet? Cut across that little corner of Arizona on I-15 and suddenly, we were in Nevada! Wonâ€™t be long now!