Back at the Mopar gang's trailer, I'm introduced to a guy named Steve who asks how the Duster's running. I tell him that it kept blowing the fuse for the taillights, but I fixed it by replacing the 20-amp fuse with a nice, hefty 35-amp. This doesn't seem to go over well. I learn later that this Steve is Steve Strope-perfectionist muscle car restorer, proprietor of Pure Vision Design, and builder of one well-known 1971 Duster known as the Dust'Ya. This is the kind of guy who, if his car kept blowing fuses, would isolate the short circuit in the system, fix it, and then do a frame-off restoration just to be on the safe side.
Later in the afternoon, I get behind the wheel of a non-Duster for the only time all weekend when I make a pass down the drag strip in a new Charger SRT8 that's fitted with a Mopar Performance intake and exhaust. As I pull to the line in the Charger, the announcer says, "In the left lane, driving the Charger SRT8, is Ezra Dyer . . . She's a writer for Automobile Magazine." Maybe my sideburns didn't grow in as thick as I thought. I do a gratuitous burnout (Goodyear Eagles know no fury like a woman scorned), then click off a 13.8-second quarter mile at 102 mph. I feel bad for the Duster. At this point, 13.8 seconds is more like its 0-to-60-mph time.
You can't complete a road trip to Vegas without cruising the Strip, so the next night I turn onto Las Vegas Boulevard in front of the MGM Grand. As I inch my way past the Aladdin, I confirm an unlikely sentiment I first noticed back at the Speedway: lots of people love the Duster. Yesterday, two different guys offered to buy it. On the Strip, everyone casts at least a bemused glance in the Duster's direction. One guy hanging out the window of a Toyota Camry exclaims excitedly to his friends, "Look, a Duster!" as if he'd just spotted a Lamborghini. This is definitely not the response that I'd expected a battered, thirty-four-year-old, pedestrian Plymouth to elicit.
I think the Duster's appeal gets back to the urge to root for the underdog, and the Duster is nothing if not the ultimate underdog-the bottom-of-the-pecking-order performance car from the defunct division of the smallest company of the Big Three. It's antipretentious, and people seem to respond to that.
It's also stalling. While the 340 hasn't overheated or burned an ounce of oil all weekend-and the air-conditioning has worked flawlessly-after about twenty minutes of idling and crawling forward on the Strip, the engine starts misfiring and stumbling. I need to get out of this traffic. I bang a right on Flamingo and somehow find my way to the ultraswank new Wynn hotel, where I park in front of the Cartier store and toss the keys to a confused-looking valet. It's time the Duster and I parted ways. I'm getting back into my time machine and returning to 2006. I'm ready to check e-mail and wear normal clothes and listen to whichever radio station I want. I'm ready to shave my sideburns and drive cars with fuel injection and six-speed transmissions and three-point seatbelts. I'm so ready to go to Starbucks that I can almost taste the white-chocolate mocha frappuccino already.
It turns out that I view the '70s the same way I look at Las Vegas itself: a fun place to visit, but I'm glad I don't live there.