Thanks for all of the replies! Firstly, the only non-goto scope I'll ever deal with again is my Questar 3.5.
re: deck - it's not really a deck (although I think of it as such), it's a well-supported, solid roof (that once held a hot tub) with some of those interlocking square wood things thrown down over the roof sheeting. I've imaged some brighter objects (M42, M81, M82, Saturn, Jupe) with pretty good results for a beginner -- through a 66mm scope on the CG5GT. Example: http://blave.smugmug...o-M42-PS-M.jpg.
That's a total of 240 seconds of OSC exposure, which I was happy with at the time. Yup, there's some noise etc. etc. but the point is I got some imaging done, from the roof, with a teeny scope and average mount. I do plan to occasionally drive everything 40 miles south of there for some darker skies, but I'll at least be trying to re-do some of the brigter objects from here.
re: new "AZ" mount -- I'll never buy a brand new model. I was on a waiting list for the Meade LX80 and thank my lucky nebulae that I cancelled the order before it came out. The Ioptron seems to have enough history to be "reasonably good" now, not accounting for the occasional lemon from the slave camps in China.
Re: scope/mount cover -- I have one; it's a nice one (forget the brand) that is intended for extended use. I had it over the CG-5 and ED80 for probably two months and only had a couple of hex screws get a little rusty. It's nice to not have to re-align every night! I would get a Pod dome, if the wife would let me (nope).
Summary: at this point the IEQ45 is still at the top of my list. For a long time I thought I wanted a CGEM but from what I've read the build quality/useability of any one example is all over the map, and the Ioptron seems to get better marks overall.
Again, thanks for taking the time to respond. I love CN!