I suppose the above title could be taken a few different ways: one as an action of immediate, threatening urgency, another as either an inaction while the minutes and hours pass you by, or as an active means of filling a temporal void that one has been confronted with. This tale is about the last of these alternatives, although being forced into spending time marking time often spawns and nurtures thoughts of illegal and antisocial acts as retribution against those causing the need to reorder one’s life.
What I am circumlocuting here is an account of a recent weekend we spent in Las Vegas. As per usual, our reason for being there is far from the expected and "normal". It was to be the culmination of Wendy’s open water swim season, with an eight kilometer, point to point swim along the shores of Lake Mead as a part of the annual Slam the Dam competition. Every swimmer is required to have their own support and safety crew, so I was there to paddle a kayak along the length of the race, offering a minimum of guidance and whatever food or fueling needs that should arise along the way. It was however, sometime last week as the congressional teabaggers, along with the human weeping carrot John Boehner, posed and postulated about the demise of Obamacare and America as we know it, that it became vaguely apparent that the running of this race might be in jeopardy as a result of these actions.
Indeed, it was a rather loud expletive exclamation from the other room which preceded Wendy’s declaration that she had received notice of the race’s cancellation. The venue for the Slam the Dam race is, and has been for the past three years, Boulder Beach, which is in a national recreation area, and therefore gets included in the grand and glorious GOP shutdown of the government of these United States, or is it the partial shutdown, whatever that means? Contributing to her outburst of displeasure was the fact that she had gotten time off from work for this trip, that the plane tickets were cheap seat non-refundables, and that part or all of the hotel reservation, the kayak rental as well as the race fee were all now at least partly forfeit. A decision now had to be made- do we go to Vegas just for Vegas’ sake? I know what you’re saying, and that would be: Are you kidding? There’s Cher and Celine Dion and there has to be a Wayne Newton show, or at least part of him preserved in formaldehyde and on display somewhere. And there’s the slots and Jack Nicholson and some fear and loathing and maybe even a recreation of the great Mars Attack! of 1996. What you say, that wasn’t real? Nothing else is in Vegas, so I don’t see why that should be an issue here.
Anyway, Wendy did some research and we boarded the plane which was delayed an hour and a half, so we arrived at McCarran Airport sometime after midnight. The place where we had booked a car was grossly understaffed to handle the 60 or so people in line, and sometime around 2:30am we headed off with not an economy car, but a free upgrade to a minivan and the wrong directions from the helpful car rental counterperson. We arrived in the lobby of the Hacienda hotel CASINO around an hour later. A few hours after that, with light piercing the crack between the window curtains, and the drone of a housekeeping vacuum cleaner whirring overhead, we headed out and dropped down the 6 floors to the lobby and were greeted by a wall of cigarette smoke from the casino and the cheery call of cocktails? Cocktails? from a passing waitress. We were actually thinking more of a solid breakfast and a dip in a pool, so we headed into nearby Boulder City and a diner jammed with Harley-Davidson riders in town for a big biker fest. As we began to gain our bearings, we were entertained by the regalia of the riders- lots of leather and bandanas- the men with names on the back like Dry Ice and Enrico. The attached women were in similar garb, but with the words "Property of" and the guys’ names afterward emblazoned across their backs. Stepping gingerly around lots of chrome and more leather, we left the diner with stomachs quite full and headed off to the contestant packet pick up of the now defunct race.
At this point we had found a couple good maps of the Las Vegas area, so navigation became a little easier. We had also scoped the restaurants in Boulder City, and headed to a brew pub after a fairly somber and subdued visit with the race organizers. While there at the pub, a short film from the thirties played on the flatscreen in the corner about the building of the Boulder Dam, which first took its name from the nearby town we were dining in, and then the not so nearby president Herbert Hoover. With the "partial" shutdown of the government still not clearly defined, we weren’t certain if the dam observation area was open or closed, but with the light of the day waning we headed that way, and after being inspected by a number of serious looking troops in flack vests and fatigues we were told to have a nice day and waved through to the dam site. What we quickly came to was an area of contrasts- the massive curve of the dam set between the course roughness of the rock that formed the walls of the gorge where the dam sat and nestled, while a sweeping new arch of concrete spanned the airspace overhead connecting the gorge tops, making travel to the dam only a tourist necessity instead of the sole means of crossing this gap. As the red shift of the setting sun warmed the light on the scene, the relative calm did little to evoke a sense and feeling of the power coming from the turbines down below.
The next day Wendy noticed in some of the hotel brochures that the amazing pictures of striated red rock formations were from a state, not federal, park called the Valley of Fire. It was a bit of a drive, and even though it was a ways out of the way, there was quite a line up to get in. It seemed that everyone who had been turned away at the federal lands were turning to the state recreation areas for sightseeing and entertainment, and as we soon found out, for a wedding as well. For me the highlight of this excursion, besides the incredible orange red glow again from the surrounding rocks after sunset, were the walls of petroglyphs all over the place. It was amazing to see messages from long ago etched into red and brown rockface, done in both recognizable and indecipherable iconography. It was also disturbing to see fools’ names from the very recent past carelessly carved around and over these ancient messages. I am also just now realizing that this particular message is getting too long for the space, so I will select an image to substitute for the next 1000 words and call that good for now.