I could see a strip of brilliant orange and pink sunrise through the concrete supports of the airport parking garage. The Lyft driver pulled up in a white chevy Impala. “I drove a limo in Vegas for 18 years. I’ve met celebrities…” he trailed off. Pause. “Do you want to hear about them?” Coffee is the only thing I want to hear about, but sure, let’s hear the claim to fame. He pulled out a picture of him and Stevie Wonder. I almost feel bad for not caring about the celebrities, but Stevie Wonder is pretty cool.
Dozens (hundreds?) of people in matching black pants and vests welcome and point and shepherd us through the vast acreage of hotel that houses this conference of over 12,000 people. More than the entire population of Grand County, Utah (home of mountain biking mecca, Moab). Here, the only mountain bike I see is a stock photo of a racer in a graphic treatment that confuses me. “Roads? We don’t need no stinkin’ roads,” is a possible theme, but the kitted out hard tail racer guy is hardly the image I would choose for rebellion. Anyway, I know a lot about mountain biking and a medium amount about marketing, and in the end it’s cool that some designer thinks mountain biking represents freedom, even if they didn’t get it right.
I have ridden bikes near Las Vegas, at Bootleg Canyon, an awesome area of semi-urban trails that feel like a gift for locals. I’ve rock climbed and hiked in Red Rocks. Both places that are so close and so unobtainable from my perch in the air conditioned co-working space (that is a just a glass box built inside a giant convention center lobby. There are possibly real ferns pushing against the glass. I think real, since some look dead.).
In Las Vegas, great pains are taken to ensure that your stay is fun! Fine! Easy! Inside simulates “outside,” with chlorinated waterfalls and sweeping ceilings painted with clouds. Paths consistently funnel visitors into shops, restaurants, bars and, of course, casinos. Vigilance is required to find an exit. As I walk each day between the conference center and the hotel a half mile away, decidedly off the “strip,” I realize I am behind the scenes of an elaborate, super-sized, theme park.
Stained and sticky sidewalks are littered with glass from shattered beer bottles, a surprising number of rotting banana peels, abandoned leftover containers, French fry cartons, plastic bottles, bags, cigarette butts, micro-trash of all colors, materials and shapes. The walk smells of deeply stewed garbage and exhaust. The only people I’ve seen on that sidewalk look like casino workers, slightly surprised to see me.
We all know that Las Vegas is a heavily constructed world, using more than its fair share of water, electricity… and we all say it is okay, because it’s Vegas! If you don’t get in the spirit you will go crazy. The experience is completely mediated and controlled. The only “chance” involved is whether you might win or not in the casino, and even that, I guarantee, is heavily analyzed, algorithm-ized, and psychologized. The only non-human life I have seen is a German shepherd leashed to a security guard. Not many think that life in Vegas is normal, but many think it is fun. And even more feel like it is inevitable for any number of reasons. Who am I to judge?
But I am at a point in my life where the knowledge weighs heavily that each minute I spend in avoidably crappy situations (even when I use that time to practice focusing on the positive) is a minute I will never have the opportunity to live again. Rather, how about avoiding the crap and going for a bike ride instead? Or a hike in the mountains with the dogs? Let’s go look at the real sky, the real clouds, maybe have a chance encounter with a hawk or a fox. I want to grab my family and head to the sparsely inhabited hills, look at stars and listen to the wind.
On my final walk from hotel to conference I finally saw real, living birds! A small group of chirping grackles roaming around a parking lot. One of them picked at a fried chicken slider, the others stretched their necks and looked up. “Nice clouds this morning, grackles.” Against a particularly lovely blue sky. Almost looks like someone painted it.