I have always found our desert city to be beautiful. At least as far back as I can remember recognizing and appreciating such a thing as “beauty”.
Almost every Sunday, growing up, my Dad would be driving my brother and I back to our Mother’s house. There were two common routes to choose from. Eastbound, straight down Washington Avenue from Michael Way to Pecos, or “the expressway”, 95 South from Decatur Boulevard to Eastern Avenue.
Where the freeway rounds the Meadows MalI and peaks at Valley View, I would, and still do, admire the downtown hotels juxtaposed to Frenchmans mountain. The setting sun behind us illuminating the buildings, everything just looks so crisp. I just loved it. Not just that sight but the entire valley for that matter. I love that you can see all the way across the valley on a clear day. There are incredible vantage points for these scenic views hidden all over the city.
As a teenager in this town, working construction, building the suburban neighborhoods which now surround us, I would live for the days where I would be working high on a hill with a commanding view of the city. From Paradise Hills to Horizon Ridge to Sun City and beyond. It does not get much better than looking over Las Vegas the morning after a nice rain storm.
I did not actually see the Las Vegas that others complain about until I was 26, working with a crew of L.A. and New York people for six weeks downtown. I just did not see it. I can see the sunshine and feel the crisp, dry air. I see the lawns of green grass and innumerable species of trees. My co-workers see smoke and smokers and morbidly obese people on “Rascal” scooters. They see the dead stare in the faces of video slot players. They see a town void of charm. All of the sudden, I can see them see me and I am the desert equivalent to a country bumpkin who don’t know no nothing about the cultured life in the big city. I do what I can to share the beauty that I believe my town offers to those who are ignorant of our ways. Nothing makes a dent.
This was quite a large pill to swallow.
Later that year, I began to do some travelling by myself. I drove up Nevada, over into California through Lassen National Forest, past Mount Shasta and into Oregon. My first visit to Oregon was a little overwhelming. Mostly because I did not have any person to really share it with. The intense greens, the flowing water, the air, the trees- each experience triggering the memory of a different person that I wished that I could share it with.
I knew several Oregon folks who lived in Las Vegas as well as many Las Vegans who transplanted to Oregon. What a marvelous coincidence or perhaps pattern, I thought to myself. Kids from the desert crave mountains and rain, while Northwesterners seriously dig the sunshine and arid climate.
After visiting Bend, Oregon in a vain attempt to find some long lost friends, I headed West and made it the coast just in time for sunset. The next morning I proceeded South down the coast, back into California through Eureka, past the mighty redwoods, into some wine country and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh my lord, cruising through San Francisco with my windows down on a Summer night with that intoxicating bay breeze cascading through my nostrils- wow. I wish I could afford to stay, but alas, my budget is being devoured by gasoline and I need to make it as far as possible every day.
I post up with my cousins in Morgan Hill and take a day off from travelling. My cousin Pam’s tuna casserole is so unbelievably good. I can’t believe how hungry I actually am. But it’s true, you spend all day driving, not really burning any calories, it’s easy to go without eating. I must have been pretty famished because this tuna casserole is like the best thing I have ever tasted- and we both know that cannot possibly be true.
This is Steinbeck country. Driving through these dusty yellow molehills reminds me of the vivid descriptions put forth in the book East of Eden (and other works from John Steinbeck). It’s really not very pretty. At least in the Summer during yet another famous California drought. Come Spring, if the winter is any good, these hills will green up and burst with wildflowers, but today it is a depressing, dusty, dry earth- the kind that our ancestors moved away from.
I know this path, I have been passenger on this journey more times than I can remember. Just 8 or so little hours and I will back in my humble desert.
It seems that the farther South you travel in California, the scarier the drivers become. By the time I reach Baker, it feels like an all out race for your life. Judging by the speed and intensity of the motorists, I believe the state just might be really falling into the ocean. Cars are passing each other on the shoulder, even.
These people are nuts.
I, on the other hand, am cautious and I allow the speed demons to race ahead. Again, it is just about sunset and the sky is painting the desert in pinks, purples and oranges. This has always been the impossible hour. You are getting so close to Las Vegas, but can’t yet see it. This is the perfect hour to arrive. The sun is almost completely out of sight, yet a solitary beam is splitting the sky and reflecting against the mirrored Strip hotels. The sky is a dimming blue and a plethora of twinkling lights are turning on. This is the moment that my city comes into view and it is positively gorgeous.
Hold on. Wait a minute.
When I left here last week that brand new hotel was called South Coast.
Wow. That is Las Vegas for you.