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 are so close and so unobtainable from my perch in the air-conditioned co-working space (that is 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.