Viva – October 2012

Vegas - Welcome


Let’s do the time warp.

I flew to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada for an interdisciplinary studies conference in early October, hosted by the International Organization of Social Sciences and Behavioral Research, which really rolls off the tongue. On an education-themed panel, I was to present a truncated version of a paper I’d written. Other presenters included researchers speaking to issues of racism in predominately white Southern universities, the lack of social intersection in South Korean and white populations of rural Georgia, anti-bullying tactics, and HIV prevention. I was to close out the panel with an attempt to explain why Anton Chekhov is funny.  My paper had nothing remotely to do with pedagogy. It was also the lone and lonely literary presentation in the entire conference. Somehow I felt out of place.

And, even as I shuffled through airport security lines with socks and waistband exposed, my crisp working draft was far too long for the twenty minutes I’d been allotted to speak. I frantically read and reread and rereread my composition mid-flights, waiting for connections, shuttling from terminals, as I swiped my pen mercilessly through sentences, words, syllables. The eighteen pages I’d begun with needed to be reduced to six, at most.

Fifteen whittled and crumpled pages remained as I disembarked at McCarran Airport, just outside of the (in)famous Strip. Standing in the seemingly interminable rental car line – which so moved the rather opinionated gentleman behind me to declare it “horseshit” every few minutes – I realized that, by God, I could cut out six pages entirely with the aid of a concise hand-out! This was cause for exclamation points!! And reason enough to unwind.

I drove to the hotel, gawking at the Sphinx, the Statue of Liberty, Camelot, the Eiffel Tower, the quickly approaching brake lights of the car ahead of me. Deftly avoiding vehicular catastrophe every few minutes, I parked at my hotel/casino all the way at the end of the Strip, the space-needlesque Stratosphere. I strolled through the casino floor, amid blinking lights and a barrage of sounds and smells, in search of the check-in desk, like a big shot who knew a lot. Sometime later I asked for directions and found the lobby.

Vegas - Me

Big shot.

After stowing my baggage, I set off on foot down Las Vegas Blvd. as the sun was just beginning to stop pestering the desert for the day. Crossing paths with circus clowns and showgirls, pirates and Elvii, a few depressing attempts at Disney characters, and a melting pot of tourists, I kept pace with a Venetian gondola floating down a river (indoors), and witnessed a fountain show in sync with Celine Dion “hits,” followed by a rather riveting rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” by a homeless man – a vast improvement upon the original, if I may say so. And no matter how much I tried to dodge shifty hands and sheepish eye contact, I somehow still managed to collect quite an impressive deck of pushcards advertising ladies of the night. Overwhelmed by this sensory oasis in the middle of the Mohave, the largest thought running through my mind was Jesus. The Strip is a lot longer than I’d anticipated.

So I walked into Caesar’s Palace, lost my way, and sat down for an $8 cheap beer. I ordered another oxymoron to go, found the exit, and returned to my paper just as daylight turned to neon.

I cut out another page, then, paper in tow, dined in a revolving restaurant 131 stories up. Out on the wrap-around balcony, I took in the spectacular vista and a few more liquid contradictions. Finding a table, I went back to work. When I could justify calling it quits, my heavy eyes beheld the squadron of empty bottles keeping watch over the seven pages before me.

Returning to my room, which was spinning quite a bit more than it had before, I considered making use of the companion cards acquired earlier. Not to solicit the services advertised (credit card bills are not the only thing that does not, in fact, stay in Vegas), but because, for $40, I could secure an audience for an hour. I could practice my talk thrice in that time.

I instead thought it best to keep working on my paper, so I turned on the table lamp, grabbed a pen, and promptly fell asleep in an armchair.

I woke up later (and stiffer) than I’d hoped, showered, and overdressed. That morning and afternoon were a blur of coffee, panel attending, coffee, editing, tense cigarettes, a free casino buffet, spending what I would have spent on lunch printing handouts at an obscene price, coffee, smiling and handshaking, taking notes, shot of whiskey, presenting my paper, release cigarettes, shot of whiskey. Before I knew it, I had given my talk. In the time allotted. And it actually seemed to have gone well. I celebrated by lesson planning for the class I teach and smoking in the bathtub (which was allowed, though maybe not advised).

Later, I ended up on the Old Strip, Fremont Street, aka “Glitter Gulch,” which is sheltered overhead by a video screen stretching several city blocks of a pedestrian road, lined by souvenir shops and more modest casinos than the boulevard. Every hour on the hour, commercials lose out to a ten-minute animated show done for the benefit of the droves of wide-eyed wonderers, like myself, wandering about.  Upon recommendation, I paid and strapped into a zipline harness high above the street and the crowds, and just before I launched off into my celebratory glide, the Halloween show started on the screen.  The moment I left the platform, computerized cartoons of smiley skeletons and jack-o-lanterns began crooning Rocky Horror ‘s “Time Warp,” jumping to the left and sliding to the right as I pelvic thrusted thirty-miles-an-hour into the night air.

To balance the start of my day, the rest of the evening, spent conquering the remainder of the Strip, is equally blurry. That stays in Vegas.

Vegas - Old Strip

Don’t remember taking this picture. 

The next afternoon, before my departure, I again stood outside of Caesar’s Palace, below a towering plastic replica of the remnants of a Roman aqueduct, and reflected with an absurd feeling of momentousness. I came; I saw; I conferenced. And if I could time warp, I’d definitely do it again.

Vegas - Drive Carefully



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