Twilight over Tioga Lake

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Future's All Right

Where around here can you hug an airplane, dance to sweet beats, get chased by a robot, and play on a giant Light Brite? What type of event would appeal to retired Air Force pilots, Deadheads, club kids, science students, and my dad? That would be Yuri's night, which happened this past April 12th.

My room mate told me about Yuri's night about a month ago. We often fill each other in about upcoming shows. He said, "There's this thing coming up called Yurni or Yuri's night or something like that. It's put on by NASA and is at their field down in Mountain View. There will be space and science stuff, but also art and music."

I was intrigued. I didn't even know NASA had something here. "What music?" I asked.
"Phil Lesh from the Dead, Particle, Amon Tobin, a bunch of electronic stuff..."
"Whoa...Amon Tobin! Dude, I've seen him like four times! Love him!"

Turns out another electronic act I really like, Tycho, would be there too. I was sold, and bought my ticket shortly. Pictures from last year showed large and complex art installations. There would be all sorts of talks, exhibits, and demonstrations about space stuff. While I wouldn't call myself a science geek, I do love learning and thinking about space.

I told various friends about this. They love Amon as well, and usually don't miss a festival. Burning Man, Coachella, Love Parade, Bluegrass, High Sierra, Gay Pride--someone I know is always at one of these.

But for this eclectic event? No one! Various excuses/reasons unfolded, and I found myself going alone. I was fine with this, and actually looked forward to the solo adventure. However, I am carless and getting to Mountain View (about 45 minutes south of SF on the peninsula) sans car is not easy. I turned to trusty Craigslist to see if anyone was offering rides, and sure enough some dude named Chris was. I prayed he wasn't a pyschotic killer and accepted.

As I am still alive to write this, he obviously was not. And I was not the only one in his aging Volvo. Our carpool perfectly demonstrated on a small scale the population of Yuri's night.

Chris was in his later 30's, ponytailed and skirt wearing. He was a Burning Man goer grown up, but not quite ready to let it all go. We picked up Ariana next. Not to typecast people (it really is hard not to sometimes), but she was one of those "Yeah, man!" hippie chicks. She had flowy, sparkly clothes on and carried juggling sticks. Next was Daisuke, a young man from Japan studying astral physics at Berkeley. Finally Andre joined us, who was quite a character. He did something in the courts helping people get rid of driving tickets, and also worked security at a lot of shows. Andre had several missing teeth, had met Jerry Garcia back in the day, knew a lot about many things and talked about all of them non-stop. But seemed like a truly nice person. Finding all this entertaining in itself, I had pretty high expectations for the event.

At this point you're probably wondering Who or what the hell is Yuri, and why does he have a night? On April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin was a Russian man who was the very first person into space. Twenty years later the first Yuri's Night happened, and now happens in 30 countries. Yuri's Night is about celebrating achievements in space exploration, and with some art and music thrown in.

Now I'm not super crazy about everything NASA does, and don't think we should spend trillions of dollars on space when we could use the money here and now on much more pressing issues. (Though I would rather spend money on space than invading countries.) But you what? Space really is cool! It is so big--or maybe infinite--we can't begin to imagine it. I love thinking about the possibility of worm holes, anti-matter, the space time continuum and all that. So maybe I watched Star Trek growing up. We are floating in space, no matter how you look at it, and there is no harm in learning a little more about what it all is. Or means.

Yuri's Night Bay Area went from 2pm to 2am. Besides Chris and myself, everyone in the car was volunteering so they had to be there around 1. And Chris said he wanted to stay until 2. And it was about 85 degrees. I am not the partier I used to be, and hoped I could last.

Entering into Moffett's field was quite surreal. Neutral colored buildings, menacing barbed wire, and bizarre domes and structures line the landscape. It is all dominated by this monstrous dirigible hangar. “Hangar One,” as it is called, housed a zeppelin during WW II. I remember seeing that thing when I was working on the peninsula for a while, and starting having dreams about finding hot air balloons and other flying devices inside it. Chris us that it was converted into offices for a while. But all the people breathing caused condensation to form on the ceiling, and it started raining inside! Sadly that hangar was off limits at the festival, and my dreams were not to come true this time.

My start to Yuri's was a bit dubious. The others were allowed in since they were volunteers, but I had to wait an hour under the solar broiler. I had smartly dressed for warm weather, but not so smartly lacked water. It is not advisable to begin a 12+ hour festival adventure dehydrated. I just sat and watched last minute preparations and contemplated life (one of my favorite activities.)

When I was let in and had watered myself, I took a look at this unusual set up. It was pretty random. A big hangar with a smaller one attached to it stood at one end. A decent sized plane was at the other. The main stage was across the field (it's called a field, but it was really concrete.) Banners with famous space people formed two lines in the center. The rest of the area was dotted with smaller planes, cars, robots, and bizarre art stuff. Fascinating.

Needing to get away from the sun, I first headed to the big hangar. The first thing I noticed there was an actual airplane in there--and the "Chill Lounge," complete with cushions, was under it! Sweet.

A robot/space/geeky science loving person would cry from happiness in this place. And that wasn't even all there was. I did some silk screen art that had something to do with geothermal activity (I'm sure it made sense if I bothered to read the panels.) I played with a giant Lite Brite that was part of an inventor's table. There were intricate Star Wars Lego creations, and very cute robots that worked. There was a lot of information pertaining to technology that can benefit the earth, like LED lighting and using algae as a food source. Of course there was plenty of opportunities to learn about how things happen in space and new space exploration technology. Some were a little on the fringe, like an invention that converts urine into sports drinks for astronauts. Thank goodness there were no samples.

After an easy hour of that, I found myself with a handful of stickers, a NASA pencil, a robot t-shirt I suckered myself into buying, and a bit of sensory overload. I did NOT have a glow in the dark necklace, though I wasn't sure if I could hold out all night without one. I was surprised at how fun and accessible everything was. Already I knew my friends--even non-science people--were missing out.

At 3:30, I headed over to the Annex, the smaller hangar where the electronic music was playing. Tycho, also known as Scott Hansen, also known as my boyfriend, would be on shortly. Scott Hansen is one talented guy. He does incredible prints and t-shirts in this 60's print type style, and also has a couple of electronic music albums out. Scott happens to be very cute, and my friend and I sort of stalked him one night. We went to one of his shows and then approached him afterwards. I purposefully wore a Boards of Canada (music that is similar to his) t-shirt so he would know I'm into that type of music. And he noticed! So no, Scott Hansen really isn't my boyfriend, though he will be someday.

The Annex was almost empty, so I could get pretty close without seeming like I was truly stalking him. We were both wearing the same t-shirt--one of his! If that isn't fate telling us we should be together, I don't know what is. Anyway, his music--how to describe it but as simple happiness? It is somehow both mellow and cheerful, evocative of childhood memories. Tycho mainly uses a computer to create his music, and a friend I ran into said, "This type of music isn't really that much better live." I agreed that it wasn't hugely different. Still, I responded, "Yeah, but when do you get to hear this kind of music in an airplane hangar?"

Even early on during Yuri's Night, the people watching was prime. Typical rave dancers and hippie twirlers moved in and out of a marshmallow scented fog. Stilt walkers in spacey costumes joined them. The vibe was very chill, everyone united in this unusual experience. Colored lights began swirling over the ceiling, and a freaky strobe light landed on me. The Annex would be sweet at night.

Since there was no music or acts I needed to see for the next hour, I walked around checking out the outdoor installations and exhibits. There were three very sleek and sexy cars that happened to be hybrids or electric. The theme of this Yuri's Night was "Radical Technology for a Sustainable Future." It is certainly encouraging to see an enormous and influential corporation such as NASA thinking about making the future better.

There was no shortage of robots at this event, and at first my favorites were these cool spheres of metal that you controlled with a remote. That is until one of them chased me and came close to slicing my legs with its giant cheese grater-like exterior. There was also a menacing fire breathing monster robot, that you wisely could not get close to. A giant revolving eye with three legs greeting everyone at the entrance. I wondered if it was secretly taking everybody's picture.

My favorite installation was very un-tech and un-futuristic. It resembled a pagoda, and was made of all recycled materials. This included wood, glass panels, bottle caps, aluminum cans, and brass cookware. On each side there was a Chinese Dragon type face. It was big enough to go inside, and had a very peaceful feel to it. I visited it several times, enjoying how it changed with the light.

Besides music, there were several interesting performances. These including Miguel Angelo, two guys doing crazy strong-man type stunts. There was also a dance troupe called Capacitor that used a spinning globe and humans dangling from it, inside of it, or on top of it. The weirdest act was this group called Bad Uncle Sista, who go under that dangerously nebulous category of "performance art." I should have known to steer clear. They came out on stage wearing incredible costumes of varied materials and colors, and strange props like a decapitated doll or a telephone attached to someone's head. There was no speaking, just weird slow-mo movements. I think there may have been a plot, but it was hard to tell. It was kind of like stumbling into a funeral on a Doctor Who episode, and then having a nightmare about it. What entertained me more was looking at the faces of drugged up people trying to make sense of it. I held back laughter.

The sun started to disappear behind the hangar, bringing with it more people and more of them on drugs. Personally I don't know how people could have the balls to do drugs on fed property with so many cops around. I was talking to someone about that, and got nervous just saying "ecstasy." Still, the vibe was very chill and friendly, and people kept smiling at me. I suspect it that had something to do with the Beaker from the Muppets t-shirt I was wearing.

Around 6, there was the Vintage Aircraft show. I'm not too into this type of thing, but was persuaded by all the people looking up to join. It was terrifying. I don't even like to fly in airplanes, and didn't really like seeing tiny, old (but cool looking) planes do tailspins towards the ground and pull up and the last second. But when I got a little closer and heard Van Halen's "Right Now" being played along with it, I felt much better. How can you not get into the spirit with that?

I headed back into the Annex around 8, and now it was the real deal. Full on lasers slicing the air, disco ball overhead, lights playing across the people and ceiling, hula hoopers, stilt dancers, more marshmallow smelling fog, and fantastic DJ Tipper pounding away--it was sensorial candy. Now I admitted being a little jealous of people on drugs. But dancing along side of them, I had a great time.

The only problem was I was getting hungry. Some people can skip meals with little impact on their physical and emotional being. Not me. I'll turn into a major crankyness. Unfortunately the lines for food were "out of this world." (Ha ha--yes, that was terrible.) I sucked it up, got in line, and luckily could still hear Tipper. It took about 40 minutes. Oh well, no festival is perfect. There were never any lines for the bathrooms, at least.

Now that is was completely dark, I couldn't resist any longer--I needed a glow in the dark necklace. Sadly, I went too late and they only had silly glow sticks. I made the best of it and put two in my pigtails. I'm sure I looked ridiculous. But when I saw a guy dressed as Data from Star Trek and a bunch of guys with balloon animal hats, I couldn't really care.

By the way, I was having such a good time on my own. In some ways, it is almost preferable to come to these things by oneself. There was no worry of losing people, missing things you wanted to see, trying to coordinate bathroom runs. Sure, it would have been nice to have my good friends here. And I ran into several friends of friends and former room mates and coworkers. But I wasn't just fine by myself--I was actually enjoying it! There is something to be said for solo adventures.

Finally it was time for what I had been waiting for--Amon Tobin. It was 10:30 at this point. I was covered in a cakey mixture of sweat and sunscreen, and my legs were giving out. But nothing could keep me from dancing to this guy. Who is Amon Tobin? Imagine if Phillip Glass decided to become a dj. Amon's music is brilliant and beautiful instrumentals laced with hip hop and breaks. There was no sign of weariness in the crowd as he came on. I couldn't stop smiling, and neither could anyone around me. Straddling my backpack and smashed in with people reeking of chemicals, I danced non-stop for a perfect hour.

When Amon finished, I was feeling pretty finished as well. But Chris said he wanted to stay until 2! I toddled over to the Chill Lounge/plane, but saw the people curled up on cushions and realized most of them would be possessed by amphetamines. As I didn't feel like being groped by strangers, I avoided it. I wandered around taking in the vastness of the hangar, when thank god, Chris called and said he was ready to go.

My fellow Yuri commuters and I walked out under the ghostly mountain of the dirigible hangar, rehashing our very different but all positive takes on our times. I came away feeling good from the fun and unusual experience, but I was also feeling pretty good about the world. We cannot argue that technology has done much harm to people and the world--and yet there is no going back. Technology is not going to go away, but it can be made better. And even beneficial. Yuri's night presented a sort of vision of the future--one where cars and even spaceships can run on materials other than oil, one where unusual organic compounds (algae and urine) can be made consumable, and one where art and music is still highly valued. While not everything might be fixable, anything is possible.

I'll definitely visit Yuri's Night again. I'm bringing all my friends. And maybe even my dad.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

In Sleaze I Trust

By "sleaze" I am referring to a favorite place of mine, Las Vegas. And why I am thinking about Vegas, you wonder? Because I'm about to travel somewhere similar. No, not Reno. Not a casino in the middle of California. This place doesn't even have slot machines.

The place I speak of is Disney World.

Um, and how is the eponymous magical wonderland like Vegas?

Ok, so Disney World isn't sleazy in the way most people's use of the word. But there are many similarities. And you'll have to read the following essay to find out why! That's kind of sleazy of me, isn't it?

Before we get to that, I need to mention my current literary idol, David Foster Wallace. He has a brilliant book of essays called A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. One is about a Carnival ship cruise he took and another concerns the Illinois state fair. Both, while events that have been enjoyed by millions by now, were things he found quite dreadful. But he manages to discover many facets of humanity and immense amounts of humor while experiencing them. Wallace gives them as much credit as a trip to an exotic foreign country. He sees culture there. And writes about it most ingeniously.

That is what I am trying for in some of my work. I used to be not too crazy about Vegas or Disney World. I was jaded, noticed only the obnoxious and loathsome things, and whined a lot. Now I try to see things as cultural expeditions. There is so much richness in these places, as frightening as they may be.

So I am most definitely looking forward to my trip to DW and what I'll find. Enjoy the essay about Vegas--and go embrace the sleaze that's out there.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Vegas

“Come to the Jihad in Vegas!”
I laughed at the email subject line. A Jihad, a holy war, happening in the most unholy of places on earth.
My good friend Liz sent me the email, and I inquired as to the meaning. She works for a television production company.
“Our show is wrapping up, and my coworker Max has a tradition of celebrating in Vegas. It’s a really fun bunch of people. It should be awesome.”
“And I’m invited to this?” I asked skeptically.
“Yeah, anyone can come!”
“Well, it’ll probably be expensive…” I am perpetually, pathetically broke.
“A bunch of us will stay in a room, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.”
When I heard Liz got a suite at the Venetian for a decent price, and flights on Frontier were cheap, I was in.
Now I had been to Vegas twice before. I had fun enough times, but never was super ecstatic about going. This time, however, I felt I needed this more than ever. I had just finished my year teaching at a preschool. I love my job, but it is exhausting in every way possible. The end of the year is always punctuated by regressing children and tearful parents, and I had had enough of emotion. I needed a release--a party, a good one.
“I good use a good house party right now,” I told Liz a short time ago.
“Um, people our age don’t have house parties anymore,” she reminded me.
Most of our friends are 30 now. We are secure in our jobs, finally saving money, looking into buying houses. Most people are paired off or will be soon. In general, everyone is predictably more settled. More adult.
I have found myself reacting to all this nonsense. While I too am thinking about my future in adult terms, I also want to party more, have one night stands, just be generally juvenile. I attribute part of this backlash to the need to make up for lost time. I was a goody goody in high school--involved in wholesome activities that did not involve drugs, alcohol, or sex. But that was fine. It was college where I should have busted out but remained voluntarily stuck in a sheltered space . Why? I was afraid, I guess. Afraid of losing control, of something bad happening, I don’t know. Consequently, I went a little nuts when I moved out to San Francisco. Now that I’m 30 should I stop such shenanigans? Nah. And Vegas would be the perfect place to embrace such regression.

My first trip to Las Vegas was against my will. It was the fall of ‘99, when I was out of college but not yet out of paranoid naivetĂ©. Vegas was one of the last stops on a cross country trip with two friends. Until this point, the trip was almost all national parks and camping. To be affronted with the clanging noise, florid lights, and humanity at their lowest I found overwhelming and depressing. We didn’t even stay at a casino, but at the Aztec Inn. Never heard of it? Don’t bother to investigate. We did some gambling and I had enough fun, but was way too glad to leave. The second trip was in 2002 with some girl friends. I had loosened up considerably and enjoyed myself more. We did more gambling, went to some bars and clubs, stayed at the Tropicana. While it was fun, it didn’t change my life. This trip, happening well into adulthood, would prove to have the most debauchery and also be the most fun.

The room would include my good friends Liz and Sally, and two of Liz’s coworkers, Angela and Nina. Liz’s sister Leslie would be sharing the room also, but we wouldn’t see much of her as she was there for her high school reunion.
“It is the best group of girls EVER!” Liz told me a few days before. “Everyone is fun and hilarious, and there will be no drama.” Thank God. Many trips even with good friends contain small portions of drama. It is only natural. To have a weekend away with no drama at all is my ultimate dream.
On Friday evening, Liz, Nina, and I drove to the airport and met Angela there. Angela was on the road to drunk at a bar chatting up a very all-American dude. Nina stayed with her while Liz and I went to check our flight status. We looked at each other and laughed. “Wow,” I commented. “This is a great start to things.”
“Yeah, this is going to be good,” said Liz smiling.
Even the flight foreshadowed upcoming frivolity. I’ve been on flights before where people cheered when we landed. That happened this time, but everyone also cheered before we even took off! The flight crew joked along with us, telling us to “hurry and finish your alcoholic beverages and practice blackjack games before landing.”
We met up with Sally and got into the inevitable cab line. It was a lovely 85 degrees, and this was at 10 o’clock at night! Sweat ran out of my flip flops. I am not a hot weather person, and wondered how I could survive the day. Really, this was not so bad to have as your worst worry.
Not even a minute had passed and Angela had made friends with two shaggy guys in line. I looked at Liz and asked if she was always like this. “Yes,” Liz replied. “Angela excels at making friends everywhere.”
“Well, then she has way more balls than I do and she is my hero,” I remarked. I made a mental note to try to have balls like that.
Finally we got into a cab and were on our way to Venetian. “Who were your friends?” I inquired Angela.
“Oh, that was Chad and Rab.”
“Their names are not Chad and Rab.”
“Oh yes they are!” I am one to be amused by the little things, and if this is how the trip has begun, I could only imagine how great it was going to get.

In the cab, I surveyed the now familiar scene of gargantuan casinos and probing lights. But this time instead of seeming garish and overwhelming, it was exciting and even welcoming. Why did I find this place so loathsome before? This place was created as an escape; you are supposed to be happy here! I guess if I wasn’t comfortable being crazy in my normal environment, I couldn’t possibly be here. Thankfully I have “grown up” in regards to partying.
Suddenly I realized Las Vegas is actually very similar to another place which I am very familiar with: Disney World. These are two places made specifically to escape reality. They are fantasy worlds, with many attractions created to keep you in that fantastical realm. Obviously there is a bit of a crowd difference--but really, the concept of both is nearly the same.

We arrived and walked into the air conditioned opulence of the Venetian. The Venetian is covered from floor to ceiling in mock Renaissance paintings complete with cherubs and sandaled people holding wine jugs. They are pretty amateur in terms of talent, but they do add a certain class. The people who worked there are incredibly nice and helpful. “This is just like Disney World!” I remarked. “I don’t remember people being this nice in Vegas.”
“I think this is what happens when you pay more,” Sally said. Ah, that made sense. This was a considerable step up from the Aztec Inn and the Tropicana. We saw one of the pools, lit in a twilit glow. It was integrated into a garden and surrounded by fountains. Not quite as nice as the one at Hearst Castle, but it would do.
Our suite was indeed that--sweeeet!! “Wa wa wee wa!” I channeled Borat as we surveyed our temporary domain that included two Tvs and a sunken living room. Everyone groaned at me. “What, someone had to say it!” We dumped our stuff in there and took off to meet the Jihad gang at Harrah’s.
They were at a bar right inside the Casino, and had been drinking since 10 in the morning. Predictably, they were quite amiable. I inquired of Max, the organizer of the Jihad, how he chose that name.
“A Jihad is a holy war. That is basically what we are doing: waging war through alcohol and blowing lots of money. And in the most holiest of places!”
“Do you tell airport security that is what you were doing?”
Max laughed. “Yeah, you tell them that and then--” He mimed being patted down.
“Sometimes being patted down isn’t such a bad thing,” I said. He smiled and winked.
Right after this conversation, an obviously intoxicated young man approached us. He grabbed Liz’s hand and slurringly said, “Come with me; I’m honest!” She politely declined while the rest of us laughed into our drinks.
When he walked away, Nina asked, “Liz, why did you say that? He was honest!”
“Riiiight….” responded Liz.
“Holy shit!” Angela shouted, pointing. About 10 feet away from us, that guy was in a brawl with another dude! Angela decided this would be a good thing to document and whipped out her camera. (They were all part of a television company, after all. And since we had just witnessed this guy in action, it was pretty funny.) Paranoid as ever, I started to have a bad feeling about the camera.
“Do you think she should be taking pictures?” I murmured.
“Oh, it’s fine,” Sally replied. “Now we can always remember Liz’s ’honest’ boyfriend!”
This dude actually ended up being pinned down by security and dragged out. We all looked at each other spitting out our drinks in laughter. Suddenly I had a brilliant thought.
“Liz! If you had just gone with this guy, this wouldn’t have happened!”
“Yeah,” Nina laughed. “Maybe the guy he picked a fight with was about to hit on you!”
“It’s all your fault, Liz!” one of the Jihad group yelled.
This was of course all good natured, and Liz just shook her head and laughed. But our good times were not to last. My paranoia about the camera was not unfounded: a security guy walked over to us and asked Angela to leave for taking pictures.
“Oh that is bullshit!” Angela replied adamantly.
“I thought this might happen,” I whispered to Sally.
We all decided to leave, loudly proclaiming that Harrah’s is a ghetto casino that sucks balls. Things were going to break up anyway--the Jihads were exhausted as they had been drinking for twelve hours straight, and decided to retire. We deliberated on what to do next.
“What about going to dive bars?” I asked. Liz and I had talked about trying to do some things off the strip.
“Well, last year the Jihad went to Hogs and Heifers. It is the bar that the movie Coyote Ugly is based on.”
“Yeah, the girls yell at you on megaphones and everything!” Nina said.
“How does that sound?” Liz asked me.
I smiled. “Perfect.”
We decided to give it a try. Sally decided to stay back and do some gambling.

The four remaining ladies hopped in a cab and headed downtown. Downtown Vegas is off the strip. I imagine people who actually live in Vegas go downtown, as do the cool kids like us wanting to do something “different.”
Downtown has a very different feel to it than the rest of Vegas. The casinos are very old school style, with animated neon signs rather than dancing fountains. The hotels are almost normal size. It is much mellower, almost like Reno--but not as sad.
Hogs and Heifers turned out to be one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been in, period. Big, hairy bouncers with a defined “don’t fuck with us” look bordered the door. But they welcomed us with a “Hi ladies, come on in!” The first thing I noticed was a sign that said “No Whining. No ties. No douchebags.” My friends have decided lately that “douchebag” was the insult of the times, so I took it as a sign we were meant to be here.
The place was huge, dark, and the patrons stood along the walls. Some bearded daddies were playing pool, and Angela promptly joined them. Again, the cahones on this girl. The rest of us went up to the bar. Signed dollar bills wallpapered the ceiling. I’m sure some celebrity signatures were up there. Animal heads lined the walls, and the ones above the bar were draped with hundreds of bras. No shortage of interesting things to look at here.
The bar ladies were scantily clad, quite hot, and did indeed use megaphones. You did not mess around in there. Within a half hour of us arriving, a woman got escorted out for being too drunk and a guy for apparently being a douchebag. “Say goodbye to the asshole, everyone!” one of the bar ladies blasted through the megaphone. “Goodbye, asshole!” we all obeyed.
A decent looking guy started talking to me at the bar. It was loud in there, and I had to try to not yell, “What? WHAT!” constantly as I am sure I’m going deaf from all the concerts I‘ve attended. I think the dude asked what I liked best about America. Oooh, this guy’s not for me. I am not the flag sticker type, and currently I am not that crazy about the USA. “Uh, the food?” I tried. He wasn’t impressed, and shortly left. I had to remind myself I was not in the sheltered den of San Francisco anymore, where it is cool to be unpatriotic.
The stories held true, and in time the ladies jumped up on the bar and danced. And damn, they could actually dance! Afterwards I asked one of them how they do this body quivering thing. She was very friendly and gave a demonstration. I’ll never be able to do it, but I appreciated the lesson.
Angela checked in with us and said she was having a great time with the daddies. We decided to leave shortly afterwards, being it was almost 3 and we would have a big night tomorrow.
I learned something from Hogs and Heifers. There is a genuine, uncorrupted side of Vegas. Sure, this place is famous and had its schtick, yet it wasn’t gimmicky. It wasn’t showy or pretentious. You didn’t have to spend tons of money. The people there were down to earth, nice, and real. It was refreshing, and made me feel good about Vegas. About life in general.

We slept until the beautiful hour of 11 the next morning. There was only one item on the agenda for the day--pool.
Now I don’t care for the heat. That is why I am happy to live in San Francisco. Walking outside of the air-con incubator of the hotel was like walking into an oven made for cooking humans. It is the type of heat that sucks all the internal and external moisture out of you. I spent no time lying in the sun and jumped right into the wonderfully unheated pool. Sally spent her time sipping on the $15 pina coladas.
The crazy thing is this wasn’t even the main pool. Eventually we worked our way through the extraordinarily confusing hotel to find it. This was certainly more of a scene, with lots of well sculpted young adults and extravagant cabanas complete with flat screen Tvs and mist fans. Once again I jumped into the giant pool, noticing foam and sediment from drinks and body products gathering around the edges. I tried not to look.
The day was spent observing humanity in all its nearly naked glory from the pool.
Every 15 minutes I would leave to neurotically slather more lip sunscreen on and laugh at Liz who mummified herself with towels. The only thing I would have liked was a noodle or floaty for the pool.
Sally and I decided to return to the oasis of our rooms before we might succumb to sun-madness. We passed out for a couple hours, and awoke to find the rest of the ladies in there.
“Ugh,” Angela proclaimed as she got up. “What should we do for dinner? I saw a food court sign in the casinos.”
“Ooh, do they have Panda Express?” I asked. “I’ve been craving MSG-laden Chinese food lately.”
“Wow, classy,” said Nina.
“Yeah, not so much,” said Liz.
“There is a ‘nice’ food court also,” said Angela. “It has paninis and stuff.” We decided on that. Panda Express would have to wait.
We discussed the evenings activities over our decent and not terribly overpriced sandwiches. Sally, Liz, and I were going to go see Cirque du Soleil’s Ka at the MGM. Nina and Angela would meet up with the Jihad, and then we would all go to club Tao. This was the Venetian’s “Premier Nightclub” and supposedly one of the best in Vegas. Liz had arranged for us to be on the guest list. There were signs all over the Venetian that showed a serene Buddha and said “Club Tao: Always a Happy Ending.”
“Hee, hee, happy ending!” I chortled.
“If we get in for free, thanks to Liz, it will indeed be that,” said Nina.
“This is going to be the most amazing night ever!” I gleefully exclaimed. I felt like I was 21 again. If I had been a normal 21 year old.
“I think you may be right,” said Sally. Liz, Sally, and I wished the others fun and took off for the MGM.

I am doing my best to become a connoisseur of Cirque Du Soleil. I have seen two shows that nearly made my heart explode with joy. Ka would no doubt be especially fantastic, since it is in a permanent theater.
We walked into the cavernous theater to find the space above laced with intricate passageways and cages. Flames spewed from the enormous stage area (there was no actual stage visible yet.) “Oh my god, my stomach just dropped!” Sally gasped.
“I have goosebumps!” I exclaimed. Liz was mutely astonished. This was the type of thing that would have made me cry from excitement when I was a child. I did so when I saw all the World Champion Ice Skaters and went to my first IMAX show.
It turns out all three of us would come close to tears several times throughout the show. Ka was the most extraordinarily over the top production, yet it was perfect. The stage moved all over the place, including completely vertical. At one point it was like an enormous Plinko game, and the actors fell through pegs and dropped into the air. There was a very sweet and quiet moment where a boy and a man made shadow puppets with their hands projected onto a large screen. The animals they made had expressions, for God’s sake!
The trippiest scene for me was when the stage became a Day-Glo colored jungle, with weird tubes and pipes and ropes dangling from the ceiling. The actors swung on “vines” doing crazy acrobatics, and gigantic puppets of snakes and insects meandered up and down the trees. The whole experience was something like an innocent, happy acid trip. I’ve heard that some kids these days like to do hallucinogens at these shows. I think if I had done that, I either would have run out screaming or tried to join the joyful jungle.
Drugs were quite unnecessary.
We walked out of the theater very over-stimulated, dazed and high. I spoke first. “I…don’t even know what to say right now.”
“That was…wow,” commented Sally. Liz admitted to being close to tears three times. Although it was a totally different experience than Hogs and Heifers last night, it left me with a similar feeling--a positive one. You could go to Vegas and actually have uncorrupted fun. Granted, it would cost you--our tickets to Ka were $100. But it was $100 of pure pychedelic joy! The sole purpose of a Cirque show is to make you happy, to appreciate the phenomenal feats our fellow humans can accomplish. Everyone that goes to Vegas needs to see this, or something similar.
We met up with the other ladies and the Jihad at a bar at MGM. Figuring no one else could begin to understand what we had just experienced, we kept our explanations to “It was awesome! Just incredible.” Everyone was in a jolly mood, and I started to get jittery. I often do before a big night out. “It’s already midnight; shouldn’t we go soon?” I whispered in a growl to Liz.
“Yeah, we’ll go soon, whenever,” she replied. I sighed unhappily. Not wanting to annoy people, I decided to stay quiet.
“I think you need a shot,” Sally slyly said.
“Yeah, you’re right.” Just then Max slid me a frightenly green drink.
“Here. This will help you.”
“Uh, what is it?” I asked, peering at the concoction.
“An atomic watermelon!” It did help chill my nerves.
Finally, at 12:30 we decided it was time for the next stage of fun. Our short cab ride would be well-remembered, thanks to the zany driver.
“Hello…Mandela?” Angela greeted him.
“Yes, I am Mandela. But you call me Daddy Baby.”
“Daddy Baby? Wow,” Sally laughed.
“What, you not want Daddy Baby?”
“Um, we weren’t really looking for one, no,” said Angela.
“Maybe later,” said Sally.
He kept looking back and smiling at all of us, causing him to go through two red lights. Liz put on her seatbelt.
“Maybe you should watch the road there, Mandela,” Sally suggested.
“Oh Daddy Baby know where to go. Here, I have something for you.”
We all looked at each other in alarm as he reached into a box. I looked over at Nina sitting next to me. She was sleeping, and offered no comfort. What was he going to pull out? Drugs? Sex toys? Puppies?? Turns out it was just some sleazy flyers.
“Oh Mandela, that is pretty cheap of you,” Sally admonished. Thank God by that time we had arrived and exited rather quickly.
We swiftly and happily walked through the halls, blabbing about crazy Mandela and perhaps that is what happens to you when you live in Vegas too long. We stopped by the room for a brief adjustment, and then it was off to Tao.
I took note of the population of Vegas visitors as we walked through the casino. Nearly every woman, including those above 60, were dressed like hoochies. It could be frightening. But then again, why the hell not? They were enjoying themselves, no one was going to tell them what to do. It was part of the whole escape thing--no one would tell them how to dress; no one cared! As for the guys, there were way too many of them with tucked in button down shirts. Fine for some, but not my taste.
Of course there was a line outside Tao. We confidently walked up and Liz announced we were on the guestlist. We were put in a much shorter line. High fives and proclamations of “Sweeet!” ensued. The bizarre sight of two woman in tubs filled with rose petals greeted us as we walked in. One looked like she was enjoying her self, while the other looked miserable. “I think that woman is chained to the tub!” Angela whispered.
“But the other one is loving it! Maybe she’s getting a happy ending,” Nina responded. The rest of us cracked up.
Our guestlist induced cockiness was short lived. The chick at the desk said “$20 please!”
“No no, we’re on the guestlist,” Liz asserted.
“Oh, this isn’t the guestlist line. You have to go back out to that line,” she said, pointing to the longer line. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Then a series of confusing things happened. Some random dude walking in handed Sally and Nina cards and suddenly they got stamped by the security guy and were in. The rest of us looked at each other, wondering what the hell had happened. We tried pleading with the chick again and waving our hotel key cards, like that meant anything. No, we still had to pay and the security dude wouldn’t give us a stamp. We snuck in anyway. But then when we tried to go upstairs where the giant Buddha was, we were barred by another humorless bouncer.
Perplexed and annoyed, Angela, Liz, and I went back out to what we thought was the guest line. And the same thing happened again! Nina and Sally looked at us from inside with hopeful expressions. I meekly suggested just paying the $20. “Hell no, we’re not paying!” shouted Liz. Damn, Liz had grown some serious balls. We ended up saying “Screw it,” and just stayed downstairs.
“Actually, I don’t think there is a guestlist,” I shouted to Liz. “That’s just a scam to entice you to Tao, but then pay to get in!”
“Probably. Whatever, it’s fine. We’ll still have fun.” The serene Buddha would remain out of our reach. Vegas will try to get money from you somehow.
We didn’t let our initial disappointment rule our evening. Soon we started pounding Red Bull Vodkas, to get us silly drunk and keep us up. I gagged on the cough syrup-like concoction, but I knew it would help.
Now the scene here was one I would have condemned in San Francisco. Bad music, overpriced drinks, obnoxious people. But it was acceptable in Vegas--and we just played with it.
One game we enjoyed was enticing the men lined up at the bar to dance with us and then rejecting them. Most of them were from other countries, had slicked down hair and half unbuttoned shirts. We did like a couple guys, like wacky Justin. He had longer, shaggy hair and did a great Axel Rose impression. But when he figured out he wasn’t getting any of us in bed, he ditched us. I personally loved Joe, a cute little Philipino guy. He was really sweet and a great dancer--and had just moved to Las Vegas. I’ve heard people that move here either avoid the strip entirely or end up gambling addicts. I silently wished Joe well.
Then there was the newly turned 21 year old, who wanted us to come celebrate with him. We invited him to dance, and he promptly tried to molest each of us. “Hey, I’m just a squirrel looking for my nut,” he told Sally. We tried to help him by showing him one could dance and not grope. Any of us could have gotten lucky many times over that night, but all we wanted was to dance.
We did so for hours, screaming when the DJ played a Bon Jovi or Michael Jackson song. Nina was hilarious, as she never stayed in one place for more than 5 seconds. It was very confusing to guys who were trying to dance with her. Liz and I kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads at the joyful hilarity of it. She was right--this was the greatest group of girls. We were all on the same wavelength in terms of what we wanted from this trip. And we were all getting it.
Around 4:30 am, I was stupid drunk, tweaked from Red Bulls, and my legs were losing their bounce. Sally, Liz, and I decided to bow out. We walked back through the twilit mock “canals” of the Venetian. It kind of was like being in Venice, minus the sewer smell. The only other people we saw were cracked out tourists and jaded looking security guards. The three of us looked at each other, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Between the insane Cirque show and the madness of the club, it was hardly believeable.
I felt self-conscious about our state when we entered the main lobby, but it was soon apparent most everyone was fucked up. I saw a girl take off her shoes and loudly proclaim how much shoes sucked.
“Yeah, FUCK SHOES!” I yelled, and kicked mine down the hall. Sally and Liz laughed and shook their heads at me.
Complete mayhem ensued when we arrived back at our room. It was 30 year old Girls Gone Wild, the PG version. I decided we couldn’t survive without ice and took off running down the hall with the ice bucket. It seemed like the hallway stretched on forever and I was alone on some crazy adventure. Angela and Nina were returning when I came back. “YEAH, WOO-HOO, PAR-TAY!!” I screamed at them. Inside the room, full on pillow fights and jumping on the beds were in full swing. Phallic shaped pillows called for shenanigans. I kept jumping up on the window sill and opening the curtain to see dusty dawn spreading over the city. I had to stop because everyone thought I would somehow fall/jump out of the unopenable window.
Liz’s sister Leslie would be returning from her reunion at any moment, and Angela and Sally decided it would be a good idea to ambush her with the phallic pillows. They staked themselves by the door until they gave into Liz’s gentle pleas that it wouldn’t be a good idea. Leslie somehow snuck in and went right into the bathroom. I think she suspected what state we would be in, and took a half hour long shower. Then Sally thought it would be fun to ambush Leslie when she came out of the shower. But soon all of us gave into a system crash, and passed out. Leslie timed it perfectly, and came out after we had fallen into still unconsciousness. Smart girl.
We had to be out of the room at 11, and getting up was brutal. My legs were filled with gelatinous goo, and my brain felt like it had been emptied of everything that was smart and good. Yet we wouldn’t have changed anything about last night. We managed to clean up and kept ourselves buoyed by thoughts of food and pool, food and pool…
We stupidly staggered to the cafĂ©. I almost cried when I saw a breakfast item that is hard to find but I often long for…chicken and waffles! I drenched it in honey butter and syrup. That combined with a Coke brought me to a semi-functional level. Why be healthy now? I’d make up for it when I got home. Maybe.
After we checked our bags for the day, we headed off to the pool once again. Liz sneakily kept a couple keys so we could get in. We thought about going to Rehab, the giant flesh fest that happens at the Hard Rock hotel every Sunday. “Expect about 3000 people and to pay at least $20,” Liz said. The idea nauseated me. That is one thing that has changed about me with age--my tolerance for crowds, particularly obnoxious ones, has really gone down. Even if hot, nearly naked people were included. Our pool was just fine--much mellower than yesterday. I tried to take a nap in the sun, but once again was driven into the pool by the heat. It was perfect.
The afternoon ended, and we realized our happy trip to dysfunctional utopia was ending. We gathered our stuff and said a truly said goodbye to Sally, even though we all lived in the city. But we would not be together in this crazy fantasy.
The rest of us wouldn’t leave for a few hours, so we met up with the Jihad one last time for dinner. As soon as we walked out of the Venetian, Nina said, “Remember when we stayed at the Venetian? Remember when Sally was with us?”
“Oh God! It’s so sad!” I kind of pretend cried.
We went to Gilly’s, a Western-themed restaurant in the New Frontier casino. It was a big warehouse and the floor was covered in wood chips. I literally did grow up in a barn, and said happily, “It smells like home!” There was even a mechanical bull. We did see some tackle it, but alas, none in our group.
Illegally huge portions of chicken wings, corn on the cob, and mashed potatoes soothed our sad bodies and minds. A song came on called “Honky Tonk Budonkadonk.”
“What does that mean?” inquired one the guys.
“Budonkadonk is big bootie. You know, junk in the trunk?” I told him. “I’m guessing Honky Tonk is the white trash variety.”
We enjoyed final laughs and each other’s company, but soon even I was ready to go. I was wasted, sticky and itchy with chlorine and sweat. We said bye to the Jihad and thanked them for allowing us to be a part of this most holy experience. “See you next time!” they said. I planned on it.
As we walked through the departing gates at the Vegas airport, I saw a big sign that said “Goodbye…for now.” I liked that. There was no doubt I would be back. One should never put a cap on trips to Vegas.
Thank the deities I didn’t have to work the next day. I slept until noon, and woke feeling like half my brain had atrophied. My sinuses and lungs were clogged from breathing in smoke-filled, air-conditioned air that never saw the outdoors. And I regretted nothing. I layed in my bed, thinking about all the craziness that I somehow missed my first couple trips. Am I too old for such shenanigans? Maybe. Certainly some of what we did wasn’t exactly good for us. But we were so happy for most of it. And isn’t that what escaping is about? Aren’t we supposed to seek out activities that release excesses of pleasure hormones into our system? Yes.
I think the contributing factor to the joy I experienced in this trip was the people. We all wanted to be there and all were seeking this positive escape. And hell, we were fun and hilarious. We can’t always surround ourselves with people perfect for the moment. But wouldn’t it be great if we could?
Vegas may not be a morally good place. You are encouraged to throw down heaps of money in games you may not win. There are a variety of sexual exploits at your disposal. But just because we are grown up, does not mean we should stop playing. I feel good about our trip. I am happy about my regression. I am so much happier now.

About Me

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San Francisco, CA
Elissa is an east coast transplant making her way through life by way of San Francisco. This amazing city provides lots of fodder for writers of all types. I find inspiration for writing through life's little and bizarre events, such as grocery shopping for dog treats, salamander hunting, and insomnia. I am a preschool teacher in "real life."