Dispatches from Suburbia

If I played an instrument, I would have a band called "The Simon Thomsen Sex Tape"; and other musings, rants, and disconnected ramblings.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Origins of Humanism

Quote of the Day: "I am a human being. I consider nothing human alien to me."

I wrote the following after the trip I took to Vegas for my twenty-first birthday:

Atop Las Vegas’s Stratosphere, over 100 stories above the Strip, I am reminded of Sandia Crest, towering over Albuquerque. From however many miles above sea level, Vegas—Sin City, chewing up lives and resources and ruthlessly spitting them out—is not all that different from my hometown, Albuquerque. Especially during the day—just a sun-scorched settlement randomly set in the middle of a brown desert wasteland. A small bustle of cars and people crammed into a tiny blackhead surrounded by…nothing.

Just a stop on your way out west. Perhaps stay for a few drinks and maybe some attempts at the slots. Even in Albuquerque we have our casinos, calling from the reservations on the outskirts of our city, our town that sits on historic 66. Most come and go, but some never leave either my town or Vegas, and those people never actually intended to stay in the first place.

Despite the tragic, black hole, suck-you-in, cheesy nature of these forsaken cities, they each have an odd beauty about them, mostly noticeable from high above. Or maybe I’ve just turned 21, and everything is beautiful at that point in my life, but I like to think that maybe there is something strangely exciting about realizing that our existence, our planet, is merely a grain of sand, a fleck of dust, wandering the cosmos.

The window panes are set at an angle, so one could look down towards the Strip.

“It makes me queasy,” I mention to Pat and Yvette, the married couple joining me on my weekend trip to Vegas. The sun shines through the glass and reflects off of Pat’s shaved head.

Yvette, with her surfer shorts and short, spiked, bleached blond hair, is the adventurous member of our trio. “Let’s go outside,” she suggests.

Being a large ball atop a relatively narrow stick, the Stratosphere creaks and moans in even the slightest breeze. It’s common, it’s supposed to do that, and we know this, but it is still quite unsettling to hear this structure creak, signifying a waver in stability. I just keep telling myself that the Stratosphere was built for this very reason, to thrill us as we stand 1,149 feet over Vegas. Still, the popping of my ears unnerved me on the elevator ride to the top.

More people are gathered outside, and the city spread around us is more visible in the open. A chest-high rail surrounds this balcony, followed by a chain-link fence set a few feet out from the rail, so you have not one, but two barriers to keep you from hurtling to your death. An accident is impossible, but if you really wanted two you could jump the rail and quickly climb the fence before anybody realized what you were doing. But what kind of asshole would do that to the pedestrians at the bottom?

For the ultimate Stratosphere experience, the world’s highest thrill rides are provided at the top. There is Insanity, a ride that hangs a group of people in seats at the of each person’s own individual rope. The seats spin in a circle.

I went on a similar ride at the New Mexico state fair, except the one in Albuquerque was not attached to a large arm protruding from the top of a Stratosphere, dangling the ride over 1,000 feet above the ground.

Then there’s the High Roller, a red rollercoaster that wraps around a spire at the top of the Stratosphere. And the spire is a part of the Big Shot, a ride that fires you up the spire and drops you back down.

My fear of heights made me choose to pass on the rides, including the X Scream. The Stratosphere’s website offers a description of this popular thrill ride:

At 866 feet, X Scream is the world's third highest thrill ride. Shaped like a giant teeter-totter, X Scream is an open vehicle that propels riders head-first, 27 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere Tower and dangles them weightlessly above the Strip before pulling it's riders back and over again for more!

I don’t know who in their right mind thinks this might be fun. But this ride, along with the other four, has its apparent appeal—an appeal that is lost on me. I have a feeling that the blonde on the X Scream no longer sees the appeal either.

She was maybe 30, and seated at the very back seat of the “giant teeter-totter.” The operators of the ride, two young men, each checked the safety bars, making sure they were firmly clamped on the riders’ laps. Then the operators chuckled and stepped off the ride.

Pat, Yvette, and I approached the ride to watch it in action. It began to move forward. Clack, clack, clack.

“Aaaaaaaagh!” the woman wailed. And the ride had not even yet dangled “them weightlessly above the strip.”

“OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGOD!” Tears were streaming down her face. Then there was that final clack and the ride quickly tipped forward so that its passengers were looking straight down at the strip.

“Waaaaaaaaahhhh!” I was laughing. Other bystanders were laughing. Even the guy at the very front of the X Scream was laughing.

But for the blonde, this was anything but funny. She was envisioning the ground coming at an alarming rate: faster, then faster, then faster, and then…concrete.

“Oh that poor thing,” Yvette said.

The X Scream propelled them and dangled them a few more times, before they shakily exited, the blonde weeping and barely able to walk.

Of course, that night she probably laughed about it over a few drinks that night. But it was obvious in her eyes that this was traumatizing. She had the glazed look of a victim.

The three of us went to the lounge, where drinks were surprisingly cheap (It did cost us ten bucks a head just to get to the top of the Stratosphere).

Just below us was the revolving restaurant, and ahead of us were the giant windows, and past them was Vegas, sprawled out in the Nevada desert. Vegas, in all its glory, all the money, the extravagant hotels, all of it—reduced to an anthill.

Each of of us completely insignificant. Except for that blonde on the X Scream who, through tragedy, realized her own importance. Through the nasty thought of imminent death she found importance. I wondered which of the ants was her. The queen ant. That sounds right.

I sipped my Harp Lager. We ordered two more rounds and sat in those plush leather chairs, pointing out Vegas hotspots, as if we were looking at a map, not the actual city. God it was gorgeous. When you’ve lived in a desert all your life you’ve need to look at it from a new angle to find its beauty.


At 3:09 AM, Blogger Danny Tagalog said...

Harp lager. What I wouldn't give for a can of Harp lager right now....


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