Las Vegas: Loving2Hate

Sometimes I simply love to hate. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve caught myself saying this regarding various subjects in my life. The latest resurrection of the phrase likely came about because I traveled to Las Vegas with a couple of friends for the SEMA car show, and Vegas is certainly a place that I love to hate. In fact, I love hating it so much, I couldn’t wait to get there.

There’s much to hate about Vegas if one just thinks about it—especially from my rural setting of Wyoming. So, I always look forward to the newest Las Vegas particulars to hate that I never expected or considered. So, beyond the usual overcrowded and loud casinos, overpriced tickets for washed-up entertainment icons, and the ubiquitous, supersized LED displays, I was pleasantly surprised to add a couple of new things to what I love to hate about Las Vegas—all on the last full day of my stay there.

SEMA Fest
On the second day of SEMA Fest not long after the gates opened, I was turned back at the entrance by security personnel because I had a “professional grade” camera with me—a modest Yashica Electro 35 (mm) film camera. At first, I thought they were just having me on because I had a camera that was built in the early 1970s. But, when I realized the security staffer was not joking, I reached around in my back pocket and pulled out my iPhone X and said, “You should be more worried about this camera.” The staffer didn’t budge only to tell me that the iPhone was permitted, while assuring me that I could not enter with my threatening 50-some-year-old 35mm, f1.7 fixed 45mm lens rangefinder camera.

I was sure there was some mistake, but once I realized they weren’t going to relent, I gave up and walked back to a friend’s car to squirrel away my humble Yashica. During that long walk back to the car, all I could think about was how ignorant the organizers of SEMA Fest must be when it comes to cameras and photography. I felt like I had been transported back to the entrance gates of Northeast Ohio’s Blossom Music Center in the 1970s. And so, it was during that walk back to the car and once more to the SEMA Fest entrance that my love to hate Vegas came screaming back like a Tom Brady, game-winning offensive drive in the final seconds.

With my film camera receiving a red-card by the SEMA Fest photography police, I realized that whatever photography I would attempt that day would be limited to my iPhone. Now I had a new mission thanks to SEMA Fest’s draconian photography policy—I would shoot to my heart’s content with my iPhone and eventually submit images from the day to whatever paying, professional publications I could find while making sure that the SEMA Fest photo nazis get notified of my supplemental income from that day—with my iPhone!

I’m never very confident when it comes to my own photography, but spite can be a powerful thing, changing a person’s outlook in any given situation. 

Circus Circus
It’s not a stretch to predict that the next major casino to be razed on the Las Vegas Strip will be Circus Circus. It was a dump 20 years ago. Today, it is nothing more than an ugly and smelly eyesore on the life support of desperate, low-stake gamblers.

Because SEMA Fest was in the shadows of the crumbling 35-story Circus Circus, we walked over to the 50-some-year-old rundown infestation in search of a modest lunch. What a mistake that was as I was reminded of shopping at a crowded Walmart on Black Friday—not to mention the healthy menagerie of trashy and gloomy patrons filling up its corridors, restaurants, and gambling locations.

Further, while walking around in Circus Circus, I was certain that its dystopian interior and unhealthy-looking patrons was surely the place I would contract a bad case of COVID-19.

Lastly, like most of the other casinos in Vegas, Circus Circus is no different in its tolerance and accommodating environment for smokers. Say what you want about the casino high-tech ventilation systems, when I returned to my room that evening, I felt as if I had been walking through the smoke-filled 1970s all over again. It’s been a long time since my clothes smelled like a crowded bar full of smokers.

Inocculation Observations

Today I received my first COVID-19 vaccine. It was fairly uneventful, yet here I am somehow writing about it. I filled out a one-page form and before I knew it, I was taking off my jacket and rolling up my sleeve for the curly-haired, red-headed nurse.

In our short visit, I found her sense of humor and bed-side manner a pleasant surprise given the gravity of a pandemic. She said sternly, “Morgan, take off your clothes,” and then chuckled. The only reply I could come up with at the moment was, “Gee, I haven’t heard that in a long time.” If I could do it all over again, I probably would have said something even more self-deprecating like, “Oh, you’ll be so disappointed.”

I knew a few people there for the same reason. I found it amusing how some of the men—older of course—felt the need to remove their shirt rather than roll up their sleeve to receive the vaccine. I don’t know, maybe it was a long-sleeve kind-of-thing, but I was reminded of my father. Even in his late years, he never had second thoughts about being shirtless. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Regardless, after I turned 40, I felt pretty certain that no one would see me shirtless in public even if it was Jay-Lo wagging her “come hither” finger at me from her hotel balcony.

My partner, Mish did her fair share of socializing with the medical staff as well—especially after her inocculation. We sat together afterwards and she told me of her moments with the nurse and needle—as we witnessed another shirtless, old-guy with man-boobs directly in front of us receiving his vaccine.

Looking around the cavernous room of others visiting at the fairgrounds I considered how normal mask-wearing was becoming in any given social setting. I wondered if this new norm might have some staying power long after the pandemic is behind us. If one needs any evidence to support such a possibility, look no further than  the Japanese culture and their practice of mask-wearing, long before any pandemic was on the horizon. It seems very possible that the rest of the world will now see the wisdom in that practice of social hygiene. 

The actual shot was pretty typical of any—like a bee sting that doesn’t last very long. Six hours after getting the shot, the only thing I have noticed unusual is that my arm is sore where I received the injection—reminiscent of the occasional charly-horses John Polinger administered back in junior high. I do feel a bit fatigued as well, but that’s more likely just attributed to another Thursday and knowing that the bulk of my class load is behind me for another week. Whatever aches or pains come with this vaccine, I’m thinking they’ll blend right in with the aches and pains that come with a 60-year-old body. 

Stay tuned for Part II.

Defining a Friendly Community

Some people around here say Powell is one of the friendliest small towns you’ll ever come across. “Everyone is so friendly,” they’ll say.

Today, as COVID-19 cases creeped up to a new all-time high in our state (Wyoming), I made a trip to our local supermarket for a weekly supply of provisions. Out of a store that probably had close to 100 shoppers in its aisles, myself and maybe five others were wearing masks as recommended by every health department in the country—that makes for five percent who were conscientious enough and felt the need to do our part in helping to prevent any further spread of the pandemic.

My question turned to the others—you know the 95% who weren’t wearing masks and how they reckoned with that moniker of  “one of the friendliest towns” one might ever encounter.

This wasn’t early March when the pandemic was just reaching our shores. This was a time when the virus had not only arrived, but was taking up residence and sipping lemonade in our country’s sparsist communities—with no real deterrent/silver bullet on the horizon.

With that in mind, I found myself wondering how am I still to view this community where a random 95% of them are without mask during the height of a pandemic? Should any outsider continue to consider them “friendly” as they have always been labeled? How can they been seen as friendly when they appear to be people that don’t seem to care about spreading a virus to their fellow citizens? Or, how can they be seen as friendly when all they seem to care about are their Constitutional rights being taken from them in the form of being forced to wear a mask? Or this: how can they appear to be friendly instead of just outright stupid when they don’t take the pandemic seriously, despite what the medical community has been telling them since March?

Surely this random 95% didn’t just happen to forget their masks as they headed for the supermarket on this ordinary day.

Pandemic Pondering

COVID-19 poster child.

It’s here. It’s in the country’s least populated state. That also means it’s everywhere else, and there’s nowhere to hide! The official word went out to the campus community via email during Spring Break that all face-to-face classes will be replaced with remote/on-line instruction “wherever possible for as long as needed.” So, like it or not, Northwest College is officially an on-line institution of higher education. I suspect every school across the country will be the same by week’s end.

With schools closing or moving to “on-line” delivery systems, we educators have another opportunity presented to us—becoming “YouTube talent” and adding to the glut of “self-titled experts.”

I know it all feels a bit over-reactionary, but the mortality rates attributed to COVID-19 are piling up and that’s difficult to dismiss. I’m certainly going to heed the words of the medical profession over anything that spills out of Trump’s lying face or the lineup of stooges on Fox News.

Lately I’ve been wondering which flu/virus would win in a smack-down—say between today’s COVID-19 and 1968’s Hong Kong Flu. The Hong Kong Flu of 1968 left its mark of mortality on the globe (one million perished) yet, I don’t recall the country coming to the stand-still that it is today. Is the Corona Virus that much worse, or is all of this just the result of better and more specific science supported by better and more immediate communications—thus resulting in our heightened sensitivity to all things pandemic?  

As long as I’m here, is there such a thing as a generic flu anymore? They all seem to have names, especially the new ones that take the stage every year. They rise up like featured Pantone Colors of the Year.

At this point in time, one has to wonder what will it be like next year or the year after when another version of the flu or another virus strain rolls around. Might our cycles of life become permanently altered given the annual flu season that arrives every late winter? Might schools in the near future only have one semester of face-to-face classes while the spring semester moves to a flu-free, on-line format?

“You are at your very best when things are at their worst.”

—Jeff Bridges in “Starman”

A person from Billings (reportedly) walked into Powell’s local market, Blairs, and purchased all the toilet paper in the store. The owner/manager in the store was apparently happy to sell it to her despite leaving the local and regular customers wanting while perched on their porcelain thrones. Thanks Blairs, you capitalist fucks. Where is your commitment to community in that deal? I’ll be second-guessing myself in the future when planning a trip to Blair’s. 

What would the America of World War II—uncertain of a war’s outcome and forced to live with rationed goods and supplies—think of the self-serving-hoarders of 2020 threatened by a seasonal virus? I thought America was a little better when it came to looking after our fellow citizens.

For now, I look forward to that breaking story—because you know it will be reported—of a toilet-paper-hoarder found dead in their home from Corona Virus surrounded by 400-plus rolls of toilet paper.

Here’s a sharp and well-written related piece.