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September 24, 2007

Leaving Las Vegas

Before today’s post, I thought I’d ask … has anybody heard from the Killers? It’s been more than a year since they released their wonderful sophomore album – but then after releasing four singles in rapid succession this spring, they seem to have vanished from the airwaves. They weren’t even at the recent Video Music Awards, despite having three of the coolest videos of the year: “When You Were Young”, “Bones”, and “Read My Mind”.

Anyway, that question crossed my mind while I was running recently. I’m not sure why I think you should know this, except perhaps to reinforce that no topic is too trivial for me to waste time pondering.

**

Business trips to Las Vegas are the ultimate good news/bad news proposition.

The good news is that accommodations at the big name casino hotels are always very nice, there’s plenty of good food to be found, and there’s never a shortage of diversions to occupy your time.

The downside is that, well … it’s Vegas. And I’ve never really been a fan. I’m not a gambler or show watcher or club hopper, and I can stomach about 10 minutes of glitz and glamour before it all becomes annoying or depressing.

But in business circles, sometimes the destination is inevitable - and so it was that I found myself in town attending a Friday/Saturday seminar. After the course on Friday afternoon, I considered all the various ways to take advantage of this rare visit to the desert metropolis.

Fully aware of the city’s famous motto about what happens in Vegas, and with the wife and kids at home hundreds of miles away, I contemplated a night of indulgence and complete anonymity. I thought of what other 30-something, red-blooded American males would do with a free weekend night in Sin City. It seemed only natural to “take in the sights”, so to speak, sow some wild oats, and see what all the fuss was about.

I thought about it for a while … then I laced up my shoes, and went outside for a run.

Thinking I could sightsee and exercise at the same time, I headed down the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard toward the high rise casinos. It took me less than a mile to realize my mistake: the Strip was clearly not designed for runners.

(photo from Vegas Online)

The first decision I had to make was whether to run on the sidewalk (with its hard, unforgiving concrete, and unyielding crowds) or on the side of road facing traffic (with no shoulder, and a constant stream of vehicles).

I ended up doing a little of each – starting on the road, then leaping onto curbs and sidewalks just in time to evade a speeding taxi or massive city bus. Weaving through the crowd, I quickly learned that the city was not only poorly designed for runners, but downright hostile toward them.

In the time it took me to run two miles, I witnessed just about all types of human depravity. I saw barely-dressed women spilling out of their clothes, desperate panhandlers soliciting a quick score, and various people passed out on the sidewalks.

(By the way – since the last time I was here, it seems like there’s almost no way to tell the hookers and strippers apart from the regular Vegas crowd anymore. Everywhere you look, women walk around barely covered in lycra or lingerie, or wearing an outfit that looks like they’re heading to their shift at a gentleman’s club. I kind of miss the days when the prostitutes in Vegas were more obvious – but I guess I’m just old fashioned that way.)

Continuing down the Strip, I was jeered by drunken college kids, inhaled massive quantities of secondhand marijuana, and had to actively avoid smut peddlers trying to stuff flyers in my hands as I passed. All this while stepping on broken glass and cigarette butts, sucking down exhaust fumes, and darting across eight lanes of traffic at each intersection.

In other words, the run was not starting well.

I eventually passed through the Strip and followed Las Vegas Boulevard into the desert, as the last traces of daylight faded around me. With each passing mile, the lights and sounds of the city grew more distant. And the further I ran into the darkness and silence, the more the tensions of the Strip dissolved.

So I kept running. Mile after mile into a cocoon of darkness, until there were no cars or streetlights or convenience stores anywhere in sight. Surrounded by the night, I finally found comfort in the quiet solitude. My stride became smooth and my breathing relaxed, and I pressed onward.

It took almost three hours of running to see the night sky I was accustomed to, full of visible stars and reflected moonlight. My eyes gradually adapted some night vision, and I could discern shadowy outlines of the desert landscape. Occasionally I heard the distinctive sound of critters scurrying through the brush.

I knew that this was the Las Vegas where I most belonged, that most suited my personality: under cover of darkness, pushing myself down an empty road, savoring the environment, leaving the temptations of excess far behind me.

I was at least fifteen miles into the desert by that point, and knew I should probably turn around soon. Part of me wanted to just stay out there and keep the city at bay. But eventually common sense prevailed, and I turned to head back toward the hotel.

Even as the faint glow of the city slowly reappeared before me, each passing mile on the dark road gave me more satisfaction in my endeavor. By the time I saw the lights of the Strip in the distance, I knew I wouldn’t dread my arrival there nearly as much as I did the first time through.

The final two miles on the Strip were the same as the first two: blinding lights, frequent stops, dangerous traffic, and people in every stage of desperation and debauchery. But instead of becoming bitter, I had a somewhat triumphant feeling passing by it all again – triumphant, because I knew I wasn’t a part of it.

I had made a decision that evening. I could have followed the masses and reveled in the surroundings, or followed my heart and set my own course. My desert run felt like an act of defiance against everything around me that I considered objectionable.

(Clearly, this idea of choices has been burning a hole in my brain lately. I thought I got it all out of my system last month, but apparently I was wrong. I apologize if this blog has been sounding like the Trinity Network lately. I should snap out of it soon.)

The clock drew close to midnight - almost six hours after I started out - as I jogged up the concourse and into the lobby of my hotel. Sipping some Gatorade as I walked through the casino, I took in the curious stares of those who bothered to look my way. Upstairs, I took a quick shower in the hotel room and crashed into bed. And by the next day, thankfully, I was on a plane headed back home.

Some folks might say I missed experiencing the best things about the city. I would say I experienced the best things about myself instead. Given another chance, I wouldn’t hesitate to make the same choice again.

23 comments:

matt 9/24/07, 12:57 PM  

i love the final photo, donald...a nice exclamation point!

i can't imagine how gross it felt to run around the smut peddlers. i haven't been to vegas in close to 15 years. it was out of hand back then.

your recent posts are coming across like the TN. they seem like an honest expression of where you are focused in life. i appreciate that perspective a great deal.

on a separate note, that is my favorite killers song and i don't know why the playtime has dropped so much. it's rare for bands these days to put together such great sophomore efforts.

matt 9/24/07, 12:57 PM  

sorry, that should have read that your recent posts AREN'T coming across like the TN.

rick 9/24/07, 1:05 PM  

I heard they have great outdoor activities there in LV, away from the strip, tough when you are only there for a couple of days.

6-hour run on a Las Vegas evening, that just sounds crazy but I can only imagine how nice it was out there in the dark.

Someone is very serious about Firetrails!

DREW 9/24/07, 3:37 PM  

I'll never forget doing the Vegas marathon. Running down the middle of a traffic-free strip at 6am and seeing the look on people's faces as the river of thousands of runners flowed by was priceless.

With that said, though, I have no desire to go back. And if I ever did I'd certainly want to follow your lead out into the desert!

Laurie 9/24/07, 3:41 PM  

Love this post. I'm glad you did what you needed to do and found yourself along the way.

momo 9/24/07, 5:06 PM  

the last time i was in las vegas, i thought the same thing. then i saw people there with their children, being mauled by the pedalers on the street and it made me sad. no matter what they say, no matter how many rollercoasters they build - vegas is not a place for children.

i understand the choices dilemma. i wonder if its because i tend to analyze and overanalyze every decision i make. i want them to be right - but what i've been finding is that right is sometimes dependent upon the circumstances and what is right for me might not be right for the next person.

finding your way - your own path - is always harder than following the crowd. more fulfilling, without a doubt, but harder because each and every turn brings another opportunity to choose. you're a thinker, donald, and for that very reason, you will have to forge your own road. the bonus is that we get to come along for the ride.

Spokane Al 9/24/07, 6:42 PM  

I agree totally with your perspective on Las Vegas. A number of years ago my wife and I traveled down to see what all the fuss was about. We left feeling that we were out of touch with the rest of the world who all seemed to be gaga over Vegas.

P.S. I don't have any insight on the location of the Killers but was impressed that their video for Bones was directed by the great Tim Burton.

Sarah 9/24/07, 7:13 PM  

I wish I could go on a run like that when I'm in Vegas! (I attend a conference there every other year.) But I would fear for my safety by myself. I've found the best time and place for me to run there is on the Strip early in the morning just after sunrise. And even then, there are a lot of weird sights!

Backofpack 9/24/07, 7:22 PM  

I've never been to Vegas and I have no desire to go. I'm sure that this is my Pollyanna viewpoint popping up yet again, but I believe that the men I know, no matter what their age, would make the same choice you did. There are more solid and upstanding people out there than is commonly believed.

Unfortunately for all of us, the clothing you described can be seen everywhere - I see a lot of it on our little college campus. What were their Mama's thinking when they let them dress like that?!? I'm told it's just because I am from another generation, but I wonder...seems to me like there is a message there about self-worth.

Anyway Donald, I am not all surprised by your choice - everything you've written over the past couple of years leads me to believe that you are one good guy!

Paul 9/24/07, 8:18 PM  

Good post. Nice run.

21stCenturyMom 9/24/07, 9:59 PM  

I detest Las Vegas, or Lost Wages as I think of it. My mother used to live there and the destruction of the desert due to development, the constant dinging of the slots, the little old ladies pumping their Social Security checks into the nickle slots at the grocery store - it all gives me the shivers.

I am still stunned at the idea of you going on a 30 mile run, unsupported in the dark. That is amazing. You deserved whatever peace of mind you got out of that, for sure.

Deene 9/25/07, 7:45 AM  

you rebel you! you came out ahead by following your heart.
i don't care much for Vegas either, the cigarette smoke is enough to keep me at a distance.

olga 9/25/07, 9:01 AM  

I loved that last paragraph. And the fact that you still dwell on choices:) Sorry I had to make mine for the Firetrails. Some other time...hopefully at WS-08.

Addy 9/25/07, 1:47 PM  

Definitely sounds like you made the right choice. As the undergraduates have moved onto campus and every night is full of drunk cries of groups walking around the apartments, it makes me thankful that I'm definitely not in a place when parties and overindulgences are appealing. Running is much more therapeudic and satisfying. I'm glad you came to that same conclusion out there in Vegas. That run sounds like it was absolutely amazing once you left the city. You're going to do amazingingly at Firetrails (not that I think you'd have any doubt about that yourself :) )

angie's pink fuzzy 9/25/07, 5:54 PM  

oh donald, that's awesome!

and i dug out my killers concert tee yesterday (before i read your post), i miss them!

re: Salinas trip, i wasn't able to take it with the stuff that happened this summer. there's a chance i'll be able to go between xmas and new years, but most likely will be next spring.

Taryn 9/25/07, 8:37 PM  

I'm loving my mental image of you, running along the strip, getting jostled by all drunks, tourists, and ladies of the night!

And I'm almost scared to admit it on here, but I pretty much love Vegas for all the reasons you dislike it (come on... you at least have to love the people watching, right?).

Dying Water Buffalo 9/26/07, 5:20 AM  

"All these things that I have done" is one of my chief "get pumped up" songs on my running mix.

IVE GOT SOUL, BUT I'M NOT A SOLDIER!!!

Very cool run escaping into the desert like that. I generally max out on Vegas after two days.

Annette 9/26/07, 9:37 AM  

Gosh, you make Vegas sound so glamorous. ;) A 6 hour run! Wow! You did need to get out of the city. Way to enjoy Vegas like no one else does. You made the right choice!

robtherunner 9/26/07, 6:09 PM  

Great post, Donald! I think you made the right choice in defiance of the city and what it has to offer. Heading into the darkness and solitude is where I would have liked to gone as well.

craig 9/26/07, 9:09 PM  

I've never been to Las Vegas. But it sounds like you fed the right dog. You aren't coming across like TN.

Anne 9/27/07, 4:42 PM  

I once woke at 4 to run along the strip, thinking it would be deserted at that hour. Wrong! It looked like 4 in the afternoon, but with darkness. I was thoroughly depressed -- and in danger as I moved closer to some of the seedier sections. I'm glad you found a more satisfying route. I ended up in the hotel's fitness room.

the Dread Pirate Rackham 9/28/07, 8:03 PM  

there really is nothing like running in the desert at night.

Dori 10/3/07, 9:19 PM  

The Strip is the only place where I opt to run on the sidewalk. It's just too insane to try to run against traffic. Last year, after someone told me what a nice run they had on the Strip, I decided to change my attitude and run it. I'm glad I did--it was fun and I took a lot of pictures, but I ran in the early morning. Once was enough, though; the next time I was in Vegas, I ran off the Strip.

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