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.
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.