Saturday, April 01, 2006

Hurricane, Utah to Las Vegas


Ice hockey in Las Vegas


2:00 AM

Back at Janie and Otto's house.


FRIDAY MORNING

A breakfast waffle at the hotel to get me started. Overcast, windy and cool. Today marks another step in the return to my former life: connecting with family in Las Vegas.

St. George, Utah is, in my humble opinion, an ugly place, a landscape marred by out-of-control scorched-earth development and mind-numbing suburban franchise malls. I never thought I'd consider Nevada a champion for the environment, but as soon as you cross the Utah-Nevada border, the development stops, and you pass through the relatively-untouched Virgin River canyon, then wild, open desert lands.

It's one hour earlier in Nevada.

Austin was the last place I was in city traffic. After so much open road, jumping into the Las Vegas freeway system, the urban aggression was immediately evident. I moved into "defensive mode".

It had been about 18 months since I last visited Las Vegas. The casino construction race continues unabated. Each must be grander than the previous one opened. Where will it end? (I guess it is the customers who drive this – growing tired of what had in the past entertained them, challenging entrepreneurs to try ever harder to please.)

I had called ahead to make an appointment for motorcycle service. Too early for the 2:00 p.m. appointment, I decided to go to Janie and Otto's house first. It was strange to suddenly step back into my old life, and see my sister again! Uncomfortable, and at the same time easy!

The construction in the hills around her house continues at a feverish pace. There is no stopping it. In Janie's neighborhood, so many homes are for sale, the original purchases obviously just speculative, people "flipping" real estate. Still, the desert continues to be converted to homes. It makes no sense.

Drove over to BMW Motorcycles of Las Vegas. Kevin White took the bike right in. Asked him to replace the tires, and change the oil, oil filter and air filter. There were also two recalls that needed to be addressed: reprogram the bike's computer for "flat battery" and replace the fuel pump electronics seal. (This is the o-ring that failed and stranded me the first day in Mexico. BMW is on the third version of this particular seal.)

Kevin told me later the rear brake pads needed replacement. "You might be able to get another 500 miles out of them." So, I gave him a set from my stock (the precious $100 set from Buenos Aires!) and asked him to change them out.

The dealership is pretty isolated, far out on the west side of Las Vegas. (This seems to be only a temporary situation, the area poised for major development.) But I found myself waiting, wandering around the showroom, standing outside watching the jets take off from McCarran Airport (every 30 to 45 seconds.)

My efficient use of time seems to be fading these days. "I should have brought my computer along!" More was demanded of me south of the border.

I looked at the tires that had been taken off the bike and discarded. Imbedded in the front tire, I found a staple. "So that was the problem!" But, the rubber was very thin and pliable. It was time to change. I asked the mechanic about the front-end shimmy I had experienced.

He said without hesitation, "the tire's cupped."

"What's that from?"

"The road's crown. It wears more on the inside."

"So it will always wear more on the left?"

"Yep."

So, I probably should have replaced the tire long ago. The Brazilian rear tire was now fairly bald in the center. Our unswerving interstates had worn it down quickly. For $65, though, it had been a bargain.

On about my fifth pass through the showroom, the receptionist asked if I would like some tickets for tonight's hockey game. She had a bunch, and they would go to waste if she couldn't find someone to take them.

Actually, a hockey game was one of those things on my "to do list". I've heard it's a great sport to watch in person. (God knows it's not very exciting on TV!) Borrowing her phone, I checked in with Janie. "Do you want to go to a hockey game tonight?" She checked with Otto. Messages were passed. She called back later to confirm: we would take three tickets.

Four hours at the shop - a small price to pay after all the miles (13,000) traveled since the last full service in Santiago! The shop prices were very high however. Even though they didn't charge for all the labor involved, and although I provided the brake pads, oil filter, a tire valve and liter of oil, the bill was still over $500.

Returned to Janie and Otto's house. Tonight I was treated to a ride in their beautiful BMW 745IL, which we took out to the game. I had to laugh at all the little features engineered into this thing: voice activated controls, heated and "massaging" seats, side view mirrors that automatically tilt to show the ground when in reverse, automatically-sealing doors and trunk, etc., etc. Otto says "people think I'm white when I drive this!"

They've worked hard for a long time, so it's great to see them doing well, and enjoying life a little!

The hockey game was already underway when we arrived at the Orleans Casino around 7:30. The Las Vegas Wranglers were hosting the San Diego Gulls. Being there in the arena, you can certainly appreciate the exertion and physicality more. However, I don't think there was quite enough blood splattered. The crowd would really start roaring when fights broke out on the ice. Those were clearly the highlights. It didn't matter much who won.

Perhaps more than any other city in the world, Las Vegas is all about entertainment and "having fun". Leave your cares behind, jump in and lose yourself. It comes at a high cost. Just as in Moab, I look at the amount of energy invested in entertaining ourselves. (And now, in contrast, those activities in Utah seem so much more redeeming and productive!) For me, there's no getting around it: casinos are truly dismal and destructive places.

After the game, we went out for dinner at Silverton Casino's Sundance Grill, then we had to do a little gambling. (Janie and Otto didn't have to twist my arm. "I'll just play with $20," I told them.)

We sat at a bar and played the Video Keno and Poker. Well, I lost $40: $20 of my own, and an additional $20 Otto shared from his winnings. The way I see it, "I just spent $40 and received no benefit whatsoever!" But Janie says "it's fun!"

Behind the bar was Billy "Mac" McCarthy from New York. A Ray Liotta look-alike, and one of Janie and Otto's favorite bartenders. He took good care of us, so I guess it wasn't a total loss.



At the Silverton Casino, bartender Billy "Mac" McCarthy from New York. A striking resemblance to Ray Liotta!

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