Tuesday, March 23, 2010

California, Part....What, 14? 23?

Today was my sister's 21st birthday. She passed the last toll booth before full legality. She can drink, though like me, like our parents, she's not into it. She and my mom no longer have to walk the periphery of a casino just because she's underage. The next time we go to Vegas, we can all sit together at a row of slot machines if we want. She can watch some of the action at the blackjack and craps tables, she can watch the spinning roulette wheel a lot more closely than she could in the many times we've been to Las Vegas. Her gift was a three-year subscription to Food Network Magazine, introduced by the latest issue on newsstands, which we bought for her a few days ago, wrapped by Mom. There were also SweeTarts, which she loves, put into a plastic container that formerly held cotton candy. Dinner was at Hooters in Burbank, and, I have to admit, black women look more astounding than white women in those outfits. One of our waitresses was a trainee, working alongside her tutor, and my god, I couldn't stop looking. I did it subtly of course, but wow. It wasn't a matter of her filling the outfit nicely, but just bringing more smooth, totally confident beauty to it than any others I've seen before in it.

I've been frustrated with Southern California for nearly the entire six and a half years we've lived here. And after we got home from Vegas about a week and two days ago, I saw that compared to Boulder City (where we might live when it comes time, because the houses have character and there's wide, wide spaces that make it feel like a vacation every single day), the Santa Clarita Valley is basically crushed together. Houses nearly on top of each other; no room between businesses. In Golden Valley (which is commonly known here as "Ghetto Valley," yet is still part of this valley), there's a McDonald's with this incredible view of just the mountains, just the houses, and at night, so many lights, yet it all seems artful. Well, it used to have that view. The last time we went, there was a gas station being built next to it, blocking out that view, and I'm sure that gas station is open by now.

In Boulder City, my family and I looked out at Lake Mead from the side of a curving road, standing behind a guardrail, overlooking houses below us, and I felt like I was home. I could breathe easier, hell, I could breathe. That was enough. The air was so clean, and my Mom felt far less pain in her legs than she does back in the valley. My dad talked to either the town's Chamber of Commerce or someone somewhat related to that, and they said that they will not allow Clark County to bring in gaming. No casinos. The closest casino you'll find is right before the sign indicating that Hoover Dam is getting closer. It's the Hacienda Hotel and Casino and it sits on its own plot of land, nowhere near any houses. We've been there before, though not recently, and there's a walkable cliff a few hundred yards away, where the view is like all the dreams I've ever had combining to create that view.

I bring this up because of an important realization that came to me while we were going to Hooters, one that had eluded me all this time. I'm sure there are many who like the different regions of California, seeing each as an adventure, with so much to be explored. I hate it. I understand the appeal, and I loved stopping at John Steinbeck's house, and in Hollister at Casa de Fruta, and that tour at Hearst Castle. But as we passed under the sign for Burbank, I looked at many of the other city names that passed by on those signs and I realized that I can't stand being a tourist in every single area. We went to Chinatown some weeks ago, after going to Philippe's for lunch. I was a tourist, despite being a resident of California. We drove past IKEA and Borders in Burbank to get to the section of the parking garage across from IKEA that was closest to the entrance to Hooters. I saw the entrance to the mall as we made a right turn. I felt like a tourist.

I don't want to feel like a tourist anymore. I don't want all these locations to be homogenized, but I want there to be some kind of connection. In Florida, as a native, I got that. We'd go to Downtown Fort Lauderdale, and it didn't feel like a new foreign land. There was the science museum, the small hotels across from the sand of the beach, the Main Library branch of the Broward County Library system, and a small park. We'd go to Miami Beach and I still felt like a resident of the entire state, not just one section. Am I a resident of California, Part 14, or California, Part 23? I'm not sure.

In Southern Nevada, I get that feeling of being a resident in one state, with everything around me relating to what the state is. There's gambling, there's a vast desert landscape, there's Carson City where the legislature is and it's so removed from the majority of the population in Clark County. We went to Henderson and yes, it was gigantic, and yes, there was cookie-cutter housing which I've never liked, but I knew where I was, not just by name. I felt like I could navigate the streets easily. Henderson and Boulder City are connected by Las Vegas, but at least they connect to something. These different cities of Southern California, separated by all these freeways, seem like frayed wires splayed out on a sidewalk, each sparking in its own way, but never destined to intertwine. I want that intertwined feeling. I know I can get it in Southern Nevada. I need space, as I get in Boulder City, but I also need to feel like a resident of a state, not just the resident of a section of the state, despite paying the various taxes involved with the state. Maybe that's why I've been frustrated during many of the years we've lived here, why I've never had a genuine feeling of contentment. I need things to be as close as they can possibly get, while also remaining far apart enough to let the landscape have its turn to be seen, without all those insane freeways. I-95 in Florida. That was it to get to Fort Lauderdale. There's a little more involved in getting back to Las Vegas from Boulder City, but at least it feels like there's as little to be done as driving I-95. And I can't wait for that, full time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Always, Always.

I'm not reticent about Las Vegas. I know it's home. It's only four hours from here, and crossing that state line into Nevada, it's a good feeling that crawls in and never wants to find a way out. I see part of the Strip up ahead as we approach, and I know I belong. I feel like I'm as commonplace there as the black Luxor pyramid, especially at night with that extremely bright beam of white light. I always wonder if anyone knows we're coming. Not Bob, the manager of America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue, where we've stayed all the times we've been in Vegas. The security people, I guess, those who man the cameras, those pit bosses who walk the casino floors. I'm not that much of a risk, and I'm sure to them, I'm invisible, a nothing tourist, and I'm glad to be that for now. I can't wait to be more as a resident, hopefully in the months to come. But I always wonder if they get some kind of inkling that I'm coming. The slot machines certainly know. No luck with those on the last trip.

It's not ego, mind you. It's more like seeking a feeling of connection, which I already have with ABVI. I never had that here in Southern California. In 2003, our starting point was the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, across from Van Nuys Executive Airport, which I enjoyed for watching the private planes take off and land. When my parents went back for more job interviews for my dad about two months later, they stayed there. Yet, we don't visit it often. The last time we passed by it was to get to Fry's Electronics, the one with the Alice in Wonderland theming, I think. We've never pulled into that parking lot. I don't regret it, but I know that when we do move to Las Vegas, we'll probably stop by ABVI once in a while. We know that's where we started. And we know it'll be there. Yes, Airtel is still there, but it doesn't have that quiet, welcoming feeling to it. I suppose, in a way, I have more of a connection to ABVI, especially recently (a year and four months ago) because of the basketball hoop that my sister and I found on the property. We don't play often. Just bad shots that make it into the hoop once in a while. But to do that in the shadow of the MGM Grand, next to Hooters Casino Hotel, seeing the Luxor pyramid right there, the Tropicana, and a tiny bit of the facade of New York, New York, you truly can't get that anywhere else. And that's what I've loved about it. It's cheap, it's easy, no big frills, and it's our home base for now.

But I've got that feeling now that I know will be eliminated once we get nearer to the Strip after driving a while past Primm. It's funny, because if I know that the feeling will be gone, it shouldn't be there. I don't know. Maybe it's anxiety about boarding our dogs Tigger and Kitty while we're away for the weekend, even though it seems they'll be in good hands. Or maybe it's just an excuse.

I want things to change. I truly do. There is nothing left in the Santa Clarita Valley to benefit us, not that there has been in a long time. I don't feel any kinship with this valley. I don't like airheadedness, I don't like impoliteness, I don't like snobs who haven't earned the station they think they're at in life. It has all of that. I think it's partly the anxiety of having to move again. I want to. But I remember the work involved when we moved from South Florida to Southern California, throwing out what we didn't need, spending all night lugging garbage bag after garbage bag to the two communal Dumpsters in our neighborhood, packing, and those five days on the road, which were good five days to see what I never knew before, such as the two days it took to get through Texas. It's that upheaval, you know? I know it has to happen. Some can live with it, some are travel writers, some are wandering souls who find a home immediately in a new place and can find it again two, three weeks later somewhere else. But I'm not. It's been a nomadic existence for all these years. We moved many times in Florida and I'm glad that it was within the same state, but there were always those different feelings to be found in each place. Sure, it was good for my writing, but I've always wanted to put my roots down deep and not move ever again. I guess I'm just hoping for some kind of guarantee that this will truly be the last time we do this, because I feel at home in Las Vegas. I know this is my place. I love how people are constantly seeking things to enjoy. I love all the restaurant options, the old ladies forever at the slot machines, the architecture of the casinos that's so incongruous with the hot, flat, brownish desert landscape, but it still feels so right. On our second trip to Las Vegas, after crossing into Nevada, we saw a riverboat-shaped casino. On our third trip, the most recent one, it was gone. No more business to be had in that location, I'm sure, but that is amazing! A riverboat that simply disappeared from the desert. Yeah, yeah, I know the actual logic, what actually happened, but there is sheer poetry in it that I can't imagine anywhere else in the country.

That feeling, it's a little dread, some little questions. Will we make it this time? Will something happen for us that'll bring us closer to living there? We're leaving on Friday morning, likely arriving at about 3 p.m., depending on the traffic. On Saturday afternoon, my dad's taking a Nevada law exam that'll make his Nevada teaching license official. That's the centerpiece of the trip.

I want it more and more every time. I want to wake up and know that where I am is where I belong, that I don't have to fear moving again. I hope it comes soon. Maybe it's that uncertainty I feel, wondering when it's finally going to happen, disappointed that this trip won't be the time for it. Maybe longing for that time. But another funny thing is how Las Vegas is full of transience. People go there, but they don't stay long. Tourists all along the Strip. Yet, this is where I want my fixed point to be. I like a whirl of people around me. All the traits I can pick out if I decide to write a novel (not about Las Vegas, I'm sure), all the things there is to see. That's fine with me. But I hope it'll become more permanent soon.

(I know this entry is a tangle of words, a mess, jumping from one place to another and not grabbing onto a solid point. But I needed to do it like this, just this once. I'm nearly done writing my share of the book and it's at that point where the frustration is less, but the worry still remains in the editing. I needed to break loose, if only for a few minutes.)