I've been thinking about this all day, but am first reminded of what Bill Murray's Don Johnston said to the kid who may have been his son in Broken Flowers:
"Well, the past is gone, I know that. The future isn't here yet, whatever it's going to be. So, all there is, is this. The present. That's it."
This morning, I sent a long e-mail to Sara, a good friend in Florida this morning about plans possibly afoot to move to Las Vegas. It's been going on for at least four years now, but the rumblings are stronger than before.
I told her about my love for Las Vegas, the history, that the Las Vegas we know was started by the Jewish mafia (Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel), and though I don't condone how they worked, it's a point of personal pride for me. I love that the history is still there, and that you can feel it all around you. Boulder City was begun by the federal government to house workers building the Hoover Dam. No drinking was allowed and neither was gambling. That's still in the city charter, still active today. There are no bars in Boulder City, no gambling establishments.
The Santa Clarita Valley closes every night towards 9 p.m. It gets emptier and emptier, and is the same for parts of Los Angeles if you're not into the party scene. Las Vegas just keeps going, 24 hours a day, and you can step off and back on whenever you want. I love that I have that option and though I'll never adopt a nocturnal lifestyle ever again, that the choice is there makes me even more enamored of the city.
But throughout the day, I wondered: If we hadn't moved throughout Florida so many times, if I had had roots somewhere there, would I love Las Vegas as much as I do now? Would I have even known about Las Vegas? Would I have had a snap opinion about it like most people do without ever having been there? Vegas is wildest indoors, never outdoors. Amidst all the lights, the Bellagio waterworks, the famous volcano, there is a silence of sorts, the kind that encourages you to find whatever you'd like to do, to make the night yours. It does not move as fast as people think it does. You move fast throughout it. The city doesn't. It does provide that sense of reckless abandon with all the options available, but ultimately, it's your choice.
I don't really know. I came up with possible futures for dead actors in What If They Lived?, but I can't figure out who I would have been if I had continued living in Florida. It's not a lamentation, just an observation.
In that e-mail to Sara, I said:
"Living in Florida for all those years [19 years, from my birth to a year in at Broward Community College], I was fine. I loved it. I loved going to Walt Disney World every weekend when I lived in Casselberry [I was a tyke, mostly in a stroller at the parks], and I surely didn't mind Coral Springs and Pembroke Pines, because they still contained what I love about Florida, that even in condos and gated communities, the spirit of the state still exists in little crevices, such as the small waterway near the condo in Coral Springs that had tangles of tree branches, and sticks all around, and at Grand Palms in Pembroke Pines, you could just stand out on that golf course as the night took over, and enjoy such a vast panorama of stars with very few lights around you, so you could get the entire view."
History classes in school had Ponce de Leon, the Fountain of Youth, and what's referenced and striven for in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is actually my state's history. Have you ever been to St. Augustine and seen the Fort Matanzas National Monument? Did you know that Andrew Jackson was the military governor of Florida for nine months?
I want roots somewhere, finally. I feel like Nevada is where I belong. But I know that because of Florida, because of everything I saw, because of those history classes at Walt Disney World, I was imbued with a sense of exploration that has served me well, that gave me an insatiable curiosity. Every time I go to a casino in Las Vegas, on the Strip, I am impressed with the designs I see. I look around everywhere, in every corner, up at the ceiling, at all the details that were put into these places.
I think if I still lived in Florida, I wouldn't have known anything about Las Vegas. In 11th grade, an acquaintance was moving there and I thought to myself, "Las Vegas....isn't that in the middle of nowhere?" I thought it was a desolate outpost. Dad had been courted by the Clark County School District years ago, but he and Mom had the same concern, about round-the-clock schooling which would mean Dad wouldn't have gotten home from work until 10 p.m. Now, seven years in Santa Clarita, Mom wishes we had taken that chance. We could have worked out the logistics.
However, you can't change what has already been cemented. And I realize that I won't know what might have been had we remained in Florida. That's ok. I do know that I gained a sense of intellectual freedom in Florida. I was given so much, not only with Walt Disney World and St. Augustine and those history classes, but also my 11th grade English teacher, Roberta Little, who gave me Julius Caesar, A Raisin in the Sun, A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, and The Glass Menagerie, which became my favorite play. Because of all this, when my family and I first went to Las Vegas, I went without any assumptions, without any beliefs of what it might be based on what I had heard. My only worry was when we pulled into the parking space in front of our room at the America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue, and the atmosphere felt immediately lonely, that I wondered what in the hell we were doing here. But after a few moments in the room to get settled and to put Tigger into his cage (We brought him with us because there was no one reliable at the time in Santa Clarita, and the Best Value Inn allowed pets) and turn on the TV for him, we went to the Strip and I felt better. Yes, this was for me. This freedom to do whatever you wanted, whatever you could find that appealed to you. I liked this a lot. There is no social fear here, no worry about what your neighbors might think, which isn't what life should be. I don't have it, but I can imagine other tourists shocked at the same thing that I love.
Wherever you live at the start of your life should begin to prep you for the rest of your life, to teach you things that can carry you through whatever might happen. Florida did that for me, and it's because of everything I learned and everything I experienced there that keeps me psyched about Las Vegas, that'll keep me excited when I live there. I'll handle the summer heat. Florida taught me that, too.