Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Neighborhood Opens Up

Most visitors to Las Vegas will dart between casinos on the Strip and maybe see what lies beyond the Strip, into the actual, real-life city of Las Vegas, but they may never know the supermarkets Las Vegans shop at, the Walmarts they visit, the businesses they work at each day. Not everyone in Las Vegas works on the Strip or for casino corporations.

The tourist's view of Las Vegas depends solely on where they've been and where they might go the next time they come here. The view from various points on the Strip is expansive, but all of Las Vegas itself can only be truly known by its residents. I am one and so is my family.

When we were tourists here, we had that exact mindset. We had to go here, we had to go there. Even when we were in Las Vegas to seek work for Dad, we still dashed. We, and then Mom and Dad, slowed down only long enough to figure out where we were going to live. And now that we live in Las Vegas, this city, this valley, this desert expands even more than we had thought possible. We thought that as tourists, we had covered a great percentage of Las Vegas. We had seen it, we had played it, we had experienced it. As residents, I don't think we've covered even one percent of what Las Vegas offers, but that doesn't cause despair because now we have time. We don't have to go back to Southern California after a few days here. We live here. We are here for good.

We're now month-old residents (we arrived on Friday, September 14), and the frenetic zigzag of moving has mostly faded, save for still decorating sections or our mobile home. I still have to get a bookcase, a lamp, and a reading chair for my room, and some kind of couch and lamp for where my TV, DVD player, VCR, and sizable DVD collection is, in a separate room for all of it, next to Meridith's room. I haven't found what I want yet, but all that is workable. It takes time, but we have that now. And being settled in, so much more of the city is possible to explore now.

Take Sam's Town, on Boulder Highway, which is only 5-7 minutes away by car, and is therefore our neighborhood casino. We went there for the first time in our second week as residents. On our first day in Las Vegas, that Friday, Dad had gotten back from the bank with cash to tip the movers that had helped move all our stuff in. And this was after a four-hour drive, starting at 7 a.m., from Santa Clarita to Las Vegas, with stops in Barstow and Baker on the way, with two dogs and two birds in the car. Mom and Meridith and I had been chatting with the movers while we were out, and one of them mentioned players' cards that you can get for free at casinos all throughout Las Vegas, on and off the Strip. I'd heard about them, but was unsure because even if it was free, wouldn't they pressure you to play more? I don't mean having the card would pressure you, but the casino itself. Wouldn't there be some kind of hidden charges later on? A former co-worker of Meridith's in the cafeteria kitchen at La Mesa Junior High is a heavy-enough gambler that she's gotten so much comped in Las Vegas, including hotel rooms, meals and shows, and she has cards to so many casinos. But even so, aren't those cards for people like that woman? Doesn't seem like they'd be for us. The mover said he has a few and he uses them for discounts at buffets, restaurants, and other things. I still wasn't sure.

In our second week, we went to Sam's Town to get one of those players' cards, called B Connected, since Sam's Town is one of many Boyd Gaming casinos. We went to the B Connected desk and Dad got his card, but I didn't get one, because I still didn't feel comfortable about it. Then we went to the Mystic Falls area to watch the water-and-laser show they have in the evenings, and I loved it. I loved the animatronic animals, the lasers showing images on the rocks, the loud music, everything. I felt very comfortable here right away, feeling that this could become a regular haunt for me. Yet when we walked through the rest of the casino that night, past the blackjack and roulette tables, I was a little overwhelmed by it. Not because I didn't like what I was seeing, but it just felt strange. Was I really here? Do I really live nearby? Is all this actually available to me whenever I want? When you've spent five years trying to get here, it takes a little time to believe that you're here, and you don't have to leave the next day.

At South Point last week, where we went to Steak and Shake for the first time since Florida, I saw on the digital billboard on our way out that the Century movie theater there was showing a few classic movies. Gone with the Wind was the first on October 10, and then I was stunned: The next movie to be shown was....Mary Poppins! I couldn't believe it. But more than that, I needed tickets! I needed to go to see my favorite movie on a bigger screen with bigger sound!

The next day, I found out that Gone with the Wind and Mary Poppins were part of a five-film series put on by Cinemark, called the Cinemark Classic Series. And even better for me was that one of the participating theaters was Century 18 at Sam's Town. Of course I needed to go, but I debated when to go. It was showing at 2 and 7 p.m., on October 17. Yesterday. The 7 p.m. showing meant that Dad could drive me there, or me and Meridith if she wanted to go too, but we'd get out at 9:30. Far too late to do anything else, since Dad works the next day, and we're residents, not tourists.

The 2 p.m. showing had more possibility. Sure Meridith and I would have to walk to Sam's Town, but at least the scenery is more interesting here than it ever was in Santa Clarita. We could either walk the front end, passing Taco Bell, Fresh and Easy and other stores along the way, or the back end, taking a right after we walk out of one of the gates at the front of our neighborhood, across from the clubhouse. There's more dirt and empty land on that route, but still interesting to see, plus less traffic and therefore safer. Most important was the weather, the temperature. If it was going to be 91, it would be taxing on us. But in the 80s would be better, and I found out it would be 83 on the Wednesday that we would go.

And then Meridith remembered that each ticket stub from the movie theater is good for a free game of bowling at the 56-lane bowling alley downstairs at Sam's Town. So we could go see Mary Poppins and then go bowling! What a way to spend a Wednesday afternoon!

So fast forward to late yesterday morning. Meridith and then Mom looked at the Sam's Town website to be reminded of what kind of eats they offered there, and Mom suggested maybe the Firelight Buffet at lunchtime. Two Saturdays ago, we went to the breakfast buffet there. My rule of thumb about a breakfast buffet is that if there are grits, it's ok by me. And it was. It also happened to be the second day of the Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival at Silver Bowl Park, near our home, since the festival's regular location was undergoing refurbishing and new construction. At the table behind us were a troubadour with a guitar, a court jester, and a large woman who looked like she'd work at one of the pubs in olden times. They were all dressed in full costume, even the court jester with the crazy hat. But what made the morning most delightful was that because all three were performing at the festival, the troubadour, in order to warm up before it was time to go, strolled through the dining areas, strumming his guitar, and singing. Find me this anywhere else. Find me any other city where people are totally unafraid to be themselves, to live their lives out loud if they so desire. San Francisco may be one, but don't they spend most of their time worrying about rent?

A few minutes before 11:30, we set out for Sam's Town. Meridith asked which way I wanted to go, and I asked her which way she wanted to go. Automatic impasse, but then, not really, because in our first full week, we both turned left after we walked out of one of the gates, walked down that sidewalk, made another left, and walked all the way down to the intersection that has a Rebel gas station on the left, a Terrible's gas station/McDonald's combination on the right, a 7-11 right in front of you, and a shopping center to the right of that. We walked to see what was further down from our immediate area, and found that Fresh and Easy, in 91-degree weather, which is not as comfortable as I thought it would be, mainly because there was no wind. Just a blazing sun at the end of summer.

So we turned right out of the gate. In the past four weeks, we've driven wide roads, wider than I ever saw in Southern California and even Florida, but I've never actually seen them. When we walked to what we found was Fresh and Easy that first time, I was looking at what was in front of me, directly ahead, not the road itself. I never looked down, never noticed the lanes, the ease of the cars moving from lane to lane, or turning at the intersection. I was just amazed that all this was mine, that I could do with it whatever I wanted, within legal reason of course.

Walking that long sidewalk to a nearby intersection and then crossing the street to the sidewalk on the other side for more shade, I was in awe of this road. It was so wide. Even without having a car right now, I know I can drive these roads. I can make those turns, I can change lanes, I can make u-turns. Just don't ask me to parallel park, because I would like to go through the rest of my life without ever doing that. I believe in parking in a regular space, and then pulling out, aiming the car at whatever exit I need, and driving away. I want it that simple.

Meridith reminded me that the entire population of Nevada, a little less than three million, is less than the population of Los Angeles. No wonder we have museums devoted to city and state history. No wonder people seem more relaxed here. We have time. We can do whatever we want. We can take each day and steer it wherever we feel like going. Time is never an enemy here because we use it all up. Casinos open all the time are proof of that.

It took us 43 minutes to walk from our development to Sam's Town. And in that time, I finally knew where I was going, because the weekend before, when Dad drove the same way we were walking, Meridith and I studied every inch of it to figure out how to get there and what would be the best way. It turns out that the only difference between walking the front way and the back way is that you have to cross two streets on the back way to get to Sam's Town, whereas with the front way, you only have to cross once. Both are the same distance.

When we drove those roads in our first week, having to go to the Walmart Supercenter across from Sam's Town to get a few things, or going further out just to see what was around, I only knew that when I saw the post office next to the Terrible's gas station, we were getting closer to home. I hung onto that because I didn't know any of the other roads around us, or how to get to the Smith's on Sahara which is in the same shopping center as a branch of the Las Vegas Athletic Club, Capriotti's sandwich shop, and a counter-service Chinese restaurant whose name I keep forgetting. I think, with how much I read about Las Vegas in the five years before we finally arrived, and reading all the issues of The Henderson Press up until we moved, that I expected to know everything right away, know where I was, know where I wanted to be often. That was definitely an egregious assumption. But now, four weeks later, these streets and sidewalks have gone from intimidating to comfortable. I know more about my area, I know where the streets away from it goes. I'm not yet sure how to get back here from anywhere in Henderson, but I'll get there. I almost know how to get back here from the Strip. I've seen it many times.

It's like any neighborhood in Las Vegas is suspicious of you when you move in, not yielding an inch, making you prove yourself, that you're not going to be moving in the next few months, that you're here to make a life for yourself. And then when it senses your honorable intentions, it shows you just a little more, and then the next week, more still. That's what it felt like, but I'm relieved my neighborhood has finally opened up to me, that I know where I am, who I am here, and how I want it to be. So far, it's working well.