Monday, March 4, 2013


Connections come easily in the Las Vegas Valley. A flattened water bottle seen in the dark of midnight while walking Tigger shows a Fresh & Easy logo, and that's got to be from the Fresh & Easy very nearby.

An FYE bag blows past while walking Kitty the next early afternoon. The Boulevard Mall on South Maryland Parkway doesn't have one, so it had to have been from the location at the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson, the only one in Southern Nevada, and in fact, the only one in Nevada.

Emotional connections come easy here. You either like Las Vegas, or you hate it, or you like certain parts but hate others, or you're ambivalent about the whole thing, but like to visit to try to dig deeper into what makes you ambivalent about it. In this case, I mean the connections you make that remind you of where things are. Not just the water bottle or the FYE bag, but other things too, such as the Carl's Jr. burger box I found laying in dirt in one of the empty lots where I walk our dogs.

Unlike at Pacific Islands where there's dumpsters everywhere and you don't have to put the garbage out on the curb, but just toss it into one of those dumpsters and see it picked up by the garbage truck later in the week, it's nearly impossible to find a place to throw out litter. For one, I'm not touching that tall Four Loko Alcopop can sitting in front of one of the parking spaces next to the island where Tigger and Kitty also do some of their business. But even if it was, say, the flattened Pepsi cans I found at the intersection of Lane I, across from enormous bushes and willow shrubs that remind me dearly of Boulder City, I couldn't throw them out anyway. The only dumpster we have, this long 30-ton container, is on the other side, on the senior park side, separated by a gate that's locked at night. It should really be our dumpster because I thought they had their own and besides, we're paying for it in our monthly garbage fee. Otherwise, you have your own garbage bin in your carport area, and I'm not throwing out other people's trash in there. I am conscious of my surroundings, but there are just some things you can't do, much as you'd want to keep your home clean. Plus, the heavy wind we have tonight blew everything god knows where, maybe to the tiny apartment complex across the street from the back end of our mobile home park. It's unfortunate that our desert might also be home to so much trash, but we do what we can.

Anyway, getting back to that Carl's Jr. burger box, I think I know where that Carl's Jr. is. It is nearby, a mile from me, on East Bonanza Road. It's a generally rundown area, with a Walgreens and CVS following along on the path to the Strip, whichever path you might choose, and even though I'm not sure exactly where it is, I know that it's in that vicinity. One of these days I'll find it exactly.

When I looked at that Carl's Jr. box, I knew that it came from that particular Carl's Jr., close enough to us. Back in Florida, when I saw a Publix plastic bag, I knew it was from the Publix near Muvico (now Cinemark) Paradise 24 in Davie. If I saw a Winn-Dixie bag, it was from the Winn-Dixie in the shopping center across from Grand Palms, where I lived. It's more of a matter of collecting information about where you are, to make it more familiar to you, like Flamingo Road is to me, having walked nearly its entire length, except for where the Vegas Towers Apartments are, because that's a pretty sad looking spot, although that wasn't my reason for not walking there. I was only going as far as where the Clark County Library was on Flamingo Road. When I got there, I turned into it and left the rest of Flamingo Road to others. All I need are my libraries.

But in order to make those connections for the sake of directions and gaining a sense of home, you need to be interested in where you live, and really like it, soon to love it. I already love Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Valley. It took some adjustment in switching from being a tourist and then reading all about it from Santa Clarita while waiting to get here, to becoming a resident and seeing it all every day. It's not disconcerting in that way, and it's never been disappointing, but here you can see whatever you want, look into certain areas, look for the history of those areas. From Santa Clarita, Las Vegas seemed like it would be home to me and it would definitely be more home to me than Santa Clarita ever was, where I only existed. But after getting here, I had to figure out what I wanted from Las Vegas, what I wanted to find here, which is much bigger than simply reading about it.

I'll give you a more recent example. Early yesterday evening, we finished our load of errands at the Food 4 Less in the shopping center next to Pacific Islands on North Green Valley Parkway in Henderson. I don't know the name of the shopping center, or even if it has a name, but I do know that I can walk out of Pacific Islands, to the McDonald's that backs right up to the railroad tracks, get whatever I want, and go back home in far less time than it would take to get to the Rebel gas station/McDonald's at the beginning of that section of Vegas Valley Drive from our mobile home park. I don't know a great deal of directions in Henderson yet, but it is a start, just like intimately knowing Flamingo Road is a start in knowing the rest of Las Vegas.

After Food 4 Less, we stopped at China Garden, which will inevitably become our regular Chinese restaurant. We've eaten there once and taken out numerous other times, including for Thai tea and slushes, and we'll probably single-handedly keep them in business after we move to Pacific Islands. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that's where we eat on our first night there in September.

We were at China Garden to get a coconut slush (for Dad), a strawberry slush (for Mom), a peach slush (for Meridith), and a pineapple slush (for me), the latter three with tapioca balls. There were a few orders ahead of us and those slushes take time to make, so I stood next to the door, watching a bit of Family Guy high up on the wall at the back of the restaurant, watching these astonishing cooks work magic with strongs flicks of their wrists controlling these huge woks, going from one dish to the next with such knowledgeable ease.

I felt so comfortable there that I felt, yes, this could be my neighborhood. It was nice, quiet, you did your errands and you went on your way. But you could linger, if you wanted. You could walk this shopping center, see if there was anything that interested you, and even if nothing did, just enjoy the gentle peace of it. That seems rare coming from a shopping center, but Henderson is where lots of the true residents are, those who are here for the long haul and aren't only staying a year and then leaving for another state. Henderson is quite spread out, perhaps more than Las Vegas (Lake Las Vegas, with Ravella at Lake Las Vegas, which you have to drive a ways to get to, is considered Henderson, and so is the Railroad Pass casino, outside of Boulder City city limits, on the way to Hoover Dam. I can't believe that that's considered Henderson, what with how far out it is, but there it is), and yet there are pockets of community here. It's not apparent community; there's still a feeling of overall disconnect, but you go where it suits you, go for what interests you, and you find many friendly people. It's apparent what some cities are right when you see them. Henderson isn't one of them. It gradually unfolds to show you what it is and then let you decide what you feel about it. It doesn't want to give everything away all at once, much like the Las Vegas Strip.

As we were ordering the slushies, I picked up two of China Garden's business cards to use as bookmarks. I look at them and I think about that shopping center, that railroad track, and Pacific Islands and I begin to get a sense of where I am there, what street that is, what the intersection is away from that shopping center and Pacific Islands, and even where the Galleria at Sunset mall might be from there. That business card is a connection to that area, that shopping center.

Connections don't only come from people in this valley, not always in the face-to-face sense. Yes, people were responsible for that shopping center I appreciate, for the pineapple slush I liked, for the apartment complex I can't wait to explore more thoroughly after we move (even though the temptation will always be strong to walk over to that wall facing the railroad track, stand there and stare and think and wonder and be inspired), but I mean in the sense that one thing you see leads you to think about what it relates to, and in turn, what it means to you. Every piece I find, every blown bag, every flattened water bottle, every business card, presents more and more of home, in places I've been to, or that I haven't been to but I want to go to, or that I didn't even know about until I saw that particular item and now I want to go there, wherever there is. Through these connections, I build a street, a collection of houses, a shopping center, sidewalks, traffic lights, a city. I see all that, but I don't truly know it until I look that closely at its trash, at what it brings along with it to show off or just to let fly into the wind. I need to see that logo, that card, that piece that lets me know my home better. This is the first time since Florida that I see something new every day. I don't know what it will be, but today I will see something new, something that will make me want to know even more. I'm even fostering that connection with plants, wanting to know exactly what I'm looking at, so I checked out a slew of books about plant life in Southern Nevada. At least one of them has got to know about those shrubs, the trees, those tiny yellow flowers. I need to know. I want to understand. I am home, and I want to be home even more. This is how I do it.