Most travelers don’t have any interest in Vegas. We’ve seen the real Eiffel Tower, why would we want to see a fake one? I had zero interest in visiting this man-made desert monstrosity; strippers, gambling, and the STDs that follow aren’t my idea of a good time.
My college roommate, LeAnna, lives in Vegas and told me I should visit. I had to trust Leanna’s judgement; she and her boyfriend are two of the most badass people I know. LeAnna, who is all of a hundred pounds of blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty, earns her keep counseling drug and gambling addicts when she’s not teaching high school science or keeping up with her boyfriend on vigorous hikes. Adam, her climber boyfriend, does work and spends every other month “way up north” in Alaska where he hauls himself and a fifty pound camera up a rope to do inspections of oil pipelines for a month at a time.
After spending some time in Vegas, my perception of this desert oasis has completely changed. LeAnna was right: it was nothing like I thought.
Here are the top three most unexpected things I’ve discovered about Vegas.
1. The cowboys are in Vegas, Paula Cole!
Last night Leanna and her boyfriend, Adam, took me to a small party at their friends’ house down the road. All of their friends are either climbers, girlfriends thereof, or both, and, as true with LeAnna and Adam, all of them are completely badass.
What struck me immediately was the innate manliness of the dudes at this party. One was talking about welding things while dangling a hundred feet in the air from a rope. The host of the party had one complete truck and one truck “shell” sitting in the driveway, apparently with a clear plan of what to do with the half-truck. Another guy started talking about drywall and making things out of wood, and then seamlessly transitioned into chatting about local climbing routes.
One man described his dwelling as “a hut up there on the hill.” I looked up at the hill. All I saw were rocks. One of the other guys lives in a camper in LeAnna’s backyard.
Ladies, if you’ve spent the last few years of your life in a city or grew up in one, you might not be familiar with the species of human I describe above. They’re called “men,” and they’re the type of people you want to be around if you have a plumbing problem, need your oil changed, or have two pieces of pipe that need welded together.
In response to Paula Cole’s Where Have All the Cowboys Gone, apparently the answer is, unexpectedly, Vegas. Or, rather, twenty miles outside of Vegas in Blue Diamond, Nevada.
I do not mean to exclude females from my description of badassedness above.
Last night’s hostess was Sarah. She’s a fire-fighter. A real one. Sarah also plays piano, guitar, fiddle, and apparently three or four other instruments. In addition to her fire-fighting and fiddle-playing abilities, I was pleasantly surprised to discover she also excels at pork preparation and cooking. She does all this and is also a mother of two kids and two dogs.
The cowgirls seem to have congregated here also.
3. The Blue Diamond General Store.
Have you seen old Westerns, where residents of the Wild West meander into the town general store to buy ice cream and beer? Wait… I mean, flour and cigarettes? People park their horses out front and women in bonnets haggle for calico fabric. Maybe the town sheriff makes an appearance.
The general store in the village of Blue Diamond, twenty miles outside of Vegas where LeAnna lives, is little like that, but not really much at all.
A wooden sign outside of the small structure labels the building “Village Market” as well as “Sheriff’s Department.” It is unclear as to whether is was historically the sheriff’s department or is currently the sheriff’s department. I have been able to verify that it does, in fact, function as a village market, based on my ability to purchase beer and ice cream. I haven’t engaged in any illegal activity just outside of the building, so I’ve been unable to verify if it still functions as the sheriff’s department.
There is also a shelf of books just outside the general store, boasting romance novels featuring Fabio covers, and VHS tapes of Julio Iglesias, all free for the taking. I’m pretty sure the old General Stores of the Wild West didn’t provide this service.
I started writing this post intending to talk only about donkeys, a topic completely unrelated to everything I’ve talked about thus far, but I wanted to save the best for last.
Who doesn’t love donkeys? If you don’t love donkeys, you’re probably a bad person. Remember E’ore from Winnie the Pooh? Who didn’t love that guy?
The surrounding area outside of Vegas is full of wild donkeys, or burros, as they call them here. Once the strippers and strip malls disappear, these burros are omnipresent. Donkeys are out and about on the hiking trails. Donkeys are chilling in the school yard eating grass. Donkeys are trying to get into your backyard to hang out.
LeAnna assured me that these burros are harmless. “Unless you come across a mother with a child… then you might get charged,” she told me.
This was comforting news until last night. I stayed at a dinner-plus-beer-get-together past LeAnna and Adam’s bedtime, finally leaving around 11pm to commence my two minute walk home by myself.
As I was stumbling along in the dark, I began to notice shadowy figures in the moonlight. It took me a moment to realize they were the wild donkeys I’d seen scattered in the fields during the day. Apparently at night these burros like to hang out among the houses in town.
“Stay calm,” I chanted, trying to assure myself that the burros were harmless, as LeAnna had told me, unless I ran into a mama burro with a baby burro. I was fine! Stop being a wus, you stupid wus! I told myself. I mean, I had just spend the night with a girl who fights fires for a living.
I approached the front gate of the house, relieved that I had passed through Donkey Death Alley unharmed. And then I saw her… a mother burro with her baby… right in front of the gate I needed to enter.
I’d like to report some sort of donkey-related struggle here to build up suspense; perhaps one of successfully avoiding violent burro catastrophe, or fighting the mother burro to the ground without even touching her, a-la-Crocodile-Dundee. But the truth is I shuttered with fear and leaped through the gate with the speed of a ninja before mama burro could have had the reaction time to attack me. Regardless, I’m adding “survived a night-time-violent-wild-donkey-run-in” to my list of travel survivals.
As with my story of avoiding harm during the Russian Invasion, I’d like to end this tale with some sort of adage. When encountering wild donkeys at night, fear not, for if you do, you’ll look like a huge loser.