This is Eleven

On April 1, 2013 by Eden M. Kennedy

About a month ago I was all, “Oh, shit, spring break’s coming, what should we do?”

“Nothing,” was my first thought, but then I pictured Jackson pale and shaking from Xbox 360 Lego Lord of the Rings poisoning and I decided it might be nice to get out of the house and go somewhere. Jack was going to have to work that week so it was all on me.

It turns out you can get two passes for two days at Disneyland for something like $400, but if you want to lay down and sleep in a place that isn’t your car parked in the lot of the Anaheim Chili’s you either need to book a hotel a year in advance or pay between $1,800 and $3,000 for on-site, Mouse-approved accommodations. The New York Times had the balls to call this a moderately priced vacation. I, on the other hand, was looking for something in the less-than-a-mortgage-payment range, so I said to Jackson, “How would you feel about spring break in Las Vegas?”

My son loves Las Vegas! He loves to stroll down the Strip in the warm night air and then cut through the Flamingo to get a burger at Johnny Rockets. He loves flipping through the sale rack at the Urban Outfitters at Mandalay Bay, looking for cardigans. He will linger on the bank of the canal at the Venetian and bask in the wonder of a ceiling that’s painted and lit to make you think it’s eternally four o’clock in the afternoon.

And it’s amazing, all of it, the effort and the money it took to build this crazy simulacrum of actual culture in the middle of one of earth’s most heinously inhospitable landscapes. It’s depressing as shit after a couple of days, but it’s still amazing.

“My science teacher hates Las Vegas,” he tells me as we’re on the walkway between the Excalibur and New York New York, heading to Houdini’s Magic Shop. “Why?” I say. “Because it’s expensive to get water here and they waste a ton of electricity.”

It’s true, Las Vegas is a blot on our collective soul. But the hotels are cheap, the shows are frequently kid-friendly, and the people-watching is fantastic. However, when I see a girl in a dress cut up to here tripping over her shoes and falling into the back of a cab while flashing the entire taxi line and spilling wine cooler all over herself to the applause of every bro in front of Caesar’s, I do not turn to Jackson and say, “Well that was glamorous!” I say, “Did you see that?” and he says, “No,” and I say, “Good,” and he says, “What happened?” and then I describe what I saw, and he says, “Oh, is that why all those guys were yelling?”

The taxi drivers make the trip half worth it. One is grumpy as hell, then overwhelmed when I give him a $5 tip for a $10 ride because I don’t want to be the asshole that made his day worse. One is silent; one has a mild, beatnik-y way of talking; one has blue hair and complains about her back giving out after so many 12-hour shifts. One tells us of how Las Vegas used to be, how his mother has been a cocktail waitress at the Golden Nugget for 38 years and once won a gold medal in the waitress Olympics, making it through her whole obstacle course without spilling a drop of the drinks on her tray. He told us that when the Mob was in control, the town had class and people dressed up; now, the local kids get hooked on drugs and commit suicide at alarming rates. “Well, that was depressing,” I say when we get out of the cab. “I thought it was interesting,” says Jackson. “I still want to protect you from stuff like that,” I say. “It’s okay,” he says, “I’m not going to be a drug addict.”

He gets his picture taken with both Penn and Teller. He buys a plastic Venetian mask after a Cirque du Soleil show and wears it under his surfer beanie as he walks down the Strip, making him look like either an androgynous child bank robber or a melancholy hipster mime.

I feel lucky that I can do this with him. We have a special bond already, me and him, so a trip like this is purely for memory-making purposes. “My mom took me to Las Vegas when I was eleven and we body surfed in the wave pool at the Mandalay.” “Didn’t you grow up by the beach? Why did you go to Las Vegas to body surf?”

That’s an excellent question. We could have easily stayed home and saved hundreds of dollars by having our faces pounded into the surf right here in sunny California. I have no idea why we thought we had to drive six hours to experience the fake equivalent of something we could do here for free. We have hamburgers and sidewalks and cabs and beds here, too. Why do we travel at all?

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. The beauty of this whole process was best described, perhaps, before people even took to frequent flying, by George Santayana in his lapidary essay, “The Philosophy of Travel.” We “need sometimes,” the Harvard philosopher wrote, “to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.”  — Pico Iyer

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14 Responses to “This is Eleven”

  • “Melancholy hipster mime” is why I keep coming back, hoping you’ve posted something new. What memories you two made!

  • “melancholy hipster mime” — this made me snort cola through my nose, and I’m not even kidding. LOVE!

  • I hope one day I get to finally meet Jackson. He seems like such a cool guy. “Cool” is an overused word, but it really fits here.

  • This makes me—as I know, for sure, that you did not intend—sad, as I consider that my children have more or less become trapped in the house, with its powerful black hole attributes over this spring break. I am impressed that you remembered that Las Vegas is, indeed, a place you can go, rather than just a place that exists, if you see what I mean. Also, being away from the pull of home is just cool. Except I can’t say it as gracefully as Pico Iyer.

  • We travel because that makes it a vacation. Yes, you have the surf, sidewalks, hamburgers, and people-watching at home, but you also have dishes, laundry, x-box, and the same-old, same-old at home. Travel creates the opportunity to share more of your time together without having to worry about not doing chores or “this is the time I turn on NPR for All Things Considered” and retreat to me-time. You can call it bonding, or you can just call it shared experiences.

  • I love love love this post. In part because I’m a mom to a single child, a 12 year old girl, and I can so relate to this adventure you two shared, and I love it because you got your writing mojo back. Yay!

  • We got the story and the moral. I love this, Eden. Thank you for sharing, which is what the best blogging is all about. Sharing. Storytelling. And you are one of my favorites.

  • I have some magical memories of Vegas–starting around the time I was Jackson’s age, assuming he is about 12 or so.

    I think I’ve gone to Vegas during every transitional period in my life–adolescence, college, early marriage–and I remember each trip differently.

    And yet I hate Vegas. It horrifies me. I’m Jackson’s science teacher. I go there and I think about 100 times a day: ‘Humanity is doomed.’ But how can you not be utterly fascinated–it’s something everyone needs to see. And there are various incarnations and perspectives one gets of Vegas depending on where you stay or who you go with or what you do.

    Besides the awful environmental impact there is the fundamental wrongness of gambling. I swear there is NOTHING more educational on this Earth than watching people shovel their money down the hole (literally, the hole) of the roulette table. Show this to Jackson sometime and remind him “these are adults, son. Don’t trust what people do in crowds. Someone can be wealthy and look like they know what they are doing but are fundamentally irrational.”

    Oh, the people watching. The sadness, the sheer terror of the human condition. But somehow fun. 10 years in a Buddhist monastery can’t teach you what you can learn in a weekend in Vegas.

    I can’t wait to take my kid there.

  • Oh – this is beautiful. You (and Pico a little, but mostly you) have just nailed it, that feeling that I’m after when I step out into the street somewhere. Whether it’s a day off playing hooky in downtown, or some unknown adventure on the other side of the world, this thing you’ve captured – that’s what I think I feel, that’s what I’m there to feel. Thank you!

  • this almost makes me want to hop the next flight to vegas.

  • I used to live in Vegas….and I would frequently drive to SoCal to hang out there. Weird, huh? But after you have lived there for a while the Strip kind of loses its appeal.

  • I live in a tourist’s destination paradise surrounded by nature’s bounty, and I totally feel ya. Sometimes you just need to get out of town even if it is where everyone else’s car is headed to.

  • I love this. My oldest daughter will be 11 next year, and I am hope, hope, hoping to take her to Slovenia. Some of our dear friends returned there after 10+ years in the US; their daughter was my daughter’s first friend. They come back to the US every other year, but I’d love to see their home.
    Eleven just seems like the perfect age. Young enough to not be all angsty and annoyed by the sheer dumbness of one’s parents, old enough to remember the trip and the time together. Maybe I’ve got my hopes up, but it seems like a trip like that, without all her younger siblings, might do a lot for reconnecting and fine-tuning our communication in the looming teen years. Especially for me, I’m often so distracted. We’ve got a houseful and I know that being somewhat self-sufficient can mean getting crowded out by the needs of the little ones.
    Great post!