Monday, April 24, 2017

Buzzcut, USA

I stayed awake on this leg of the journey, because the flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas is only forty-five minutes in the air. The sun was setting behind us, and the sawed mountains cut through the earth up towards us. The clouds, shaded fluffy blue with pink highlights danced across the endless aerial sea, puffs of marine foam riding the crests of wind that sped us East. A silver stream of jet sped past us, miles across the sea-foam-clouds, an ocean away from us, a fish leaping sunward, into the yawning radiance behind us.

The mountains cut from desert earth, their stone sides raw cuts of steak bleeding from the green-brown earth. Flying across country is not the same as driving: one misses the feel of that great distance. You don't get the magic of the land's expanse while flying. You miss out on the magic of the West's sheer impossible vastness. But you watch it all stitch together underneath the shadows of the plump clouds, and that's another kind of magic.

I saw the pinked clear blue skies spotted by clouds reveal the sunset-stroked mountains of the Nevada landscape bleed into a dozen miles of clear farmland on the shoulders of the hills, bleed into the suburbs, bleed into the realization that Las Vegas is just a reg'lar old American City, with on strip of infamous down the middle.

We flew over the whole city, and only turned around when we'd crossed across the teeth of the mountains. Our plane banked and re-turned over the cornucopia of baseball fields. A quintessential slice of American wholesomeness in a city that plays loose and fast.

I'd always imagined Las Vegas as a sprawling, claustrophobic crowd of skyscrapers and neon--uncontainable, morally rotten metropolis. But Las Vegas just looked like Minneapolis: a series of home and laundromats that make up 90% of American cities, but dotted with a few more casinos. I glued my nose to the window and stared at the MGM Grand, the Big Shot, the pyramid and miniature Eiffel tower.

I was fascinated by this city of decadence I have so long derided. It was an informal introduction, certainly not an intimate encounter; but it transformed my image of this city: corrected it, in some ways. It contracted it into a panorama viewed through the lens of an airplane window; a comprehensive view of the city which can't be seen from the ground.

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