April 16, 2012: Toronto to Las Vegas
We are two happy girls with stuffed backpacks, giddy voices, and wide eyes (very much awake for 8 in the morning) sitting on a Greyhound bus amidst a slew of colourful characters: a bus driver with a tired grin and a kind word for all, a woman from Queen’s, New York who is enraptured by The Hunger Games, three young Mennonites in their customary garb who share a big thermos of water and a thick salami sandwich, a smiling Iranian man with a bounce in his step who is humiliated at the border because of an unidentified bottle of pills in his suitcase (I shoot disapproving looks at the officer who thinks it appropriate to demean this man by shouting at him to “shut up.”)
At the airport, we sit, we read, we rest, we sleep. When there is nothing to do but wait and nowhere to be but here – as is often the case in airports – it is easy to shift into stillness. I feel the shift happen as I turn the pages of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a book given to me by L, to be read on this journey of ours which has only just begun, but yes oh yes it has begun and there is joy in the simple fact of knowing this.
We talk and laugh and marvel at the fact that “we are actually doing it!” No longer are we sitting in our apartments, jotting down ideas, checking prices, searching for accommodation, flipping through guidebooks, emailing back and forth, and dreaming the Arizona dream. We are here, on the road, on our way.
I observe the people – all sorts of people going somewhere for some reason for some time. I wish them happy travels and safe returns.
Our first flight, from Buffalo to Cleveland, is a bumpy, scary ride, as if the sky is full of potholes and our small plane is hitting every one. I clasp my hands together and pray (to God, to Grandpa, to Aunt Shirley, to Mémère, to Pépère, to anyone who will listen really) and ask that this plane please not crash, not now, not here. If it is to crash, if that is indeed our fate, then please let it crash on the way back, after we have tasted the desert sun we have so lovingly and longingly prepared for. We are white-knuckled and barely breathing when we hear the young boy behind us squeal in delight, “Whoaaaa…this plane is awesome!” he says, followed by, “It’s like a roller-coaster!” We laugh and loosen our grips a little. If this plane is to crash, let it be an awesome roller-coaster crash that makes our bellies tickle all the way down and may the last sound we hear be a child’s exhilarated cries.
We do not crash, we do not die, our remains are not to be fished out of Lake Erie, and our next plane (a smoother ride, infinitely less “awesome” for our young friend) carries us from Cleveland to Las Vegas, where there are slot machines even in the airport. We wait a long time to pick up our car, a grey Nissan Sentra to which we will quickly become oddly attached and which we will, on Day 3, affectionately nickname "Dixie." With L behind the wheel, we make our way down “the strip” towards our room at the Stratosphere Hotel.
The ride down the strip both fascinates and disgusts me. The bright neon signs and the showy hotels, so ornately designed and constructed, make my heart beat a little faster and I can feel the buzz of the place immediately infiltrate my mind and stimulate my senses in a way that is not altogether unpleasant. But underneath this attraction is a deeper wisdom I am thankful for. I feel as though I can see Vegas for what it is – a place where the American Dream is pushed to the extreme and where overindulgence is not only encouraged, but celebrated. Because of this ability to see the artifice, I can appreciate the artifice without being devoured by it.
We arrive at our hotel just after 1am local time (3am Toronto time). The friendly lady at the check-in counter upgrades our room to a suite and we make our way to the elevator in an exhausted, elated state.
We jump into our beds, easing into the un-creased sheets and cloud-puff pillows, and in this razzle-dazzle land of make-believe and trickery, we drift off to sleep.