We’re back in civilization again and it seems a bit surreal. How could my vacation be over already, so soon, as if it never happened? I find it hard to believe that I’m sitting in a cubicle again and wonder why time passes so quickly when you’re happy, but so agonizingly slow when you’re waiting for your computer to be fixed or a shipment of purchases to arrive. At any rate, I must come to acceptance that, here I am at work, and all the anticipation of our vacation has now turned to wonderful memories and digital images.

I suppose it’s time I summarize the rest of our vacation. I wanted to write more from Vegas, but the MGM Grand feels like they don’t milk you for enough money with the hotel expense, they also charge $12/day for wireless Internet access. There was no way I was paying that, and besides pecking anymore on a tiny keyboard with a little wand was more than I could bear.

Would you be surprised to hear that our car broke down on the way to Vegas or that we got pulled over for a traffic offense and spent the night in jail? If not, then you haven’t been paying attention to how our luck runs, but actually, none of those things happened!

Despite our car maintenance light giving us an ominous warning, we decided to push our luck to its limits and take the long road to Vegas via a sight-seeing tour along Route 66. Years ago, National Geographic did an article on Route 66 and ever since I’ve wanted to see it for myself. We were there, so we thought, “may as well.” Plus, there was an actual ghost town on the map, just north of Oatman, AZ. How could we miss that? After all, how often do you get to see a ghost town?

So, we set off along a very long, deserted road through desert and mountains and saw very little of anything, except the occasional lot of trailers and dirt roads. The ghost town turned out to be an abandoned gold mine. We didn’t see any other signs of previous life, no houses or stores, nothing that would suggest that humans had ever spent any time inhabiting this land. We didn’t even realize we had passed the so called ghost “town” until we arrived in Oatman, a two-block long tourist spot (population 128) that looked like it could have been the original town center. We were surprised to see a number of cars parked there and people milling about. The lonely drive suggested that we were the only people to have ever passed that way.

The best thing about Oatman was the free Internet access. When I got out of the car to take pictures, I noticed one of the houses at the top of a very big hill had several large satellite dishes and I figured one must be for Internet. I pulled out the Pocket PC and was able to connect right away. How odd. The whole trip was that way–Internet access in the most unlikely of places and yet unavailable in the many of the more populated areas.

The rest of Route 66 was a lot of nothing. Desert as far as the eye could see, spotted with tiny little communities and a pocket of houses in the middle of nothingness that left us wondering why, of all the places on earth, the residents chose that spot. When we got to Needles, it seemed like a veritable city in comparison. According to Zip Skinny, the population is 5471. It was huge. There was an entire subdivision and a school. Passing through Needles reminded me of the Three Dog Night’s, “Never Been to Spain.” Since it was notable enough for them to sing about, here’s what they had to say:

“…Well I never been to England
But I kinda like the Beatles
Well, I headed for Las Vegas
Only made it out to Needles
Can you feel it
It must be real it
Feels so good
Oh, feels so good”

I’m not sure what feels so good, and the song makes even less sense to me than ever, if that’s possible. Did people of the seventies have any standards for lyrics?

When we eventually got to Vegas, it was even more jarring than it’s ever been. What a stark contrast to the many impoverished areas we passed through. Where the median household income is $20,000 or less in the rural areas we passed through, you wonder what possible opportunities one could have for education or advancement, or a way out. The Indian Reservations, in particular, seem as hopeless as any place I’ve ever seen. I mean, rural is wonderful if you love isolation, but if you’re trying to give your children options, it’s hard to see how it’s possible in the middle of such nothingness. I feel like I should defend myself now…as an environmentalist, I see nothing wrong with nothingness. There is great value to me in undeveloped spaces. I think it’s admirable to be able to survive in such an inhospitable place where water and rain are scarce, and I understand why people stay for emotional reasons, to remain connected and attached to one’s roots. It’s just that once you’re there, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of options for leaving and I wonder how many stay by choice.

One of the biggest towns we passed through, Cameron, (before reaching the Grand Canyon – not on Route 66) had a number of Native Americans in the restaurant where we breakfasted. The population of Cameron is 2,125, 94% Native American. The median household income is $20,625 and 25% of the residents have a high school education. For many hours along our drives I found myself wondering what kind of business I could open there, if I were that sort of capable person, to create jobs. I wondered how I could bring education and resources, open a library perhaps, if they would want it. It’s nearly impossible to pass through such places and not want to do something to help. It gives you a whole new perspective on poverty and the contrast between inner city poverty and rural poverty. They strike me now as two very different things.

That’s about all there is to say about Route 66. The interesting part must be the other direction, to the east of Kingman.

In contrast, when we arrived in Vegas, it was utterly shocking the amount of wealth dripping out of the many towering hotels and casinos. The last time I was there was in July of 2000. At the time, the new Aladdin was almost ready to open, after the previous incarnation had been imploded and a new building erected in its place. Sunday, after we arrived in Vegas, we were walking down the Strip and I wondered, “where did the Aladdin go?” That one is gone too. The new building was remodeled to make way for a bigger and better casino, Planet Hollywood. All along the Strip, there are enormous buildings created in such lavishness, air-conditioned to 60 degrees, ornate and energy-demanding displays and lights…All in the middle of the desert, a place not meant to support the number of people who live and vacation there. I couldn’t help myself thinking, “what if just one of these casino owners donated a few million dollars to build some libraries, maybe with computers with Internet access, for the rural towns all around Vegas? what would life be like for those residents?” When is it ever enough money? When do people ever have enough? I know, I know, I think too much. I’ve heard it forever.

So, that said, we arrived happily, uneventfully in Vegas…which I’ll describe further in the next post.