Airborne Thoughts on Hometown Pride
I have two thoughts on this Alaska Airlines flight to my hometown to Las Vegas. One — and this is something I’ll be revisiting in the future, perhaps in the piece of spec-fic I promised Caren Gussoff a year ago — is that we wouldn’t hear complete sentences if we had the ability to read each others’ minds. I believe this to be the case because we don’t really think in complete sentences, like the narrator of “The Wonder Years.” We think in fragments, or what we believe to be fragments. We feel realizations, epiphanies and truths; we don’t spell them out in emo monologues. I think the only time we do that sort of thing is when we’re writing, or reading, or after we listen to some idiot with no medical training whatsoever making declarative statements about how the brain works.
If we could read thoughts — and this is nothing but an if; mind reading is not an ability I’ve ever wished to have — I imagine they’d sound something like an old-school modem tone. Screeches, chirps and bits of computerized profanity. Perhaps in time, you’d be able to kind of figure out how someone is feeling judging by the sound of their tone, but without training your mind to be someone else’s mind, you’d never be able to decipher someone else’ code. I dunno, maybe Google is working on something like that. When they do, you’ll finally be able to hear your friends thinking, “I only tolerate you” or “Check out the noticeable crease/bulge in his/her trousers.”
My other thought, the big one, is about Las Vegas. Purely by chance, this visit falls on the eighth anniversary of my voluntary relocation from Vegas to Seattle in July 2002. Many predicted that I’d be back within a year; in 2003, those estimates were revised to two years. By now, even the most stalwart of my Vegas friends has given up on my ever returning home — though there are still those who don’t realize that I ever left, mostly congregated at the Double Down Saloon. I’ll walk in there and they’ll say, “Hey, Carter,” like I was there five minutes ago. Sometimes they’ll add something to the effect of, “Hey, weren’t you planning to move somewhere? You kept talking about it.” The Double Down crowd probably just thinks that I went on the wagon for a few years, or moved my base of operations to Frankie’s Tiki Room.
The funny thing is, a part of me does feel like it’s still in Las Vegas. It goes way beyond (adopted) hometown pride. I identify myself as Vegas, to the point that I considered writing it on my census. “Latino/Vegas.” For me, Las Vegas isn’t just a city; it is a genre, a thought process, a compulsion. Las Vegas is my punk rock. When I walk into a roomful of non-Las Vegans I feel differently than they do, because I had the incredible experience of having lived in an idea for 12 years.
I feel Vegas glowing through my insides every single day. Part of that is due to the fact that, thanks to some fairly recent advances in communication, I’m in touch with my Vegas-based family and friends (and friends that have become family) pretty much every minute of every day. If I want to know where one of my Vegas crew is right now, I can strike up a conversation with them that won’t interrupt whatever it is they’re doing, even they’re in a place that’s too loud for conversation. (I’m outta luck if they’re in a situation where they need to use both their hands.) I have dozens of Vegas blogs and publications streaming to my phone. When that electrical transformer blew up in downtown Vegas last week, I knew about it before Summerlin did.
But there’s more to than that. I’d feel connected to Vegas even if Google’s servers went belly-up for an entire week. I can recreate the color of a high desert sunrise on the inside of my eyes. My skin remembers those hot, dry winds like I felt one yesterday. And every goddamn day I feel, in my heart of hearts, what it is to be a Las Vegan — to be underestimated at every turn, to be judged a hard-drinking frat boy, to be thought artless and bereft. And like Vegas, I can use those misconceptions to my advantage. I can draw to a flush while the other jackass is considering the pattern on the back of the cards.
In a strange way, Las Vegas has become my home team. I couldn’t give a damn about any sport that involves a ball, but I raise a huge internal cheer whenever Vegas wins one. A new downtown bar opens. A weak politician is called on the carpet. A piece of local architecture is written up in the New York Times. These are my grand slams; these are the goals that fill me with the urge to fart out a symphony on a Vuvuzela. It’s just like being a fan of any other major team: the fans come from all places, all persuasions, to cheer the victories with one voice. And no matter what part of Vegas we call home — or whatever far-flung Northwest bleacher seat we haunt for the season — we all agree on one thing: The Vegas haters can all get on the first f—ing bus to hell. Or Arizona.
I hope you’ll forgive me for waffling on my first point so soon after making it, savage reader, but now that I’ve given it some consideration, I believe that mind reading is possible. I think it’s possible because Las Vegas, even these eight years on, is reading my mind. It knew that I needed to come home, and it arranged things so that the visit would be memorable — it brought other expatriate friends home to roost, opened a huge new gallery and coffeehouse, kept the sun hot and the swimming pools lukewarm. Whatever my modem tone is saying, Las Vegas has read it — and soon I’ll be plugged into that great mainframe again, receiving my Vegas directly from the source. Just one more hour until the plane touches down at McCarran, and I’ll be able to shape these fragments into a single, ineffable sense of place.