Thursday, July 02, 2009

Day 8 – The middle of nowhere

We’ve settled for the next five days at my sister’s home in Riverside, Calif., located in the High Desert region, at the very edge of the Los Angeles metro area. On a clear day, you can see the heavy haze descend upon the citizenry like a toxic fog.

It will be a LONG weekend of fireworks, baseball (mostly for my benefit), a little sightseeing and mostly relaxing. The evenings are much milder than in Vegas where it had difficulty getting below 88.

Frankly, we’d had enough of long waits, crowds and too many people who forgot their manners at the front desk. People just cannot move in a proper manner at casinos or hotels – choosing often to meander around and always in front of me as I choose to move forward.

And they do NOT want to move. I quickly discovered that the words, “Excuse me!” – the universal comment to mean, “Hey dude, scoot over; you’re in my way,” is meaningless when the recipient doesn’t speak English.

Which in Vegas now applies to a growing number of visitors. I heard dialects from all over the globe – from Spanish to Chinese to Japanese to German to Eastern European. And none of them know that in America, we walk and drive on the RIGHT side.

Such is NOT the problem when driving in the Mojave Desert. Traveling through the Mojave Natural Preserve, from Baker, Calif. (home of the World’s Largest Thermometer and usually topping well past 100 degrees at noontime) to Kelso, and eventually Yucca Valley (outside Joshua Tree National Park), there are 200 miles of solitude in all directions.

The starkness of the scenery is striking. Sand dunes are shaped by centuries of desert winds; salt beds glisten against the burning glaze of the sun; and scruffy vegetation strains to grow through the cracks of dried lake beds. When you think of the middle of nowhere, this is it!

Which brings me to one of the hypothetical questions that can only be contemplated when you been on the road for what seems to be an eternity: would you rather live in an urban setting, among people, with just the bare minimum of living standards (no extras, no perks, no bells or whistles) … OR would you live in the middle of the desert without a soul around BUT in a mansion with all the amenities of life (cable/satellite, endless food, pool, games, etc.)???

Which one would you pick?

OK, that’s a little too deep to contemplate while chewing on some Alien Beef Jerky from Baker, but when the CD player is knocking out U2’s “The Joshua Tree,” as you see endless rows of this growth unique to the desert region, it helps put things into perspective.

By the way, I am the type of person that actually coordinates music to the place he visits – Frede Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” was heard as we drove along the South Rim and there will be some Beach Boys heard in California.

Yes, I AM strange…


In a city of more than 1 million people, where sports betting is one of the major outlets for the gaming industry, and where the NBA is seriously thinking of establishing a franchise, you’d think that the Triple-A baseball team could draw more than 3,820 people for a warm summer evening.

You’d think that an event which provided three hours of family entertainment, for around $10 a ticket – making it the absolutely cheapest thing in town to do (including a movie at the Vegas Cineplex) – would draw more than that!

Yet the Cashman Center was more than half empty for the contest between the local 51s (named for the mythical Area 51 in southern Nevada) and the Sacramento River Cats. In fact, there was very little energy provided by the home fans and it had nothing to do with the 100-degree temperatures.

Basketball MIGHT work in Vegas as a franchise; after all, the NBA is in Oklahoma City and one would have to classify that as a “reach” as a pro sports market. But the “regulars” in Las Vegas aren’t necessarily season-ticket holders or walkup buyers. It has always been the argument by the NFL against a franchise being located in San Antonio – too transient of a population. And with Las Vegas being one of the three cities most affected by housing foreclosures, it doesn’t make for a rosy outlook.

Besides, one All-Star Game is NOT enough of a launching pad and any past success at UNLV means nothing.

Until then … from sunny California where the state legislature will do everything it can to tax the sunshine to alleviate its dismal fiscal condition … Shalom!

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