Familiarity and Comfort in Las Vegas
I wondered about the name “Las Vegas.” I am a California resident who dabbles in Duo Lingo. “Las Vegas” means “The Meadow,” named by a Spaniard who enjoyed stopping over at this grassy meadow in the desert. A meadow fed by natural springs. Later, the Americans would come and build pumps, draining the springs, and leaving the city to sink several feet into the desert sand: vegas no más. Other minds beheld this sunken place near the Hoover Dam, nodded at the lack of prohibitions on gambling, and began building casinos. The casinos begat a nice airport. Other minds contemplated diversification: cheap power, cheap land and easy logistics are all good for the datacenter business. The party will last as long as the Colorado River flows. It is a visit to the dimmed lights of the datacenter that brought me.
When America allows itself to take all its worst instincts and run with them, we get Las Vegas. The City feels like any suburb in America: a series of large shopping malls in the middle of town sealed in to their own reality, surrounded by humbler strip malls where the locals satisfy their day-to-day commercial needs. All generously connected by a grid of six lane roads and choked highways. The area leading to the Buy N Large datacenter is rocky desert strewn with trash. A developing country missing its stray dogs.
It was from the driver of the rental car shuttle bus that I gleaned a potential use for Las Vegas. As we rode from the Airport Terminal to the Car Rental complex across the street, he took to the mic to entertain and inform. The weather was in the fifties that day, but in a few days the forecast called for ninety. He then explained that the airport had recently been renamed from “McCarran” to “Harry Reid” and fortunately most of the signs have been changed, but for the first year a lot of folks had been confused. Our driver then informed us of a list of national parks and how many hours of driving they were from Las Vegas: Bryce, Zion, Death Valley, and the North Rim and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Ah, I thought: as an air hub, Las Vegas could be a good spot to fly to with the family to rent a car and explore. Coastal Northern California is surpringly far from The West. Perhaps I would be back.
The morning was long. I had been up at 5:30 to shower, drive, park, and catch my flight. I had hoped for a pastry and coffee at the airport Starbucks, but the line was long and moved at zombie speed. I stood patiently for a few minutes until the airport loud speaker announced that my plane was now boarding, and I had the length of the terminal to cross. On the plane, the pilot announced that due to the unusual presence of Weather in California, the flight could be choppy, so no “service” would be attempted, for safety. At Harry Reid’s rental car terminal, there was a big Starbucks in the middle, but I had an orientation to get to at the Buy N Large datacenter, and at that point I had achieved my “cruising altitude” for the morning and didn’t need anything. I made my way to the cars and picked the Blue One. When asked to choose a rental car, I try to go for the most unusual color, in hopes of remembering which car I was driving.
Driving rental cars is its own pleasure for me, because at any given point in my life I am probably driving an older car. Behold, the crisp video feed from the backup camera! How does the cruise control work? Lane keeping! That’s neat. Where do I put my phone for easy navigation. Once I discover that I can pair my phone to the car’s video screen I am in a good place. At some point I ask myself whether I might want to be the kind of person who always drives a newer car. And I explain to myself that sounds nice but what is even better than that is to be the kind of person who doesn’t spend enough time driving for car quality to be important.
The Buy N Large datacenter has several entries in the Maps App. Because I had shipped some hardware last month, I recognized the street name of the one I needed to get to. I met my colleague and an armed security guard gave us the orientation, and guided us through our navigation of the sectors. Buy N Large is the largest data center I have ever worked in. It is one of those monuments which people in my line of work are likely to visit at some point in our careers. I recalled an old colleague who gave up living in Oakland, because The Company was content to have him work remote near the datacenter. He was content to rent a Large House to share with his cats, and drive out into the desert some nights to look up at the stars. Las Vegas was a home base from which he could visit The Universe.
Between orientation and getting work done I needed to eat. I asked The App for Brunch and settled on a place called “Mr Mamas.” A diner in a strip mall. Clean and efficient and delicous, with American portions. I had French Toast and eggs and a lot of coffee and was in a great mood for an afternoon of Moving Cables Around. At one point, I realized I would need More Cables which can be a problem because after all, Fry’s Electronics is no more. But the app suggested that Kiesub Electronics was on the way to Grainger. I hopped in the Blue Car and found The Cables that I needed at Kiesub. I had wanted to buy Extra but they had exactly Enough for my purposes. I got to chatting with the guy and he noted that while Fry’s had come and gone, Kiesub had stood for fifty years. We chatted some more. He inquired about me and I enumerated my blessings, and noted that for me, everything was pretty great. For Now. I’ll always remember the Lean Years after 2001. The guy had been married some decades and explained that while Marriage is Work, it really helps if you don’t take yourself too seriously. Amen.
Back at Buy N Large, I got the cables moved around and around 5:30pm, I called it A Day. I checked in at the hotel and asked for advice regarding dinner. The clerk kindly explained her favorite options which I duly checked out but I just wasn’t Feeling It. I wanted to sit at The Bar, somewhere quiet. I resorted to asking The App for Irish Pubs. After all, that is our comfort in Sunnyvale, which is the name we settled on when the Post Office told us we couldn’t call our town Murphy. The first on the list was in Mandalay Bay, which is a massive golden cube. I drove up to it, and pulled into a driveway. I passed a line of taxis wondering what the parking situation would be. I was deposited back out onto another six lane street. I asked The App again, and scrolled West into the Sprawl. I found my way to an Irish Pub in a Strip Mall. The parking lot was full, but a local vouched that the No Parking Tow Zone filled with parked cars was a place he parked Every Week. For tonight was Trivia Night.
I sat at the bar and the menu bragged that the Fish and Chips were the best in the US in 2019. I had travelled to an inland desert and I ordered The Fish and it was tasty. As suggested, I filled out the trivia cards. Brian the Owner stood near and we chatted. I told him about Buy N Large and he recounted a friend who was gifted in the ways of computers who had a confidence that he could talk himself out of anything, who had met a violent end from a neighbor who had mental problems. It was Halloween, and another Body in the yard had initially been mistaken by the kids as a decoration.
Come morning, I surveyed the Hotel Breakfast. Eager guests fed themselves off styrofoam plates, as is The Custom at American Hotel Breakfast Buffets. I allowed myself to recoil and to drive back over to Mr Mamas to enjoy the same damn meal I had enjoyed the day before. It did not disappoint. I dropped by Buy N Large to check on my colleague. My work done, I dropped in at a local coffee shop, which was okay. Back to Buy N Large, to bring my colleague to the Rental Car Return and on to the airport, where we parted ways, to our different airlines serving different sectors of the Bay Area.
I had a few hours to kill. I walked the length of the terminal, studying my options for sustenance and souveniers. I eventually settled on a $4 Nathan’s hot dog and discovered another Irish Bar next to my gate. A guy left a Blue Moon at the counter, which the barkeep acknowledged would be an insult in Ireland. I took this neglected pint under my care, which I nursed alongside my own Goose Island IPA. Another Illinoisan from Naperville who had matriculated from the same High School as the girl I had once dated from Naperville asked the Irish Bartender what he thought of the mixed drink known as an “Irish Car Bomb.” The bartender named a woman who he had known who got blown up in the early eighties. “It wasn’t intended for her, but her boyfriend, an English soldier.” If an Irish Pub promoted “Car Bombs” you could tell it was run by Americans. Conversation passed well through a third beer.
The flight home was pleasant. I was served a Coke and a snack and had time for the buzz to recede so that I could drive home safely from the Long Term Parking, and help my sweetheart put our boys to bed.