Tag Archives: Nevada

Nevada Day

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Today is Nevada Day!

Wikipedia says,

Nevada Day is a legal holiday in the state of Nevada… It commemorates the state’s October 31, 1864 admission to the Union

Nevada Day was originally observed on October 31 each year. Since 2000, it is observed on the last Friday in October.[1]

On this holiday all state, county and city government offices are closed, along with most schools and libraries…[2]

In 2000, the Nevada Legislature decided to celebrate the holiday on a Friday, hoping that a three-day weekend would generate more interest. Nevada Day is now observed on the last Friday in October.

Last year on Nevada Day, I was in Las Vegas visiting The Poet and The Activist. I think The Poet mentioned Nevada Day as we were planning our activities during my stay. As far as I was concerned, the best perk of Nevada Day was free admission to the Nevada State Museum in Springs Preserve. (Normal admission for adults who do not reside in Nevada is $19.95!)

We talked about visiting the State Museum on Nevada Day. We thought it might be a fun way to spend a few hours, and we were pleased admission would cost us nothing.

The Poet told me her favorite features of the State Museum were the penny postcards in the gift shop and the onsite café with heaping plates of potato tots that cost only $3. Both features sounded great to me. I love both postcards and potato tots, and I love bargains most of all.

I’d hoped we’d get to the State Museum early (I’m generally an early bird), but we didn’t. I don’t remember what held us up. I just know it was mid-afternoon before we arrived at the museum.

The Activist dropped me and The Poet off near the Divine Café, the restaurant that serves Springs Preserve. While he parked, we slowly climbed the stairs up up up while The Poet talked about the big plates of delicious, hot, greasy, salty, crispy potato tots we’d soon be enjoying.

When we reached the café, we realized we weren’t the only people who were hungry. The place was packed. School kids sat at nearly eavery table. School kids ran around in the spaces between tables. Adult chaperones looked tired and at the end of their collective rope. Then an employee walked down the line, letting us know the kitchen was very busy (no surprise there), and after we ordered, there would be a half an hour wait for our food. Maybe we should not have planned to eat at the State Museum on Nevada Day, but the thought of potato tots was so enticing, we did not get out of line.

The Activist met us in line after parking the car. He shrugged when we told him about the 30 minute wait, asked The Poet to get him a soda, and wandered off to find a table for us.

While standing in line, The Poet and I saw a beauty queen. She wore a long white gown that shimmered and a tiara atop her yellow hair. The tiara gave her away as royalty, as did the satin sash slung across her chest. She was sitting with a man dressed like a cowboy. He didn’t seem to be wearing a cowboy costume; the tight jeans and the pointy boots fit him like everyday clothes.

I joked about approaching the beauty queen and acting as if I recognized her fame and asking to have my photo taken with her. I spun out an entire story about meeting the beauty queen, and I made The Poet laugh, but unsurprisingly, I chickened out and never approached the woman at all.

When I saw the beauty queen from a distance, I assumed she was very young. In my (limited) experience, beauty queens are very young, so I assumed this woman was too. She was quite thin too, an attribute I associate with youth. When I got closer and saw the wrinkles on her tan face, I had a better idea of her true age. The wrinkles were evidence she was living her middle years. I understood her situation better when I was able to read the words on her sash. She wasn’t Miss Nevada, as I’d originally assumed, but Mrs. Nevada. At one point, she caught me looking, we made eye contact, and she gave me a big, beautiful beauty queen smile. I could see that whatever her age, Mrs. Nevada had the skills of a pagent winner.

Finally it was our turn at the counter. The Poet placed our order, then we carried our number to the table where The Activist was waiting. While the company was great, the wait was excruciating. Would the tots ever come? Finally, they did.

The plate placed in front of me was heaping with hot tots. They were perfectly crispy, perfectly salty, perfectly greasy, perfectly delicious. For once in my life, I had enough tots on my plate to satisfy all of my potato desires.

After we finished our snack, we headed to the gift shop. It was a huge room filled iwth all the items one would expect to find in a museum store: mugs, jewelry, educational toys, and tasteful t-shirts, among other things. However, we couldn’t find the penny postcards.

I went up to the counter and asked the young man working there where the postcards were. He showed me to a rack we’d already looked at; the cards displayed there cost plenty more than a penny. When I asked him specifically about the penny postcards, he seemed confused, then said they’s sold out of them quite a while back. I guess The Poet hadn’t been to the museum gift store in a while.

We went into the museum to see the exhibits.

The first gallery was filled with displays related to the natural history of the state–lots of ancient bones and fossils.

We skipped that area and went directly to a room with a temporary exhibit of photographs of a ranching family. I learned on the State Museum website that the exhibit was called Ranching in the High Desert – Five Generations, One Family. The photography on display was by Jeff Scheid, and the family in the photos were “Nye County’s Fallini clan.” I enjoyed looking at the photos; I typically enjoy photography.

I wasn’t too excited about the temporary exhibit in the next room. The exhibit there was The Artistry of Pete Menefee. The website says,

A multiple Emmy-Award-winning costume designer, Pete Menefee is famed for his inimitable work with musical superstars, variety productions, and Nevada’s costume-spectacular stage shows. The Artistry of Pete Menefee, Costume Design for the Nevada Stage interprets the significance of Menefee’s work through photographs, stage costumes, and the original costume design renderings from Hello Hollywood Hello, Jubilee, and Splash.

Maybe the display would have been more exciting to me if I were interested in fashion, or theater, or costume design, but that’s just not me.

The part of the museum I did enjoy was the one dedicated to the cultural history of the Nevada, especially the interactive displays. One little nook was dedicated to the history of atomic testing in the state. There was a replica of a covered wagon on display; I condidered the possiblity of living in it and decided it was big enough for me. A large display told about mining in the state. My favorite lessons came from photographs of Native American on a wall. When visitors pushed a button, the people in the photos came to life and told of their experiences. The talking photos were highly informatiove and a little spooky.

Overall, I enjoyed the museum. It was clean and the interactive displays worked. The lighting was low enough to be soothing, but bright enough to see by. I would visit the Nevada State Museum again, on Nevada Day or any time free admission is offered. If I’m in the area, I’ll certainly pop in for potato tots.

Images courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/nevada-state-map-geography-united-43769/, https://pixabay.com/en/hahn-bird-gockel-bill-gorgeous-2645271/, and https://pixabay.com/en/cowboy-horse-boot-spurs-saddle-2243027/.

Bellagio

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I’m sure I walked into some part of Bellagio during my my first time in Las Vegas. Well, I was sure until I went in with The Poet and The Activist in October of 2017.

Every time I had visited The Poet and The Activist in Las Vegas, we had talked about going to Bellagio to see Dale Chihuly’s glass art. I didn’t really remember seeing the glass art, but I felt sure I had. I always told The Poet and The Activist I didn’t need to see it agian, and we always had many other things on our itenerary of fun, so we never went.

This visit, however, we had more free time in our schedule, so we decided to go to the casino on a weekday morning in hopes of missing the crowds. We got a later start than we’d planned, so our morning visit turned into an early afternoon excursion.

I’d also been confident all the casinos in Vegas offered free parking; Bellagio does not. Maybe Bellagio charges for parking because it has a parking garage. The Hard Rock Hotel has a garage too, and I know the Love Kids and I parked my van there overnight and for free in 2012. Maybe the Hard Rock offers free parking because it’s not on the main drag and has more room. We parked for free at Hooters too in 2012, but that was in an outdoor parking lot, not in a garage. Maybe Bellagio is just trying to be exclusive. I’m (obviously) unsure, but Bellagio wanted $7 and up for cars that parked in the garage for more than an hour.

So yes, the first sixty minutes of parking was free.

I think we can see everything in an hour, I said. The Activist was skeptical, but I was confident.

We parked, then found our way through the maze of the parking garage. We got on an elevator that took us up a couple floors, then followed a sign directing us to the casino.

The Activist found the Chihuly flowers right away. He’d walked ahead while The Poet and I hung back and took in the hustle and bustle of what seemed to me like a very high-end shopping mall. The ceilings were incredibly high and the floor was impeccably clean. I remember all the casinos on the strip being very well maintained, but this was Disney Land level spotless. There was not a streak of dirt on the floor nor a scrap of paper.

The Activist beckoned us, and we walked into a large open area near the reception desk serving the luxery hotel within the casino. I suppose we were in the lobby, although I didn’t see any luggage.

The Activist pointed up, and my gaze and The Poet’s followed his finger. Hanging from the ceiling were many, many, many colorful glass blossoms.

Glass flowers by Dale Chihuly installed on the ceiling over the lobby of the hotel within Bellagio

According to a 2013 article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the official name of the piece is Fiori di Como, and it cost $10 million. The article continues,

The sculpture consists of 2,000 hand-blown glass blossoms that weigh about 40,000 pounds. They are supported by a 10,000-pound steel armature. Every morning between 2 and 5 a.m., a team of eight to 10 engineers cleans and maintains the sculpture…

I suppose they look like flowers. I know they’re supposed to look like flowers, but I think they mostly look like colorful blobs.

I wish the flowers had been lit better. The light coming from behind them was quite subdued. Was this the choice of the artist, or was the hotel management using low lighting to keep the mood of the lobby mellow? I don’t know, but I would have liked to see the glass flowers lit by natural light. I think they would have popped had the strong Las Vegas sun shone through a skylight behind them.

When I heard there was Chihuly glass at Bellagio, I thought we were going to see an entire exhibit of different colorful pieces. There were a lot of flowers, sure, but they were simply variations on one theme. Besides, because they were on the ceiling, it was difficult for me to see much detail.

I took a few photos. They didn’t come out so great because of the dim, artificial lighting. (I love natural lighting for my photos.)

A little further into the lobby, there was a horse upon wich sat a person in an eleborate costume. I realized pretty quickly that the horse was a statue. I thought the person on the horse was eventually going to move (and even warned The Poet to expect some movement), but I guess that’s in another casino. This person did not move and turned out to be a statue too. Other people were taking photos of the spectacle, so I did as well. I failed, however, to stoop down and read the explanation of why this statue was in the lobby.

Perhaps the statue is related to exhibit showing at Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art called “Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection.” According to the Bellagio website, the exhibit runs until April 29, 2018 and

honor[s] the culture, lifestyle and art of the samurai warrior. Spanning hundreds of decades of Japanese history, more than 50 pieces of samurai armor will be on display.

After we got our fill of the Chihuly glass flowers (which took about three minutes, actually), we wandered over to the conservatory.

When we’d told a friend of The Activist and The Poet we were going to see the Chihuly glass, she said the conservatory would be done up for autumn and we’d certainly enjoy that. When we saw the conservatory, I thought What’s the point?

What’s the point of a talking tree in the conservatory?

While the display was colorful (which I certainly liked), I wouldn’t say it was beautiful. I would say it was gawdy. I’d also say it was more Disney Land-esque than even the spotless lobby. Talking trees? Come on!

Maybe the conservatory is meant to appeal to children, an attraction helping to make Vegas a family destination. Maybe it is supposed to be gawdy, over-the-top, like so much else in the city. Personally, I looked at the display of plants and flowers and saw wasted money. How many hungry people could be fed with the money spent on that display? How many homeless people could be housed with the money spent on that display? How many books for libraries or supplies for school kids could be bought with the money spent on that display?

I’m not opposed to spending money on art and beauty available to the masses, but this gawdy disply for the elite who could make it into the building left me wondering, What’s the point?

What’s the point of giant peacocks?

What’s the point of fake trees that roll their eyes and talk?

What’s the point of larger-than-life acorns and animatronic birds swishing their tail feathers?

My friends and I wandered around the conservatory for 10 or 15 minutes. People all around us were taking photos, and there were cameras flashing in all areas of the large room. I took some photos too. It seemed like the thing to do.

When we all agreed were were ready to go, we followed the signs back to the elevators, which we took down to the level where we’d left the car. As I’d predicted, we finished our looking in less than an hour and didn’t have to pay a penny for parking. It wasn’t a terrible excursion for free, but I know someone was footing the bill for the thousands of blossoms and all the talking trees.

 

The Rubber Tramp Artist wonders, What’s the point?

The Bellagio and 99 other Las Vegas attractions are on the Jen Reviews list of the 100 Best Things to Do in Las Vegas.

I took the photos in this post except the last one, which The Poet took for me.

 

Seven Magic Mountains

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I first saw Seven Magic Mountains on my way to Las Vegas (NV) in December of 2016. I was heading south on I-15 when to my right, out in the desert…What is that? I wondered.

The Seven Magic Mountains art installation from a distance. I know this photo only really shows six towers, but trust me, there are seven!

In the middle of undeveloped nature rose several bright, multicolored pillars. They rose up from the desert floor, no other signs of humanity near them. What in the world could they be?

By the time I saw the pillars, I would have had to backtrack to visit them, and I hate to backtrack. Besides, I didn’t know if it was possible to visit the pillars or if there was an admission fee. Also, I was excited to get to Vegas and see my friends, so I decided to just keep going.

I tried to describe the pillars to The Poet and The Activist in hopes they could offer some explanation. They’re bright, colorful blocks stacked on each other in the middle of the desert…

My friends knew exactly what I was talking about. It was an art installation called Seven Magic Mountains, they said.

Wow! Large-scale art installations impress me, and this one was so brightly colored. Both the size and the colors of this one were awesome. The bright colors made each block look as if it had been sculpted from Play-Doh, but such an endeavor would have taken a lot of the modeling compound. Even though I hadn’t gotten close to the pillars, it was obvious that each block was huge.

While I was out and about in Vegas, I found a free informational card dedicated to the installation. I picked up the card and learned a few things about Seven Magic Mountains.

The artist responsible for the piece is Ugo Rondionone. On the card, Seven Magic Mountains is described as

a large-scale, site specific public artwork…

made from

This photo shows a closer-up shot of one of the magic mountains.

locally sourced limestone boulders stacked vertically in groups ranging from three to six. Each stone boasts a different fluorescent color; each individual totem stands between 30 and 35 feet high.

The card also gave the dates of display of the installation as May 2016 to May 2018. I felt sad I hadn’t stopped to see the installation when I was passing by. I hadn’t realized the towers would only be there for a specific period of time. I wasn’t going to pass that way when I left Vegas, and I didn’t know when I’d return to Vegas via I-15. I may have missed my only chance to see the art up close.

As luck would have it, I ended up heading to Vegas again in October 2017. As I left Baker, CA and got closer to Vegas, I remembered the bright towers. I texted The Poet and asked her

Are those giant colorful blocks still out in the desert between here and Vegas? If they are, I probably should stop and see them.

She wrote back

yes they r. last I saw. magic mountains something like that

That was enough information to get me there.

Right before exit 12 for NV-161 toward Jean/Goodsprings, I saw a small brown sign simply reading Seven Magic Mountains so I took the exit. When I reached the stop sign, there was a second brown sign, again reading Seven Magic Mountains and pointing to the right. I turned, came to a stop sign, and found no indication of which way I should go. How are visitors supposed to know which way to turn? I guess the sign posters figure if drivers don’t see the art to the right as they approach the exit, they’ll know to turn left at the unsigned intersection. I thought I had maybe missed the art, so I pulled into the casino parking lot and turned on my GPS to get me there.

The Google Maps lady on my phone (I call her Mildred Amsterdam) told me to take a left onto Las Vegas Blvd. I drove about five miles, then saw the colorful blocks on my right. This was it! I was almost there.

Signs along the road warn drivers not to park on the shoulder. There’s a fairly large parking area, just follow the signs to get there.

Once I was parked, I put on my hat, locked up my van, and walked out into the desert toward the art.

First stop was an sign with some information about the installation. These are some of the things I learned:

The artwork extends [the artist’s] long-running interest in natural phenomena and their reformulation in art. Inspired by naturally occurring Hoodoos and balancing rock formations, the stacks also evoke the art of meditative rock balancing.

As I walked closer to the installation, I counted the columns. I only saw six. Wait. What? I thought. This is supposed to be Seven Magic Mountains. Are their only six?

I stopped and counted again. Only six. Then I moved to the right, and the seventh mountain appeared! There are seven columns, but from different perspectives some of the columns line up and only six of them are visible at once. Ah, the artist was playing with the viewers. Fun!

This photo shows all seven of the magic mountains, plus the bonus natural mountains in the distance. Notice the size of the human visitors in relation to the limestone boulders.

The desert floor was almost empty as I approached the art. Only small, scrubby bushes grow in the area. I guess venomous snakes are an issue because there were a couple of signs warning visitors to watch out for them. I didn’t want to end up like my friend who was bitten by a rattler, so I was careful where I put my feet.

It was really cool to walk among the totems. I enjoyed looking up at them and seeing the bright colors against the blue sky. Everyone out there seemed to be having a good time.

The pillars are totally incongruous and also totally right. The colors stand out against the earth tones of the desert environment, but the size of the columns fit in the wide-openness of the desert. Their scale is just right. I guess Ugo Rondinone knew what he was doing when he decided to put the bright boulders out there.

That’s me in the hat, looking up and up and up and up.

If Seven Magic Mountains is gone by the time you go to Vegas, Jen Reviews has a list of 100 other things you can do while you’re there.

I took all the photos in this post, except for this last one, which was taken by a very nice visitor lady. The older woman who was with the nice lady who took my photo said this was all very “interesting.”

The Water Knife (A Book Review)

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The Water Knife
I first heard of the novel The Water Knife (set in the American Southwest, primarily in Phoenix, AZ from a blurb in Sunset magazine (http://www.sunset.com/). The description intrigued me, and I wanted to read the book. Thanks to a kind BookMooch (http://bookmooch.com/) member, I had my chance.

In author Paolo Bacigalupi’s Phoenix, water is precious and scarce, and society is divided according to who has it and who doesn’t. The rich have water, of course, The rich live in lavish “arcologies” where all waste water is sceientifically filtered clean and reused. The rich have plenty of water to drink, can bathe whenever they want, have their clothes cleaned regularly, and even use flush toilets. The poor have limited water resources. The poor live in squats built from salvaged materials or abandoned houses; neither type of housing has running water. The poor buy their water one gallon at a time from pumps with fluctuating prices. The poor are dusty dirty because they can rarely shower or wash their clothes. Needless to say, there are no flush toilets for the Phoenix poor.

Not every place in this distopia Southwest has the water problems Phoenix does. Things are much worse in Texas, and refugees have poured into Arizona via New Mexico. The good people of New Mexico wanted nothing to do with Texas regugees and sent them on their way, sometimes violently. Life isn’t so hard in California and Nevada, and those states want to keep it that way by limiting who crosses their borders to use their limited resources. In this world, coyotes still guide people across borders, but the borders crossed are into states with water.

The most important thing in this world are water rights, and the water knife of the title makes sure his boss gets the water rights she needs to stay wealthy and priviliged.

There’s a lot of dark action in this book: shooting, torture, murder, death. Young women (called “bangbang girls,” usually Texans) sell their bodies for money and, hopefully, the chance to wash their panties in the sink while the rich man sleeps. A man who controls a neighborhood and demands a percentage of the money the area residents earn uses hyenas as part of his enforcement plan. Dams are blown up and precious water is diverted. People are tortured for answers. This book is so dark, in fact, that I put it aside for four months after reading the first nine chapters. The book was good, but it had me on edge, knowing all the characters were facing terrible fates. When I picked it up the second time, I must have been in a better state of mind, because I was able to enjoy the story without letting the violence get to me.

The action of the novel just keeps coming. I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what would happen next or who would doublecross whom. I did, however, figure out the story’s key mystery long before the characters did. (Of course, I had a big picture view the characters were lacking.)

I also enjoyed the characters. I was pleased to see two of the three main characters through whose eyes the story is told are women. The women aren’t damsels-in-distress women either, but strong, ass-kicking, gonna do what has to be done women. Even though the book is primarily an action/adventure/mystery story, there is also character development, which I appreciated.

The social problems the book examines are not easy to look at. What happenes when modern life as we know it breaks down? What happens when one of humankind’s most basic, most necessary resources becomes so scare people are willing to kill for it? What happens when the environment changes to the point people may no longer be able to survive on the surface of the earth? The Water Knife raises these questions and offers only bleak answers.

Still, I’m glad I read this novel. It was difficult to get through some parts of it, but those hard parts really made the story ring true. It’s a good book, but maybe not for readers who can’t handle the dark side of humanity.

Goddess Temple Revisited

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Every time I’ve visited The Poet and The Activist in Las Vegas, we’ve made a trip out to the Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet.

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This photo shows the exterior of the Temple of Goddess Spirituality including the seven interlocking copper hoops made by Richard Cottrell and three of the four turrets constructed by ceramist Sharon Dryflower.

The Goddess Temple is about 45 miles North of Las Vegas, with a lot of desert in between. To get to the temple, visitors from Las Vegas pass the the tiny community of Indian Springs, as well as the military industrial complex in the form of Creech Air Force Base and the prison industrial complex in the form of High Desert State Prison. There’s a lot of sadness on that stretch of Highway 95.

img_5447Thankfully, the land the Temple of Goddess Spirituality sits on is both a literal and metaphoric oasis in the desert. As the Genevieve Vaughan, the woman who envisioned and financed the temple says on the temple’s website,

Hundred-year-old cottonwood trees dot the oasis. Sweet-smelling creosote bushes, mesquite trees and salt cedars drink from the precious underground water. Many birds and wild animals participate in the delicate and beautiful ecosystem.

The temple holds its ground in the midst of many negative energies. Like the land herself, the temple’s energies remain positive, delicate, down to earth, and sane.

When I visited the Goddess Temple for the second time in March 2016, the sun was out and the sky was a

The Goddess Sekhmet with flowers

The Goddess Sekhmet with flowers

gorgeous blue. It was quite a contrast with my first visit on an overcast day. During my second visit, I took more photos. I took photos of things I’d photographed during my first visit, hoping for better shots. I think I got several really nice images.

I really enjoy visiting the Goddess Temple. I like walking around the grounds and seeing little offerings people have left. I like looking at the art that’s been created there too, but mostly I like going into the temple and sitting with Sekhmet and other representations of Goddess(es) there. (Are there many different goddesses or only one Goddess in multiple forms?)

On my most recent visit to the temple grounds, The Activist, The Poet and I had tea and poppy seed cake with the resident Priestess and another woman who is living and working there. After bidding farewell to the two older women, The Poet, The Activist, and I walked the long way to the sanctuary. Two women were sitting on the floor of the temple, having a tarot reading. We three newcomers gave them their space. I walked around outdoors taking photos while The Poet and The Activist sat outside to sing and chant. (Hearing the two of them sing and chant from a distance brings me great comfort. I feel like a little child who knows all is well even though I can’t see the adults because I can still hear them.)

Madre del Mundo by Marsha A. Gomez

This statue Madre del Mundo by Marsha A. Gomez sits inside the Temple of Goddess Spirituality.

After the tarot card ladies left, I went into the temple and sat on a low bench. I lit a white sage bundle I’d brought from my van and offered up the smoke to Sekhmet and the Goddess in all of her guises. I enjoyed the smell of the sage smoke too. When the sage had burnt almost all the way down, I set it in one of the containers filled with sand next to the statue of Sekhmet. I relit some incense sticks that had gone out and savored the tranquility of the place.

I don’t consider myself a highly spiritual person, but I appreciate the Temple of Goddess Spirituality as a place of peace and healing. It is definitely one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the Las Vegas area.

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I took all of the photos in this post.

Feeding People in Las Vegas

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My friends are part of the Las Vegas Catholic Worker community, although neither of them identify as Catholic. I think it’s unusual to be a non-Catholic Catholic Worker, but I can’t say I’ve surveyed any other Catholic Workers about their beliefs or religious affiliations.

One of the Catholic Worker activities my friends participate in is serving food to hungry people. (My friends  also do peace work focused on the elimination of nuclear weapons development, production, and testing. In addition, they also cook and serve with Food Not Bombs once or twice a month.)

When I mention I’m heading to Las Vegas to visit friends, the person I’m speaking with tends to get a knowing look, all wink wink nudge nudge. People say things to me like Have fun! or Be careful. Although I do have fun with my friends, I try to explain to people that my trips to Vegas are not what they’re thinking. My first visits to Vegas, the three nights I spent there with Sweet L and Mr. Carolina, eating and drinking out of trash can and wondering at the sights of the Strip, those night were maybe a little closer to what people think Las Vegas is about. (Read about those nights in the first part of this post: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/20/the-other-las-vegas/.) But since I’ve been visiting The Poet and The Activist, my visits to Las Vegas have not involved one foot touching the Strip or casino property.

The Activist participates in the Catholic Worker food service several times a week. The Poet serves food and helps with washing dishes once a week. Whenever I’m visiting, I volunteer with one or both of them.

Las Vegas Catholic Work house surrounded by a circle of people holding hands.

This photo shows the Las Vegas Catholic Worker house. Image from http://lvcw.org/

The serving of food starts at 6:30 in the morning. I’m not usually out and about so early, but other people are accustomed to it. When we arrive at the Catholic Worker House to meet up with the other volunteers, the food is cooked and people are bustling around, loading everything on the trailer to transport it to the empty lot where the food is served. People have been in the kitchen since 4am, preparing the meal.

The kitchen is warm when we walk in, always a contrast with coolness of the desert morning,but especially pronounced in early December. The people inside are warm too, although they must be wondering who I am and if I’ll be back. I’m sure they see many volunteers who help once to fulfill some sort of obligation and never return. In any case, people say hello to me, tell me their names, shake my hand. If The Poet or The Activist is standing next to me, I’m introduced as a friend.

When we arrive, people are typically sitting around a table in the next room, finishing their prayer meeting. I usually hear some portion of the Lord’s Prayer drift from the room. While the prayer meeting is wrapping up, other people are carrying industrial-size metal pots outside to load them on the trailer which an SUV will pull to the site of the serving.

After all the food and tea and paper bowls and plastic utensils and folding tables and condiments and cups are loaded and the prayer group has dispersed, all the volunteers circle around the wooden counter in the middle of the kitchen to join hands and pray together. I hold the hands of the people on either side of me and bow my head respectfully, but I don’t pray. Other folks recite aloud a prayer, often the following one by Samuel F. Pugh:

O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
Amen.

The food is served in a vacant lot at G & McWilliams Streets , far enough away from the Catholic Worker house so it makes sense to go in a car. I ride with The Activist (and The Poet too, if it’s Saturday). We always arrive a few minutes before the SUV and trailer.

When we arrive, the hungry people are lined up and waiting. Most people would probably say those people standing in line are homeless. I’m sure some of them are homeless. Maybe even a majority of them live on the streets, but I’m not willing to lump the whole bunch into one category. I know every single one of those people has a unique life, an individual story that’s brought each of them to a vacant lot in Las Vegas, NV on any particular morning.

The vast majority waiting to eat are men. Out of a couple hundred people there to eat, I’d be surprised to see more than five women. Where are all the poor, hungry, and/or homeless women? I feel confident they are somewhere in Las Vegas. I hope they are getting their needs met by some other organization(s).

When the trailer arrives, volunteers scurry to set up. Two tables are unfolded, condiments and utensils set out on them. Plastic milk crates are placed at the head of each line, and giant pots of steaming food are set on top of them. Another table is set up with the day’s side dish and is staffed by two volunteers. Someone else prepares to distribute jalapeño peppers from a large plastic tub to folks who want to spice up their food.

Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg – mural outside the Catholic Worker Houses – painted by Q, photo by Tami Yaron. Image from http://lvcw.org/

The Catholic Worker group also provides warm, damp towels to the folks they serve. I’ve never seen another group provide this service. I think it’s a great idea. A volunteer distributes the warm towels from a 5-gallon bucket. Folks use the towels to wash their face and/or hands, then deposit the used ones in a second bucket. The dirty towels are taken back tot he Catholic Worker house where they are laundered for reuse.

When I volunteer, I usually help hand out bread. (One time I helped hand out the hot main dish.) After putting on gloves, The Activist or The Poet and I take bread out of a 5-gallon bucket and set a variety of choices on the inside of one of the lids, which we use as a tray. The available bread can vary, but I’ve seen it include bagels, sliced wheat bread, hamburger buns, raisin bread, and chunks of baguettes.

I try to be really friendly to people who come up for bread. Good morning! I’ll say with a big smile. Can I get you some bread?

Some people know exactly what they want and how many slices. Others seem confused by the choices. Some seem grateful for whatever they’re handed. I do my best to give folks the kind of bread they want, then sincerely say, Have a nice day! before they leave. I like to think a friendly face and voice and word are as important as the food, but maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel good.

I wonder what the other people in that vacant lot see when they look at me. Do they assume I have a house to return to? Do they think I’m financially secure? Do I seem comfortable and complacent? Do they realize I’m closer economically to the the people there to eat than to the other people serving? Does anyone look at me and imagine I once lived on the streets, that I’m only one step out of my van away from homeless again? But for the grace of the Universe (or God or the Higher Power or Goddess or whatever one chooses to call it), I’d be lined up to receive food instead of serving it.

Squashing Pennies

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I have a friend who collects squashed pennies. Well, I think she collects them. At some point she collected them, but I didn’t ask her if she still did before I went to Las Vegas. She might be over the squashed pennies while I am still blissfully mailing them off to her.

What’s a squashed penny, you may ask? According to Wikipedia (squashed pennies (aka squished pennies, aka pressed pennies, aka elongated coins)

are coins that have been elongated (flattened or stretched) and embossed with a new design with the purpose of creating a commemorative or souvenir token.

Do you know what I’m talking about now? If you don’t, have a look at the two pressed pennies in the photo below to get an idea of what I mean.

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According to the Penny Collector website, elongated coins have been around for over 100 years.

Although an example of an elongated coin is rumored to have been produced some years earlier, it is generally accepted that these tokens were first made during the 1892-1893 World’s Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago, Illinois to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. There were four different designs utilized during that event.

If you’ve never seen a pressed penny before, you probably don’t know how they are made. First of all, the penny pressing machines I’ve seen require 51 cents: two quarters (to pay for the pressing process) and the penny that will be pressed. Again, from the Penny Collector website:

An elongated coin is made by a coin, token, medal or metal blank being forced between two steel rollers. An engraving is on one or both of the rollers and as the coin passes through the rollers it is squeezed or elongated under tremendous pressure from the original round shape to one of an oval and the engraved design impressed into the coin at the same time.

On my way to Vegas, I stopped at the Alien Fresh Jerky store in Baker, CA store because I’d read online about a penny squashing machine there. However, I found the store devoid of penny pressing machinery. So sad! No pennies pressed with an alien theme for my friend!

When I got to Vegas and told my friends about my failure to squish a penny for my pal, they too got into the coin pressing spirit. It was The Activist who found the Penny Collector page listing the locations of pressing machines across the U.S. and around the world.

Penny pressing machine at the Ethel M. chocolate factory.

Penny pressing machine at the Ethel M. chocolate factory.

Before we headed off to the Ethel M. chocolate factory in Henderson, NV, I said I hoped there was a penny

presser there. The Poet said it would be nice if there was a machine there, but I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up. But guess what! The Ethel M. factory does have a penny squishing machine. I quick put my two quarters and one penny in the appropriate slots and turned, turned, turned the crank. It wasn’t long before the Ethel M. elongated coin clinked and rattled out of the machine’s innards and into the retrieval cup.

As we headed back to West Las Vegas, The Activist announced we were going to pass the Bonanza (World’s Largest) Gift Shop. He remembered from looking at the Penny Collector location page for Nevada that there was a penny presser there. He asked me if I wanted to stop.

Hell yeah! I said. The more pressed pennies, the merrier. Besides, that penny portrait of Ethel M. is a little bit boring. I thought my friend needed something with a little more pizzazz to represent Las Vegas.

This photo shows the penny presser outside the Bonanza (World's Largest) Gift Shop.

This photo shows the penny presser outside the Bonanza (World’s Largest) Gift Shop.

The Activist parked the car and I said, Now the problem is going to be figuring out which door I should go in, since the Bonanza has multiple entrances. Then I saw it! The penny presser was outside the store. I didn’t even have to go inside to squish my penny. Quick, quick, I put my coins in the slots and turned, turned, turned the crank. After a clink and a rattle, I had a squashed penny featuring the Welcome to Las Vegas sign in my hand.

You may be wondering if this whole business of squashing pennies is legal. The answer is YES (in the United States)! The Penny collector website gives the following information in it’s FAQ:

The United States Codes under Title 18, Chapter 17, and Section 331, “prohibits the mutilation, diminution and falsification of United States coinage.” However, it has been the opinion of some individual officers at the Treasury Department, though without any indication of approval, the foregoing statute does not prohibit the mutiliation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently.

You didn’t think I was out there breaking the law in Las Vegas, did you?

Pinball Hall of Fame

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img_7801When I was planning my third trip to Las Vegas to visit The Poet and The Activist, I asked The Poet what fun things we should do. She knows I live frugally, so she and The Activist always try to think of free and cheap activities for us to do together. For this visit, she suggested we go to the Pinball Hall of Fame, which has no admission fee.

According to the Hall of Fame’s webpage (http://www.pinballmuseum.org/),

The Pinball Hall of Fame is an attempt by the members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to house and display the world’s largest pinball collection, open to the public. A not-for-profit corporation was established to further this cause. The games belong to one club member (Tim Arnold), and range img_7802from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Since it is a non-profit museum, older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevelant [sic], as this was the ‘heyday’ of pinball.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is located at 1610 E. Tropicana, which I guess isn’t too far from the Strip. In my last three visits to Vegas, I’ve only been on the Strip if the car was crossing it to go somewhere else, so I don’t have a very good idea where the Hall of Fame is in relation to the rest of the city.

The Poet, The Activist, and I went to the Pinball Hall of Fame after dark one evening. I highly recommend visiting at night. The folks who run the place keep the overhead lights down low in the evenings, so the lights on the machines really pop! With all the flashing lights and bells and music and other sounds from the games, being in the Pinball Hall of Fame was a lot like how I imagine being in a pinball machine would be, but without giant metal balls trying to flatten folks.

img_7804The museum is set up with several wide aisles with pinball machines on each side. A few machines were out of order, but the ones that were working were available for play. The aforementioned website says,

All machines are available for play, so not only can you see them, you can actually play your old favorites. The pinball machines are all restored to like-new playing condition by people that love pinball and understand how a machine should work. All older pinballs are set to 25 cents per play, and newer 1990s models are set to 50 cents per play.

Although the website claims to have

pinball and nothing but pinball for 10,000 square feet,

After sliding a quarter in the slot, folks can make this clown "dance" by pressing buttons on the machine.

After sliding a quarter in the slot, folks can make this clown “dance” by pressing buttons on the machine.

we saw 80s era arcade-style video games, as well a few other older novelty games. One machine housed a clown. I put in a quarter and The Poet and I banged buttons to move the clowns arms and legs so it could “dance” to the theme song from The Jetsons. It was a ridiculous use of 25 cents, but The Poet and I laughed uproariously, so I guess it was money well spent.

Another non-pinball game at the Hall of Fame approximated bowling. The Activist bowled his ten frames and seemed to have a good time.

The Hall of Fame also boasts a photo booth. For $3 folks get two copies of a four pose, black and white strip of pix. I didn’t partake of the photo booth, but The Activist and The Poet got in there and had some pictures made.

There are several claw machines at the Hall of Fame. I had no interest in any of them, so I didn’t take any photos. I’m not sure what seemingly modern claw machines have to do with pinball, but whatever. It was easy to ignore them in favor of the stars of the show.

Pinball wizard, I am not. I’ve never been very good at keeping those metal balls going, probably because I never practiced very much. When I was a kid, the only place I went with pinball machines was the skating rink, and my visits there were few and far between. My parents were never the type to give me a handful of quarters and drop me off at the arcade in the mall. However, even though I’m not good at pinball, I find playing really fun.

img_7816I tried a few different machines at the Pinball Hall of Fall, and mostly lost immediately. I did the best with a Gilligan’s Island machine. Oh, Gilligan, my first true love! I was happy to see him immortalized by pinball.

The Hall of Fame’s website says,

The Pinball Hall of Fame is a registered 501c3 non-profit. It relies on visitors stopping by to play these games, restored pinball machine sales, and ‘This Old Pinball’ repair dvd videos (available for sale at the museum)…[A]fter the PHoF covers its monthly expenses for rent, electricity, insurance, endowment savings, the remainder of the money goes to the Salvation Army.

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This photo shows the Pinball Hall of Fame repair shop.

Speaking of pinball repair, the service area for the machines is at the back of the museum. Although no one was making repairs when we visited, we could see the whole shop.

For only $2, I had an hour’s worth of fun with my friend at the Pinball Hall of Fame. What a bargain! I highly recommend a visit to the Pinball Hall of Fame to anyone looking for a good time in Vegas. Don’t worry if you don’t have quarters in your pocket; there are change machines on site to hook you up and get you playing right away!

The Pinball Hall of Fame is on the Jen Reviews list of the 100 Best Things to do in Las Vegas.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

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Yarn

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I thought I was done with the business of making hats. That’s what I told the world on December 1.

I’m not making any more hats for a long time…Yarn takes up storage space…The completed hats take up up space too…Yarn cost money…I’m not really selling enough hats to make creating them worth the effort.

(Read all about it here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/12/01/the-last-of-the-hats/.)

Less than a month later (less than two weeks later, actually), I went to the Las Vegas Goodwill Clearance Center on what must have been yarn clearance day. I found so much yarn, in many great colors. Yarn doesn’t weigh much, right? So yarn sold by the pound is cheap. I couldn’t pass up cheap yarn in good colors. I threw all the yarn I found into my basket. Some of it was all tangled up in other items, and I had to cut the yarn to get it in my basket. (Good thing I found some scissors being sold off by the pound.)

This photo shows the yarn I got at the Goodwill Clearance Center in Las Vegas, NV.

This photo shows some of the yarn I got at the Goodwill Clearance Center in Las Vegas, NV.

I actually didn’t buy all the yarn I found that day. I went through the yarn before I took my selections to the register for purchase and put back the colors I didn’t like so much. I got rid of a couple skeins of a dark green that made my head hurt. I left behind some dingy looking white. I only kept the yarn I thought would make really nice hats.

Why do I have such a hard time walking away from yarn? I guess I’m going to have to face it: I’m addicted to yarn.

Also, I just like making hats. I like the ways the colors come together…or how they don’t come together when I make poor color combo choices. I like starting from a couple balls of yarn and ending up with a hat. I get great satisfaction from creating.

As soon as I bought the yarn, I could barely wait to start making hats again. I’ve already made several, and yesterday I loaded up my phone with podcasts to listen to while I work with my new yarn.

I guess I’m back in the hat business. Let me know if you want to buy one. I’ve got plenty.

These large hats were made from yarn bought by the pound at the Goodwill Clearance Center. All three have rolled edges and cost $13 each, including postage.

These large hats were made from yarn bought by the pound at the Goodwill Clearance Center. All three have rolled edges and cost $13 each, including postage.

 

These are two more hats I made from yarn I got at the Goodwill Clearance Center. Both are large, both have a finished edge, both have sparkle white yarn in them, and both cost $13 each, including postage.

These are two more hats I made from yarn I got at the Goodwill Clearance Center. Both are large, both have a finished edge, both have sparkle white yarn in them, and both cost $13 each, including postage.

 

This green and grey hat is extra large. It has a rolled edge and costs $13, including shipping. The yarn came from the Goodwill Clearance Center windfall.

This green and grey hat is extra large. It has a rolled edge and costs $13, including shipping. The yarn came from the Goodwill Clearance Center windfall.

 

I made this hat before I left the forest in October, but it just resurfaced when I cleaned the van. It is an extra large and has a rolled edge. It costs $13, including postage.

I made this hat before I left the forest in October, but it just resurfaced when I cleaned the van. It is an extra large and has a rolled edge. It costs $13, including postage.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

(Guest Post) Three Vignettes by Laura-Marie

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Today it is my great honor to present as a guest blogger my friend Laura-Marie. Laura-Marie is a sweet person and an awesome poet and writer of personal prose. Today she is sharing with us three vignettes that are part of a forthcoming zine called lost child 2.

eclipse
We were in Reno visiting a crazy friend, the one who kept broken mirror fragments in his pockets and read difficult books.  He found things on his late night walks, looking in dumpsters.

His sister, the house they shared, a meal made with dumpstered veggies.

We woke up and I needed to pee, so we walked to the In & Out but it was closed.

Later that day there was an eclipse.  We went back to the In & Out and people were in the parking lot looking at the sun.  We ate grilled cheese sandwiches.  It got dark for a moment then light again.

manic

When I had my first manic episode, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I thought I’d have a lot more manic episodes.  So I took a ziplock bag and stole a lot of Benedryl from my mom.  The pills were hot pink.  Then I put that bag into a tin, like a tin for mints.

I thought when I started having another manic episode, I would take some Benedryl and it would help me sleep.

This was ten years ago.  I still have the Benedryl, bright enough to burn your eyes.  I never took any of it.

soap

Mom had a glass jar in her bathroom with pink soaps in it.  The soaps were shaped like seashells.  I wanted to wash my hands with them so badly.  But they were for decoration only.  They smelled perfumey, and my longing for them was mixed up with my longing for all the childhood things I was denied.

Lite brite.  A certain kind of bedside lamp the neighbor kids had.  When my brother was being potty trained and I was banished to other rooms.

I feel sure that color of pink will always be with me.  The soaps got dusty.  She must have thrown them away when we moved.

Laura-Marie is a zinester and peace activist living in Las Vegas, Nevada.  She likes cold brew tea, writing letters, and visiting friends.