I learned a lot in Las Vegas. The most important things had to do with figuring out exactly what kind of shocks my heart can take. I mean that literally. A girl at my high school died of a heart attack when a semi ran her off the road. It's possible to die of fear. So, it's not the possibility of decapitation or throwing up that makes me wary of roller coasters. I'm afraid my heart will explode. But I survived the roller coaster at the New York New York Casino. I even opened my eyes once. So far, so good.
The geography of Las Vegas is conducive to testing cardiac structural soundness. There are a lot of things to jump off of and into there. Pools with conveniently close pool sheds. Cliffs sitting right next to rivers. There's an indoor/outdoor roller coaster down the block. There's a few of them actually. Alcohol is plentiful and more than socially acceptable. Outside the city, there are mountains and washes and hot springs where I discovered that mild spelunking and even getting caught in a flash flood won't necessarily kill you. I remember my life in Las Vegas as a series of action shots.
I was never timid as a little girl. I liked skateboarding and dares. I used to hitchhike. Jumping off of things was always a favorite pastime. Once I found a bike ramp unattended behind a Publix on a quiet Sunday afternoon and jumped my bike off that. But I wasn't a BMXer and I didn't know how to land. So, I landed on the bar of my bike. Luckily, my crotch broke my fall. I just lay there for awhile after that.
I've long felt a spiritual calling to occasionally set aside "perfectly safe" and check in with "probably won't die." Or, lately, the more grown-up version: "probably won't ruin your life."
It's not that I ever became really timid. But one day I did change. It's hard to explain. My first week living in New York City I saw the Blair Witch Project and became afraid of the woods at night. I used to walk around in the swamp near my house when I couldn't sleep as a teenager, but that movie scared the crap out of me and after that I never wanted to go into the woods alone period. There was always plenty of stupid to get into in the city, but that night I started to develop a sense of how that stupid might someday kill me. I never quit stupid. That's a lifelong love affair. But at a certain point I added freaking out about it. That's the real problem.
It really started a year later when I moved to Long Island and picked up the local custom of having panic attacks. I don't know how that happened exactly but I didn't find relief until I moved to Las Vegas. It's sunny there. And dry.The kids are into metalcore.
And it's a city against restraint. It's considered bad form if you don't take things to their complete and inevitable conclusion. The first time I went to visit a friend there we walked the entire length of the Strip and back the first night. The next morning I had lost my voice. I wasn't used to such dry air.
Years later, while employed in Las Vegas as a reporter, I stayed up late on a work night to skate most of the Strip. Some company or other had organized a mass skateboarding invasion for Go Skateboarding Day, which happens all over the world every June 21. Really, it seems like not much more was required than telling few hundred kids to be there. Who would miss it? There were quite a few arrests but I wasn't one of them so my "probably won't ruin your life" calculations were accurate. Of course, I was a mess at work the next day.
I think my point is that there is a culture in Las Vegas that helped me not look at life through
existential horror-colored glasses as much. And to recognize that some of those "probably won't die or even ruin your life" events are vital, and should absolutely be prioritized. I think that's the point of this blog.
This is not something you figure out once and then you're good for life. You have to stay in practice and learn new skills on the path by drawing on old skills. I have many friends to thank for their help.
Like the time me and Sean went kayaking on the Colorado River with a friend of his named Justin. We stopped for a break near a little overhang. A cliff really. Justin climbed up and jumped off into the water below. It looked awesome. Of course, I was honor bound to do it too and Sean went up as well. But I was trying to go first. I say trying because my body or my brain, one of them, was having trouble with the directive. It was a pretty big rock and I wasn't sure how deep the water was.
"Just pretend you're skateboarding," Sean said. Then it was easy. This is a science. And that guy is pretty good at it.