Our hotel was on Dean Martin Drive in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alicia insisted on taking me to her favorite eatery, Urth Cafe. It was located in the Wynn Hotel. We had to cross Frank Sinatra and Sammy David Jr. Drive to get there.
These men were members of the original rat pack. They were gentlemen, modern George Clooney types. The types of men I looked up to. They had class, and style, got up to politely greet a woman when she entered a room, and had a certain Je Ne Sais Quoi about them.
They lit up Vegas a half-century ago.
When I was 21, Las Vegas seemed like a different world. It was filled with lights, showgirls, drinking on the streets, $5 blackjack tables, and buffets that would make King Geroge turn in his grave with envy. It was the ultimate adult playground.
But, that’s not the Vegas I visited recently, and perhaps, it was never what I thought. I was young, naive, and a hopeless romantic for the Vegas scene in Ocean’s Eleven.
I came to Vegas many times during my 20s and there was a hidden part of me that wasn’t too fond of this place. But, peer pressure is a bitch and I went along with the crowd.
In reality, Vegas is full of degenerates gambling away junior’s college funds, inebriated youngsters without a clue, and middle-aged cocktail waitresses with caked-on makeup wondering, “how the fuck did I get here?” I see clouds of smoke cloaked on the strip with no escape, senior citizens handing out callgirl cards, and a thriving city built on broken dreams and hopes unrealized.
We thought about moving here and although the outskirts of Vegas have all the amenities of middle-class suburbia, there is a certain heavy energy of repressed rage, emotional instability, crazy drivers, and pollution in this sewer-like oasis more aptly known as the strip.
These characteristics aren’t limited to Vegas, but also in almost every major city that I’ve visited thus far.
Our journey to find a better place to live has allowed me space and time to think more deeply, something that I haven’t had the ability to do in some time.
Alicia and I spent our time split between campgrounds and hotels. After our short stints in the pure air of the outdoors, coming back to cities is becoming less and less desirable. However, at the same time, it has the creature comforts that we are used to like supermarkets, coffee shops, recreational activities, etc.
In nature, the air is pristine, we breathe better, have clearer thoughts, sleep in accordance with the sun and moon, eat less, contemplate more, and share the silence as if it was a gift.
Coming back to cities catches us by surprise because we can see and feel the air quality change.
I understand this is the society we built and take part in, but it does make me think about our place as a civilization and what I can do to improve the human experience for myself and perhaps others.
Alicia and I have both become hypervigilant and mindful of how much we consume and waste. This trip has shown us how little we need to survive and it’s a lesson we both shall never forget.
We are learning that convenience comes at a cost.
We can order food with a few swipes of our index finger but we are losing the beauty of cooking food with fresh ingredients. We have untamed and endless novelty in the form of entertainment (cellphones, Netflix, video games, etc.), but we are losing the human connection.
We have advanced our medical sciences to better prolong death, but we have negated discipline and the importance of practicing moderation, self-restraint, deferred gratification, and control.
At the same time, I am no self-righteous saint. I take part in the system that I so eagerly despise and acknowledge that it has paved a life for us all.
I ponder how I use to be. I wish that I could talk to my former youthful self and tell him to not drink the potion of modernity, but I can’t. All that is left is this 36-year-old man who is beginning to understand how fucked we really are.
My contempt for much of the world I believed was good is short-lived. Alicia’s illness has opened us both to the beauty of the United States and has transformed our dreams into a different path than we both planned.
We are open vessels and letting the subtle push of a force beyond, guide us. The unlearning of dogmatic belief systems, society’s expectations of what an ideal life should be, and the self-imposed grandiose visions of how we need to behave and act are beginning to be something of the past.
The landscapes of the country’s state and national parks take our breath away.
We were in Sedona, Arizona a few days ago and I just couldn’t take my eyes off the red rock mountains. Alicia and I got some green smoothies and sat outside to enjoy the scenery. While it was hard to admire anything else but the beautiful mountains around, I took a second to look around and noticed that almost everyone was glued to their cellphones.
I want to tell others to look up so they can feel what I feel in their own special way. But who the hell am I to tell others how to live their lives?
In our smartphone cracked-out world, we don’t give ourselves the time needed to contemplate because are too consumed with digital devices. We shun the ability to be present.
I think about our phones often. I think about how people live and breathe with them. Many are like me in that they don’t like how much power our devices have over us.
They are aware that it’s an issue. I fall into the trap time and time again, but nature has a way of effortlessly creating the space needed so I can enjoy her. I am seeing the overuse of phones even with my parent’s generation. A generation that grew up with fewer conveniences than the proceeding ones.
Alicia’s biotoxin illness has been a strong and rude wake-up call to change shit up.
Eating the right foods, meditating, and exercising are all important, but it’s not enough.
Being mindful of the cleaning products we use, the body care products we slather on our skin, the air quality in our homes, and the places we choose to live in, are just as necessary.
I am seeing an uptick in close ones dying that were considered young and healthy, many getting sick, and generally people not living optimally. There are many changes we can institute in our lives so we can live better. Whether big or small, the changes are important to adopt.
We are both approaching our health with a more holistic approach. None of this was really important until I started spending more time in nature. It’s there where I see the re-birth of clairvoyance, the gratitude for oneself, family, friends, the environment, and where I find my love and innocence restored.
I am often asked why am I always happy, positive, and generally in good spirits even though my world crumbles around me? I usually give a half-assed answer because honestly, I didn’t know how to answer that until now.
The reason why I choose to live in high spirits is that my innocence was tarnished as a youngster. I grew up around domestic violence, addiction, abuse, and infidelity. I experienced the dark side in others and in myself, but despite this, there was something deep inside of me beckoning me to be freed.
Maya Angelou calls this place, “the light that you show GOD when you pass from this life.” Whether there is a God is irrelevant because no one really knows, but I do sincerely believe we all have a special light that oftentimes is dimly lit and suppressed because we haven’t spent enough time to see the beauty we all possess.
A Few Lessons From the Road
Tell people you love them and why… often — Being confronted with death changes your priorities quickly. Alicia and I have both tasted near-death experiences. It’s exhilarating in the worst way possible. But, it’s opened our hearts to love and live deliberately. I will often call those close to me and tell them exactly why I love them and why they are important. People need to know they are special and loved.
Live with less — The more things we have, the more things we manage. The more things we manage, the more time we devote to those things and the less time we have for ourselves and those we love. For the past few months, Alicia and I have had everything we needed to survive in our 4-Runner. We have gotten to know each other and ourselves more intimately.
Don’t waste — We are birthed from the creation before us. The mountains, oceans, and trees have given us life. Nature lives with what it needs. It wastes little. We can do the same. We have become bonified tree huggers, but not in the LSD, hippie type of away (even though it’s fun), but more so where we have become aware of buying things we absolutely need. Earth is the only home we’ve ever known, and possibly the only home we will ever have. Taking care of this place for us, those before us, and after us have become very important.
Contemplate death — Many people don’t like to talk about death even though it’s a destination we will all share. Being aware of my impermanence has given rise to cut through the remedial parts of life. Authenticity in every aspect of living has become paramount. We must stray from shallow waters and go into the depths, for it’s the pressure of not living forever that can give rise to clarity, vision, and a hunger to leave this life with no stones unturned.
Find our own spirituality — I read the words of beautiful writers before me. Some are stories, others are biblical in nature, but the religion I follow is of my own. Where I am the sole follower and the leader. If we are truly vigilant in our sermons, whether recited or self-actualized, we realize that we have always been alone in nature. Calming my mind, looking to the mountains, and listening to the earth below me has given rise to the symphony of my own religion.
If I am to be anything in this world, I hope to be a beacon to help you find your melody so you can dance with the infinite as I have.