Friday, July 13, 2007

Westward Expansion

It has been pointed out to me that with this blog, I have done once again something I am known for doing..
That is, go at it back assward and with no map, telling no one my plans.

So. Before I go any farther in describing this trip, let's all get reaquainted.

My name's Hillary Peatfield, and I'm traveling through the west this summer with my son, Tristen Toffic. He's 10, and I'm old enough to be his mother. We live in the up & coming town of Dover, New Hampshire. (All of you Dover natives who are snickering should check out the plans for the new waterfront plaza on the Cocheco. Up & coming, indeed!) Tristen has been traveling all of his life, though he remembers little of it: his dad and I used to make frequent road trips up and down the East Coast, back and forth to our home in Georgia. The most recent jaunt Tristen's been on was a trip last year to Seattle to visit his grandparents. That trip activated his "Get Out of Town" gene, and we've been on the road as much as we could afford ever since.

I'm not an accomplished traveler, not by any stretch of the imagination. Aside from a few short road and camping trips with Tris and various friends, I've visited far more places in the pages of books than in real life.

When I was 11 I went to England with my family, and that is a coming of age story I don't care to repeat here. (Because I'm saving it for my memoires, it's that damn funny.) At 21 I fell for an Aussie working in San Francisco, and took several trips to the West Coast. At 25 I spent a long weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark and learned how to say "On Sale?!" in Danish. A couple of years ago I spent the coldest weekend on record in Canada holed up in a pub in Montreal. I did fall in love with the Insectorium while there, and had to be dragged back to the pub after a few hours, babbling about cobra moths and walking sticks.

And, I have been to Vegas. Oddly, Vegas has never once fallen on to my list of things to see, or places to go before I die. Yet it's the only place in the world I have traveled to more than once. The first time, several years ago, was for a friends bachelorette party. We came to see the Cirque du Soleil show "O" at the Bellagio, and it was worth every single penny. Last year, another close friend and I came here to visit friends who had relocated - moved from Portsmouth, NH to Las Vegas.

And now, here I am again, in Las Vegas. I feel rather like the little boy in Jurassic Park, who, having just escaped the T- Rex, has a jeep fall on his head... and says .. "Well. We're back in the car. Again."

This time is different, though. For one thing, one major, important, all consuming thing, this trip is just my own. Everywhere else I've gone has been with someone - with a lover, or a girlfriend, or a group. This time, it's just me. And my kid. Tristen Lazarus Christopher Toffic, my own personal reason for getting up in the morning. If only to see what he's gotten in to while I slept.

Traveling with Tris is a challenge, but not for the reasons one might think. For one thing, he's 10, so there are things I won't be doing.. anything rated PG 13 or higher, let's say. In Vegas, that leaves out a lot. Fortunately, I seem to have the mind of a 10 year old boy, and so am quite content to skip the gambling and whittle sticks in the desert instead. I'll miss the showgirls, though. Actually, that's still the thought of a 10 year old boy...

The real challenge to traveling with Tris is this: he's diabetic. And, he has celiac disease. Diabetic means lots of rest, watching what he eats, how much he's active, and 6 shots a day on a regular schedule. Celiac disease means he can't eat anything with wheat in it. Bread, hamburger buns, cheap ice cream, crackers... the endless list of processed foods goes on and on. All of them, out the window.

So this journey that we've undertaken has many layers. We're here for vacation. We're here to see places that aren't Dover, NH. We're here to be together, and to be away from everyone else. We're here to see what it's like to be 10 and very nearly 31, a self employed single mom and a kid with chronic diseases. I think that we'll have no choice, really, but to be here to grow.

And I am going to write a book about it! Ok... first I'm going to write a blog about it. But maybe, someday, it will be turned in to a book. I really hope it is - because if this trip goes as well as I think it will, it's going to be an amazing experience. A tutorial example, as it were, of how to be unlimited. Unlimited by disease, unlimited by finances, unlimited by being alone, or together, or any of the other hundreds of things that we, as humans, limit ourselves with. How, in short, to gather up all the things in our lives that tell us "No!" and say "Bugger that, I'm gonna do it anyway."

Descend Soap Box.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Though it might not seem it, this is indeed the first post on my brand new blog. I had hoped to start this before leaving New Hampshire, to chronicle the getting ready for the trip stage.. Then I realized that I was out of my mind.

But now, here I am, relaxed and thoughtful and in Las Vegas. I've a large pitbull beside me cutting logs on the floor (nothing snores like a pit bull. Nothing.) His name is Archer, and he's utterly harmless. Mostly. Tris is curled up on the bed behind me with a rather fluffy cat with an attitude problem (you'd be cranky too, if your owners shaved everything but your head and tail each summer) named.. appropriately enough.. Fuzzbutt.
The proprietress of these critters, Nancy, is vacationing back home. Ironically, she's on Cape Cod, which is where Tris and I were last week. Tris learned to kayak, and then in self defense, I did too. Now we're pricing used kayaks for when we get home. Fell a bit in love with it, we did.
Nancy's husband Aaron is currently (currently being the last 12 and future god knows how many months...) on tour with Blue Man group. He's in Buenos Aires at the moment, I think. We'll see him at the end of our trip, in four 1/2 weeks. Nancy will be home sooner, on the 19th of July.
Once Nancy's home to take care of her dog and Fuzzbutt, Tris and I are free to take one of their cars and travel as much as we want. We're confiscating their camping equipment, too. Definitely in the works is the long planned trip to San Diego, for to take Tris to Lego Land, the mecca of all 10 year old boys.
Also in the works is a trip to Colorado.
I hadn't planned on the CO trip - I thought, as did Nancy.. that she'd be gone and need our dog sitting services again for the last 10 days of our trip.. Leaving only 10 days in the middle for us to travel. Not enough time for San Diego and CO...
Now it comes to light that Nancy is starting a new job instead, and will be here... so..
I've already planned to meet up with our old housemates, Logan and Seth in their new home town of Gunnison. Seeing as how we have all this time on our hands, I'm plotting to make my way to Denver to see my friend Kai, and possibly Boulder to see John and Jen...

Tris and I set out on a journey of exploration today, and had a blast. We tooled out of town on a main road, expecting it to lead out in to the desert south of the city. We're technically in Las Vegas, but a block in either direction is Henderson, and we thought it would be fun to see what lay beyond...

What lays beyond Henderson is nothing. It was the freakiest damn thing. The road climbs through housing projects.. and the term doesn't do justice to some of these golf course complexes, with waterfalls and gorgeous views.. though I was gratified to see, no lawns. You crest a ridge, and then the road dips again, leading tantalizingly down to the desert. On either side is strip mall after housing project.. and then the road dead ends at concrete bunkers.

Just, stops.
You can't go around, as there is no around to go to. The road isn't closed.. it doesn't exist. A few hundred yards ahead there are work trailers, and a fleet of heavy machinery look like bright yellow chess pieces hidden in a cloud of red dust. Few are moving across the playing field, and in the distance.. a 1/2 mile off or more, it's so hard to judge in this terrain, is what at first looks like a train. Squinting in to the dust and donning my glasses, I see that it's a line of pawns, bright yellow and green, in the shape of more tractors, dozers and earthmovers. They are building something, clearly, and they are practiced at it. To the left a Bank of America anchors the end of a small complex, a banner proclaiming that they are now open fluttering in the wind. To the right, another complex, this one larger, with a grocery story bearing the same "NOW OPEN!!" signs, and an eerily well established Starbucks. It was like a ghost town, only in reverse, and a thousand times scarier.
We popped in at the Starbucks for an iced coffee and a bathroom break, and to get directions. The first two were handily given, the last.. unavailable. It was not that the kind young lady didn't want to direct me out in to the desert.. I think, after I asked her the same question rephrased five ways in the deliberately uncomprehending way of tourists everywhere.. I think she very much wanted to direct me out in to the desert. She just didn't know how. Eventually I accepted her directions to essentially go back the way I had come.
So we passed through Henderson again, and headed North, in to Las Vegas proper.

The Strip is magnetic. It is the bright porch light that all human moths are drawn to, even in the day. I tried to avoid it, but couldn't, like the little lepidotera in a Bugs Life who says "But it's soo preeetyyy" just before frying himself on the bulb.
It doesn't help that every single road in the area, if followed long enough (and I am against turning left in unknown cities, so we went straight a lot) leads to the strip. So, there we were.
We didn't stop at the famous Welcome To Las Vegas sign.. there's that whole left turn thing again.. but we will, perhaps on our way back from Red Rocks, when it's on the right.

Tris was fascinated with all the buildings, though I have to say that he asked more "why?" questions than I thought he would. More than I had answers to, at any rate. "Why would you build a replica of New York?" I don't know. "Why put the Eiffel Tower in a gambling city in Nevada?" Again, I don't know. "Why would people come here to give their money away?" Not a clue.
But the people watching at every. bloody. long. infernal. red light was worth the trip. People from all over the country, all over the world, walking in 112 degree heat past fountains they aren't allowed to swim in, and showgirls they aren't allowed to touch. Beside me, at the red light outside the Bellagio, a woman in the passenger seat of a BMW SUV checked her lipstick, and her eyeshadow, and her botox, and her teeth.. I looked away, then, before I could inadvertently find out what else needed to be checked before she dealt with the valet.
I felt impossibly both superior and inferior as I watched her, totally absorbed in her expensive reflection, from the front seat of a well kept if doddering Subaru, with my slightly bored, a little jaded, 10 year old in the back seat. My shorts were from WalMart, and though they fit when I left NH, now they are baggy in the dry desert air. I am tan, but it is uneven, because I have actually been outside, not in a spray paint booth. My hair is both tamed, and curly thanks to the weather... however the last time it was cut was three months ago by my own hand, and I was trying to get a clump of paint out of it. No makeup, chapstick, and jewelry that is good only because I made it. Clearly, I do not belong here.

So we drove on. Past the casinos and the landmarks, with Tris making notes of things we might like to see later. ( There are fantastic museums in the casinos: the Body Exhibit is showing here, and Picasso's ceramics.) Tris wants to see Danny Gans, because they mention him in the TV show Angel, and he was fascinated by the signage for Les Cage Aux Folles in the slightly perplexed, a little embarrassed, unbelievable curious way only a 10 year old boy can be. ("Hey Mom! Look at that! Butt floss!") We decided we would definitely go to the aquarium at Mandalay Bay, and the Pirate Show at Treasure Island. We're holding out on the water show at the Bellagio until we find out if they still play incessant Celine Dion songs in the background.. in which case, we'll skip.
Eventually we came to the end of the strip, and I was so caught up in the debate over riding the rooftop rollercoaster at ... wherever the hell it is.. Grissom rides it in CSI, which is a point in its favor.. (It wasn't much of a debate. We're both afraid of it and I'm trying to talk us both in to it.)... that we missed the sign for Red Rocks Canyon, and wound up in Downtown.

I like Downtown. I like Downtown very, very much.
Every fourth store front is a bail bondsman, and they advertise their wares as if they were trying to get the next A&E series, like Dog the Bounty Hunter. Crammed in between is an unbelievable mix of businesses. Shops that sell vintage gambling memorabilia - slot machines and signs and the like - discount used furniture stores with five foot high ceramic black panthers attached to cheap plywood bookcases. (And me without my truck!!) High end New York style design centers, with small print, exclusive signs are crammed between Britney Spears-esque wedding chapels and ... I kid you not.. a Mormon Tabernacle. This, clearly, is where I was meant to be. Artists, Artistes and snake oil salesmen duking it out for square footage in what is essentially the backstage for the greatest show on earth.

There is also, oddly, housing here. I hesitate to call it a town, but that's surely what it was, once upon a time. Hundreds of tiny, cramped bungalows scream "Post War 1950's!" in tight, tidy little blocks. While no children were evident in the heat of the day (Also, the schools here are year round, with more time off in the cooler months and less in the summer.) the evidence of them was everywhere, with bikes and mini swimming pools and swing sets set in 2cent postage stamp yards. All this across the street from the used furniture store with the giant panther book case. (I'm buying it and shipping it back, I've decided. I have to have it!) I can only imagine what families live in these houses, with this wild setting. In my mind, these are the caravan trailers of the circus that is Las Vegas. This is where the sword swallowers and the trapeze artists and the bearded ladies raise their families. In ten years, or fifteen, surely the children who now swing on these rickety sets over tiny plastic puddles will be plunging fifty feet in the the pool at the Bellagio, the next generation of performers for Cirque Du Soleil...

I'm going to end here, for now, with that image. That's Vegas, right there, or the better part of it, at least. Hold that in your mind for a bit... and later we'll get to the gambling.