4. Can You Lose Your Patience Down A Dam?
Finally the day arrived that we were going to the Hoover Dam. I’d been waiting patiently for this day the whole time we were in Vegas. It’s not that I have an interest in dams or how they work but I was ready to get out of Vegas, breathe some air that wasn’t tinged with cigarette smoke and hopefully learn something in the process. I was ready to be educated in all things dams. I had made the fact very clear before this vacation that we were going to go to the Hoover Dam and take a tour of the power plant. This was the one thing I requested specifically. I wanted to don a hard hat and learn about how something so huge could be built and still operational over 75 years later.
We left the blissful cleanliness of our room at Caesar’s Palace, paid a ridiculous amount for coffee and promptly got stuck behind the slowest scooter driver known to man. Want to see Mr G go from being a polite Englishman to a sailor who’s fluent in “French”? Go slow in front of him. Go ahead, try it. You’ll hear the expletives from here. What a lovely morning this was turning out to be.
With in-laws in tow we made our way down the highway. On our way to the dam we made a little pit stop at the Robert L. Mendenhall Scenic Overlook. An interesting little thing happened at the overlook. I hate to admit this cuz it’s probably no way to live but I am suspicious of everything and everyone. I listen to nothing but True Crime podcasts 24/7. I feel like every stranger who approaches me has an ulterior motive and it’s probably to kidnap me. I’ve sat Daniel down and legitimately told him what my code words would be if I was kidnapped and forced to send him a letter telling him that I’d left of my own free will. I’ve informed him if I’m ever murdered that I will fight like hell and do everything I can to get the evil bastards DNA under my finger nails. I’ve filled out Crime Junkies “If I Go Missing” file. Every time I go hiking near where we live I send him a text of exactly what I’m wearing and what time I started the trail. Yes, I’m paranoid- this is what happens when you listen to My Favorite Murder. Also, anyone reading this who intends to kidnap me- read the above, just move along cuz I’m prepared.
Back the scenic overlook. Let me set the scene. The overlook is located on the southbound side of Interstate 11. We pulled into one of the diagonal parking spaces and walked up to the Art Deco concrete shelter. The view is really nice from that vantage point. The lake stretches out below you and if you’re there the right time of the year wildflowers dot the hillside next to the overlook. A few stragglers remained for us in some of the sheltered crevices. We took it in and walked back to the car. I had lagged behind to read the information boards so by the time I got close to the car Daniel was already talking to a strange guy parked a few cars down from us. My “spidey”senses were tingling. I walked straight up to them and asked what was going on. Daniel proceeded to tell me that this gentleman was having car trouble and could he borrow my phone to call someone? I asked him why he didn’t have a phone and the guy just kind of mumbled something that sounded like a lame excuse. I asked him if he had AAA or some other roadside assistance he could call. Again he didn’t give a straight answer. He wanted my phone and that was all. I asked which car was his and what the problem was. He pointed it out and and said something about it not starting. I got a weird feeling and felt like an absolute jerk but told him that we couldn’t help him. There were plenty of other people at the overlook and perhaps they would be able to assist him but it was time for us to go. I felt like the most black hearted person but something felt so off about the guy. If my instincts were wrong and the guy genuinely needed help, my karma was gonna suck.
Daniel is a really kind hearted, generous person so I’m pretty sure he wasn’t happy with how I’d handled that. He kind of kept what he really thought to himself but I suspect he thought I was being a brat. In fact, I know he thought something of that nature because he asked me what my problem was and why I refused to help the guy. I explained to Daniel that I had a bad feeling about the guy and I was convinced that it was all a ruse to steal my iPhone. I really feel in my gut that he had nefarious intentions. Daniel kind of pondered that and agreed that maybe that was the case.
We got in the car and proceeded to back out of the parking space. Who should be pulling out of their space at the same exact time? The dude! The very guy that claimed his car wouldn’t start! Ah-ha! He was ahead of us on the highway the entire time to the Hoover Dam. I felt vindicated, my instincts were correct. He may not have wanted to steal my phone but he certainly wasn’t being truthful about his car not starting. He talked briefly to the security at the entrance to Hoover Dam before swinging his car back around and leaving. It pays to listen to True Crime podcasts my friends.
I was surprised by what we found at the Hoover Dam. I’m not sure what I was truly expecting but a parking structure wasn’t it. I don’t know why I thought it wasn’t a huge tourist attraction and wouldn’t be swarming with people. That place was busy! We circled round and round each level until we finally found a space. You may have forgotten by this point that my in-laws were in the back seat, well I sure didn’t. I jumped out of that car and practically took the steps two at the time. All of this togetherness was becoming too much for me. Give me fresh air and as much space as a crowded tourist attraction could give me. Also I wanted to give Daniel time alone with his dad, they didn’t need me always tagging along or getting in the way of their father/son bonding. At least that’s what I told myself as I speedwalked away.
The first thing you come upon if you are coming from the Nevada side of the dam are the towering 30 foot tall Winged Figures of the Republic statues. These two statues were created in 1930 by a Norwegian immigrant by the name of Oskar J.W. Hansen. Hansen said the statues represent the blood, sweat and tears of the men who built it. He felt that the Hoover Dam (or Boulder Dam as it was called until 1947) was one of the greatest man-made structures of all time- comparing it to the great pyramids of Egypt and wanted his statutes to draw that comparison. I tell you, these bronze statues are impressive.
We walked the length of the dam, first checking out the Lake Mead side. The first thing I noticed were the intake towers. There are 4 of them. The two closest to the road atop the dam have clock faces on them. One is set to Nevada time and one is set to Arizona time. Each state is in a different time zone but Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time so the clocks are the same time half of the year. For us, the clocks read the same time but had we come in winter it would have been off by an hour.
Knowing we were going to take a tour of the facility I didn’t bother reading any of the information boards or plaques along the way. I just stayed in ignorant bliss knowing someone who was paid to know the facts would point the important things out to me. With this thought in my mind I called Daniel back to me and asked him to ask his dad which of the two tours he would prefer. We’d been at the dam for about 30 minutes by that time and I thought we should get our tour booked before we grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe. Daniel returned not a minute later and announced that his father was ready to leave. Say what? Not only was he ready to leave but he was walking back to the car. Round ‘em up folks, we were leaving after only 30 minutes. Remember that I mentioned that the only thing I had specifically requested on this trip was a hard hat tour of the power plant and inner workings of the dam? Remember also that I emailed a few weeks before our trip to let the in-laws know this particular thing. Well, guess what? FIL was in no mood apparently. I think my jaw hit somewhere around my ankles. Resigned but simmering-well boiling actually- inside we walked back to the car. I played over in my head how this could go. I mean, I could still take the tour right? I had come all this way. I realized pretty quickly that I was the only one who really cared about taking the tour. Daniel would have happily taken it with me but at the end of the day I don’t think he really cared one way or another. I was not about to be the brat who subjected everyone to sitting around in the heat waiting for me to finish the tour. So I just stayed angry inside. I might also have researched the next flight out of Vegas to London to drop kick FIL onto.
You know how bored children ask incessant questions from the backseat of a car or ask “are we there yet?”, like little broken records? I know you do, we’ve all been there. I may not have children of my own but I was one myself and I know for a fact that I put my parents through this rigmarole on our trips to visit my grandparents in the Central Valley of California. Mom, if you’re reading this I apologize profusely for doing that. I now sat in the position of being in the front passenger seat of a car with a grown up child in the back pointing out the obvious or asking questions that could easily answer themselves if given just a *little* thought. My FIL is not a dumb man, very far from it. In fact I think he’s so intelligent that he gets bored easily- and then the questions come. I’m not proud to say that by this point my patience was wearing quite thin. I was no longer able to hide my irritation or frustration. Because of this fact I felt my best policy was one that included ignoring anything or anyone in that car unless I needed to tune in. Poor Daniel. He knows me well. He knows what this silence means. It’s rare, I’m very patient person but when the balance has tipped watch out. When I am done, I.am.done.
Back at the Mardi Gras hotel it was time for drinks in the hotel bar. I’m not a huge drinker so I don’t have much experience when it comes to picking an alcoholic beverage. I’ve figured out what kind of wine I like (Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc) and a few cocktails that I always enjoy, Moscow Mule being my favorite. Looking at the cocktail menu overwhelms me a bit. I honestly can’t picture what the cocktails taste like because I don’t know what the different alcohols actually taste like. It’s a crapshoot for me. A Moscow Mule never fails me. That is until now... the drink arrived and it was bubbling profusely. I know it has ginger beer in it, so there is effervescence to it but this was straight up bubbling like a can of soda had been dumped in it. It tasted of straight up soda as well. I swear their idea of a Moscow Mule was Sprite mixed with a little Ginger ale and NO alcohol. It was SO sweet and I didn’t even get a buzz while drinking it. I’m a lightweight. I get drunk on two glasses of wine. Three hard seltzer’s and I’m singing in public. Every single Moscow Mule I’ve had has me happily buzzed and on my way to drunk by the end of the first copper mug. I’d better tip my bartender better next time I have one because apparently they don’t skimp on the vodka element of the drink on the central coast of California.
The only redeeming feature of this round of beverages was the 60 something waitress, Darlene. The In-laws had been talking about Darlene the entire trip. To be honest I never really paid attention. Is that the one who’s house was just foreclosed on or is she the one who had surgery on her wrist? How do you people know so much about the staff? They knew about people’s children going off to college or who took the night off to look after their ailing husband. I do everything I can not to talk to people when I’m not at work, I’m polite to people but certainly don’t engage in conversation. So the fact that they chat up everyone around them horrifies me. If I could wear a sign that says, “I’m not really here” and a face blanket I would. Yes, that’s a real thing. Go Google it. I’ll wait... Back to Darlene. I’m convinced there was a flirtation between Darlene and my FIL. I’m praying that it’s not some kind of swingers thing and just an innocent flirtation. Darlene arrived for her shift and the in-laws lit up. “Darlene’s here!” She made a beeline for our table where she proceeded to perch half a hip on my FIL’s bar chair and put her arm around his shoulders. FIL introduced us and Darlene responded that my husband was cute. Daniel turned bright red and my FIL harrumphed and said something to the effect of that being his son and he doesn’t know if his own son is cute. Things got awkward with light shoulder rubbing and a few inside jokes before she was called away to start her shift. Later I asked Daniel if he thought Darlene was intoxicated. She seemed a little off to me and he said that he didn’t think so but he did find the cute comment embarrassing and tuned out after that.
I think if there had been plenty of vodka in that drink I might have been in a more amiable mood by this time in the evening. It had been hours now at that tall bar table. Alas my slightly ginger tinged sprite and a whole tray of ice cubes wasn’t cutting it or making me jovial. All of this backstory is to say that when my father in law started trash talking Volkswagens (the car that both my husband and I drive) I chose that moment to be the hill I stood on. Do I actually care that he doesn’t like the look of VW’s? No, I really don’t. Truly, any other time I’d just let it roll and not even care. But today, this was the day that my straw had snapped. You know that last one that everyone talks about? I was over it and my metaphorical dam gave way. I made a snippy remark about being careful cuz he was talking to 2 Volkswagen drivers at the table. To which he responded something to the effect of, “oh, touched a nerve have I?”. I gave a blank, neutral face and sipped my drink. That only opened to the door to a tense exchange later in the conversation- an exchange that I never would have had earlier in the week, shoot I probably wouldn’t have had it just the day prior.
We started to talk about a future joint trip. Daniel and I wanted to lay the ground rules plenty early. This trip was dictated to us and it wasn’t when or where we would have chosen and we didn’t want a repeat of that. Time off for us is infrequent and precious- we need to make the most of it.
Some ideas were thrown around. We offered to meet them on the east coast so they didn’t have to have such a long flight but every destination was shot down by FIL. We finally settled on Tennessee. Well, kind of. Settled makes it sound decided. How about zeroed in? Maybe that’s the right word. We zeroed in on Tennessee. You see, FIL has his heart set on Memphis and I have mine set on Nashville (and the Smokey Mountains truth be told. I like nature.) This is where our tense exchange happened. FIL put his foot down. He wants Memphis so he can jump from blues club to blues club. That’s fine with me but where the problem arose was after I crowd sourced for ideas on things to do in Memphis. I received a resounding response to skip Memphis. I started to do my own research at the table and found that Memphis has quite the nasty reputation for high crime. When I announced this at the table I got tremendous push back. FIL wants Memphis period, end of story. I suggested a compromise of Nashville which is a 3 hour drive from Memphis. I proposed that we fly into Nashville and make it our base. There’s a lot to do in Nashville and flights will be more frequent and cheaper than Memphis. We could rent a car and do a day trip to Memphis or just stay one night. Again FIL would hear none of it. He had decided on Memphis and that boulder would not shift.
Then the real argument happened. A friend suggested Chicago instead. She said there are tons of blues clubs there for my FIL to pop into. I mentioned this at the table. It sounded fun. My sister had just been to Chicago with her family last summer. They had a blast. The look on FIL face when I said this, I can’t even describe it. I’m pretty sure at this point he was also over me and wanted to pack me up in my car and send me on my way. I watched his demeanor change as he puffed himself up and called upon his best attitude. His response? “Well, WE have been told that Chicago is a dangerous place and to NOT go there. They have a lot of crime. We’re not going.” I don’t even know if he actually meant it. But I do know that he was throwing my own words about Memphis in my face. At this point Daniel stepped in. He made it worse. He sided with his dad about Memphis and questioned whether I was being influenced by “wealthy snobs”. I nearly lost it but also decided it was best for me to just shut my mouth. This was going no where and I didn’t want to get divorced over it. To be honest I have no memory of where this discussion went. I tuned out after that for my own sanity. Where are we actually going in a few years time? I don’t know. Somewhere in Tennessee? As far as I’m concerned I’m going to Nashville with a side trip to Memphis and after we drop the in laws at the airport take the rental car to the Great Smokey Mountains where I will hibernate in nature and pretend like the previous days didn’t happen. Much like this trip.
As I sat there wondering how I could get out of this future trip I noticed a couple of ladies enter the hotel lobby/bar area. They stood out because of their attire. Oh and their brightly colored wigs. I put two and two together and realized very quickly that they were “ladies of the night”. In behind them walked their pimp. Are we still allowed to say pimp? Um, just in case that’s not allowed anymore we’ll refer to him as their “employer”. So their “employer” was on his phone when they walked in. He was heavily in a conversation but stopped his just long enough to eyeball the ladies and flick a hand in their direction telling them to go work the room. I live a sheltered life. I know sex work is a thing but to see it so blatantly was a little shock to the system. Although, there was this one time when Daniel and I had a staycation and stayed in a cheap hotel at the coast. We were woken up around 1am by the sounds of a transaction taking place a few rooms down. Same price, same time next week! I watched the ladies with interest as they made their way into the tiny casino. I was looking for signs of distress. Ladies, blink twice if you need me to smuggle you out of here. Honestly they didn’t look distressed or even mildly uncomfortable. They looked bored and disinterested, just another night for them where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
The time came to say our goodbyes and round out our time in Vegas. Despite what you might think I do actually like my in-laws. Am I happy that they don’t live near us? Ecstatic. I’m just fine with our every 2 to 3 year of seeing them. It’s a nice buffer in-between. I’m happy to see them when those years roll around but equally as happy to have the time apart in the off years. Next time I see my FIL it will be all hugs (from me the over-forward American, cringe.) and shared pints in a dimly lit pub where we’ll laugh about all that jerky he bought on Fremont Street.
You’d think that would be the end of our Vegas portion but we had one last morning before heading out. Even though we were eager to leave Sin City and head out in the the wilds of Utah we had one last destination in mind. Luxor is currently housing the Bodies...The Exhibition. I’ve always wanted to see it but didn’t think I’d find myself anywhere near an exhibit of it. I suppose it’s not for everyone but you really are able to remove yourself from the fact that these are real human bodies. I just think the human body is so fascinating and this is an amazing way to see it. It was a must while we were still in town!
I had never been inside the Luxor before and you know what, they’re unlikely to forget me. Why you might ask? Well my friends it’s because I embarrassed myself and Daniel. If you come in the back entrance to the pyramid you find yourself in front of a long set of stairs leading up to the food court area. I like to think they were steeper than usual but honestly that’s just me making myself feel better. Anyway, I was hopping up the stairs all confident in my ability to climb stairs quickly like a normal person when I misjudged and didn’t clear the stair. You know what happens when you kick a stair instead of stepping on top of it? You fall forward, throw your things in surprise and try to catch yourself. I banged my shin on the edge of the stair which hurt like a mother but mostly it was my pride that was hurt. Daniel was ahead of me so he didn’t see the fall go down but he sure heard it. The look on his face was priceless when he turned around and saw me on my knees with hands splayed out halfway up the stairs. He was teetering between wanting to laugh and also being annoyed/embarrassed. Listen, a week of constant togetherness and the emotion “concern” doesn’t even enter your mind. He assessed pretty quickly that nothing was broken and I think he just wanted to crawl away and hide from me. My shin hurt for weeks to the touch after this little incident. I am positive that the security guard who watched the whole thing happen had the whole team watch the security camera footage back so they could laugh. You’re welcome for breaking the monotony fellas.
After my stairway debacle we had a Starbucks breakfast, interrupted by a mute man trying to get us to buy his writings pens. He came to our table and set down a handful of pens with a note explaining that he was mute and selling the pens to make a living. He walked away from our table leaving the pile of pens while he found someone else to hand the note to. Daniel and I read the paper and carried on with our meal. We had no cash readily on us. The man came back to our table to collect his pens and by his assumption the money. When we explained that we had no cash on us and couldn’t buy the pens he shot us a look that said he would like to poke us in the eyes with said pens and walked off. That reminded me of the first time we were in Vegas so many years before. We had a fancy dinner which we could barely afford at the restaurant in the Stratosphere Tower. While eating, an older woman came to our table dressed kind of like a playboy bunny. She explained that she was the restaurant photographer and proceeded to have us pose at our table. Later in the meal she came back around with the photos printed out and in souvenir “frames” for us to buy. These pictures were hilarious. Daniel was mortified by them and refused to buy them. I was grateful cuz we didn’t have the money to buy them anyway. She got so angry with us. We wasted her time but honestly we were too young and out of our element to tell her not to bother even taking our photos. I really wish now that I had fished out a credit card and just purchased the photos anyway. They were like the cheesiest prom pictures you’ve ever seen and would be comedy gold now. You live and you learn. Buy the overpriced souvenir photos friends. You’ll thank me when you stumble on them in a box years later.
There were no photos allowed while in the Bodies exhibit but if you google it there will be plenty of images of what we saw that day. It was truly amazing. What a powerful thing to be able to witness firsthand- the body, it’s organs and various systems meticulously preserved. A few things were behind a glass type barrier but most of it was out. You couldn’t touch anything but they allowed you to get up close. It was so hard to imagine that this was the inside of our own bodies look like. We saw healthy organs and organs that had been abused or diseased. It’s as enough to make you want to swear off all foods but salads for the rest of your life. I wanted to apologize to my body for the pizza just the night before. I promise to treat you better, we’ll eat nothing but natures bounty- that is until the ice cream that was to come in Utah and the Cheetos, almost forgot the Cheetos. Whoops. Fell off the wagon there.
I made it through the exhibit without once getting the heebie jeebies or feeling any other emotion beyond awe until we reached the reproductive room. That had the potential to absolutely wreck me due to my own personal story of miscarriages and fertility challenges so I stopped in my tracks, bypassed it and make a beeline for the gift shop. Thank goodness they had posted a warning and gave you the option of exiting the exhibit at that point. Just the thought of having to walk through that room had me tearing up with a lump in my throat. Grief hits you like a train sometimes when you think you’ve got it handled. I in fact do not have it handled as that moment so clearly indicated. It was then that I realized I desperately needed to get out of the city. I had overstayed my welcome in the bright lights and the crowds. I was more than done with the noise and stimulation. Feeling raw standing there in the gift shop of the Luxor I knew Utah had a healing balm waiting for me and it was time for our exit. Time to release the breath I’d been holding for a week without truly realizing it. Take me to a place where it’s safe to exhale.