Note: I’m still polishing the media I captured on this trip – you may find it on my Flickr account @yetieater
It all started with the video The Guru shared:
He’d offered to teach me to ride, and given the craziness of this past year, I’d been itching for a change in scenery. I booked two separate one-way flights, deciding I’d skip the budget carriers and being nickeled and dimed to lug along my gear, and ensuring I’d return home with a 14-day quarantine period ahead of the holidays.
Tuesday, October 27
My father dropped me off at IAH. With a bit of time to kill, I stopped by Landry’s for a couple drinks.
I was one of the last to board the aircraft, and was somewhat surprised to find it mostly full. I made my way down the aisle with Paul in tow, and found a man occupying my seat. I let him know I was ticketed for the aisle seat, and he rose to grant me passage. As I stood there, he quickly realized upon studying the seating map beside his head that the aisle seat was not, in fact, his. I assumed my seat, and settled in for the flight.
Earlier that day, I’d purchased a digital copy of Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds (Amazon.com). During the flight, I read it on the Kindle app, and experimented with highlighting and note-taking. At times, I felt quite moved by the text, and lifted my eyes up from my phone’s screen.
Throughout the flight, I noticed issues with mask compliance. I overheard a flight attendant reminding a passenger just a couple rows ahead they’d agreed twice before boarding to keep their mask on, observed the passenger in the far window seat furtively slipping down his gaiter, and the man seated immediately to my left keeping his down even after his significant other verbally exclaimed, “Oh, masks,” after they’d finished consuming what they’d received during the beverage service. Meanwhile, I hadn’t even touched my coffee, as I waited patiently for my neighbors to take a hint.
When I rose to dispose my spent coffee cup, I asked the flight attendants whether they’d been catching flak with customers often, and the one said yes, “It’s not fair.”
At one point I became so irritated by the passenger in the far window seat that I pelted him with a packet of sweetener. He remained oblivious for some time, until our eyes met, and I think he finally got it.
We touched down at LAS, and as we taxied toward our gate, I phoned Mike. Upon clearing the jetway, I was fairly impressed by the sheer size of the terminal, made all the more impressive by the dearth of people there. I took the opportunity to capture some photos of Paul by the slot machines.
Mike picked me up at the airport in the Lexus – he’d been delayed slightly because some bigwig had blocked off all traffic to the terminal.
Paul predictably latched onto Peach upon meeting her. We took the dogs out for a walk around the neighborhood, and Paul followed her the entire way.
We went to Roberto’s Taco Shop for dinner, leaving Paul and Peach to their own devices.
Back inside, Mike encouraged me to play the piano a bit that first night, and offered up some feedback. Mike suggested I play some hymns, advice I have put to practice
Wednesday, October 28
Following the late night, I mostly rested.
That afternoon, Mike showed off his drone, a DJI Mavic Mini (Amazon.com), a bit, and I was quite impressed, especially given my personal experience with drones to date has been limited to the EMAX Tinyhawk (Amazon.com).
Mike spent some time going over music in preparation for Sunday, and I sat opposite him, pulling photos from my X100V (Adorama, Amazon.com), and pushing them to signal I’d arrived for anyone paying attention
We went to the drive-thru at In-N-Out, and wound up with someone else’s order, a fact uncovered only after we’d gotten back to Mike’s house. Whoops.
Inspired by the book, I began building out a playlist I’ll continue revisiting and modifying over time
Thursday, October 29
Mike drove the Lexus down to Nelson. I brought along both my Canon 5D Mark III and my X100V, but didn’t shoot anything with the latter.
We dusted off after about an hour and a half, and headed to (Old) Nelson’s Landing, where we walked down by the river. Upon coming to a resting point, Mike discovered he’d left his drone on the charger at home!
I took the wheel and drove us to Boulder City, and on to Hoover Dam. At the parking lot of the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, Mike heeded a sign stating no pets were allowed, and hung back with Peach. Paul, ever the VIP, and I headed onwards to see what we might see.
Afterwards, we drove across the dam, and briefly into Arizona, where we stopped to look back before returning to Las Vegas
We supped on bread and soup, downing it all with some wine from Pahrump
Friday, October 30
At 12:29AM I shared a story to my Instagram account indicating I’d forgotten to pack along a mini USB cable
We headed out in the Smart so Mike could cast his ballot. It was the final day of early voting, and the line was long, so I dipped into a couple nearby stores. Finding Mike still in line, I explored the area, and snagged some free provisions from a food truck just adjacent the line.
Stocked up, I drifted further in search of a smoker whilst snacking on some cheese-flavored puffed corn balls. I saw green banners exclaiming, “FREE,” in the parking lot across the street, so I wandered over to investigate.
At the corner, I observed the aftermath of an accident involving multiple vehicles. I spied a lady gazing over the scene nearby, a lit cigarette in hand. I offered her a dollar in exchange for a smoke, but she remained mute while a man nearby spoke French into his phone. I pressed onwards.
The banners were affixed to a food truck, and a handful of people were gathered around. I heeded the nearby sign and submitted an order for a burger, chips, and a drink using my phone. I gathered it was a sampling event for Incogmeato, a product I’d never tried, but was willing to check out for the price of free.
The manager came out of the truck and cautioned those assembled they’d exhausted their supply of patties, so I tempered my expectations accordingly, hoping at best to receive chips and a drink. As orders came up, I observed most folks tipped the man.
While waiting on my order, I continued snacking on my puffed corn balls. A lady sitting in the driver’s seat of a van parked nearby made eye contact with me, signaled she’d like me to throw some corn balls her way, and we engaged in a bit of catch.
At 12:48PM, Mike finished casting his ballot. I had him come meet me, and showed him the sign so that he might also grab a snack.
The manager delivered my order, and I slipped him a buck before returning to the shade beside my new friend’s van. I opened the box, and was delighted to find I’d lucked out and received a burger!
I asked van lady whether she’d put in an order, too. Soy came up. She seemed like a hippie sort, and the lettering on the side of her van indicated she cut hair for a living. She talked about her invisibility as a member of the service industry. She shared her geocaching app with me, and showed the caches she’d found along the Extraterrestrial Highway before checking our current location and discovering there was a cache nearby. Perhaps we could go investigate it together?
Mike scored quite a bit from the manager of the popup on account of standing up for him after some “customers” felt shafted when they didn’t receive a burger
That afternoon, Mike suggested we check out a nearby tea place. I spotted a motorcycle parked on the curb by the door that I guessed might be electric (it was)
Saturday, October 31
I put some of my home network skills to use and hardwired Mike’s home theater components to his LAN
We spent some time afterwards cleaning and oiling his handguns
Afterwards, Mike showed me the long guns he had
Later, we went to Jjanga, and walked out stuffed
That evening, we headed out in the Lexus. It was pretty busy along the strip – neat columns of police vehicles stood vigil outside some hotels
I shot a little video of the fountain at the Bellagio from afar
Fremont Street Experience looked especially busy
We saw the container park from afar, and circled back. We spotted Circa, which had just opened, and stopped in for a visit. We passed through Circa and wandered the Fremont Street Experience before returning to Mike’s home
Sunday, November 1
Mike went in early to go through the music with the singers, and came back to pick me up
We went to Faith Christian Fellowship (faithchristianhenderson.org) – it was my first time attending a church service in many years
That afternoon, I made a banana bread, but used four bananas instead of the usual three. Mike wisely suggested it could use some more time in the oven, reheating the affair, but I pulled it before it had gotten much more cooking time upon seeing the top beginning to turn.
Monday, November 2
We set out in the Lexus
I picked up the wheel after we made a stop just outside the entrance to Zion National Park
Mike was scheduled to work that evening and was in a bit of a hurry. The park was smaller than some I’ve been in, and we didn’t do any hiking, but it was worth the trip out of Las Vegas. Didn’t fly the drone any!
Back in St. George, UT, we met up with The Guru at Café Rio, a local chain. It was my first time seeing him since we were schoolmates at the International School of Beijing: his family had left Beijing for Azerbaijan, and were now living right up on the bluff overlooking the lot. The Guru offered to put me in touch with the friends he was riding with, but I didn’t take him up on it, even though I was curious about the unicycle. We learned about his work, and we talked about cacao beans a while.
The Guru wasn’t particularly impressed by solar – apparently some guy quoted thirty year breakeven, which made me curious to keep scratching, especially after reading recently about the problems in solar panel recycling
The Guru told me about SF Supermarket, mentioning his mother liked it over 99 Ranch.
I took us back to Las Vegas, and rested a bit upon our return.
By the time I woke up, Mike had already taken off for work. I drove the Smart to SF Supermarket, but found it closed for the night. Not too far off into the distance, the lights of the strip called to me, and I went in to the Aria. I signed up for an M-Life account, no free play awarded with signup. I quickly burned through the few dollars I’d brought with me on the slot machines, and poked around to see what I might find. As I weaved among the machines, I recalled how I had thought during my trip to San Diego that the thing most readily distinguishing me from a cleaner member of the homeless was the camera. One small win from a video poker machine with one hand’s credit remaining unplayed netted me a buck and change. Ultimately, I was able to uncover more than I’d originally walked in with, but not quite enough to buy a shot at the lowest-priced table games.
I walked over to the Park MGM after visiting briefly with Mike, and found it much less active than the Aria. Outside, I chatted with a group of black women visiting from Michigan to celebrate the elderly one’s birthday. I encouraged the one who had been hitting the slot machines to check out the table games, passing along the tip about craps. Recommended she check out the movie, 21, and the elderly one’s eyes lit up as she shared that she’d seen trailers.
I walked back to Aria, where I lost everything on slots and video poker, and called it a night.
Tuesday, November 3
That morning, I discovered there was an appropriate cable for offloading images from the 5D Mark III, and shared captures for the first time. I reflected a bit on what development, if any, I have experienced as a photographer after all these years of shooting. This marked my first time really taking it out, and I trusted the equipment, running and gunning without pausing to nitpick at settings between captures.
I walked with Paul over to Smith’s, bummed some smokes off the employees. One had a shirt reading, “I stand for the flag…” and was playing some interesting, unifying hip hop. A lady griped about the smell as she walked by, and I agreed empathically with her that smoking is a foul habit.
Mike gave me a call and picked me up.
I drove us in the Smart to Juan’s Flaming Fajitas. We sat outside on the patio, which turned out to be dog-friendly. Juan came by to say hi to Mike. I learned he was from Ade, OK. Mike shared how his cousin (?) of 80 years was a big fan. Mike commented I was a good tipper, and I empathized – we have to make up for the bad ones. Social contract, but that’s something I’ve written about previously.
We swung back by the house so I could grab recording equipment. Mike gave me a haircut at his shop
Unfortunately I neglected to charge the X100V battery, and I wasn’t paying very much attention to it (I had my glasses off), and it only managed to capture 22 minutes 6 seconds – I’m glad I had the foresight to set up my phone as a B cam. It would have been nice to have had the storage capacity to confidently capture the entire scene in 4K – definitely going to want the capacity to do that in the future now I have a good solution to the storage problem
I drank a good number of the Michelob Ultras from the garage fridge, decided to play back some YouTube videos after I tired of the election coverage. I was particularly impressed by Ethan Hawke’s TED talk. Other material had me reflecting on college years, reaffirmed some best practices I’d gleaned through the years, and wishing a bit how I might have been raised a little differently
I showed plenty of love to Peach and Paul both, and lay down to catch some shuteye ahead of my flight
Wednesday, November 4
I was awakened by the sound of an alarm blaring: Mike had slid an old phone beneath the door and set it to wake me at 6:10AM. Still groggy, I hopped out of bed, and gathered my belongings for the trip home.
Curbside at LAS, I gave Mike a hug, and he set off for his appointment. I milled around for a bit, waiting on a smoker. Shared a couple cigarettes with Robert, a New York native who’d moved to Las Vegas in 2015, and had spent the past year working out of Pueblo, CO, on all manner of interior finishing work for some new builds (work just kept on picking up – he told me after we reconnected on the escalator past the tram and walked towards our respective gates that he’d originally gone down with a basic set of tools and wound up acquiring more)
The woman on the far end of the conveyor belt at the TSA checkpoint pulled the water in my bag. dumped the sealed water I had and wouldn’t allow me to drink it unless I turned back from the checkpoint. She passed me along to a gentleman for escort. Fortunately, he spoke with his supervisor and allowed me to pass with what little water I had left in my bottle
At the gate, the gate agent informed me the overhead bins were nearly full, and provided me with a baggage tag in the event there was no longer any space for my suitcase. Paul and I boarded the aircraft after some hesitation, during which time it was clear I would need to leave my suitcase with the handler, and I was delighted to find we had three seats to ourselves
Paul looked out the window a bit on my encouragement, but otherwise lay down promptly in my lap
I shot a ~20 minute long sequence as we took off from LAS:
At first, I had intended to quit rolling as soon as we’d cleared the city, but I’m glad I didn’t. I kept my eyes on the display of my phone as its camera soaked up the beautiful, rugged country below. It was hard imagining returning to the flat, concrete jungle of Houston, but I’m grateful I had the opportunity to visit the desert. I look forward to returning someday with better capture equipment
I spent the flight reviewing my captures and drafting this post, gazing out the window at times. From my seat, I saw frozen bodies of water, marks of modern civilization looking like printed circuit boards. We’ve imposed all these rigid shapes; perfect circles, rows of windmills, where nature has a design language all its own; fluid, flowing lines, shaped by currents past and present.
Paul, meanwhile, curled up and napped on a seat all his own.
To provide some visual contrast, I captured landing at IAH:
Upon touchdown, I called mz mischievous. She was at work. Next, I called Kussah, who was available to pick me up.
I stopped at Landry’s to have a drink while I waited. I ordered a shrimp cocktail, which turned out to be a mistake. Imagine how I felt to discover $15 BTAX only bought me six shrimp! Fortunately, Karbach’s Hopadillo remained as good as ever.
I retrieved my suitcase from the baggage claim office, and headed outside, where I waited around, keeping an eye out for Kussah. Eventually a man wearing a black cowboy hat emerged from the baggage claim and lit up a cigarette. I approached him, apologizing that I didn’t have my customary buck to offer. A 37-year old Austinite, he was off to Florida to see Jackie (not the working type) for her birthday. His grandmother had just passed a couple days ago after grappling with Alzheimer’s for years. In the end, she couldn’t swallow. We wished each other all the best as Kussah came around to whisk me home.