Down the Las Vegas Strip

 PHOTO BY KIRSTYN PANYNTER 

PHOTO BY KIRSTYN PANYNTER 

 

This past week I spent time in Las Vegas and California. I joined my husband on the Vegas part of my trip and while  he attended an automative conference held at the convention center I explored the Vegas Strip alone. Exploring Las Vegas is an adventure of curiosity and wit. I learned which street performers to engage with and which ones to avoid. One morning, I went for a jog from our hotel room at the Palazzo up to the Stratosphere, a round shape bulb with a needle on top that sits at one end of the Las Vegas Strip. Of course, in my usual fashion, I started out running but realized I needed to reserve some energy for the trip back and begin to walk. The scenery changes from the central portion of the strip. As I walked, I came across miles of undeveloped land, graffiti and tiny shops with "Everything on Sale" signs in the window. Unlike areas in front of the Cosmopolitan and Bellagio, the homeless people in this area appeared to be unable to even ask verbally for spare change; they merely seem to exist, holding their signs and staring off into the distance. Homelessness is prevalent in Vegas. In Nevada there are 7,900 people without homes and 58% of those people are "unsheltered." I came across a senior man who attached a change cup to his two-legged walker. He had a long beard and wrinkled hands. I noticed him because his walker was missing two legs, so it leaned forward while he attempted to hold it in place. He did not look up or say anything as a walked by but he was someone I felt called to give some money. It wasn't much, and I could have given more, but I never know what the correct amount is. He, however, was the one I could affect that day. 

I picked up my pace. I wanted to make it back to the hotel before my husband finished his meetings for the day. There was no sense in trying to run because the wind had picked up. During the almost thirty-five minute walk, I thought about my friend who I encountered early. I thought about his life. I thought about all the people I passed living on the street and if things would ever turn around for them in a city that promises so much winning. 

 

Everyday Privilege

 

I out walked a woman to a restaurant to place my name on the list first. 
My youth and mobility is a privilege. 
Last night, my husband and I paid 15 dollars for adult beverages. 
We had two each and fries. 
Our financial situation is a privilege. 
I booked us a beautiful hotel 8 minutes from our high-rise apartment. 
A car service took us from our home to hotel, from the hotel to dinner, and then back to our hotel. 
My husband and I own cars. 
Our lifestyle is a privilege. 
I've been to my favorite restaurant twice this week and ordered what I wanted, how I wanted. 
I ate more than I needed. 
I recognize my privilege. Do you? 

 

An Observation: Older Man Younger Woman

 
 PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW WALTON 

PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW WALTON 

I noticed a woman holding the hand of a man who was at least three times her age and I could not help but wonder how this came to be. As they strolled hand in hand out of one of the fanciest restaurants in town, she wore a trench coat, low neck animal print blouse, knee-high boots, and a skirt to match. He wore a tan suit, red lapel, white beard and white long white hair.  A possible question in this situation or any situation resembling this one: is it love? Is it security? Is it companionship? Is it a father figure? Of course, no matter what it is, its none of my business and I should get back to writing my book about becoming the real version of yourself, but this world and the people in it fascinate me. Their stories, their choices. You probably, think its a way to keep from gazing at my own life, a way to disengage from the story of my life. The truth is, I’ve never been happier, although I am not naive to think this bliss could last forever – maybe; or just maybe I look at the hard times as a character building activity, one in resilience and perseverance, then perhaps I can have the best life until my last breath. I am fine either way. I’ve come further than I deserve and I am merely grateful to see the rising sun in a world with so much to give, to take, to teach, to disrupt. 

Now back to this older man and his younger bride or perhaps back to my work. 

 

The Story of Jorge

 PHOTOGRAPHER BY ARMED SHUTTER 

PHOTOGRAPHER BY ARMED SHUTTER 

 

He could not tell I was annoyed or maybe he could from the twenty-eight minute wait in the lobby. The only working bank employee avoided direct eye contact with any of the bank's patrons waiting in the small sitting area. I struck up a conversation with a friend I noticed sitting in a chair not far from where I was. He used to live in the same high-rise as my husband and I. We talked about his travel to London and his plans to visit Japan. We also spoke about business and community politics, mainly broken promises from our city leaders. He was happier than usual. He spent about 90% of his time in London where "business dealings are better than in the states because a handshake is a handshake."

He was up next so our conversation ended abruptly when the bank employee beckoned for whoever was next. The employee, whose name I learned was Jorge, seemed to be having an okay day. He was tall and noticeably uncomfortable about something. He was a big man but appeared as though he could own a small cat and a potted plant. My friend finished his transaction in a short time, and I was up next. Sitting in front of him, I could see that Jorge had a few things going on in his life after he left the bank. He appeared anxious and uncomfortable in his suit.  

I gave him my ID and after he made a few jokes about my photo I gave a look that meant "let's speed things up, buddy." He took the hint, and as he was typing my information into his computer, I noticed a slight head nod and then a shake, another one, and another one. He was falling asleep right in front of me. The head nod meant his eyes were drooping and the shake was to keep from falling into his computer. He had the process down. I felt justified in telling him that he probably needed some coffee and more sleep. The unexpected part came when he said it was a medical condition.

"The man has narcolepsy," I thought to myself.

Jorge then proceeded, as if I were family,  to tell me about his undiagnosed diabetes and sleep apnea, all things I was familiar with because I have a family history of diabetes and my brother has sleep apnea. Then, Jorge shared the story of a mini heart attack he had a few months earlier while drinking a Monster energy drink, he did not stay up late, and had a habit of bingeing on hamburgers and fried food. He was going to get his doctor results back in a few weeks to see if he indeed had diabetes and if he needed a sleep device to get some rest.

I could empathize with him. His struggle to live unrestricted and at the same time enjoy all that life has to offer had caught up with him. 

I explained that I lost two aunts and my grandmother to diabetes and my mother has the disease. I cautioned him against the medicine most doctors would prescribe and kindly told him to lose some weight, completely cut the Monsters, and take back control of his life. 

Jorge nodded in agreement.

As I walked out of the bank, Jorge told me to take care of myself.

I smiled and said, "no, you, take care of yourself" with a nudge to his left shoulder. 

"I will try." 

This is a true story. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual the story is about. 

 

Why *More* is Never Enough

 PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID THOMAS

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID THOMAS

I ran into a girl I used to lead through a recovery class at the church my husband and I attended together. The 12-step recovery group was all about getting to the root of problems like people-pleasing, codependency, addictions, and anxiety. I would describe this girl as one of my "wild-child," she came in every week shared and encouraged other girls but was never satisfied with what God was doing in her life. "I just have never seen him be faithful to me," was her constant cry. She is young, pretty but has a shaky relationship with her parents and her love life was nothing to brag about. 

She wanted to see significant changes in her life, which included a husband, and each week she let myself and her group members know it.

Yesterday, she was different. 

I first noticed a classic emerald cut diamond ring on a young girls finger. Her head was down as she flipped through wedding magazines. She laid the hand that boosted the wedding ring on each page as if she was auditioning for a hand model position. When she looked up and smiled at me it did not register at first, but I knew, I knew the girl from somewhere. Immediately, it came to me as she said hello.

Getting ALL You Want

After exchanging hello's, she told me about her life now and that she was two weeks into her engagement. She shared how she was so frustrated with the group and never really enjoyed the oversharing. She also took issue with group leaders after I left. Today, she is engaged to an engineer who lives in another state, and they are getting married in May. 

"Everything worked out," she mentioned to me while showing off the ring. I was happy to see that she got what she wanted – a new job in interior design, a husband, and a chance for a better life then what she saw growing up. 

The only problem, she wanted more. "I can't believe this is it" and "this is what I wanted but I still see other stuff I want," were statements she made. At the same time, she understood why the recovery program was so important, because after getting what we want our faith is the only thing that sustains us. It was the same lesson I learned in my early twenties after landing a high-paying job, a condo in a prestigious part of town, and my perfect doggy companion, Jack. 

All I could do was smile and agree. She had the nugget that only life and experience teaches. I was happy to see how far she had come.