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Moving Between Two Extremes

August 7, 2015

IMG_1717I know it seems as though I performed a disappearing act during the last half of July and the first few days of August.  To draw back on earlier chapters in Write Your Heart Out, I realize that I was in the prewriting stage:  gathering so much material.

What struck me most this week was the huge pendulum swing I experienced. I don’t know if I felt more like Alice in Wonderland or Gulliver, moving from Lilliput to Brobdignag. As anyone who knows me has heard, I spent a wonderful week toward the end  DSC_0135of July at the Swannanoa Gathering Old Time Music and Dance Week. This is my fifth consecutive summer to attend the event, and I plan for many more returns.

Having Avery, my nine-year-old granddaughter, along with me was certainly a major highlight. I may not have completely comprehended how special this week in this place was for my, though, until I accompanied my husband this week on a business trip to Las Vegas.  It was my first time there, and if it’s my last, I’ll shed no tears.

At the Gathering on the Warren Wilson College Campus, we experienced warmer than usual temperatures of the mountains, and the dorm rooms are not air conditioned.  We managed to make do with a large oscillating fan and two-a-day showers. The setting is idyllic: mountains surrounding us, wild flowers blooming their hearts out, bunnies visible everywhere, and one lone bear only an occasional sighting.  I also noticed a significant decrease in technology in use. I am accustomed to seeing young people walking along while texting, and muttering, “You’d better watch out or you’re going to run into something.”

Here, I saw a teenager walking across the scenic bridge–READING!  In fact, I noticed how many of the  campers, particularly the young ones, had a book handy to fill time before classes or during meals. I mainly saw cell phones pulled out to record an instructor playing through a new tune we were learning. (I have “Nail That Catfish to a Tree,” “No Place Like Home,” and “Crow Creek” on my phone, a couple in video, so I can enlarge and watch Paul Kovac’s double stops.)

Dress was casual and cool, with the occasional cowboy boots coming out for dances or Honky Tonk Night. The flavor of the week was decidedly international. On the first day, at the opening in the Pavilion, we learned that of the approximately 250 participants, at least 35 were from other countries.  I know that in my own classes, we had students from Australia, Israel, Norway,  Canada, France, Scotland, and England. Now imagine, if you will, singing “Precious Memories” with this kind of assortment.

Nationality was only one measure of diversity at the Gathering.  Since Old Time Week has a strong children’s program, we had lots of young people, along with babies. (Yes, I saw a mother in a square dance with her tiny baby in her front pack.) and folks that were elderly enough to need walking canes or golf cart transportation between classes.  Age in no way hampered their participation in the music or dance, though.  In fact, I picked up a favorite set of lyrics (to an Iris Dement song) from one of the older members of class. Best of all, though, age difference were in no way divisive during the week. I’ve been around young music prodigies who could be a little over-bearing (and old ones too) but the young students in my classes–many of them Youth Scholars–were respectful and charming.

The range of talent didn’t cause a rift either. I noticed that while we students often enjoyed just listening when the staff members–all of them exceptional musicians–jammed at night, many of the staff members were more than willing to play with the regular folks too.  Each day after supper, some of them led the scheduled “Slow Jam,” playing tunes, often familiar ones, at a slow enough pace that beginners could catch on.  But even when they weren’t expected to mingle with the students, they were just eager to play, learning and sharing new tunes.

Las Vegas was a culture shock. The heat–the proverbial dry heat–was oppressive, so most people crowd into the air-conditioned hotels and  casinos.  We stayed at the MGM Grand with all its gold and glittery Hollywood movie motifs. We were warned at the door to expect it to take two hours to check in. The lines were long, but moved swiftly, so we figured out that he was just wanting a tip to store our luggage for awhile.  When we got to our floor, we found ourselves looking down our hallway at what seemed like an optical illusion.  “There’s a mirror at the end,” my husband conjectured. He was wrong; it was more hallway.  Standing at the end put me in mind of that old cereal box with a picture of a kid holding a cereal box with a picture of…. You get the picture.  Even the carpet motif gave me vertigo.

The room was space efficient (i.e., relatively small) with a lovely view of a roof top–and buildings and desert mountains in the distance. And Hooters.  We were able to close our blinds to (try to) sleep, but the blackout curtains wouldn’t close (until we wrestled with them the next morning), so we were lit by the town that never sleeps.  Carrot Top made a joke in his show about having sunburn from his hotel room window.

I understand that the casinos aren’t as loud as they used to be, since no real coins are used in the slot machines. It’s all done with tickets, so no one has the loud sound of payoff.  Likewise, people don’t have to go back to their rooms with their hands smelling like coins. The hotels–all of them–have traffic patterns that require guests to pass through the casinos no matter where they are going. We ventured out to see some of the nearby sites.  New York, New York (replete with a small Statue of Liberty, a roller coaster, and a number of reproductions from the Big Apple, was just across the walkway.  The restaurants there were NYC themed. Excalibur had King Arthur’s Camelot-inspired decor, but the restaurants and the casino areas were more of the same.  On over to the Luxor, we saw Cleopatra’s Needle, the Sphinx, and the pyramid that is the building, but inside, it was pretty much the same.

I couldn’t get over, first of all, how many people were visiting from foreign countries.  I remembered several years ago attending an English conference held at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and hearing local author Ann Patchett telling attendees, “If you don’t get out of this hotel, then don’t tell people you’ve been to Nashville.”  Likewise, I wanted to tell international visitors, “If you don’t leave Las Vegas, please don’t think you’ve seen the United States.”  I was surprised by how many people had small children there.  Late, late at night, poor babies rode in strollers, their drooping heads looking miserably uncomfortable.  “Take that baby and put her to bed. Now!” I wanted to tell parents.

I had considered spending a little time in the hotel pool–until I saw the people leaving the pool area, ignoring the hotel notices “requiring” coverups.  Even the coverups didn’t coverup much! I didn’t see many of “my people”–fifty-somethings in our “tankinis.” I decided to wait and swim at home!

I also notice that people walk about like they drive–totally oblivious to those around them.  Change your mind as you reach the beginning of the escalator?  Just stand there. Those people gathering behind you can wait.  Even the normal traffic pattern–moving to your right–was ignored.  I eventually got tired of dodging people coming straight for me (eyes glued to their phones) and just ran into a few.

The few days there weren’t a total waste.  It’s always nice to have a little time with my husband away from home. Somehow, removing the day-to-day responsibilities allows time to talk or just to be together.  We also had another couple along for the work portion of the trip, so we got to know them and enjoy a little time together.  I even managed some reading time–finishing one book during wait time at the airport and making a dent in James Michener’s The Source, my mega-read for this summer.  We also had one genuinely good meal–in a quiet but sophisticated setting, good prices with reasonable (small) portions.

I just couldn’t get over how different my two experiences were.  Give me the Southeast, the mountains, even the humidity.  I was even ready to cook again once I got home–cubed steak smothered in onions, mashed potatoes, fried okra, field peas and biscuits. I wonder what that would have cost in Vegas–if they had such a thing. Maybe the next hotel casino will be a Tara theme:  You’ll never go hungry again!

One Comment leave one →
  1. sandyyoung75 permalink
    August 13, 2015 3:35 pm

    Hi, Cuz! I read this several days ago, but with all this vacationing, I haven’t been able to find a minute to myself. I love your comparison. I’m with you . . . I’d much rather be at the Gathering. You have the talent to write and make me feel as though I were there with you. A real talent!

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