Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Vegas Vacation
I left with my mother for Vegas on Friday the 26th at 4:05 AM. I had only slept for 2 hours, but it was the most refreshing two hours of sleep I ever had. We were obviously excited. This was a "bucket list" kind of thing: Garth Brooks, country legend and best-selling solo artist in US history, doing his final shows. He's all of 50 years old, and he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. If you don't know this guy's music, you should. It's not only great music, a lot of it matters.
When we landed, it was discovered that a clamp holding the joystick of my power wheelchair in place had broken. Frankly, I couldn't drive it. But they got some tape, and they called a local vendor right away. As it turned out, he had it fixed in about 3 hours. By the time of the show, I was back in my own chair. But I want to tell you about the replacement.
It was, by any definition, a scooter. I amusedly thought to myself, "I'm getting a preview of my old age." Scratch that, I said this out loud. But while I'm here, is there a reason why assistive devices for the elderly have to be slow and ugly? Where is that written? So I'm going to drive a normal wheelchair as long as I'm able, for the record.
The power was in the front. The back wheels had no motor. Even at this boringly reduced speed, it was hard to drive. Front-wheel drive cars at high speed "fishtail," that is, the back end goes in the opposite direction of the turn. The chair definitely did this. I ran into walls and things, failing to compensate for this. My muted screams were probably my mother's entertainment for the day (at least until Garth Brooks).
The best way I can describe this's a front-wheel drive Barcalounger. I both hated and loved every minute of driving the thing. Obviously, the person who designed this has never driven a wheelchair of any kind before. This is how we move. What we want--what I want--is something that can be learned quickly, and that using it is natural enough to approximate walking. That is in fact what I'm doing. I'm walking down the street or sidewalk. Trust me people: We laugh at people crashing their wheelchairs as surely as you do watching someone run into a wall. And yes, I often call it "walking," unless I'm being comedic, or specifically talking about the chair's operation. What would you call it?
I digress. We get to the Encore Theater at the Wynn Hotel early. We're taking no chances. There is country music playing on the radio as we come in. It had to be a mix, because I remember thinking, "No way this is a radio station; they never play this many awesome songs in a row." All '80s and '90s country, mirroring when Garth came on the scene. We talked to a couple of people on the way in, waiting for the doors to open. Everyone is excited. In the 1990s, Garth Brooks filled stadiums inside 30 seconds. He played a free concert in Central Park in 1997. Yes, New York City. A million people showed up. Before I came, I had a sense that this was a lot like seeing Elvis in Vegas in the '70s; forget that; Garth is way bigger than Elvis ever dreamed. Elvis couldn't pack a 500-seat theater for multiple shows a night for a minimum of $250. We didn't even flinch. Of course, we'll pay that. That's cheap. And ever since he semi-retired in 2000, he understands what he is. He left people wanting more, not wishing he'd go away. I do believe when the curtain falls for the last time, he's not going anywhere. There will be an album and a tour soon.
It was just Garth and his guitar. And it wasn't what you'd expect. It was a biography. He wanted us to know who he was, how he'd gotten here. He talked of his mother and father, what they were like. He told us what music they listened to, and how that influenced him. And then he sang it. He surveyed each decade, from the 60s forward. It was incredible. We could have sat there 6 hours, just talking to Garth. The reason why Garth Brooks is the biggest star in music is that he understands why music is important to people. He loves it as much as they do. And he knows that his music is part of that now.
It never sounded like he was doing cover songs. He did them all in such a way that we understood what he had taken from his influences. I'll never forget the James Taylor as long as I live. Garth named his oldest daughter "Taylor" after James. You can easily hear him, if you listen. He told the story of being on a live TV show about to perform with James Taylor. Garth was a wreck, thinking he'd have to perform cold, because Taylor doesn't like to rehearse. No; he's just shy; he wanted to come to Garth's dressing room instead. When Taylor began to sing, Garth could only cry. That earned him a hug. And Taylor performed one of Garth's songs as they inducted him into the Country Music Hall of Fame. So did several other legends, and they were not country singers, most of them.
A lady actually collapsed during the show. It delayed it 15 minutes. When Garth came back, he said a prayer, the kind of prayer you say if you haven't been catechized well, or you feel guilty about something. I know he's made some mistakes in his personal life. And there was a moment when he talked about an artist who helped him understand "the things they don't talk about in church on Sundays." I'd certainly ask him about this, if I had the chance.
There was another really powerful moment, when someone yelled out that he should sing "The Change." This powerful song was written by a man named Tony Arata, and it was written in response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. To hear this request obviously caught Garth's attention, and he wanted to know why a man travelled from Mexico just to hear this song. Well, he wasn't planning on playing it, but he worked part of it into the show.
I gambled, (made the final table of a poker tournament, though nothing came of it) drank some margaritas, and hung out with my mom. There's not much to tell. We had a blast. I have a new favorite vacation spot. Did you know alcoholic drinks are complimentary in most of the casinos? Great idea! Or maybe not. Did you know that your odds of winning in a casino are highest in Las Vegas? Yes, I was surprised as well. We looked it up. I think penny slots and video poker are great inventions. You don't need to win, or go broke, to have a really good time in Vegas. If you can afford it, stay at the new Trump Hotel. They apparently found the nicest people in the entire state, and hired them as hotel staff. (And it's a really nice hotel.)
What can I say? It was a great time. 80 degrees the whole time, though it was chilly at night. I'm definitely going back.

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