Desert Death March

Saturday was the morning when I got up early, left my sleeping wife in the hotel room, and headed out on the streets of Las Vegas to find breakfast before sitting down to do some writing. I like that part of this town – there’s always something good to eat if you are willing to walk a bit.

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Only in Las Vegas...

Only in Las Vegas…

My choice of restaurants was dictated by a combination of the smell of a great steak, and the bitter irony of the joint’s namesake. Only in Las Vegas could the man who was banned from baseball for life have a restaurant dedicated to him. I’m not a stakeholder in the arguments on his getting into the hall of fame, but the dude did like to gamble and this is definitely the city for that activity.

Turns out they make a great country-fried steak and potatoes. Got the eggs just right as well. Good coffee. Best of all, they had a counter that faced the sidewalk where you could watch the deritus of the human race go by. (Big word for a fat guy in red shorts who’s wearing pink sunglasses – let that Freak Flag fly in Vegas, baby.)

Once the meal was consumed, my little fingers were ready to pound the keys and do some writing. Problem is, I had only my travel keyboard with me and the arthritic fingers were acting up. Simple solution: get a full-sized blue-tooth keyboard and synch it up with the tablet. God knows there’s a ton of electronics shops in Las Vegas.

The first two places I went were more into cameras and other devices. No keyboards. Tablets yes, keyboards no. But I was assured by the very nice man at the shop near Mr. Rose’s establishment that there was a Fry’s electronics one mile away on the right-hand side of Las Vegas Boulevard. Rightie-O, off I go.

The sidewalks of this city are a combination of pinball, eye-dominance, and jousting. I usually win due to my size and appearance. Not even the most aggresive touts for the topless opportunities consider violating my space after a glare or two. Instead, they just nod and fix their gaze on some other poor fool. This fool moves on unscathed.

Once I hit Tropicana, I crossed over the street on an elevated walkway. The casinos own the turf in front of their buildings, and police it aggressively. The overpasses are fair game (evidently public property) and are littered with everything from addicts pan-handling for their next fix to the completely insane who don’t have enough money to be a high-roller in a casino. I’m pretty sure that it’s a matter of dollars more than anything else that marks the boundry between the two, as the level of self-destrucive behavior is relatively similar.

WARNING: I do gamble. I plan to tithe any winnings, but I like the machines. I don’t smoke because you can get all you want just being inside a casino, and I don’t drink because it makes me feel bad. But the one-armed bandits are fun. Judge me if you must, but I’m just coming clean. I have a daily limit, don’t exceed it, and walk away poorer but always with the potential to have a sack of cash in the event of the reels lining up just so…

Back to the story. Marching along down the sidewalk, the further toward the airport you go the thinner the foot traffic. Once you’re past Mandalay Bay, you start to think, “Gee. Fry’s is usually a big place. I don’t see any sign of it.” However, I am an imbecile, it’s a nice day, I have sunglasses and a sidewalk clear of morons. This is good. I’m willing to walk a little further than I expected. After all, I used to walk half marathons, 10K races, even a full marathon one time. I’m good for another few blocks.

Less than an hour later, with the sun now high in the sky, I still couldn’t see any sign of the shopping center that allegedly housed the electronics super-store. Breakfast was catching up with me, and while there were secluced spots where a gentleman could be out of view and take care of all that coffee, I had watched entirely too many episodes of JAIL and COPS: Las Vegas. In my mind, there was no doubt that the minute I lit behind the tree and committed to the task, a helmeted bicycle cop would spring over the embankment and taser my bearded bod. Nope. Not gonna do it.

The sidewalk ran out. As in, no more concrete. No more smoothed gravel. Just gravel. The last pedestrian in the city was easily 100 yards away in any direction. Not too many fools stumble toward the mountains in this city. It’s a driving kind of place. But ahead there was a building. A refuge from my potential criminality – nope. It was a police substation. I may be an idiot, but I’m not turning myself in. Keep walking.

Blocks later I came upon the maintenance buildings for the Bali Hai golf course. The kind grounds keeper not only let me use the bathroom, but told me that Fry’s was just a 1/4 of a mile away. Oh frabjabulous heart, be still.

Again, I learned that the best intentions and kind hearts still have a terrible sense of distance in this desert wasteland. One mile later I came upon a gas station/casino. Nice combo – fill the tank, empty the wallet. The clerk advised me that just the other side of the enormous truck lot next door I would find the driveway to the shopping center. Fry’s would be “at the back.”

In my naivete, I boldly headed out into the sunshine once again. Indeed, once past the truck yard, three rattle snakes, and the skeleton of an expired woman from New Jersey who clutched a chip in her bony claw, I found the shopping center.

Problem is, the thing is monstorous. Acres and acres of shops. It was at least another 1/2 mile to Fry’s. But once I got there, I was cooled by the wash of air conditioning and frightened by the lack of places to park my weary feet. It’s a big-box store and they want you to buy things and leave. My feet, on the other hand, were not great with that idea.

Fry’s is what a badly inventoried, poorly marked Best Buy would be. Think of all the negatives about Best Buy, and then reduce the signage and number of employees by about 40%. No longer will Chad from car audio try to help you with your tablet purchase, eventually to fail and get Mauricio from appliances to come in his stead (Mauricio owns a tablet, which is more than Chad can say.) No, at Fry’s there is no human that will help. Except that guy slamming merchandise on pegs two aisles over. I’m not sure what’s on that aisle, however, because the 17 point type on the endcap is legible only to Marvel superheroes who are looking for a gadget. No super powers, no readability from the midpoint of the aisle.

The conundrum is now one of etiquitte and demeanor. Will the white-shirted automaton react worse to my yelling acros two aisles, or to me hulking up on him and releasing the blast of sweat and frustration in olfactory form? I opt for arms-length:he can’t run if I grab his collar.

I lead him back to the keyboard row and tell him what I want:A full size, bluetooth keyboard. I even mention a model number on the placards. He bolts for the register before I can taser him, and I lumber in his wake. No problem, but the only one left is a display model according to the computer. Display model. The shelf of shuffled, and reshuffled, items that bear no resemblence to the placards below them. The boxes, naturally, are kept out of site at the end of the row. Gleaming, he produces the box – it’s for a minature keyboard. Yes, dear friend, the placard neglected to mention that little fact.

Now we begin searching the shelf for a possible winner. Again, we spot a likely candidate and he goes to check inventory (no box in sight.) I look along the ledge and find a better buy, and a new box to match. It’s a Microsoft designer bluetooth desktop, complete with flat mouse. BINGO!!!11!111!!

I head to the computer island and let him know I found a victim.

Next stop is Audio. My beloved has requested noise cancelling headphones during our phone conversation in which I let her know that I was not yet dead, but beyond the pavement.

If the world of keyboards was a wasteland, audio is hostile territory.

A young man is helping two older women pick out headphones. I wait patiently. He says, “I can’t help you, I’m helping them right now.”

Aside from the fact that the women will likely be done within the next ten minutes, the fact that he doesn’t tack on a “If you can wait, I’ll be glad to help you in a few minutes” ticks me off in a non-minor kind of way. Any words of hope? Nope. Instead, he pirouettes like a deranged Peter Pan and drags them out of sight to the next aisle.

I spot the home theatre section. Three large benches designed to go in your enormous living room. I plop my sweaty frame down and vow not to buy anything until a clerk acknowledges my presence.

Listen. I’d still be there if I hadn’t started to get chilled in the air conditioning. The closest I got to help was a frightened look from a young woman that said, “Holy Crap! That fat guy is sweating on our demo. He can’t sit there… I’d better go get an adult to tell him to move.”

I levered my decaying hulk from the seat and walked to the top end of the display. Bluetooth. Noise Cancelling. Sony. The winner. Price? Who knows at Fry’s. There is no hope that the box is next to the right placard.

With my keyboard and headphones I head for the cashier. There I encounter Kareem. Yes, the only real name in the story. He’s young, but he’s helpful. I ask him to call a cab for me after he’s checked out my fairly large dollar amount purchase. I note the register in his head where the inputs collate: never called a cab for a customer before. I’m sure of it: nobody in their right mind would walk to this place from anywhere else in Las Vegas.

Kareem gets his manager to hook me up with a cab. I map my route and discover I’ve walked about five miles this day and my feet are vouching for it in spades. But Kareem has lived up to his name: Arabic for generous.

My wife? She rejoiced when I dragged back in the door. She really rejoiced when she got her anniversary present early. Loves the headphones. The keyboard is awesome as well – that’s what I’m using right now.

Final benefit? I’m back on the walking kick. Heck, if you can walk out past the end of the sidewalk in Vegas, you can do anything.

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