Two puffs of smoke, stale booze, and a prostitute greeted us as we stumbled into Vegas for my daughter's birthday.
Not exactly what mom and dad had in mind when we decided to take the kids to the city of bright lights, but hey - that's travel!
We can't plan for everything in this world. We don't know what's going to happen next.
There is now. Now is it! Now is all there is. And as long as you have a now, whether it be good or bad, you have a chance - especially in Vegas!
So there we are. We're dragging our backpacks, art kits, and stuffed animals through the suffocating alleys of the casino in search of anyone who can help us get a room key and direct us towards the pool.
Our kids are entranced.
The have Monopoly! Batman! Look they have Transformers!
Yeah . . . you guys can't play those games.
You're not allowed. Those games are for grownups.
Why do grownups want to play Transformers?
Grownups like to pretend they hate Transformers, but secretly they love them just as much as kids. Vegas is where grownups act like kids.
But kids don't smoke, Dad!
We make our way to the registration and I notice even more smoke coming from the massive TV's.
Ughhh . . . another bombing. Wait! What??? Oh no . . . someone bombed Boston!
Even over the parade of digital tweeps my daughter can hear my mumbling and sense my angst.
I think there was a bomb in Boston. Let me see . . . Oh no . . . at the Marathon!
Someone bombed Boston?!?!?!? On MY BIRTHDAY?! Why would they do that? Is it still there? Where? When?
I don't know, Honey. Let's put the bags down and we'll figure it out.
We flop into the safety of our beds and flick on the news. There is Boston. There is our home.
Little Sam blurts out,
Did that lady get shot by a bomb?
And that lady?
Are they dead?
I don't know.
These people are stupid!
The people with the bombs!
Yes they are.
We get dressed and we go down to the pool.
I don't know what you're supposed to do in the wake of tragedies today. I don't know what is politically correct, proper, or sensitive. It seems we all have something to say in the wake of tragedy, but very little to say in times that seem to be peaceful. Sure, some tragedies hit closer to home than others, but what does one do at a time like this? What's the protocol? Do we get on the phone and call our family and friends? Do we stare at the TV all day and get all worked up? Do we get our swimsuits on, head to the pool, and make sure we spend every minute with our family? I don't know.
These moments of helplessness keep us guessing and questioning.
When morning comes, we're packing up and getting ready to head off to Sequoia National Park for a week of camping. Again we are trudging through the casino with our bags, art kits, and stuffed animals, trying to get to our trusty little Kia and leave Vegas behind.
Halfway through the parking lot we freeze.
Where's the roof bag? OMG - the roof rack is gone!
The straps to the rack are still sticking up in the air as if they're embedded in concrete, but the bag is gone. Some bold person came by in the night, sliced the straps to our roof bag, and walked off with a 200 pound case filled with all our camping gear and then some. And while this is not a big deal in the scheme of things, it still sucks. Thousands of dollars worth of gear is now gone. Our personal stuff is gone. It's kind of all we had. Just some more emotional juice to add to an already emotional few days.
In tears, our daughter belts out,
They took our food! What are we going to do without food? We can't live without food and water, Daddy! (There's those ecology lessons coming forth.)
We can buy food, Sweetheart.
But our stuff. Our tent! Our sleeping bags! My . . . they took my scooter! Sam - they took your scooter!
Sam raises his lightsaber.
These guys are stupid! I'm gonna Lightsaber them!
Mom jumps in.
Sam, don't say stupid!
Daddy said it was OK to call the bombers stupid!
I shrug my shoulders.
It's not nice to say stupid; we all know this. But the word exists for a reason, and I'm pretty sure "stupid" was invented for times like these.
After a few security papers and some pouting at the front desk, we get ourselves a free night stay from the hotel and start filling out police reports. Sequoia is out. Insurance is a possibility. We wait.
As is always the case, the sun rises the next morning and we begin the day. We have no idea what is going to happen next, but the night before Heidi and I had a real good conversation. We decided that we are in this for the long haul. We decided we're not doing enough. We're not traveling with enough purpose, or working hard enough, or doing what we set out to do.
This travel life assumes a delicate balance. It comes with great highs and lows. It offers surprises, and setbacks, and many tests. Losing our stuff is just a test. Unlike the daily tragedies that occur around the world, we can bounce back from this with ease. It's a mild bump in the road. It's no big deal. And it surely isn't a reason to stray from the things we believe in. In fact - it's a propellant. Bad stuff, mishaps, failure - these are all things that will make us better if we let them.
We decide to hop on over to Palmdale, CA because we have a week to kill before we start a house sit in San Diego and we really have no other choice. Camping is not an option at this point, and the hotel in Palmdale is practically free if we use our reward points. So, despite our angst over having to cramp into a tiny hotel room for a week in the middle of nowhere (sorry, Palmdale), we jump in the car and keep pushing forward.
During the 4 hour drive to the hotel I make a decision. I decide many things are going to change. I get fired up, motivated, inspired. I realize again, that I don't have to understand why things happen. It doesn't matter why things happen because I can't control it anyway. All that matters is what I do.
We have so much to do. We can't let theives, or loss, or frustration stop us. We have a choice. We can get sad, angry, or mad. We can start running scared or throw in the cards. Or, we can get to doing what we know is right and forget everything else. There is only now - take it or leave it!
When we arrived at the hotel we were starving and exhausted. The kids were a mess. Everyone was pretty much done, and Heidi and I were doing all we could to shine the light. And then we entered our cheap, crappy hotel in the middle of nowhere.
As the doors parted, we saw before us a ginormous spread of food. Burgers, fries, hot dogs, salad, and everything else. Apparently, complimentary dinner was just starting. There was free, UNLIMITED wine and beer. And not just beer, but good beer! Beer I had never heard of before! And they were handing us pitchers to fill up at our leisure.
I told Heidi that possibily we may have pushed it all too far and maybe we died and went to heaven, but then we saw Sam was refusing to eat his burger and grabbing all the cheese and we knew we were still good to go on this Earth.
Amidst the chaos of free food and beer, we realized we hadn't checked in yet. So Heidi wanders up to the front desk and comes back 2 minutes later with this big grin and tells me they upgraded us to a 2 bedroom suite - for the whole week!
Why? What did you say?
I didn't say anything. They just said this is our best room and enjoy!
What the hell kind of hotel . . .
Mom! Dad! They have a movie theater in here!
And so I started looking for the cameras and waiting for the surprises, but none came. It just so happens that we stumbled onto the perfect situation for us, at the perfect time, in the perfect place. After 3 months of crawling all over each other in tents, losing our stuff, repairing our car, and racing around the good ole' US of A, we seem to have stumbled upon our gem.
The kids are raving that they have their own beds. Our daughter just told us she is making dinner on Friday and is searching the internet for recipes. It's amazing, and it shouldn't even exist. I've stayed in hundreds of hotels and never had 2 bedroom suites and free beer flung at me before. Why now? Why?!! We have free laundry here for goodness sakes! The kids have their own bathroom! What is going on!? All this can not be coincidence.
Here's what I think. Better yet . . . here's what I believe:
We are all supposed to do something, and most of us know what that is. When we work at it and believe in it, things happen that propel us forward. But when we get lost and start getting off of our path, something kicks us in the ass and tries to get us headed in the right direction. It's up to us to follow the lead.
The world is full of tragedies. We can't avoid them, we can't ignore them, but we can use them. We can allow ourselves to be reminded of the fact that we have a job to do, and nothing short of tragedy will stop us. And if we do this - we will succeed.
Now, some of you might not buy into what I am saying. You might suggest that I am full of fluff and free beer. Well . . . maybe you're right. Maybe it is all just fluff. Maybe there is no universal push. Maybe you lose or win in Las Vegas simply because it wasn't your day or you parked your car in some thief's favorite spot. Maybe.
All I know is that every time I take the high road. Every time I do what I know I'm supposed to do, things work out. I can't explain why or how, but they do. I choose to know this.
How do you lose everything in Vegas and get it all back? Well . . . that's easy. You get up, you get out of Vegas, and you start doing what you KNOW you're supposed to be doing. Problem solved!
And by the way. The Staybridge Suites in Palmdale, CA . . . BEST HOTEL EVER!
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Flickr image: Thanks wuestenigel