The bus broke down five miles outside Kelso on the Joshua tree road near where the train tracks hang on the yellow hills. The few tourists unloaded their bags deciding they would rather walk than stand in the heat. Sally smoothed her pettifor and adjusted her wide-brimmed hat. She would wait in the bus. Twenty minutes later a private stuck his head into the bus and offered a ride and Sally joined the bus driver in the army jeep as it sped past the tourists. Later, Sally sat in the Kelso Depot sipping cold lemonade and eating sardines on crackers.
On Oct 1, I woke in Dallas at 3 a.m. before my flight back to Las Vegas. Picking the morning flight over the red eye became a battle of trying to sleep in a too soft bed with a thin pillow. I might have slept better on the overnight. I should have just stayed awake and pretended I was 20 again.
I hit stop on the phone alarm and saw a long line of alerts. In the dark, the light of the phone let me know, “20 dead in Las Vegas. More than 200 wounded.”
It was 1 a.m. in Vegas; it had just happened.
For years, I feared hearing a mass shooting in my city. Too many tourists; too many opportunities. It seemed very real.
I spent the weekend with Katie in north Texas. A fan of country, she would have been at the concert. Thankfully, she was in bed in Denton.
Matthew tried to get tickets to the Route 91 Concert on Saturday. He texted to say he had couldn’t get tickets. That left my son Albert. My phone showed he walked into the house at 10:06 p.m.; two minutes before the mass murder.
I sat in the dark and thought how lucky we were. None of our kids were there. Relief and then horror as an alert put the death toll over 50.
We landed in Las Vegas after 7 a.m. Curtains flowed out of two windows at the Mandalay Bay. The Strip was closed so we took Maryland Parkway to work. It felt like the wind had taken the heart out of Las Vegas.
A Justice tried to give blood but the line was 3 hours deep and she had to come back to hear oral arguments. She never was able to give blood.
Albert woke up confused. He read my text, “Are you okay?” He looked out the window. A bus went by so he figured everything was okay. Then he Googled Las Vegas and saw the news. “Oh, that’s why they texted.”
He went out and bought six cases of water to take to the first responders. It seemed like all he could do. He talked to a few of them. Everyone was feeling grief. Not too many people wanted to talk about what had happened.
He kept pausing the news to ask us questions. “Why did he do it?” “I can’t believe he did it.” “Do you think he cared?”
I didn’t know what to say. I had the same questions.
I donated some money to the Vegas Shooting Fund. By the end of the week, it totaled more than $10 million.
Most of the victims were from California. Of my friends, at least 12 knew somebody shot or killed. A large number of people were from my hometown of Bishop. One little town of 4,000 people and so many people were at the concert.
Las Vegas gets a bad reputation as a place no one calls home. Nearly 50 million people visit every year.
But on the first day, United Blood Services collected more than 600 pints of blood; they are lucky to collect 100 pints a day. As people stood in line, businesses brought sandwiches, water, pizza, cake, umbrellas, and chairs. Everyone wanted to help. Our community showed through.
By the end of the week, you could find #VegasStrong on most of social media accounts and billboards around the city.
The mass murder stung us. But it didn’t stop us from being people who care.
I’m still numb to the whole event. I would give anything to wake up in Dallas at 3 a.m. to see nothing on my phone.
Thanks for reading. Leave me a comment?
You can read this if you wish although it consists of thoughts and fragments as I attempt to free write 750 words every day. Some of this may end up in a Story or a Conversation. Anyway, this is how one learn and shapes up The Craft.
The Big Squeeze is coming to Las Vegas. The Spaghetti Bowl, a large mess of on ramps and off ramps between the US 95 and I-15 will soon be reduced to two lanes. It already becomes two lanes on US-95 under the Bowl, so I’m not sure how this is a squeeze, but through media hyperbole and advertising, I’m to understand this will be terrible.
This morning, I decided to find an alternative route. On the advice of some friends, I decided to try North Fifth, a new road into North Las Vegas.
After fifteen minutes waiting for a light to change and let three cars through at a time, I’ve decided I can suffer through the impending peril of the Big Squeeze. Even if I sit for 5 extra minutes, it will surely beat a 55 minute commute to go 20 miles via surface streets. This is ranting I know, but you have to start 750-words somehow.
We spring back this weekend. Frankly, this just means getting up earlier. Remember to set your clocks ahead. (Don’t think about it too much: Your head will explode).
Sequoia Strawberries in the flower bed mulch
Lined up like bare root roses
Patted safe in the warm soil
Watered and blessed; a hopeful refrain.
Spring lasts a few days before summer rays
Bear down on the garden beds
Warming the soil to dry dust
A delicate balance to keep them moist.
The morning frost reminds spring follows winter
Breezes as March enters like a lion
Or sneaks in like a lamb.
Either way, the garden struggles to bloom.
A small leaf springs up from the bare root tip
As roots firmly establish themselves
And the plant becomes accustomed to its new home.
It spreads out to take space.
Small droplets in the morning light
On large leaves of green vermillion
Summer sun gobbles up the water
As ladybugs jump through the delicate flowers.
“Are you drinking enough water?”
“I think so.”
“It’s getting hotter and you need to be refreshed.”
“I went to the bathroom three times tonight.”
“You’re diabetic. That’s a sure sign of the disease.”
“I don’t suppose four tall glasses of water had anything to do with it.”
In these writing exercises you are supposed to write whatever comes to your head, in any order, without stopping. This came to my head just now.
S. I. Hayakawa was a U.S Senator from California, and before that he was a semanticist at San Francisco State University. I first read his book Language and Action in high school. The idea Bessie the Cow was an abstraction allowed me to add only those details that made her a cow, rather than endlessly describe all of her features. Abstraction allows writers to write a picture that others fill in. Hayakawa warned to stay at the top of the abstraction tree, otherwise you could lead others into an existential hell.
Trees have a colored leaf. And the leaf is made of smaller parts from veins to individual cells. Staying at the top allows the reader to fill in the abstractions, without the writer having to describe the color of the veins or explain the arrangement of the cells. However, sometimes a writer wants to describe these things. Knowing when to stop is the art of writing. A writer must be careful not to chase themselves around in circles!
Hayakawa also addresses the power of words to hypnotize and manipulate. If a person can be convinced a brown cow is really white through powerful descriptions, then a writer can powerfully draw a crowd in with the force of prose. He cautions readers to avoid taking whatever a person says at face value; question them and their motivations. Abstractive communication allows writers to rely on simile, metaphor, irony and pathos to communicate an idea. Abstraction has power as long as everyone agrees on the definition of the abstraction.
Too deep? Enough philosophy on the mechanisms of writing.
“I just don’t feel motivated or respected.”
“You hate your job?”
“Just the people. Nobody sees my contribution.”
“So you’re looking for a reward?”
“I would like to be respected and given a little credit.”
“For showing up?”
“For making this place work despite the lack of respect.”
“You received a paycheck this week?”
“I think you they must like you.”
I’m running out of words for this session’s writing activity and likely this will end long before I ever get to the bottom of a deep well. There. We now have 750-words!
Thanks for reading. Leave me a comment?
Christopher stood over the maze of workday and eyed the sea. A thin fog cloud floated passed his perch on the 45th floor. On the docks, sea lions barked at tourists. East Bay traffic sought a faster path, ships hauled electronics in and almonds back out, and the blood-red sun sunk into late afternoon north of the Golden Gate.
In the conference room, five people sat in executive chairs around a table. Their faces reflected gloomy sullenness. They might as well said they intended two more hours of arguing and defensiveness. He crushed out his cigarette and flicked it into the wastebasket.
Across from a camera hunched a nervous man with a woman perched to the side wearing a mask. Christopher thought he could use some oxygen too. While the man told his story, the woman repeated what he said.
“Does she have to do that?”
“We need an accurate transcription,” said an attorney seated at the end.
“Isn’t the video enough?”
“I want to read it tonight.”
Christopher rocked forward. He ran his right hand through his gray hair and looked over at the man. “Forget the transcriber, Mr. Wells. The faster you answer, the faster we can get out of here.”
The nervous man explained his one-of-a-kind process. It required this and that and one thing or the other. It mattered little to those at the settlement conference. The questions rolled and the answers landed in a flat dud. Each person rubbed their eyes and wished for sleep.
Christopher turned to the window daydreaming of places far from this evening. He watched the sun drop into the ocean until the dying light filled the room.
Five hours over the vermilion bridge, he rolled down the fabric roof. Clammers walked along the beach carrying clam guns and pails. They smiled in the ocean air. Christopher breathed deep taking in a feeling of warm relief. The sea smelled sweet. Sentries of redwoods stood on the cliff and a lone tree marched out to the shore. He longed to join its rush to the sea. Away from him, he picked up the faint smell of skunk. Humboldt County Fog, he guessed. A guy in a beanie and a girl in flannel shirt smiled and waved.
He touched the dash. It felt solid although he still wore his virgin wool dress pants. He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them quick. A pair of 501’s and a wool cardigan replaced the virgin wool. He looked in the mirror and dark sunglasses reflected back. He settled into the car seat steering the wheel away from the sand.
The redwood forest rose above the ocean. Ferns and grass bunched up crowding the road. The path intruded on the stillness giving way to silence. Sentries of trees towered until only darkness touched the sky. The forest seemed to ignore his intrusion of their assembly. Christopher came to seek solace and the forest ignored him.
He slowed the car into a clearing. The tires crunched over cones, broken branches, and fronds. A hard thump echoed from the closing door. He regretted disrupting the surrounding cathedral.
He wandered over fallen trees and rocks. Over a ridge he scanned for the tree tops watching the breeze sway each branch. The trees reached a height beyond his imagination. He leaned against a trunk rounder than his height. He followed the ridges and cliffs of bark as high as he could see. It never ended. He guessed this tree stood stories tall long before his great-grandfather saw California.
The width of the tree circled around and Christopher stepped over ferns as he rounded it. A black ant carried a golden speck of pollen at the end of a mile long trek. It rushed to disappear under the surface of leaves going deep into the humus. Christopher looked around the clearing not seeing his starting point.
A beam of light surrounded a smaller tree with a pathway from the sky. Dust and insects crisscrossed the dancing light. Christopher stood in awe breathing in the serenity.
He walked away from the big tree to stand under the light shaft. The illuminated tree stood tall like the last one except for its pure white branches. His shoulders shuddered and every tree seemed to step back with appreciation and respect. He reached up stroking an albino cone of pure whiteness as a subtle spark passed through his hand twinkling in the light. He rubbed together his fingers feeling the soft white powder. A jolt of energy flashed from the tips and floated to his core. He felt alive and full of wisdom.
The light around the ghost tree grew brighter and he stood alone looking up. In the light glow, Christopher’s face expressed joy.
“Is that what a nervous break down looks like?” asked Mr. Wells.
Christopher jumped back from the table. The room grew larger and a crowd standing around him snapped to attention. The transcriber braced Christopher’s back. He sank into a chair confused by the way everyone stared. A hand pushed him a glass and he sipped the water allowing himself to return to the meeting.
Christopher surveyed the balcony. Stars touched the rooftops of the city and a helicopter searched over the bay. He stared outside while the others waited for him to say he felt alright. Christopher cleared his throat and everyone turned to him.
“Answers come at the strangest times,” he said.
“How do you mean?” Mr. Wells asked.
“All this means nothing. None of you should win.”
“But we are so close.”
“A settlement over a little slight?”
Christopher pushed himself away from the table. He stood for a moment before the people seated opposite him. He nodded, smiled, and looked up. They followed his gaze to the ceiling tiles where he saw his answer. The other people in the room only saw a crisscross pattern.
As they tried to understand the truth, Christopher gathered up his papers, turned away, and walked out the door.