Driving through the scorched desert separating Los Angeles from Las Vegas is unlike any other drive on the planet. All around you, there is nothing but desolation. Barren, craggy mountains on the horizon that look like they fell off of Mars and traveled across space to land in the Mojave. Long, flat shelves of sand sprinkled with desert succelents. It’s a place of void.
There are plenty of places like this throughout the world, but none between two major metropolises. At night, I-15 is a silver band of halogen headlights stretching as far as the eye can see. Sometimes there’s even gridlock.
Your mother and I drove there two years ago. This particular trip was already memorable after a wrong turn on the 15. After getting gas in Baker, your mother claimed she didn’t see the onramp to the 15 north and we hopped back on the 15 south. No big deal. Just a quick stop at the next exit and we could reroute. Except the next exit was Zyyxx road (yes, that’s really what it’s called) and it was about 5 miles away. Ten miles later and we were back to the gas station, pointing towards Vegas.
We stopped once more in Primm. Primm is right on the border between California and Nevada, and it’s like a gateway. Something that announces, “You are now nearing excess. Think we’re kidding? Here’s a roller coaster in the middle of the desert.”
I love roller coasters. Your mother does, too. So we bought a ticket on Desperado, the giga coaster towering above Buffalo Bill’s casino. I would show you a picture. I took one, but then phone decided to separate itself from me somewhere between the incline hill and the last double helix into a stucco cavern.
Here’s my review of Desperado. It sucks. I decided this long before it claimed my phone. Every turn, the side of the train punched me in the kidney. The track was so rough I was afraid to scream because I might bit off my tongue. For the first half of the ride, I actually thought I might lose my phone and pinned my hand against my pocket. Halfway through, the bumps were so painful and my kidneys were in such distress that I had to make a choice. Grab the bars and risk losing your phone. Or don’t, and possibly piss blood for the next month.
I went with kidneys.
And the phone was lost forever.
At first, I felt angry at myself for being so stupid. Then I felt depressed. Then I accepted it. It was a truncated grieving process. I was attached to that phone far more than I realized. It’s true for a lot of people, isn’t it? I don’t know how relevant this will be in a few decades when you read this, but now, smartphones have completely changed the way people interact with the world. They have become integral to modern life. Need proof? When I told people I lost my phone on a roller coaster, they reacted like I just told them my dog died. There was grief, actual grief, in my heart when I lost that phone.
I wish I could tell you that I had some sort of spiritual experience without my phone. Like some modern day It’s A Wonderful Life, but I had no Clarence. No revelations came to me that weekend.
Know what did? Boredom. I found myself fighting boredom, which even then, struck me as odd because I was in Las Vegas with my beautiful fiancée. There was plenty to do, and when I was doing them I had fun. But then, when I wasn’t, I came face to face with my long forgotten friend: down time.
Down time is an old fashioned thing now. It died earlier this decade, along with pay phones, Blockbuster and books, after technology outpaced it. When I was a kid, down time happened ALL the time. When we had nothing to do, we found something. And you know what? I kind of miss that. It was nice to be bored and create what to do. This is dying out, Blue. More often than not, there is no down time. We don’t create what to do. We just consume it. Stream it. Download it.
It would be hypocritical of me to bash technology and say that when I lost my phone, I was all the better for it. There were insights to be gained, but seriously, I did not enjoy the experience. And as soon as the iphone 5 came out, I was in line.
Technology is never the problem. It’s how we use it, and more importantly, how we let it use us, that is problematic. It’s good to be bored every once in awhile, to get disconnected from being constantly connected. If only to ride a roller coaster, and lose something valuable to gain a good story in the end.
Remember that when you’re driving to Las Vegas in your self-driving car, watching Netflix on your sunglasses, Blue.
Just skip Desperado.