February 16, 2015 - 7:57 AM
When I was in my final semester of University — so long ago, yet somehow I’m still reaping the tax rewards — I was asked to give a presentation on a modern day Utopia.
Almost everyone found obscure communes to profile — communities of people living in places such as Niland, California that I so fondly spoke of in my last column. I chose to focus on the Burning Man festival, which you could argue is a pop-up commune.
I felt having money not be a concern, having a system in place to assure you are supported as your most unabashed, instinct-driven self and being located in the middle of the desert fit the criteria.
Now, I haven’t been to Burning Man myself — haven’t let that inner freak flag fly, as the kids say. I’m too horrified by all the stories of “mud lung” to even consider it. Plus, I haven’t even made it to Coachella yet because hippies intimidate me.
Burning Man and I have yet to be acquainted in any form other than Facebook, Google and that one Malcolm in the Middle episode where all the campers mistake the family as a live art installation of the crippled American dream.
However, I feel like I experienced a place like it quite recently.
With only several hours separating us from the cat calls of slot machines, Britney Spears and the constant waft of cheap perfume, my boyfriend assured me we couldn’t refuse taking the road trip from Palm Springs to Las Vegas, saying things like, “you just can’t explain it!” and “you just have to experience it for yourself!”
OK, I thought, I could probably explain it, but whatever.
Of course, being the gentleman’s gentleman he is, Steve had been to Vegas countless times before he and I took the plunge as a couple (although he had never driven). I, on the other, hand had never been — I like a good time, but that usually just involves gossip, karaoke and a cheese plate so I don’t need to involve West Jet.
“I’ve heard it just comes out of nowhere,” he said as we were on hour three of our drive through the beautiful and desolate Mojave National Reserve.
We had been staring at the same glinting spec for at least 60 miles and were only just starting to realize it was another sand dune.
“Uh huh,” I said as I stuck my hand into the bag of melted Smarties.
Sure enough, though, another 110 miles down the road, we rounded a corner to see the Mandalay towering over us. Just, BOOM. All of a sudden we were driving down the strip, pulling into the parking lot of the Flamingo and — as I drew the curtains in our room — directly in front of the disgustingly oversized Caesars Palace.
I had an existential crisis that prompted Steve to order me the strongest margarita known to man. How could this city with elephantiasis just pop up in the middle of the desert? Why was this place a thing? Why was everyone so happy? Money, everywhere! Cares, nowhere to be found!
And all of a sudden my fear of mud lung came back as I realized that I was smack dab in the middle of my presented Utopia and hating it.
The word Utopia, in Greek, translates to no-place. In More’s mind, this meant a place that does not actually exist, but he just died too soon. Utopia exists. It’s a city called Las Vegas in the state of Nevada in the country of America. It’s a place that makes me profoundly uncomfortable for all the reasons that it is listed as ideal. It is a place that — as my existential crisis proves — cannot be described.
Would I go again? Probably not. But I did, finally, come up with the perfect ending for the essay I wrote that semester:
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because there is quite literally nowhere else for it to go. I’ve been through the surrounding desert in a Camaro with no name, OK. Nowhere. No place.
— Andria Parker is a 20-something blogger from Kamloops
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