Had a pleasant, uneventful flight from Atlanta to Nevada last Sunday night. It was cloudy and raining when we took off, but it improved as we gained altitude. I have often wondered why the pilot needs to tell us how high we are flying. For me it is too much information. “I don’t care how high,” my heart says. “Just get me there.
My friend from 48 years ago in Hawaii met me. She had arrived from Arizona on an earlier flight. We were booked at the Mirage, courtesy of a wonderful buddy who gave us his “high roller perks.”
Las Vegas. This town is full of people living “la vida loca.”
“What happens here stays here.” That’s what the famous tagline says about Sin City. I don’t know about that. But if you play the tables, the odds are your money will stay here.
I lost my taste for that kind of excitement long ago. I have seen too many college tuitions and mortgage payments gambled away. There’s a glazed look in the eyes of a casino habitué. I don’t like it.
Once upon a time I enjoyed the thrill of placing a bet, of seeing the swirl of reds and blacks of a roulette wheel and of “doubling down” at a blackjack table.
But I think that what appealed to me most was the cloak and dagger feel of Ted Lewin’s “illegal” Key Club. The joint was at the back of a plush restaurant on Roxas (then Dewey) Boulevard. You had to clear two security doors to enter a plush lounge with a small dance floor, a three-piece band, and a sexy singer. Finally behind another set of doors, lo and behold, the casino.
I was there with friends late one night after a party. Suddenly more than a dozen cops broke in. I had left my press card (I was with the Manila Chronicle then) in another purse, but luckily escaped the police lineup because the head of the raiding team was my good friend.
As soon as we were released I rushed to report the story to the night desk. My city editor, the late Celso Cabrera, barked at me and told me there was no way I could have the scoop. I understood why only after he showed me the only photograph taken at the raid. There I was in a bright blue Ben Farrales creation, leaning on a roulette wheel. Busted!
Ah those exciting naughty days.
Back to Vegas.
Before we landed I saw the typical summer evening sky in the desert: deep purple, starlit, clear and beautiful. The temperature was still in the three digits at the airport, but the forecast promised cool breezes and blue skies for the rest of the week. It has been gorgeous.
One of the highlights of my Vegas holiday was a four-hour, delightful and delicious dinner with old friends. So many memories shared. We laughed a lot. Cried a little. Things that were world-shaking decades ago suddenly seem so trivial, insignificant. How wonderful it is to grow up at last, at whatever age.
And as we told our stories, an unspoken understanding filled my heart, and it took the place once filled with old unresolved resentments. Silently we have picked up the broken pieces. And all is well.
Someone once asked me why old folks don’t seem to get weary of reminiscing. Let me try to explain. At this age, we have more to look back on than to look forward to. Also, what a great sense of satisfaction and pride it gives us to look at how far we have come. So allow us the luxury of remembering, while we can.
Another Las Vegas highlight: I spent the day with my youngest grandchild. We shared a bowl of spaghetti and warm bread at Brio. After a tentative start, in the car he asked me to tickle his arm and then hugged me and told me he loved me. My heart overflows.
I watch the news here and I am dismayed. Every other commercial is a diatribe against a candidate. No one seems to have anything good to say. The debates start tomorrow. I don’t think it will help Americans make a choice.
Online, the discussions have been heated, nasty, mean-spirited and destructive. The majority of those who have weighed in have displayed the worst side of themselves.
What a sad state of affairs. And then I hear from home and my heart aches.
The other day I came across the speech from “The Great Dictator.” Made in 1940, the movie starred the inimitable Charlie Chaplin. Here are a few lines that I feel are painfully relevant today.
“In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.
“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost … ”
And here we are 76 years later, still in desperate need of simple humanity. We must change. Now. Please.