I run gasping and see how my bus is driving out from the Union Station of Los Angeles. I am already all in tears and panic, stuttering asking a staff member if that’s possible to call the driver and pick me up. Well, I guess you get what the answer was.
That was my night bus to Las Vegas, which I have managed to miss being at the station 4 hours in advance. I was late for a few of the most decisive seconds for the upcoming night and whole Nevada trip; the incident has set a tone. How could it even happen? I was asking myself this question all night long, feeling like the most stupid person in the universe. Just one piece of advice: never start cleaning your bag 40 minutes before departure, forgetting to re-check the stop you need, and then asking someone who couldn’t care less if the address in your ticket is correct.
The next bus was only at 7 in the morning. I bought a new ticket, six-times more expensive than the previous, by the way, and settled on the floor by the already closed Starbucks, the only spot I had wi-fi in that station. In two hours, I got kicked out, as the station was closing. Imagine the scenery: a young girl with a huge travel bag trying to sleep on two chairs brought by a kind station-worker, chilly summer LA night with a faint sound of rattling palm leaves, weakly-lit bus station, and a couple of homeless people.
I couldn’t stop crying from 12 AM until 4 AM when I finally got inside the warm space again. The next bus I, fortunately, didn’t miss and arrived in Vegas by noon.
Hot air poured over my face when I went out of the bus in a melting pot named Las Vegas. August 22d, 41 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature I‘ve ever experienced yet. Without hesitation, I had a quick look on the map and started walking towards the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, which was only 2,4 kilometers away from me.
A breakfast stop on my way in the “Jack in the Box” drive-in by a gas station became my first peace moment of this trip. I’ve seated myself at a high table facing the window, so I could watch aircrafts taking off and landing at the McCarran International Airport. I just needed those 10 contemplation minutes and a dry chicken burger to recuperate and cheer up. In the blink, I’ve been standing in a line to take a picture with the attraction.
“Is there such a queue under each welcome sign here?” – I’ve inadvertently overheard a young couple in front of me and found out that there are three of these signs around the Las Vegas Valley. Luckily, I was in the right place, 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South. “Do you think replicas are also solar-powered?” – a man asked. “Oh, this one is?” – I thought – “Cool.”
In a couple of minutes, it was my turn. Do you know a struggle traveling alone when nobody can take a proper picture of you? Guess what? It is not an issue for the Welcome sign in Vegas! There was a special worker taking pictures of tourists, isn’t it crazy? I mean, that picture was probably the best from all my US journey, thanks to that guy.
I start exploring the city when I go out at the bus stop by Fremont Street, the downtown pedestrian mall. It is impressive even in the daylight: costumed performers are vouching for money taking pictures with tourists, the mesmerizing light show played on the LED canopy 27 meters above the crowds’ heads, and people ziplining under it – a must-see! My hotel is just around the corner. All I need at the moment is the internet to plan further steps.
“Sorry, we currently have connection troubles, and your booking doesn’t include breakfast for tomorrow.”
Of course, I got my (actually promised in the booking) breakfast coupons in exchange for no (also promised) wi-fi, took a shower to wash off my annoyance, and forced my tired body to get up from the bed.
Let’s beam down to the center. I’m on the crossing of the South Las Vegas Boulevard and the South Main Street, starting my walk towards the way out of the city. The fanciest part starts after the Encore hotel; we pass by the pirate ship of the Treasure Island, artificial canals of the Venetian, and face the Mirage, which name reflects the scenery around. Everything feels like a luxury oasis made of pure gold and diamonds in a center of a lifeless desert.
People say you lose a sense of time in casinos; I consider this statement is right for the whole city. Meanwhile, I walk straight down the strip looking, captivated, around, the night falls. I come closer to the Bellagio dancing fountains. “The show will start in 5 minutes!” – some tourist said to another. “I’m right in time.” – I thought and stopped to watch one of the most iconic sights of Vegas in action.
A mist floated over the water on Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” song from Titanic. I started covering with chills. Water flows have never looked so weightless and soft as if it was transparent silk pieces dancing on the wind gusts.
The night in Vegas is all about gambling and clubbing, so there’s nothing to catch for an underaged tourist like me besides staring at neon signs and overpriced sweets in Hershey’s and M&M’s candy stores.
Back in the hotel, I realized that there is an open-air club right under my window, and there are no other rooms for me to move away from the noise. Do I need to say that it was my worst hotel experience?
Without proper sleep, I barely woke up around 5:30 AM for the Grand Canyon tour, as the shuttle bus was picking me up from the hotel at 6. We had the first stop at a gathering point, where I got my very American looking turkey sandwich for breakfast and transferred to the bigger bus. This was the only excursion I took during my two-weeks US journey just because it was hard for me to get to the Canyon on my own. Turned out, this was one of the best decisions, as everything was planned for me, so I could finally sit back and relax watching the sunrise above the sandy landscape of the Nevada state.
I already couldn’t stay awake on the road when I started hearing the Finnish language behind me; it has triggered my attention very quickly and I’ve turned around to look at the back seats. There was a young couple who later when we were already in the place asked me to take a picture of them. They were pretty shocked when I said “kiitos paljon” (thank you very much) after they also took a picture of me in front of a canyon view.
Actually, I’ve met Finnish people twice in the United States and I want to tell you about the second time as well. To do so, we need to step back to the starting point of this story, Los Angeles. I was about to climb to the Hollywood sign when I realized I don’t have much time to do it on foot, so I just took an uber to go up there. The problem popped up when I realized that I don’t know how to go back down to the city as there was no wi-fi, so I’ve started asking the cabs around if they can drive me, but most of them already had clients they’ve been waiting for.
One of the drivers said that he has a seat, but I need to ask the guys he was waiting to drive back. It was a Finnish family! They were so kind to take me in the car and even didn’t accept any money for the ride. It was so nice to tell them that I study and live in Finland; we discussed a couple of common things and places to visit in LA on the way.
It warms your heart so much when something like this happens. Even though I am not Finnish, it is always extremely joyful to meet people from the place where your home is. Now, where was I?
I’m right here, in the Grand Canyon, sitting over an immense cliff dangling my feet under the burning desert sun. Peace. I feel it right here, as well as I feel thirst in the throat and lightness in the head. I’m thinking: “Life is such a fragile gift. One move and I’m falling into the abyss”. Nature. Such a patient master and powerful beauty. I lose the sense of time walking along a precipice. I don’t hear people around, only wind, squirrels’ growls, and the noise of the rocks under the feet.
I wear the same leopard shirt writing this down. Life is passing by so quickly, and we’re just trying to keep up. In places like the Grand Canyon, a lot of philosophical topics come to mind, and I was all in my head during the way back, accompanied by a comedy movie about Vegas and a flaming sunset.
I was back in the hotel by midnight. My room was opened. Convinced that nothing is missing, I didn’t even go to complain, as I wanted to keep nerves and time for sleep – I had to wake up in 3 hours to go to the airport.
Our city perceptions are influenced by many things like weather, time of the year when you visit it, people, and so on. Sometimes we need to give some destinations a second chance with other circumstances: different times, other people, new you. I’ll give that chance to Vegas later; this time was not the right for me to be there all alone. However, I still liked it.
There is some more moral to these three sleepless nights. At its core lies the human ability to evaluate our resources, the thing I didn’t succeed in. Due to my choice of speed traveling, I’ve been a lot pricklier and moody than usual, which didn’t play into my hands. I just want to remind you, dear reader, how it’s vital to give yourself rest and peace moments from time to time. We learn from mistakes, but not necessarily from our own. I hope you’ve got a couple of lessons from my experience.
I’m now looking at the sparkling neon streets through the uber window in anticipation of new events in a new place.
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