Mr. Universe Dave Draper
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Where have all the cactus gone?

Did you know that Las Vegas is little more than fifty years old? Laree and I are here to walk off the area as we prepare the second annual IronOnline Bash scheduled for mid-October, the weekend of the Mr. Olympia contest and fitness expo tentatively to be held at the Mandalay Bay. There are caterers to review, hotel choices considering location, price and appeal, the park location for the BBQ, transportation, best-bet shows and Olympia tickets for those who are interested... an array of details to be sorted out and smartly addressed. I'll do the best I can, though I could sure use an assistant to help with the incidentals.

We are standing in the middle of your average casino in Las Vegas. I'm no expert, of course, but without close inspection, they all look the same to me. In fact, nothing really changes from year to year and from casino to casino. The hotels come down and the themes change, but at ground level the casinos remain the same: slot machines and swivel chairs; game tables and stools; savvy, swift-handed dealers and slow-eyed, slumping players; an occasional charge of positive energy that accompanies a win and the all-consuming din in the great between. My feet hurt, my eyes burn, I'm thirsty and Laree dropped 20 dollars worth of quarters among the jingling and jangling chrome banditos. I told her so.

Some of the gambling rooms in the different hotels are older, lower, darker and tighter than others; some stretch out in great length and height, while others wander in every direction, a maze of walls, mirrors, curtained arches, bristling elevated bars, ocean waves of bursting, indistinguishable noise, spectral strobes and antiseptic smells. The slots are upgraded and updated, the security and dealers are older and more solemn, the garish décor regularly restored or replaced as are the faces and bodies of the cocktail waitresses marching the halls to the dysfunctional tunes of the slots. Drinks anyone? We follow the people and the people follow us, row after row of electronics and dancing lights and vanishing money.

The money could very well be the same money that was here last year, only there's more of it, a lot more. Where does it all come from and where does it go?

Of the grand and grievous features of the great Nevada oasis, only folly, like the molecular structure of the elements, remains the same. I feel like a little kid standing in the rigid shadows, hands clenching a fistful of hard-earned, long-saved dollars, refusing to remove his mitts from the warm pockets of his faded, knee-torn jeans. Take your hands from your pockets and the crumpled cash is snatched away like candy from an innocent toddler or a weathered outhouse from the fields in an Oklahoma cyclone.

I'm not cheap. I'm fascinated. During Laree's uncontrollable and irresponsible gambling frenzy, costing her 20 dollars and 10 minutes, I watched a slight fellow with a trim beard wearing designer jeans and dirty socks, chain-smoking till the ashes reached his finger tips, go through 10 one-hundred dollar bills worth of chips at a roulette wheel. As the wheel spun and the chips disappeared, he would slip two or three starched bills from his wallet and buy some more. His wife appeared at his shoulder, a scowl the size of a billboard on her face and I thought, "This should be good." He reached for his wallet unceremoniously and gave her a pair of hundreds and a pair to little Miss Chips behind the table; all three smiled and went about their business. Peace and prosperity in Las Vegas. I excused myself quietly and left them to their hobbies.

You can walk for miles in and around the hotels without leaving a building or breathing fresh air for days. We take to the streets when we can and join the mobs migrating from one land to another. Someone said that everyone comes (or goes) to Las Vegas eventually and its lavishness is not news to anyone. I find myself pleased to be here as if it is something I must experience so that my reference points are sharp and in sync... I must hear and listen to the beat of the drums, shuffle along the path of the tribes, absorb the bombardment of volumes of brilliant light splashes and bear the bruises and scrapes awarded by direct social contact. You've got to be there, hot and cold, to know, to understand, to believe.

Of course, you've got to get away. We were many days at the OK Corral without leaving, and the weeds were beginning to grow under our feet and out of our ears. Perspective needs air and room to stretch and wiggle. The joints and bones and muscles don't mind a little relief, and a change of diet goes well with a change of scenery. I found a can of tuna in barbecue sauce on a shelf at a local market… that's a new one on the old bomber. We sat in a corner of the Bellagio and had a scoop of gelato (Italian ice cream) after the late showing of "O." The bright lights make us crazy.

We're expecting 150 IronOnliners to fly to the desert city in mid-October to participate in the golden muscle and might gathering. By the time we return to California this weekend we should have ideas to share about the times, places and things. They will unfold without confusion. Sure they will...

Propellers and wings,


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