Sunday, September 19, 2010

Torben's Bucket List

Lily says "Hi." She's having a great time sticking her head out the window absorbing all the new smells. She likes to think of herself as the co-pilot's co-pilot. In other words, when the bus is moving she has claimed her place on the passenger front seat...regardless of whether or not I happen to be sitting there. To say we compromise is a joke. She won. My lap is her domain for an unparalleled view of what's to come.
Torben wanted to make sure that I mentioned that we drove through Bakersfield, CA and through the intersection where James Dean was killed. There, mentioned. We drove through it on our way to Vegas.
Vegas. The city I have long resisted. I don’t know why. It scares the shit out of me. Maybe, as a woman who opted for a profession which promotes health and balance the idea of being swarmed within a society that thrives on gambling, prostitution, excessive drinking and a host of other lovely addictions didn’t really tickle my fancy. And as we travel, I am becoming more and more drawn to small towns with a more subdued outlook on commercialism. Ah well, Vegas was a perfectly timed pit stop on our route through the desert, and in the spirit of keeping an open mind, I wagered a gamble and stepped inside “Sin City”.
Whoa! The first thing I noticed while driving into the city was the raging assault on my senses. Music of conflicting genres was blaring from every direction vying for our attention, competing with a plethora of erratically blinking and blinding lights, some of which were so bright they left tracer spots on my retinas, and people of all different color, size and shape aimlessly amusing one another through the never-ending pavement which stretches between giant casino playgrounds. I was surprised to see only a small handful of unlucky degenerates humiliatingly getting handcuffed in front of forty-thousand onlookers. I don’t know why, but I expected more. There wasn’t as much sex as I expected either. I guess I had Hollywood enticed visions of hookers prowling the streets and strip joints displaying their wares every 500 feet. The exposure was minimal…just a few hundred non-English speaking folks- flipping their naked promo fliers and stuffing them under my nose every three feet - annoying, but survivable. For any of you who have not been, the casinos really are impressive. They are so grand in scale that it is hard to fathom the enormity of their size, until you try to walk from one end of the strip to the other. By the way, don’t do it…and ladies, those sexy five inch heels? Do yourself a favor and leave them at home. Dr. Scholls would make a fortune if he set up a merchandise stand on every corner. Anyway, each casino has a theme, so to speak, and even when you are outside approaching one you feel as if you have been transported to a different time or place. From an Egyptian pyramid, to a Parisian stroll, or from a knight’s castle to the liquid streets of Venice. Every fantasy is there and it is hard not to get swept away in the grandeur. It is as if time has become suspended. Life is just as active at 2:00 am as it is 2:00 pm. In fact, I believe the advantage the casinos have is that once inside you have no earthly idea what time it is…thus keeping you, and more importantly, your $ rolling through their slots, tables, restaurants and shops. I’m not really a slot playing kind of girl. I can’t quite catch the thrill of throwing my money away at the slim (1 in 11,000,000) odds that I could make a few bucks. The lottery for that matter is another great mystery to me….but clearly I am in the minority here. And in the spirit of “when in Rome”… I dropped five bucks in a slot machine, won $30, and quickly cashed out. Yipee. Mission accomplished. All total, less than three minutes. But for the truly addicted, fear not about losing your streak…you can continue your obsession whilst seated on your throne in el bano. (Seriously. This interactive gaming thing has gone a bit too far.) If you should come out ahead and want to flaunt that new fortune there are no shortages of high end jewelry shops, clothing boutiques and posh trendy clubs to spend your spoils. The ever thrifty Mr. Madson kept a close eye on me and maneuvered my gaze away from several unneeded but curiously enticing and sparkly splendors. Thankfully, there is more than enough free entertainment to keep one endlessly amused. We walked through the Bellagio and felt a little like Alice in Wonderland with this larger than life display.
We were treated to a great dinner by our friends, the Orlando/Vegas transplants, Tom & Michelle Conroy. It was so refreshing to spend time with a couple who are as compassionate about animals as Torben and I are, maybe more (suckers). I had so much fun I forgot to take pictures. Michelle is a hoot and kept me rolling in stitches all night. As it turns out, we had quite a bit in common. Maybe it’s because we both married older men. Maybe it’s because we both saw the writing on the wall and opted to support said men in leaving the corporate grind and opting for a healthier, happier lifestyle that will keep said men around a lot longer. Cheers to a life well lived and the road less traveled!
We lucked out and stayed in a fabulous park in Vegas. It was as ritzy as any hotel. We were a little spoiled with the gated entry and escort to our site, and I luxuryiated (yes, I did just make up that word, and I ought to copyright it) in a private pool for hours while Torben caught up on some lawyerly work. Ahhhh, I guess Vegas isn’t so bad after all. Did I mention Torben won at the craps table?! Enough to pay for our little stay there, not too shabby. We both extend our sincere gratitude to the cute girl from Chicago who threw great dice for an hour and fattened our wallets! Blessings abound little beauty!
Our next port of stay was Flagstaff, Arizona. I was expecting the dull dry desert. I got dry and desert all right, but it was anything but dull. Holy Cow, I was shocked to learn the plethora of things to explore in this area of the country. The Grand Canyon is close (relatively speaking) and I know it may be sac religious to take a trip of this proportion and not go there, but we didn’t, so sue us. We did explore a cliff dwelling town that was inhabited 800 years ago.
We were able to climb inside the dwellings and see what they would have seen from their front door. Pretty awesome I must say.
The lifestyle must have been excruciating. More than half of the year was spent in a drought – so all water had to preserved and protected. Not to mention, they lived on a cliff! Not a hillside, a true honest to goodness-take a wrong step and plummet to your death – cliff! Yet they surprisingly found a way to survive in the heat and make the most of the sparse plants that grew from the rocky soil. Amazing.
We also explored a volcanic lava field and a meteorite crater. I was transfixed by the colors of the lava field and the delicate flowers that grew in the harsh conditions.
The meteorite crater was over 2 ½ miles wide, though interestingly, not much of the initial meteorite was found after the impact, as most of it burnt up on impact. 25 football fields can fit within its basin. To say it is big is a gross underestimation, hard to fathom something that humongous.
It was cool to see, but hot, and dry... and hot... and dry. By the end of the day I felt like one of those stale cracker crumb fallen and neglected under the seat of the car.
Everyone has a bucket list. You know, those things that you say, “someday I’d like to __ “(fill in the blank). A word to the wise: be careful what you wish for, be very very careful. Sunday was Torben’s birthday, and too bad for him; I had actually been listening. Torben has wistfully, and frequently, imagined the sensation of flying like the Red Barron high above the earth in a biplane. (By the way, one very important detail about biplane: it has no roof.) You can see the irony right? A great match for a man with a fear of heights and a woman who has puked on moving rides in every major theme park and transcontinental flight (sorry about the trajectory on last one Mom). I make no qualms about expressing these concerns, but somehow in all my “birthday celebration genius” I chose to ignore these significantly relevant little facts. My thoughts were, “hey, we’re on this once and a lifetime vacation, why not celebrate with a once in a lifetime experience.” I never cease to amaze myself. If I did not know how to laugh with myself, by myself and for myself I would have probably soiled myself when we drove from Flagstaff to Sedona. I was expecting, umm…flat or moderately flat desert like Phoenix, where my sisters have lived and I have s visited on several occasions. Wrongo. My stomach did its summersault when we began this descent:
At the time T still did not know where we were going. He kept guessing and my anxiety kept rising. The second back-flip in my stomach came when we re- ascended to the airport on top of the mountain. By the time we actually made it to the cockpit I was having a totally out of body experience. I think I was actually laughing so hard when we strapped on our shared little seatbelt (is that really supposed to help?) and fashioned our heads into the flight helmets that I had lost all sensation in my legs. That too could have been that the both of us were squeezed into a single seat and told not to touch any of the pedals or the stick waving between our legs as we could inadvertently send ourselves crashing to the ground. Let the nightmare begin.
So much for being a good wife…under the disguise of a birthday gift, I was escorting my husband down the red carpet to our demise. I remember thinking regretfully that our wills were not up to date. It was the death grip on my knee that brought me back to focus. We were airborne and Torben was clinging to me like a wet leaf. After a few minutes we both calmed down and looked around, agape at what we saw. Never, never, never, in all my life have I imagined or witnessed anything so, soo, sooooo…, that I still don’t have the word. Please let these pictures do the talking.
It is loudly quiet up there. Let me explain, the hum of the engine and the rush of passing wind is deafening, but not distracting, so it makes kind of a white noise effect that your brain kind of drowns out, but it there is no way to talk to one another, so the thoughts in your head predominate. We tried a few comical attempts at arm gestures in our miniature cockpit, but even my theatrical interpretation of needing a barf bag after a particularly strong thermal wind pocket lifted and dropped us wasn’t understood by my copilot. And anything more than a subtle arm wave threatened to flip over the contents of the plane. A strange sensation developed: solitude. I didn’t recognize it at first, but it came on like a wave and spread like a smile. Alone, soaring above the earth, with a view only the eagles know, it moved me, and not just in my stomach. The views on the horizon were legendary. Apart from what I saw, I had absolutely no connection with the world down below and for that small moment, I ceased to care. When the pilot circled the peaks and dove between the canyon pass walls I felt so free from myself and from everything in life that is both constraining and restraining. It was a moment of spiritual surrender, one that warrants the savoring of a long deep breath: AUM, as they say in yoga, is the deepest form of gratitude and connection to our creator. (I offer this breath in retrospect, because at that time my breath was nowhere to be found.) It was a once in a lifetime, and I am glad my earth-bound husband dreamed it and so glad my pepcid-eating self actually listened.
While in Flagstaff we tried another first: Himalayan food. Not too bad actually, with a little Indian flare. To top off the night we visited the Lowell Observatory, which was famous for discovering…(wait for it…) PLUTO! There were several mega-sized telescopes set up and we were encouraged to look at a galaxy-an entire galaxy, some billion light years away. (Billion light years away? I have trouble grasping this, but let’s just say it’s really, really far.) In addition the brightest star in the sky was actually not a star, but rather, Jupiter. And we were able to view four of her moons. Awesome! My personal favorite was the center of a star. Imagine Disney 3D fireworks on steroids: the center of a star is so multidimensional with sparking bursts of light in every direction and depth-cosmically cool! I felt as if our world was as big as a pin head. Relevance is entirely based on perspective, and I LOVE getting mine altered!


  1. Great post, Sarah. I love that part of the country and, while I haven't been to Vegas (yet), I have been to Flagstaff and Sedona, and we even drove out to that huge crater in the ground. Beautiful country.

    So what I really want to know is...did Torben hum "Ride of the Valkaries" during his Red Baron ride?

  2. It's been a long time since your last blog, I really miss your stories of adventure. Hope all is well, be safe.
    Sandy Willett