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By Staff | Jan 4, 2013

It had been some years since my wife and I last ventured into the merciless maw of the air transportation system.

We quickly learned that the TSA has invented new ways to torture air travelers and make them feel like criminals. Shoeless, we were herded into a scanning booth where it was revealed that I had a suspicious substance in my front pocket. Ordered to empty said pocket, it was ascertained that I was carrying three pieces of possibly weapons-grade chewing gum.

This discovery elicited a palm swab, apparently to check for explosives. They must have suspected that I was carrying bubble gum.

Finally cleared for air travel, we then began the Great Wait. Why is it that flights are never on time? Why is it that if you are late the airline makes a big deal of it and levies heavy charges, but if they’re late their attitude is “tough noodles?”

Airline seats have shrunk even though we Americans have expanded. The airline passenger is crammed, sardine-like, into an aluminum tube with seats that are spaced so close that your cheeks meet your kneecaps. A leg cramp or thrombosis are all but guaranteed.

We were enduring all this discomfort so that we could spend some quality Christmas time with our youngest son, who is currently living in Los Angeles. But flights to Sin City were much cheaper than to the City of Angels, so we instead flew to the gambling Mecca.

There are many people, my wife included, who enjoy games of chance. I am not one of them. Yes, I am a gambling agnostic.

I am open to the idea that gambling might possibly be fun. But thanks to the huge bets I routinely made as a farmer, gambling doesn’t do much for me. For me, going to Vegas for the gambling is like a vegetarian going to a supermarket meat counter.

But there are many other reasons to visit Las Vegas, such as to see what happens when mankind spends untold billions of dollars on concrete and neon and over-the-top gaudiness.

Las Vegas is also an excellent place to people watch. Being from a sparsely populated region, I tend to forget how many people there actually are in the world. Vegas is a virtual Babylon of languages and ethnicities. It makes you realize that much of the world doesn’t look or talk like you.

But there is much more to Sin City than girls, glitz and gambling. There’s also the Pawn Stars.

Pawn Stars is a popular TV show that airs on History Channel. The program is filmed at the family-owned Gold and Silver Pawn in Las Vegas. This was just a few miles from our hotel, so we decided to check it out.

Gold and Silver Pawn is located in a neighborhood where fences are festooned with highly decorative and very realistic-looking concertina wire. The store’s next-door neighbors are a bail bondsman and a strip joint.

People lined up on the sidewalk for the chance to walk through the famous pawn shop. I was underwhelmed, as the store is essentially a hallway with glass cases on either side. The throng shuffled through, gawping at the items that had made TV appearances. I didn’t see anyone buy anything from inside the glass cases, but bobble-heads and other such gewgaws sold briskly.

We are country folk at heart, so it wasn’t long before we quit the bustling city in search of some peace and quiet. We – our son and his girlfriend, my wife and I – found peace and quiet aplenty at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Located about 20 minutes from downtown Vegas, Red Rock Canyon consists of brick-colored sandstone hills jutting up from the sepia Mojave Desert. Standing amidst the stark solitude, it was hard to believe that a thrumming metropolis was just over the rise.

I went for a short hike out into the rocky rubble. My wife demurred, citing her deep aversion to rattlesnakes. I tried to tell her there was nothing to fear, that all the serpents were likely back in town working The Strip.

Not a thing stirred out in that bleak wilderness. The Joshua trees stood frozen in their beseeching poses, the sagebrush sagely looking on.

A flash of color caught my eye. Lichens growing on the side of a boulder had spattered the stone with patches of startling neon yellow and green.

Perhaps finding such festive colors out in the midst of that desert desolation was a sign. Perhaps the Yuletide spirits were saying that it was OK for us to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Sin City.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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