Hoover Dam & Laughlin: Week 222

Polaroid of the Hoover Dam taken from the bypass bridge: Nevada

When the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936, it was the world’s largest dam.

It was due to the scale of this project that Barret’s hometown of Boulder City was born. At the peak of construction, Boulder City had the highest population in the state of Nevada- 7,000 residents.

Most of the dam is closed off now to tourists as a result of the September 11th attacks. However, this isn’t the first time that security has been tightened. During WW2 sharpshooters were stationed above Hoover Dam and tour groups required military escorts.

Inside one of the tunnels at the Hoover Dam: Nevada

There are currently two types of tours available- the Powerplant Tour and the Dam Tour. The Dam Tour has significantly fewer tickets available and was already sold out by the time Barret and I arrived (can’t make reservations), so we went on the Powerplant Tour.

Hoover Dam Powerplant: Nevada

Our tour guide had the enthusiasm of someone who had been repeating herself for the last ten years. Because of that, I channeled my focus elsewhere: on the dimly lit and roughly hewn passageways, on the corrugated plastic sheets that lined the roof to redirect the dripping groundwater, and on the powerplant viewing platform which resembled an art deco waiting room.

Viewing platform at the Hoover Dam Powerplant: Nevada

While it was interesting to see the inner workings for the first time, the best part of the visit was actually looking over the edge of the dam. That is when you are truly able to sense the incredible scale of the project.

View looking down the Hoover Dam: Nevada

It was also my first time at the dam since the completion of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge back in 2010. At 1,900 feet in length, the bridge has the longest arch in the Western hemisphere and it is also the seventh highest bridge in the world. It’s sleek, minimalistic, and a perfect concrete compliment to the Hoover Dam.

The gift shop of course celebrated these architectural wonders with some dam fine products, Native American inspired knickknacks, and alien sunglasses.

Alien glasses at the giftshop: Hoover Dam, Nevada

From the Hoover Dam, the Colorado River courses south. The first blooms of civilization around the river are Laughlin and Bullhead City. On the Nevada side of the river, in Laughlin, casino resorts greet the lifeblood of the desert. Opposite the casinos, in Bullhead City, Arizona, is a Sam’s Club, McDonald’s, and Chili’s Bar and Grill.

Barret and I began our morning in Laughlin at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Theoretically the process should have been faster in a small town, but we quickly realized that was not necessarily true. A small town just means there is only one employee that knows all the locals by name.

“Braden, how’d you do?” The woman behind the counter asked a scruffy teen in sagging pants.

He scowled as he stood up from his seat. “I failed.”

“Well, you don’t have to wait in line. Just give me your card and come back tomorrow. Don’t worry, it’s a hard test.”

“It’s bullshit,” Braden mumbled on his way out. “I failed by one point. Bullshit.”

Riverside Resort matchbook: Laughlin, Nevada

After our long morning, Barret and I stopped for lunch at the Riverside Resort. It must have been grasshopper season because hundreds of the papery insects were trampled into the welcome mats.

Just past the entrance was a stand selling frozen margaritas for $1.25. Beyond that, yellow and black signs hung from low ceilings and directed visitors toward Sunglasses and Bargain City (where all items are $7.77 and the seventh item is free).

As its names suggested, the Riverview Restaurant overlooked the Colorado River. The restaurant smelled faintly of cigarettes and the reverse side of everything had the history/philosophy of Don Laughlin- the founder of the town. “The customer, regardless of his or her pocketbook, is king here.”

Every five minutes a woman walked past selling Keno cards. The way she pronounced ‘Keno’ made it sound like she was saying ‘hello’.

On the way out of the casino, I noticed a TV in a display box outside the men’s bathroom. It was an interview with Don Laughlin. The whole place was beginning to feel a bit like Laughlin’s mausoleum.

Desert landscape: Christmas Tree Pass, Nevada

After lunch we spent a few hours at Barret’s storage unit sweeping rat shit off of everything before heading back to Boulder City. Instead of taking the I95 the whole time, Barret made a detour through Christmas Tree Pass. The landscape was gorgeous and the smell of rain lingered amongst the creosote bushes. The bumpy dirt road put me to sleep, but Barret nudged me awake just before we passed the namesake ‘Christmas Trees’.

Desert Christmas Trees: Christmas Tree Pass, Nevada

My friend once sent me a postcard from Laughlin back in 1992. She had gone on vacation with her family. After reading her perfectly rounded letters and evenly spaced greeting, I had wished that my family would also go there on vacation.

Twenty plus years later I feel a bit differently, however one thing has grown in certainty- the desert is a beautiful place and I love passing through it.

Cross-shaped cactus: Christmas Tree Pass, Nevada

About: The Hover Dam

One of the offices at Hoover Dam: Nevada

About: The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

How to get to the Riverside Resort: 1650 South Casino Drive, Laughlin NV 89029

About: Laughlin

About: Christmas Tree Pass

Sign outside the Colorado Belle: Laughlin, Nevada

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An Engagement in Hawaii: Week 221

Polaroid of a church in Lahaina: Maui, Hawaii

Lahaina is lush but also arid- red dirt and hibiscus.

Front Street, the epicenter of the town, runs parallel to the coast. It is filled with tourists, restaurants, and shops. From Front Street the land makes a parabolic rise up into the shrouded West Maui Mountains.

It was around 2:30 in the afternoon when a troop of yellow school buses honked their way through Lahaina. The kids from Kamehameha III Elementary were celebrating their last day of school by sliding out of view and waving their hands out the windows.

At the south end of town, near the school, a massive banyan tree canopied a public square. Families sat in the shade and a backpacker rubbed ointment onto his tanned foot. Barret and I strolled down the street, past a stand of parrots that squawked aloha, and had lunch overlooking the waterfront.

Boys bodyboarding at Kaanapali: Maui, Hawaii

To the south and north of Lahaina, all along Honoapiilani Highway, the coastal side of the road was filled with cars. The charcoal grills were hot and the ocean was filled with people and boards. Everyone knows Hawaii is famous for surfing, but it is still surprising to see so many people out in the water at all times of the day. It makes you wonder when and if they ever work.

Barret eating a popsicle at the Twin Falls Farmstand: Maui, Hawaii

The Twin Falls Farmstand is on the eastern end of Maui, which is the side that receives all the rain. The little stand sells smoothies, drinking coconuts, and popsicles on sugarcane sticks. Just beyond the stand is a trail that crosses a small river twice before ending at a waterfall.

Large puffy white clouds floated out of the woods and hung over the clearing. A mother of three studied the dissipating clouds with a large frown. Her husband, a man with thinning hair and an armband tattoo, enthusiastically watched stoned teenagers jump off a precipice and into the cool water below. “I’ve jumped off higher,” he mouthed in her direction. Her frown deepened.

North of the falls, Barret and I stopped at a lookout point. I bought a drinking coconut from a brightly painted van that was manned by a woman with voluminous hair, a voluminous bust, and big jewelry.

At the lookout point Barret distracted me with sea turtles while he pulled out an engagement ring. Although I had selected the ring, I was completely caught off guard.

Polaroid of the proposal in Maui, Hawaii

“Look at what I am wearing!” I exclaimed as I surveyed my wrinkled pants and Teva sandals. My arms were caked in sunblock.

“This is who we are,” Barret replied. “This is what we look like most of the time.”

I had always thought that the proposal would make me cry a lot, but looking back I just remember laughing with joy. Although if you ask Barret, I cried for five minutes behind my sunglasses.

I couldn’t wait to share the news, so before we left I returned to the coconut stand. The vendor squealed in excitement before proclaiming, “isn’t that a cute little promise ring.” Not exactly the response I was expecting, but I think our tastes were a bit different.

Polaroid of a van selling drinking coconuts: Maui, Hawaii

After living in Sydney, I knew Honolulu was a popular destination for Aussie shoppers. However, it wasn’t ’til I was there that I realized the scale of the development- it was a tropical Las Vegas minus the casinos. Older vestiges of the Waikiki beach culture remained, but massive hotels, shopping centers, and restaurant chains dwarfed those two-story bungalow apartments. The main thoroughfare was filled with people in neon green shirts advertising shooting ranges.

Flyer for a gun range in Waikiki: Honolulu, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor was just north of the airport. Barret and I showed up on empty stomachs and we laughed when we discovered that the food court only sold hotdogs and nacho chips- both covered in liquid cheese. Everywhere else in the world the food cart is a culinary treasure, in the US it is most often a form of torture.

Photo of the boat which transports visitors to the USS Arizona War Memorial: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

It cost nothing to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, which could only be accessed by boat, but we had to collect a ticket for a specific time. Because there were so many people, we had a few hours to explore the museums beforehand. One of the things that stood out most for me was how well the collection explained the events leading up to the bombing without reducing everything to: USA good, Japan evil.

However, the most interesting site at Pearl Harbor was of course the memorial for the USS Arizona. This unfortunate vessel had been scheduled to leave the day before it was attacked but had instead been docked for an overnight repair. Because of this, it was fully manned and stocked with fuel- 1.5 million gallons.

Postcard of the USS Arizona: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

After the attack, the USS Arizona burned for three days. Despite this, about 500,000 gallons of oil remained intact and have been leaking ever since. Up to nine quarts of ‘black tears’ bubble up to the surface every day and leave a rainbow-colored residue on the water.

In total, 1,177 crewmen died and of the 37 sets of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona, only one complete set made it out alive. In 1982 a repatriation program began which offered survivors of the USS Arizona the opportunity to have their ashes laid to rest inside one of the ship’s gun turrets. More than 30 crewman have chosen to have the watery grave as their final resting place.

Photo of Waikiki Beach at sunset: Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawaii is a tropical paradise, but it was also a little bit different from what I had anticipated. The number of boxy strip malls surprised me just as much as the massive size of the sea turtles I swam with in Napili Bay.

Honolulu had a thick knot of traffic and a massive highway infrastructure, but when I met a woman in the hotel lobby who had just moved there, I could understand why she was so happy. She had just found her own little slice of heaven. I was sad to be leaving.

Polaroid of swimmers at Waikiki Beach: Honolulu, Hawaii

About: Lahaina

How to get to the Twin Falls Farmstand: East on Hana Highway past the town of Paia. Around mile marker 2 is a bridge- on the right hand side is a parking lot and the farmstand.

How to get to Pearl Harbor: Take bus #20 or #42 to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

About: Waikiki, Oahu

Hunter Valley: Week 212

Vineyard landscape in the Hunter Vallery: Pokolbin, Australia

Pokolbin, the gateway to the Hunter Valley wine region, is an undulating field of grape vines under a pale blue sky. It’s located about two and a half hours north of Sydney and a good first stop after that long drive would be Kevin Sobels Wines. Aside from the tasting bar, the grounds host the Handmade Hunter Markets on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Because we drove up on Easter weekend, the markets were also open on Sunday.

The usual country goods were all in attendance- from hand sewn purses to cutting boards to scented soy candles. We ate a bacon and egg pizza that was cooked in the back of a van and tasted passion fruit lemon butter ‘just like Grandma made.’

Casbars Kitchen and Garden business card: Pokolbin, Australia

My best purchase though was a jar of River Flats Estate Chilli & Fennel infused Corregiola olives in apple cider vinegar. The diminutive size of the olives might not have been impressive- and the fact that they weren’t pitted- but that would have been a huge misjudgment. They were some of the best olives I had ever tasted and it was also the first time I actually appreciated olive pits because they forced me to slow down and savor the spiciness of the chilli and the bite of the fennel seeds.

Tamburlaine Vineyard: Pokolbin, Australia

After the market our friends and I drove to an organic vineyard called Tamberlaine. The tour guide worked part time at the vineyard and had a full time job as a drama teacher. We knew it was going to be an interesting tour when we heard him respond to a query about having children. “Look at me. Do you think any woman would trust me to impregnate them?”

After we toured the vineyard we reconvened in a large tasting room. Beside the tour, my $50 ticket included a bottle of wine and a plate of cheese and crackers to go with the wine tasting. I was feeling quite generous, so I told Barret I’d drive and poured my share of the wine samples into his glass. He was definitely looking sleepy at the end of the tasting.

Originally we intended on visiting several vineyards, but we had such a good time with our guide that the next thing we knew there was only a half hour until most of Pokolbin closed. Barret and I decided to buy a few extra bottles of wine and some dark chocolate. Unfortunately we didn’t have any more time to spend in the Hunter Valley, but I was very happy we went away with some good wine.

Vineyard landscape in the Hunter Valley: Pokolbin, Australia

About: The Hunter Valley

About: River Flats Estates

How to get to the Handmade Hunter Markets: Corner of Broke & Halls Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320

How to get to Tamburlaine: 358 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin NSW 2320

Glebe Town Hall: Week 204

Phia performing at Glebe Town Hall for High Tea: Sydney, Australia

For most people high tea is a sugar-filled, decadent afternoon treat. For Sydneysiders in the know, High Tea is also an invite-only folk music event that happens twice a month.

The musical headquarters is located inside a small loft in Surry Hills. The street-level entrance leads people through a graffiti-covered passage, up a few flights, and out onto a walkway that is curiously squeezed between two buildings. It’s a bit of an urban rabbit warren.

Because the venue is so intimate, it’s not always easy to get tickets. You have to follow the High Tea Crew Twitter account so you know exactly when the event list has opened. The event fee is payable at the door and, as always, a table covered with tea cups and hot kettles awaits guests at the entrance.

High Tea at Glebe Town Hall: Sydney, Australia

If the tea fails to excite, there is no charge to bring in your own bottle of wine. There aren’t a lot of chairs but there are plenty of cushions around the room. The lights are low, the candles drip, and the large art deco windows front a twinkling nighttime city landscape.

The only difference this time around was that for the season opener, High Tea was being held at Glebe Town Hall. This historic venue was built in 1880 and the main hall fits up to 200 hundred people, which is a lot larger than the loft in Surry Hills. Although the Town Hall lacked the quirky layout of the usual venue, the table of tea was still there and I suspect the program organizers spent a lot of time tracking down more cushions.

Glebe Town Hall: Sydney, Australia

High Tea kicked off with Phia- an Australian/German loop pedal and kalimba playing songstress. She was classically trained on the piano and is the first to admit her parents weren’t too happy when she first ditched all that training for the kalimba. Her boyfriend is the only other member of the band and is probably the most timid musician I have ever seen on stage. He looks a bit like a lost puppy- which I mean in the nicest way possible. It was the second time I’d seen them perform and I liked them even more than the last time.

The Maple Trail closed the program and as it got close to the end of their set, I lay down, closed my eyes, and listened to the music. The group sounded a lot like The Wallflowers and it reminded me about my childhood in Florida and the excitement of owning my first few CDs (which obviously included The Wallflowers).

While I’m guilty of enjoying a bit of nostalgia, I’m lucky enough to be simultaneously happy about the past and the present. And where I am- inside the Glebe Town Hall with friends and tea and wine and music- is pretty darn good.

About: High Tea

How to get to the Glebe Town Hall: 160 St Johns Road, Glebe NSW 2037

About: Phia

About: The Maple Trail

Atomic Bomb: Week 201

Atomic Bomb

William Onyeabor is a Nigerian synth pioneer that was, “responsible for some of the most searing Afro-funk and space-age jams you’re ever likely to hear.” The majority of his music was released in the early eighties and shortly thereafter he turned born-again Christian and refused to speak about himself or his music.

Almost thirty years later, a group of musicians from the US are keeping the groove alive with a Sydney showing of Atomic Bomb at the Enmore Theatre. The core group is composed of Sinkane, Money Mark, Luke Jenner, Pat Mahoney, and Pharoah Sanders whose shirt glowed under the stage lights like a purple velvet oil slick. Sanders, a Grammy winning jazz saxophonist, is pushing seventy-five but not afraid to drop low when caught in the grips of a good beat.

Enmore-Theatre-Atomic-Bomb-3

Then there were the special guests, the Mahotella Queens. The South African vocal group entered the stage wearing bright red shirts, white skirts and a large red hat with their country’s flag. Two of the singers were members of the original lineup from the 1960s while Amanda Nkosi was the newest member. She was the only one young enough to do a high kick, but that just meant she’s spent less time on this planet perfecting her swagger- and the Mahotella Queens had some serious swagger and some serious voices.

As this was an Australian show, Gotye was on board as a guest singer and he killed it! His vocals were rich and there was something about his lanky, mellow demeanor that just fit the vibe of the music.

<Gotye>

Since I came to know you baybyyyyyy,

I’ve been telling you how sweet you are.

I’ve been telling you how good you are.

Now I want you try to tell me how I look.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me. 

Please tell me how I look.

<Mahotella Queens>

You loooooooooook so good.

Fantastic man!

Towards the end of the show Sinkane, wearing a slim-cut two piece suit and wide brim hat, came out from behind his keyboards and got the entire audience to get low. It was not an easy position to maintain and just before my thighs burst, we all rose back up together and jumped up and down to the music and to relief. Hanging above the stage was a projection screen with a recording of a woman dancing on roller skates.

William Onyeabor might not appreciate his music anymore, but it was pretty obvious to the crowd that the only downside to Atomic Bomb was the length of the show. We wanted a million more encores.

About: William Onyeabor

About: Atomic Bomb

How to get to the Enmore Theatre: 130 Enmore Road, Enmore

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