[On Sundays this blog explores life and work in “Sabbath.”]
One City – Three Americas
About a week ago I took my first trip to Las Vegas. Friends said it would be like nothing I had seen before, and they were right.
The strip, especially at night, is Disneyland for adults. People flow from casino to casino. Some are going to shows, and some are going to restaurants. The heart of the city, however, beats with the slot machines and gaming tables. This aspect of Las Vegas reflects post-Reagan America, a country that welcomes risks and says losers be damned. We know the house wins, but we play the game anyway. The person playing next to you is not your problem. Win or lose – you are alone.
My friends and I visited another aspect of the country when we went to Hoover Dam. We took a tour of the facility, which was interesting in several ways. The Dam is an engineering wonder, which was completed during the Great Depression. It represents the opposite of the strip: control, security, and shared resources. The water that the Dam holds in Lake Mead is not only used by Las Vegas. Its primary function is irrigation for farms in Southern California that are essential to the nation’s food supply. Before the Dam was built, the Colorado River would often flood and ruin crops. For me the Dam represents a country that builds for the future, a shared future.
We also took a tour to see the Grand Canyon. This version of America puts everything in perspective: man is small and pitiful in the face of nature. We can build skyscrapers and rockets that go to the moon. We could never do what nature has done in carving this wonder. This is the America that is too often being lost to our need to build and grow. In Kentucky and West Virginia, smaller wonders have been spoiled in the process called mountain top removal. In Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, we have fouled the oceans with oil spills. Thank god developers have found nothing of value in the Grand Canyon. . . yet.
I came away from Las Vegas with both fear and hope. My fear is that we are becoming a nation of risk takers who care little about our fellow citizens or the future. Gambling, which was once legal only in a few places, is now a national growth industry. Governors and mayors cry poor and look to casinos as alternatives to increased taxes. I see people who are obviously not wealthy buy $10 or $20 of lottery tickets, their hope for the future. This is the America where risk rules and the winners run the game. Still, I also came away from my trip to Las Vegas with some hope. If we can build Hoover Dam during the greatest financial crisis in the country’s history, we can wake up again and work together for the common good. We still have the Grand Canyon to inspire us to protect the planet and its wonders. We still have a chance – if we don’t gamble it away.
The Dream Machines Beckon
A mural of a worker building Hoover Dam
Wages of workers at the Dam.
Hoover Dam. Photo taken from the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
A truly Grand Canyon