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Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Story from the Road

Jose and I left for Las Vegas and the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this week, not really looking forward to the trip. I generally don't mind two or three days in Las Vegas. It reminds me how much I love my home. This time, however, we're in LV for a full week. That's way too much glitter and greed.

The CES attracts 167,000 gadget geeks and nano nerds to the Strip; while people-watching is always promising, flights are full and fraught with more than the usual discomfort. Seats in the coach section are about as accommodating as veal-fattening pens, but this time ours didn't recline. The seats in front of us did, of course, landing a bald head very nearly in my lap. I am an advanced soul, however, and refrained from connecting his freckles even though I happened to have a pink felt pen on me.

As ever, the high point of the flight was the arrival of the beverage cart. I opened my tray table into my gut and discovered an enormous ad for Dramamine® emblazoned upon it. Product placement or a warning? Time would tell. I received my six ounce glass of sparkling water and had no sooner taken the first sip when the steward called out to her colleague down the aisle and asked if her ice had "funny stuff" in it too. Hmm. I didn't see anything amusing in my glass, but I set it down anyway.
     "You mean the little black specks?" she responded. Pepper? Fleas in mukluks?  "It's OK. All the ice bags have them."
     "Huh...weird." And they continued serving.
When the steward came by again, I asked her what as in the ice. "Oh," she said dismissively, "it was just some black stuff." I gathered that much, as had the back twenty rows.
     "What do you think it was?" I asked.
     "Probably the lettering from the ice bag," she said. "It rubs off on the ice."
     "There's lettering on the inside of the bag?"
     "Yes," she replied in a tone suggesting everyone knew that and off she trotted.

So, long flight. Unremarkable, aside from the suspicious ice. Old plane. Rattling from Portland to Phoenix. Shuddering from Phoenix to Las Vegas. Still, we arrived in one piece and found our luggage, too. We stepped out into the evening, ready to face more madness. But something else happened instead.

From the taxi line, we could see the Vegas strip glowing in the alien landscape. A nearly full moon floated over the desert like a slice of apricot. As the cab driver tossed our bags in the trunk, I pointed it out.

He looked away. "Where I come from, we don't look at the moon."

It was such an odd response I assumed his heavy accent had interfered with my understanding. Once we were on our way, I asked him how things were going and he began with the usual discourse on how the drivers can't make any money if they're honest. He was honest, so he didn't make money. "Well," I said, "make a wish on the moon and maybe tonight will be better." Turns out I had heard him correctly the first time.
     "The moon is not good for wishing," he said. "It's a dangerous thing."

Taxis, and the conversations within them, sometimes go places you'd never expect. Our driver -- I'll call him Boris --told us he was from Bosnia where he had spent three years in a concentration camp and emerged half dead. But life, he told me, is nothing.
     "And the moon is dangerous?" I asked.
     "It's full of bad humors. It's a dead thing so we never look." Then he turned the conversation. "What is the moon to you?"
     The moon. Artemis. Diana. Selene. Chaste Goddess. "Serenity," I said.
     "For us it is the opposite. Crazy and dangerous."
     Ah. Luna. Lunacy.
     "It's all right if you have found the rose, but I lost my chance. I have not led a good life, so I will not find one. If I am lucky, someone will give one to me." I think of myself as generally informed in matters of mysticism. I know a symbol when I see one. I was lost, though, and it showed."You know what I mean when I say the rose?"
     I thought of the various roses in Eliot's poetry. The 'multifoliate rose', 'disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves', 'the door we never opened into the rose garden'. But Boris didn't mean Eliot. The Virgin Mary, the mystical rose? The rose of the medieval iconography, encompassing both the sacred and the profane? The roses in the Garden of Eden which, according to St. Ambrose, grew thorns after the fall of Adam and Eve? The "healing rose" of alchemy? I had an idea, a "felt-sense", as Eugene Gendlin would say. Perhaps Boris's rose encompassed all these things. 
     "A path of salvation?" I asked.
     "Yes," he said. "It is a path and more."  And then we were at the hotel.

This conversation created a still space that has stayed with me even here in this place of gratuitous noise. It reminds me that beneath this Oz-like city, so full of humbugs, the desert still sends up a primal call that can make us look twice into memory and myth. The glow of the moon may be no more innocent than the neon lights surrounding us here. Even the roses spinning away on the "Beauty and the Beast" slot machine may summon our hearts in ways we can't begin to know. Nothing is what we thought, not even a taxi driver hoping to find his path.


  1. Ah-h Bosnia. I remember being lectured by my companions, a group of Muslim women, about opening the car windows, (to escape their cig smoke) as it was very bad for health.

    Icons are interesting...enjoyed this post very much.

  2. Thanks, Connie! The whole conversation left me wondering about Bosnia's proximity to Transylvania. I looked at the map and found it's just a quick hike away, if you ignore Serbia :)

  3. Great conversation with that Bosnian guy. Aren't people fascinating?! I love this line from Harold and Maude, the movie,
    Harold: You sure have a way with people.
    Maude: Well, they're my species!
    We're like dogs, so many breeds but genetically the same animal. Some of us love the moon; others, not so much.