Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Happens in Vegas...

Dateline: Las Vegas, NV, 3/25/09 - 3/30/09

Whoever invented that slogan for Las Vegas probably didn't have beading in mind. But beading was the reason that Jim and I drove to Las Vegas. It was the second annual BeadAway, organized by Brea Bead Works in the Los Angeles area. I enjoyed last year's BeadAway in Hawaii very much, and although I thought Las Vegas was an odd venue for beading, I was eager to attend.

The drive was an all-day event, about 10 hours including a stop for lunch in Bakersfield. We ate at the 24th Street Cafe, where we had also eaten on a previous trip. They serve breakfast all day, and the waffles with peanut butter, coconut and fresh fruit were surprisingly good. After lunch, a long drive through the desert, and then we finally arrived. One minute you're driving through empty desert, and the next minute you see gaudy hotels and billboards, and you know you're approaching Las Vegas.

My first visit to Las Vegas was in 1973 for, believe it or not, an American Library Association convention. At that time I thought that Las Vegas was the height of vulgarity. My opinion hasn't changed much over the years. Nothing in Las Vegas is real. Hotels pretend to be New York, Paris, New Orleans, Venice, ancient Egypt. There's a fake Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, pyramid. The picture above was taken at an indoor shopping mall that pretends to be an outdoor city. We were having dinner on a "patio" that was outside the restaurant, but still inside the mall. I was so disoriented by this that I suggested to Jim that maybe it was too cold to eat outside, and we should move inside.

Even the slot machines, the only form of gambling that I indulge in, are no longer real. I used to enjoy changing $10 for a bucket of quarters, putting them one by one into the machine, and pulling the lever. If I won a few quarters the machine would spew them out. Now the machines are all computerized, and the cheapest ones take dollar bills. You bet by pressing buttons. If you win, you can press the "cash out" button, which causes the machine to print a receipt for your winnings. You take the receipt to a different machine that gives you cash.

Las Vegas is famous for its buffets and its shows, and we partook of both. Love, the Cirque du Soleil's Beatles show, was amazing. Incredible acrobatics were accompanied by recordings of the Beatles. Before the show we ate at the buffet at the Mirage hotel, which is really 11 different buffets in one, with 11 stations serving different types of food. I concentrated on the Asian offerings -- sushi, noodle soup, etc. -- and then went on to barbecue and Mexican food. Meanwhile, Jim was eating a roast beef dinner.

Aside from my gripes about Las Vegas, I really enjoyed the BeadAway. Scott and Wendy Remmers, the owners of Brea Bead Works, did a great job organizing it. They made sure we had wonderful teachers, a lot of door prizes, great snacks during breaks, and a "mini-store" run by the owners of Out on a Whim, where we could shop during the retreat. They chartered a bus to transport attendees from the Los Angeles area. On the first day of the retreat, we took the Bead Bus for a shopping day at three Las Vegas bead stores. All of the stores gave us gifts, snacks, and generous discounts. Of course I found things to buy in all three. We stopped for lunch at a unique restaurant, Hash House a Go Go, which serves what they call "twisted farm food". Some of the beaders ordered the BBBLT, so named because it's a gigantic BLT sandwich with a huge amount of bacon, served with an enormous knife stuck in the sandwich. I regretted not ordering it, and when Jim and I went back to the Hash House for dinner a couple of days later, the BBBLT was not on the dinner menu. Jim had another of their specialties, friend chicken with waffles and maple syrup.

The beading classes, of course, were one of the main reasons I went to the BeadAway. When I arrived for my first class, Flowers & Buds bracelet with Susan Barrett, I was surprised to find that I was the only student. The pattern uses right angle weave, a basic stitch which I have done before, and then embellishes the bracelet with Swarovski sliders and other crystals. I caught on quickly, and at lunchtime Susan and I agreed that we would both take the afternoon off. I finished the bracelet after I got home.

My other two classes were a lot more challenging. One was a kumihimo class with Sheilah Cleary, the author of several beading books. Unlike the previous kumihimo I've done, this project used a marudai, a wooden kumihimo stand, instead of the foam disk. The project, a cute necklace called "Here Fishy, Fishy" involved braiding 8 strands of beaded thread, taking the braid off the marudai and stringing the fish and bubble beads, then braiding some more and adding the clasp. The day was somewhat stressful for me because I was renting the marudai and was not sure I wanted to buy one, so the pressure was on to finish the project during the class. I did managed to finish, at least to a point where I no longer needed the marudai and could complete the project at home, but only by staying after class and then returning to the "Bead the Night Away" event after dinner. Sheilah was extremely patient and generous with her time.

My last class was with Cindy Pankopf, a designer whose classes I enjoyed at last year's BeadAway. Cindy has developed a technique called bead maille, which combines seed beads with rings and other metal components. Her book about bead maille is scheduled to be published next year. The Box Chain Bracelet is a bead maille project that uses 3-dimensional right angle weave to build what Cindy called "apartments" around the metal rings. Although I have right angle weave experience, I found combining it with the rings to be a challenge. As Cindy explained it, the project is easier for people with "geometry brains" than with "algebra brains", and my brain is definitely closer to algebra than to geometry. Cindy was also very patient, working with each student individually. I am currrently still working on the bracelet and feel more comfortable with the technique than I did at first. Maybe my brain is finally learning some geometry.

After Cindy's class ended on Sunday afternoon, Jim and I were ready for the drive back. We planned to stop in Lancaster for the night and then go to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve the next day. The traffic on I-15 was so slow that several times we thought there must be an accident ahead, but we learned that it was just the normal Sunday afternoon Las Vegas to Los Angeles traffic. The wind was especially strong that day in the desert, and dust was blowing everywhere. I couldn't get Joni Mitchell's song about Amelia Earhart out of my mind:

I was driving across the burning desert
When I spotted six jet planes
Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
It was the hexagram of the heavens
It was the strings of my guitar
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

When we stopped at a rest stop, it was difficult to get out of the car because the wind kept trying to close the car doors. We ended up stopping for the night in Victorville, about 100 miles from where we had planned to stop. I thought of another verse from Amelia:

I pulled into the cactus tree motel
To shower off the dust
And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust
I dreamed of 747s
Over geometric farms
Dreams, Amelia, dreams and false alarms

The song is on Joni's 1976 album Hejira, which describes a drive she took across the country. We did pull into a motel, but a Travelodge, and I did shower off the dust. For some reason, I chose this time to join Twitter, using our laptop with the motel's wireless, and my first "tweet" was the quote from Joni about showering off the dust.

The next day, the wind had died down a bit, but the poppy reserve was still cold and windy. The poppies were not yet in full bloom, but there were enough of them to be beautiful. After seeing the poppies and walking a bit we finished the drive home.

I look forward to next year's BeadAway, although I hope it's not in Las Vegas again.

1 comment:

Melody said...

Fae - Another interesting description of another unusual trip! The Flowers and Buds bracelet is lovely.