You know the saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?”
Not this time. You’re hearing it.
Don’t worry, it’s not tawdry.
A couple years ago, I was acting as chaperone for a senior trip. My students had chosen Las Vegas for the destination, and despite their penchant for mischief, the week had gone well (i.e. nobody arrested or kicked out of the hotel). Perhaps it was just the desert heat sucking all the energy out of them; after all, they were northern kids. But whatever. They’d had fun, seen things they’d never seen before (water park, amusement park, strip, restaurants, taxi rides), and there we were at the Vegas airport ready to fly home. My trip leader’s only regret was that she hadn’t been able to see the “Old Strip”; apparently there was a former Strip before the current one we’ve all heard of.
But a problem struck. One of our students was not being allowed past airport security. Vegas TSA was apparently deciding that his ID wasn’t sufficient – even though Montana’s TSA had found no problem with it.
So one of our students was stuck in Vegas.
And since the student was male, and I was the only male chaperone on the trip, guess who had to stay with him?
The trip leader handed me a benjamin and an apologetic grin. I had to escort an antsy, somewhat reckless 18-year-old back home, across the country, by bus. And to make things better, it was 7 in the morning and the next Greyhound north to Salt Lake City didn’t leave until 10:15pm.
Did I mention that I was already missing the wedding of two good friends – including a former student I’d mentored for four years – to go on this trip?
So the student and I grabbed a taxi to the city Greyhound station, plunked our butts firmly down in some highly uncomfortable seats, and settled in to wait. For 14 hours.
We often find ourselves in waiting situations. Things don’t go as we’d planned – the pursuit of a high-powered career takes a detour, the search for a mate turns up empty, the effort of childbearing gets drawn out. There’s the sense that eventually the wheels will start turning again. But it doesn’t make the waiting any easier. The wait might be God’s doing; it might be your own. At some point, it doesn’t matter. We need to know how to live during the wait.
And that is the decision that might make all the difference.
At first, I didn’t want to move from that bus station. I was tired. I was cranky. And I didn’t entirely trust my young charge to keep out of trouble if I let him go mobile. The Vegas strip (the main one) was several miles away, so I didn’t think there was anything to do nearby. I told him we were staying.
We did our best to sleep; it didn’t work. Though it was a public place, there were shady characters all around. My charge was growing restless, practically begging for some freedom. “You can come with, if you want,” he said. “Just let’s move around and explore.”
Wait – what was with that part of my heart that didn’t want me to enjoy myself?
It was pride. Self-pity. If I have to do this, I’m going to misery it up. I’m certainly not going to be fake by affirming this bad situation. A kind of protest against the inconvenience, I suppose.
I wonder how much joy we rob of ourselves in this way.
The student and I started walking around the streets of north Vegas. We eventually came across the pawn shop in which “Pawn Stars” is filmed, and although none of the show’s regulars were around at the time, it was honestly fascinating to see the stuff that’s stashed there. (I found myself watching the show on occasion in the following year.) We then looped back north, towards the bus station, in search of a movie theater, which we didn’t find. But what we did stumble upon was pretty cool.
It turns out that the Greyhound station is located near the Old Strip – a psychedelically lit boulevard of performers, shops, food, music, ziplines, and milling humanity. Because we’d landed at the station during the morning when the strip was shut down, we’d walked right by it without realizing what it was.
It became quite the little treat. A soaring canopy roofs the strip, bright flares of color and advertisements projected onto it. We walked along, purchasing some gifts, chowing down, taking in the street performers, our senses pleasantly buzzed by the kaleidoscope and blare. There’s plenty of morally questionable stuff along the strip, sure, but we avoided it. (I used my own funds rather than the benjamin in my pocket and mailed a voucher for it back to the school, in case you wondered.) Exhausted as we were from the walking, it also left us exhilarated, as walking can do. The combination of strip, pawn shop, and exploration felt like an unexpected prize, especially since my partner chaperone had wanted to visit that Strip and never gotten the chance.
I wonder how empty the day would have turned out had I insisted we stay in the station?
Unexpected waits, snags, delays, stretches of hard work, curve balls…I am convinced that God has much for us even in those times. We have joy and peace available, yes, but sometimes he even goes beyond that. He’s generous. We, as a society in general, are remedial at seeing the beauty and enjoyment available all around us. A hike in the nearby Swan Range when I’m feeling down. Appreciation of my health as the lungs and legs of my firm’s elderly clients break down. Remembering the moments of friendship and invitation I had last week, rather than bemoaning the lack of them this week. Finding the Old Strip while waiting for the bus.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
I saw his gift coming down from the lights of the Old Strip canopy that evening.
I firmly believe there is great joy and, yes, even fun to be had in the present, no matter how difficult things may be. Circumstances need not ground us. We might have to swallow our pride and our irritation at those circumstances; we may need to consciously reach out and accept the grace. But it can be done.
And eventually, the bus came. My young charge and I boarded, slept, and eventually found ourselves back home at the dying light of the next day.
Instead of a pain, it feels in retrospect like rather an…adventure.
Find the fun in the present.