It was a typical warm winter day in Las Vegas as the plane touched down under the cloudless skies. My bomber duffel, infused with a few pairs of underwear, a change of clothes, and all my climbing and swimming gear, arrived harmlessly at carousel #6 and a car was waiting patiently for me at the rental counter. Things were going very smoothly on this first day of the next chapter in my life.
I drove calmly to the east side of town, to the famous Boulder Highway, the older, cheaper, dirtier part of the city, where beautification techniques ranged from grey sidewalks to abandoned buildings to half-lit falling-apart neon signs. Green city parks and tree-lined streets would certainly look out of place in this region. I rolled in around 10pm to an extended stay hotel I found and booked online the previous day and was greeted by the curious stare of the woman behind the front desk. “What are you looking for?” she asked in a genuine tone, as if she truly wanted to help me get out of this area as quickly as possible. She did not look like she belonged in this part of town either. Her hair was pulled back nicely, her make-up done well, and she was dressed elegantly; yet she gave me a questioning stare as I asked for my room key. The phone rang and she proceeded to talk with the person on the other line in a language that didn’t quite suit her exterior demeanor. Her accent became closer to that you would imagine of the slums of New York and her attitude was at once defending and blaming. When she finally hung up the phone, she went to look for my key and called the security guard, all the while sending clandestine stares in my direction.
A young man in uniform that seemed somewhat tight on his posture and showed off his gigantic muscles entered and gave me a look of disapproval. The receptionist handed him my key and instructed him to accompany me to my room to make sure nothing bothers me on the way. He took my key and my bag and led me outside. Once out of ear shot, he asked, “What’s someone like you doing in a place like this? Did you have a fight with your boyfriend or something?” I gave him a strange stare back and told him this place fit perfectly into my budget and that I will do my best to survive.
The only piece of advice the security guard offered me is to be friendly with my neighbors but not too friendly that they get to know me and vice versa. “Stay on their good side but don’t let them get too close.” He didn’t ask any more questions until we arrived at my door, which he proceeded to open quietly and placed my bag on the floor inside with care. He waited for me to walk around and inspect the place before asking if I brought my own sheets. I had a sleeping bag and he suggested warmly that I use it since it’s probably free of bed bugs. He also suggested sandals for the shower and using my own cooking utensils in the kitchen. I promised him I’ll take care to follow his instructions.
Before leaving, he handed me the keys and instructed me to lock the door behind him and double-latch it. We did a test to make sure the second latch works. Then he explained that the man next door is a crack addict, but a nice guy who hasn’t caused trouble in a while. The woman below is a single mother who beats her kids. The couple across the yard have a loud and abusive relationship with each other and anyone who stares in their direction. And so on and so forth “and here’s my cell phone number just in case something comes up, feel free to call day or night, whether I’m on-duty or not.” With that, he bid me goodnight and left. I latched the door twice, got out the sleeping bag, and slept like a log until morning.
The following days were dedicated to getting to know normal people around town and buying a car. I went rock climbing with a few people I had contacted on a climbing website. I wasn’t a very good climber and neither were they, but they were friendly and supportive and most of all, they didn’t judge me when I recounted the previous day’s ordeals. One of them agreed to go with me on my search for a car the following day. I returned “home” where I smiled and waved to the crack addict as I entered my room and locked the door behind me. Darkness set in quickly. Through the thin walls of the building I heard a few screams, children crying, and a strange buzzing sound. I looked stealthily through the heavy and stained window curtains and caught sight of a young, fit woman sitting on her window sill across the yard from me, tattooing herself.
I went about my business looking for a car on Craigslist when there were a knock on my door. I peered through the peephole and saw the security guard waving at me. I opened a crack.
“Just wanted to make sure your first day here went well.”
“Sure did. Met some nice folks. Going to get a cheap car tomorrow. All is just fine and dandy.”
“Very good. Good night.” This shall repeat itself for the duration of my stay there.
Day 3: Found a car on Craigslist. Went to see it with my new climber friend. Test drove it. Almost broke down. Perfect. Paid cash for it then and there. Registered it under the home address of the kind security guard who decided to take me under his protective wing. That’s about it for this day.
Day 4: Climb with my new friends and look for a house to buy. Called realties but got little to no responses because I was looking to buy a cheap place from the bank. Apparently realtors make little commission on this and thus don’t want to spend their time and energy on the little stuff. Except one. After calling on Day 4 and leaving many messages saying I’m a serious buyer and want to put down an amount ASAP he finally called me back (on Day 5) and set up an appointment for Day 6. He must have been new.
The young realtor spent the entire day with me driving all around town showing me the criteria I had requested: 2BD/2BA, good condition, cheap. We saw five places that I quickly dismissed for various reasons, then the realtor said out of desperation, “well, there is one more place. It’s a little far from where we currently are, but still in Las Vegas. It’s in a pretty area on the east side of town (remember what the east side is?) My mother lived there for a few years and loved it. She was able to find a tenant for her condo without a problem.” And so on. I didn’t understand why he was trying to convince me that this was a worthwhile detour and told him to show me the place right away. The view driving there was breathtaking, even though it felt like we were driving through the slums of Mexico City. At one point a Mexican cowboy crossed the road on his horse. I wish I had a picture to prove it.
We entered the apartment and I was speechless. The walls were painted peach orange. The bedrooms separated by the kitchen and laundry room. A balcony looked out at the tallest peaks above Las Vegas. Mount Charleston floated in the distance covered in snow. “I’ll take it,” I said to the desperate young realtor. He was shocked, then composed himself and said, “come by my office tomorrow morning and we’ll go over the paperwork.”
I showed up at the realty the following morning at the agreed upon time. The realtor was not there. When he finally arrived he said he was surprised to see me. I told him again, quite irritated this time, that I am serious. I want to buy that place and move in immediately. We filled out the paperwork, put in a request to expedite the procedure and waited.
In the meantime I found a room to rent on a weekly basis on Craigslist. It was cheaper, bigger, and cleaner than my fancy hotel room. I moved in on Day 8. It was a room in a five-bedroom house in Henderson, a newer and still developing suburb of Las Vegas, owned by a divorced lady who loved grooming her dog before going to work every morning and leaving the dog to show off its pink ribbons to no one in particular. She was almost as proud of the dog’s striking good looks as she was of her son, who had participated in numerous beauty pageants in the southwest. She was indeed a strange type, but hardly home and I felt lucky to have found it. Of course, I missed the security guard’s knock on my door every evening and the buzzing sound from the room of the crazy tattoo lady, but you just can’t win them all.
It took two weeks to approve and sign all the paperwork and finally the keys to the house were mine. I immediately moved in to the empty place and spread my sleeping bag on the carpeted floor to make it seem fuller. Thanks to Craigslist once again, I acquired a bed and a sofa and little by little the place started forming. Three years later, I finally have a few framed pictures on the walls.