From the Wilds of Manhattan
Go West Young Desk Jockey
Mountains, instead of MetroCards. Cacti, instead of cockroaches. The West is about as far away from New York as you can get. Or is it?
New Yorkers are creatures of habit. Walk an extra block to the supermarket? Are you joking? Order takeout from any place but the Chinese joint on the corner? Um, why?
But, Desk Jockey, who is not a native New Yorker, has never been a party to such provincialism. That applies especially to his philosophy on vacations.
He does not weekend, as New Yorkers are habitually wont, in Sagaponock (a.k.a. “the country”), or upstate New York, or the Jersey Shore. Nor does he take his Treo and check it obsessively, as he does seven days a week, 24 hours a day, while working.
No, when Desk Jockey goes away, he goes awaaaaaaaaaaaaay. (See Desk Jockey”s piece,) London. Italy. Australia. Japan.
This year, for something completely different, Desk Jockey and his trusty companion C went out West. Not “way out West, on West End Avenue,” as Rodgers and Hart joked in a tune from their Broadway hit, Girl Crazy. But to the wild, wild West of Utah, Arizona, and Fantasy City (a.k.a.) Las Vegas.
The good, the bad, the ugly, and the 104-degree evening.
The genesis for this adventure was Desk Jockey’s passion for cycling (faithful Wild River Review readers may recall his 2008 piece about obsessive bicycle riding in New York City). Turns out a bicycle touring company was offering an ultra-tough bike touring vacation that would include six days of riding, five days of hiking, and 430 a.m. wake-up calls. An obsessive- compulsive type second to none, Desk Jockey took the bait and signed up.
The pre-trip guide indicated that guests needed to bring cold-weather gear. Desk Jockey, ever obedient, was pondering the wisdom of this advice when he arrived at Las Vegas Airport where the temperature was 115 degrees, and where he was unable to breathe once he stepped outside the airport.
Arrival in St. George, Utah, where the bicycle tour was to begin, was more daunting. The hotel clerk advised that the downtown was “up the road, a spell”, which turned out to be a 2-mile walk along a flat-as-pancake, nondescript two-lane highway. Latter Day Saints temples glistened along the route, taunting Desk Jockey for his provincial (read, New York-centric) belief that everything in life is within walking distance.
Biking in the West.
A special attraction of cycling on a U.S. vacation is the “look, no” factor, as in “Look, Ma, no passport,” or “look Ma, no foreign language tapes.” No foreign currency issues, either. Desk Jockey is reminded of an old story in which six Texans visiting Rome were presented with a bill for 100,000 lire. One of the women in the group barked, “How much is that in real money?” None of that in the West. Here, the dollar is king.
The race begins. Or is it really a race?
Desk Jockey lives in one of the most competitive cities in the world, so the last thing he wants to do on a vacation is compete. Nonetheless, other bike tour guests not from New York feel differently, and are eager to prove their mettle on the very first ride out of the gate.
That ride proved to be one of the most difficult of the trip—a sharp 13 percent grade uphill—that had many of Desk Jockey’s fellow riders huffing, puffing, and walking their bikes. Desk Jockey, a bit winded by the high altitude, but nonetheless fit as a fiddle, steamrolled right past them up the hill, and came in third among the group of 23 that day. So much for his non-competitive state of mind.
Where’s all the broken glass?
New York City bikers can often look forward to several flats a week while riding their bicycle in Manhattan, especially if their route takes them through a dodgy neighborhood. This was not the case in southern Utah, where instead of mounds of garbage, we cycled past majestic red limestone mountains, with arches carved right through their centers. Instead of bicycle paths lined with nails and staples (yes, from a stapler!), in Bryce National Park we coasted along smooth paths created specifically for bikers.
Bryce Canyon: A great draw for Americans…and French, Germans, and Pakistanis.
Apparently, not only New Yorkers can spot a great deal. While hiking the lunar-like surface of Bryce Canyon with its stalactite/stalacmite hudus (pronounced “hoo-doos”), Desk Jockey heard conversations he is more used to hearing along the Champs Elysee in Paris, Bond Street in London, the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, and his beloved New York City. French, Italian, and German tourists were visiting en masse, all decked out in American gear (i.e. T-shirts and cargo shorts) and snapping photos of each other posed against the canyon. A Pakistani man stopped and asked Desk Jockey to take a photo of him and his family as his wife decked out in a floral-patterened headscarf looked on shyly.
Grand Canyon: Frequented by men and women who look like double-wides.
Once the bicycle group moved to the Grand Canyon, things took an even more interesting turn. For one thing, a large fire broke out on the Utah-Arizona highway bringing traffic (on four wheels and two) to a halt. After a 180-mile detour by van (and a welcome day off from riding), we redoubtable cyclists finally arrived at our chic, rustic cabins at Grand Canyon’s less visited North Rim.
Strolling around Grand Canyon National Park, Desk Jockey couldn’t help noticing fellow travelers who seemed even wider in girth than the Grand Canyon itself. Obese men and women, with their equally tubby children, were waddling about, snapping photos of themselves posed against the backdrop of the Canyon. Desk Jockey had just read a newspaper article claiming 40 percent of Americans were overweight and/or obese and is convinced that a significant portion of them must visit Grand Canyon National Park on a regular basis.
Rats on the West Side. Bedbugs Uptown. Not exactly.
One of the greatest attractions of the West, as most of us may recall from all those television shows we wathced as children, is its unique flora and fauna. Desk Jockey and his cyclists took in a variety of animals on the trip—specifically, foxes, mules, horses, chipmunks, cardinals (not the baseball team), deer, and elk. As long as the animals remained a safe distance from our cabin, and from C who is most uncomfortable with any creature that moves on four legs rather than two, they were fine. And so were we.
Rising at 4:30 a.m. to beat the Western heat, and riding no fewer than 64 (and often as many as 121) miles a day, does eventually take its toll. So Desk Jockey was most happy to hang up his cleats at the end of his biking/hiking extravaganza, and head to the world’s pleasure palace known as Las Vegas.
Desk Jockey hadn’t seen Vegas in 30 years, yet his first impressions of Las Vegas Boulevard (a.k.a. the Strip) was that it looked familiar. He couldnt place the resemblance. Then suddenly, he could. The Strip reminded him of…Times Square. The gargantuan exteriors. The over-the-top fountains. The carnival-like, amusement park atmosphere.
Once inside the luxurious yet distinctly shopping mall-like environment of the Wynn/Encore Hotel enterprise, Desk Jockey found another resemblance to a New York institution: Time Warner Center. After having checked into his luxurious room at the Encore, complete with shades that rose electronically and lights that dimmed dramatically, Desk Jockey felt very much in his element. Look out the window, block out the Siegfried & Roy eyesore across the street, and you could be in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City!
After three days of wining and dining in Los Vegas, Desk Jockey learned a valuable lesson: Trade up. When in doubt, choose a more prestigious, name-chef restaurant. Stay in a better hotel. And once you find yourself in plush surroundings, don’t leave the premises.
Do NOT venture out to the Strip where Desk Jockey saw men and women who made him fear for the future of America, let alone universal healthcare. Overweight, sixteen-year-old girls who dressed like prostitutes. Young men with wife-beaters, tattoos, cargo-shorts and beer bellies, betting at the tables all day and all night. Yes, this is the real Las Vegas–a Carnival Cruise ship without the water.
How the West won Desk Jockey.
In short, it’s different out there (just as different as it is in New York.) There are fewer people per square mile, and except for the National Parks with their international tourists, little diversity, at least as far as the human race is concerned.
Now that Desk Jockey is back and will venture no further west than Riverside Drive, he will have to live with his memories, and his photos on Facebook. One of those photos in particular sums up how special any vacation—west, east, north or south—can make you feel, especially one that is free from punching text messages into PDAs, checking voice-mails, and other electronic devices. And it is shown below.
Till the next one, pardners.
August Cosentino is a professional writer who cycles passionately, eats discriminately, attends theatre religiously, Facebooks constantly, and as the photo indicates, is as good to his mother as he was to his father who passed away in 2012. He lives in Manhattan with his two carbon-fiber bicycles, and G.
ARTICLES BY AUGUST COSENTINO
AIRMAIL – From the Wilds of Manhattan
The End of the Bucket List
Fifty Shades of Pain: Cycling the Pyrenees, One Mountain Pass at a Time
Go West Young Desk Jockey
Greece: It’s a Riot
How Many Facebook Friends Are Too Many?
Marylebone and Me
The Sandwich Generation: Eldercare and Me
Scandinavia, The Great Escape
Welcome to the Jungle: Is Mad Men Really About Advertising
Work Like Wall Street: Earn Like Main Street