By Craig Hastings
I’ve just returned from a four-day vacation. This is kind of a big deal for me, because I haven’t vacationed much in the last five or six years. It was that long ago that Shannon, the boys, and I spent eight days in Orlando doing the Disneyland/Universal Studios/Sea World tours. I wouldn’t have been gone this past week had it not been for my son Payton, his friend Noah, and the rest of his Parkland College Auto Tech class competing at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) engine build off competition. Fifty college teams from across America were competing during the SEMA show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. SEMA is an annual automotive trade show event that takes place in Las Vegas each fall. Automotive television series celebrities, custom car builders, racecar builders, custom equipment manufacturers, nearly everyone and every business that does anything car or truck related will be at SEMA. The event brings in over 160,000 people to Las Vegas from all over the world over a five-day, Monday through Friday, presentation.
SEMA isn’t open to the general public as a rule. It requires special gate passes to enter the Convention Center itself, but the outside events that occur alongside those going inside the Center are open to the public. Because I’m a parent of one of the Parkland students I was permitted to have a gate pass to enter the Convention Center. And because Shannon is considered my significant other she too was permitted a gate pass to the Center. Yes I know what you’re thinking; why in the world would Shannon care to go inside the Convention Center to see anything new that was up and coming in the custom car/race car world. Surprisingly, she was interested and found the event exciting and fun.
I dread the airplane/airport debacle to get to destination B from takeoff point A. I had been an unpleasant person to be around several times in the weeks leading up to this vacation. The thought of wading through a bunch of people in airports, casinos, SEMA, and sidewalks in Las Vegas weighed heavy on my mind. We stayed all night in a Holiday Inn near the airport in St. Louis the night before our flight left on Tuesday morning. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance with the drive to St. Louis. All I wanted to have to do was get up on time and be shuttled to the airport. Going through security at the St. Louis airport was easy and fast. The two hours required to be there before our flight took only about 20 minutes, so it was just a sit and wait after that.
I always worry about whose going to be in the third seat in our row of three seats. Fortunately for us on this flight to Las Vegas we did well. I should say Shannon did well. Chatty Cathy Shannon befriended a lone female flyer, Lauren, sitting at our gate during the wait and promised to hold her a window seat in our three-seat row. We were able to do this because we were boarding with group B and Shannon’s new friend was boarding with the last group, C. Lauren was a bit nervous about being stuck sitting with someone less appealing than us, and she also wanted to sit in a window seat.
Shannon and Lauren visited non stop from St. Louis to Las Vegas. I learned Lauren is from Las Vegas and works in a retail store that markets silver jewelry, fine stones, American Indian artifacts, custom built rock salt lighting, and other misc. items not found in most stores. Lauren and I connected in conversation about the whole Harry Potter experience. She, like me, is a believer in some of the unbelievable, and the Harry Potter book/movie saga brings some of these unexplained oddities to the big screen for all to wonder; “What if…” Lauren delves a bit deeper into the mysteries of the what ifs than me when the conversation turned into a discussion of the power of certain stones. From my “Ancient Aliens” series I watch on television I’ve come to believe that crystal and quartz can and have indeed served a purpose beyond that of just a hardened substance most have categorized as rocks. Lauren however believes and explained to us the many purposes that several different stones can have in day-to-day lives if you believe.
Anyway, in no time at all which was actually three and a half hours later, we landed in Las Vegas, and Shannon and I promised Lauren we would visit her store during our stay in Las Vegas. The next day we were true to our word and visited Lauren at her work and even purchased a few things to have shipped back to Tuscola. It was a pleasant experience for sure and should we return some day we will visit Lauren again in Las Vegas.
Back to Tuesday. Shannon and I had to rush from the airport, to the Bellagio Motel where we were staying, to SEMA where Payton and team Parkland were getting ready to make their first run of three runs, one each day, that would be averaged for an overall average score. We made it, but just barely. Soon after began our vacation of miles of walking and hours waiting. It had been 30 years since I had vacationed in Las Vegas. Many years ago I was flying to Las Vegas twice year but for much different reasons than today. This place has changed so much than what I had remembered. Never did it wear me out so much like it had last week. Sure I was younger and in much better shape. What I don’t remember was all the hurrying and at a fast pace walk. All of my cab drivers told me it was because of the 160,000 SEMA visitors. The streets were packed day and night on The Strip and especially at the SEMA event.
It seemed as though someone was either bumping into us or we were dodging people to avoid being bumped. I had also forgotten the odd people. You will see anything and everything on the streets of Las Vegas. Just walking The Strip is an entertainment all its own. For a Central Illinois corn cob like myself it’s fascinating to see! I won’t tell you about any one specific oddity, because there are too many to tell and some not for description in this newspaper! I had forgotten that I wouldn’t be able to understand what half of the people I was riding in elevators with were saying because it was a foreign language I wouldn’t understand. Were they talking about me? Maybe? I hope not. I was paranoid enough to always check my look in a mirror as soon as I exited just in case!
It will probably take me three weeks to tell you about this entire event even though it spanned only four days. But in those four days I gathered in memory much to tell. Follow along next week if you’re interested.