With The Experience gone as one of the last quirky bars in Las Vegas (I suppose the Rainforest Cafe still counts), it was only a matter of time before someone else tried to fill in that niche.
Enter the Sci-Fi Cafe.
Envisioned by a very generous couple by the names of Suzy and Robert, it was going to be a dinner theater style dining experience with sci-fi elements and “guest stars” from Star Trek. I auditioned for and landed the role of the host, and was going to be writing some of the skits for the ever-evolving characters.
I didn’t have much time to focus on this at the time, as I was doing an overnight shoot for The Hangover at the Riviera. That scene where the characters were trying to win big at one of the tables, and Heather Graham fell out of her chair. While all-night shoots are just part of the filmmaking process at times, it’s the leading into that next day that ruins one’s sleep schedule.
Again, I didn’t have much time to focus. I was planning a trip back to Texas at the end of the month. With the house sold, it was time to collect my pieces from Dad’s estate, a trip that I wasn’t looking forward to.
I took time to break up this impending trip by being introduced to even more of Vegas’ culture of geekery: The Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival.
Where else can you run around screaming “Huzzah!” while ingesting freakishly huge turkey legs and mugs full of mead? Far too few places. Just far too few places. It was fun, of course, and full of the usual oddities that make up such festivals:
All of it, of course, was to put off what I no longer could: Going “home” for the last time. And that day had come.
For the first time in eight months, I walked back into the house that had been my childhood home for so many years. Things were being packed into boxes, but it was still very much the same place that I had known. My friends, Danny, Toby, and John were with me as I walked through a home that no longer was. So many holidays, and life events, and friends and family and loved ones all came rushing to me as I stepped through the door, and then walking into the room where he had passed that cold February morning. My friends gave me a moment to compose my grieving as I loaded the last of the things into the truck, took one last look, and said good-bye.
I had all of these ideas of visiting the places I grew up with, the places that my friends and I spent our “misbegotten youths” of playing hackey sack on tennis courts, or filming “documentaries” of life in our small town, but ultimately, I just wanted food, and a stop to this coffee shop called Two Doors Down.
The shop had the street blocked off so people could watch The King & I in the middle of the street, and it made me smile that there was still something of an art scene left in my little town.
We had parked the moving truck at the house before dinner as it’s huge and unwieldy in parking spots. John dropped me off to say good-bye. I took my last look at the house, before I entered the truck, and got inside. As I turned the key to start the truck, I stopped. “No”, I thought. “There’s one more thing that I have to do.”
I walked through the front yard up to my favorite sitting wall, ever since I was 9 years old. I climbed up there, and looked at the stars as I’ve done for so many years. In the distance, the low, mournful wail of a train sounded in the distance, as it had so many times in the past. I closed my eyes, taking in the sound of the train, the wind, and the chirping crickets. I needed to remember. I had to take this with me. And so I sat on my wall. One last time, knowing that this is the final time I would ever look at the sky this way, and be in this moment. And as I slid off the wall, I gave one last silent farewell to 2508 Butler Drive, my home for 24 years, and felt the finality of knowing that I will never pass this way again.
I spent the rest of my trip in the company of my sister and her family, catching up, talking, before Toby and I got ready to return to Vegas.
The trip was fairly nondescript. A lot of driving through West Texas, which if one has made that drive, then it’s understood how long, tedious, and barren it is.
Along the way through Arizona, a detour for the Grand Canyon was offered. Considering that Toby and I had never been, and a break from driving was greatly needed, we took the side trip, driving this big Budget rental truck through the gates. Outside, it was freezing, but the view was spectacular.
For those not familiar with me, I have something that might be considered a “condition”, or just simply a “weird magnet”. In any case, my friends from Texas, California and Vegas have all put a name to this phenomenon, calling it “The Guy Chapman Effect”. Basically, I have a habit of stumbling across weird people, events, and locations that result in stories that no one would otherwise believe. It’s the same effect, that within proximity of me, people get dragged into events that they normally wouldn’t experience otherwise. It can go either way: Either really good, or extremely weird.
This was a case of the latter….
Toby and I were walking along a pathway, when we noticed a medium sized black duffel bag next to a ledge. Post-2001 common sense/fear of the unknown does make one mistrustful of unattended bags, especially in a public place, but we investigated anyway.
We long deliberated in not touching the bag, calling out for the owner instead. When no one came, we decided to check the contents of the bag to perhaps find some contact information.
Inside was a change of clothes, a bar of soap, some glasses, a book on playing cards, a one way bus ticket from Tucson to the Grand Canyon, three unopened beers, and two empty beer cans. An odd selection to be left by the side of a very high cliff, but we both agreed to take it to a station for Lost and Found.
We brought the bag into the nearby museum, where we presented our findings to the staff and a ranger. They looked worried when we mentioned the beer. “Show me where you found this”, the staff person said, so we did. She said she hoped it wasn’t what she feared this meant, and upon pressing her, I discovered that a LOT of people fall off the ledges of the Grand Canyon. We were asked to keep what we knew quiet.
You know how you see most Grand Canyon pictures of people leaning against some railing? In reality, those railings are few and far between, and the potential to fall is very real, and if you do, you can’t see the bottom in some areas, as there’s no way that any sane person would step close to some of those ledges. Grand Canyon suicides and accidental fallings are very common out there.
What turned into a simple side vacation became a full blown investigation, and we became directly involved in the search and details. We had to go back to the station to fill out paperwork of what we saw. As we did this, a helicopter whizzed by us, hovering in the area where we found the bag.
A larger crowd began to form, and somehow the people knew what was going on. “It seems two hikers found a backpack on that ridge over there”, one tourist said. “It wasn’t a backpack. It was a duffel bag”, Toby said. The crowd turned to face us. “How would you know that”, someone else shot at us like we should be just as in the dark as everyone else. “Because we’re the ones who found the bag”, I replied. I hadn’t even finished the sentence before the people got wide eyed silent, then started talking among themselves, giving us these unusual sidelong glances. The helicopter roared through the cavern again, and the ranger’s radio crackled. He got something in code, and replied back in turn. “What that means is ‘Yes’”, he said solemnly to us to let us know without a doubt as to what happened, thanked us, and walked back to the station.
Turns out, Toby and I were the first to discover and report the duffel bag minutes after some lost soul made a one way trip out there, and decided to commit suicide by jumping to his death off the Grand Canyon. Some tourist with a thick German accent actually found the body smashed against the rocks, and pointed it out, but I couldn’t see it that well, and didn’t want to after the description. Apparently, we just got there minutes after the jump. We walked back to our rental truck and left the park, having ended up not taking a mini-vacation, but ended up solving a suicide case. The story made the local paper, and while I later learned the identity of the victim, I’ll never reveal it here, as it would be weird to announce that my friend and I were the discover of some loved one’s body.
At least the following drive through the Hoover Dam was far quieter.
To say that we just needed some quiet downtime on Fremont Street with friends was an understatement:
Toby stayed for a few days, and the only thing left was Halloween. I of course, used an old familiar stand-by: