Two U.S. Air Force jets caught my attention as they shot past the car window. My driver’s attention was at least initially focused on the road. Two more jets, laden with armaments, seemed to leap up from the center of Las Vegas in the distance and rush past. Then two more and two more.
As we neared the city more jets roared overhead and we craned our necks to watch them through the sun roof. “F-15’s!” himself told me excitedly and the trailer danced behind us. “There must be an air base around here.”
I consulted the road atlas. “Nellis. There go eleven and twelve.”
We continued to our campsite and busied ourselves with the process of unhitching when six more pairs of jets flew over. We stopped what we were doing each time to watch.
Suddenly alarmed as twelve jets screamed right overhead I clasped an empty plastic bottle I’d been carrying to my chest like a comfort blanket. I could feel the reverberations building up in my chest cavity. I could even feel them in the empty bottle. We were parked right under the flight path of the air force base and the noise was explosive as the jets banked directly over us in order to avoid flying over central Las Vegas.
The succession of six pairs of jets taking off continued with Jimmy and I looking at each other like startled rabbits each time. Our initial fascination had worn off. The physical discomfort of the noise and vibration was deeply unsettling especially as we’d paid in advance for three days. Having looked forward to seeing The Strip we wondered if we could last the night, each jet drowning out the TV, our voices, even our thoughts.
The skies finally quietened at about eight o’clock.
At ten p.m. a diesel pickup truck towing a large trailer pulled up next door and proceeded to unhitch, pump up tires with an electric pump while idling the bag-of-nails engine and then unloaded a Harley motorcycle.
A Harley starting up sounds like a bomb going off when you’re not expecting it and the shock of it sent my head back against a door. The new arrivals popped out for a late supper on the Harley and returned about midnight. Perhaps a good night’s sleep was at last in order.
The neighbor behind us on the campsite also had a Harley. He went to work at five a.m. And then the F-15’s began terrorizing us again at eight. There was no way to avoid the noise except to physically get away. The din even penetrated underwater when I went for a swim.
The prospect of staying right on Las Vegas Boulevard near The Strip had been so exciting. The town plan showed an easy drive of about three inches so we hopped into the car to get away from the noise.
The glitz on my anticipation dimmed slightly as we saw dozens of homeless people queuing on the sidewalks of the boulevard waiting for the Salvation Army to open. Litter gusted and twirled and dust from endless construction sites hazed the view as we sat in gridlocked traffic.
An hour later we had driven the six miles to the beginning of The Strip. We saw the giddy carnival rides on the top of the Stratosphere Tower, the big top of Circus Circus, the oh-so-famous Caesars Palace, the fountains of Bellagio, the skyline of New York-New York and hundreds of people – hundreds and hundreds of ordinary people just like us – no film stars dressed in bling, no Ferraris, not even a Rolls Royce. The town did seem to abound with testosterone-fueled young men in rental cars who zig-zagged through traffic creating a new terror for us.
After stopping at a supermarket for some tranquilizing wine we made it back to the RV park long after dark, soused ourselves with the wine and cowered until ten o’clock when the pilots went to bed.
The next day we had a pleasant evening with an Italian dinner followed by a performance of Cirque du Soleil, got lost halfway “home”, got directions in a casino and traveled back up Las Vegas Boulevard in a bus with the late night cleaning shift, managing to stay away from the flight path until after the Air Force’s bedtime.
The sparkle of Las Vegas has dulled a little in our eyes, but having seen several different sides of life we do feel privileged.
Our blood pressure has yet to come down. It may take a few days for the vibrations to settle.