Some parting thoughts

LAS VEGAS – I have this weird thing for putting eyes on urban-tragedy sites. Mandalay Bay wasn’t anywhere near where I was staying up in Nellis, but I had to see where the bloodiest sniper toll in American history made people quit saying Never Again. The second anniversary is right around the corner. And you can tell a lot about a city by the way it remembers the kind of pain that tears your heart out.

Google Maps informed me there had been a “Mandalay Bay Memorial” location entry at some point, listing it as “probably closed.” I stopped anyway, got out, looked around, asked a few passersby, they didn’t know either. But when I stood across the street and took it all in, the gleaming enormity of the gunner’s gilded vista on the 32nd floor, all I felt was like a sitting duck. But not so much as a small and inconspicuous granite surface marker anywhere to reinforce my first impression. Can’t say I blame them. “Good evening, hello, we are oligarchs with unlimited expense accounts just off plane from leaving Russia and please, before we book, could you say for us the history behind this monument we do not understand?”

For some of the 3,000 people who showed up for Alienstock last weekend, being unplugged from the rest of the world was its own reward/CREDIT: Billy Cox

People come here to escape reality, not to confront it. But the first #vegasstrong bumper sticker I saw was a reminder that we’re all soft targets for the sort of sudden random violence that breaks out in the public square with increasing regularity wherever large numbers of people gather. And that’s why, when I decided to take a dive into the Storm Area 51 phenomenon, I couldn’t help wondering if the hellhound would track that scent, too.

The UFO culture has long been marginalized — and often for good reason — as paranoid-crazy panderers of conspiracy theories, and the countdown to Alienstock sewed visions of 10,000 maniacs invading rural Nevada. There would be gun-totin’ anarchists and lunatics slinging crackpot agendas at the gates of the secret air base, a clash that could tarnish the tenuous respectability the entire movement has earned for nearly two years now. And some of the event’s loudest critics were some of the biggest advocates for transparency.

Well, the dust has settled and – thanks to stellar reporting from the Las Vegas Review-Journal – we know some of the final tallies. There were six arrests over four days, all on nonviolent charges. Nobody crashed the gate. Two were collared for trespassing after somehow managing, without fanfare, to elude perimeter security. There were a couple of free-range cattle killed in two separate auto collisions, and several people were hospitalized after a vehicle rolled over on a dry lake bed.

Also: In preparing for a worst-case-scenario, Lincoln County officials burned through $250,000 in their land-use budget to cover emergency contingencies. The county says if it doesn’t get reimbursed by the state, they’ll hold financially liable Matty Roberts, the California college kid who started this thing on Facebook, only to duck out at the last minute.

On the day after, Monday morning radio jocks in Vegas had a field day, ripping the failure of Alienstock to draw anything close to the hyped millions, jeering the inability of those who were dumb enough to show up for not being dumb enough to jump the fence or accomplish anything meaningful. That was the obvious way to play it.

But for those of us who’ve waited for ages for signs of life in this overdue discussion, there was something endearing about the scene in Rachel. That’s where an estimated 3,000 people actually did show up. They came from everywhere. Maybe to really appreciate it, you had to contrast Rachel with the scene at a competing event — the Storm Area 51 Basecamp gig. That’s where attendees who stopped at the Alien Research Center’s tourist curiosity spent $51 apiece to get in and enjoy the music. Attendees were ordered to empty their pockets and get wanded by armed security guards before they could pass. That event  flopped. The second night was canceled.

Forty miles away, the Rachel crowd came and went as they pleased and indulged in the loosely structured, spontaneous and regulation-free vibe of cookouts, cornhole, and tricked-out cars. Think tailgate party without a game, without winners and losers. They swapped stories and played guitars or streamed their own playlists and nobody seemed to mind the lack of a schedule. Even the cops were amused over the costumed bonhomie.

As the mountains began throwing shadows across the desert late Saturday afternoon, a guy with a six string approached Nevada Highway Patrol officers working the entrance and served up a credible instrumental version of “Free Bird.” He was accompanied by three other Stormers who, prior to the weekend, had been total strangers. Now they were carrying on like bros, and no one was conspicuously altered.

Marrissa Neal drove in from California’s Simi Valley because her daughter insisted they be here. Facing an empty nest after her kid leaves for college next year, mom relented. But as she began mixing with fellow travelers like 25-year-old Odin Meacham, Neal knew she was in the right place.

Odin Meacham and Marrissa Neal — sometimes you can spend an entire adult life trying to figure out what happened in childhood./CREDIT Billy Cox

“I think one of the reasons we’re all here today is, we don’t feel like we can trust anything anymore,” said Meacham, who came from Utah. “The politicians, you can’t believe them. And it’s hard to know whether to work from within or outside the system to change things because it takes a lot of money to get elected.

“But you have to believe that trust can be restored somehow. You just can’t give up. That’s why I’ve enjoyed being here – you meet people who feel the same way.”

Meacham and Neal discovered they were both here, ultimately, as a result of childhood events.  She was 6 when she got a glimpse of a glowing UFO. Nobody believed her. Meacham, who lives in the Uinta Basin, home to the famous Skinwalker Ranch and its Chinese menu of paranormal activity, was just 5 years old. He saw it staring at him, glowing red eyes, outside his bedroom window. His folks told him it was just a dream

In Rachel, people tended to withhold judgement. “You know, back home, I’m always ‘the weird one.’ But here?” says Neal. “I’m apparently cool. I feel completely safe and at home.”

Lately, the Navy’s release of three UFO videos has given a green light for a lot of people to come out of the closet. Neal finds a new appreciation for what might be happening at the top.

“Maybe it’s like kids who ask questions that may not be age appropriate. So you tell them something that fits their level of comprehension,” she said, “you let them process it, get used to it, and then later on you give them a little bit more, then a little bit more. I’m beginning to think that’s what going on with the government now.”

Neal says she was surprised by the civil conversations she had with people harboring opposing political values. She even had a decent chat with a Trump supporter, because conventional politics never cropped up. That’s one of the reasons she insists on coming back next year, because there is no liberal or conservative divide on The Great Taboo. Maybe, she says, it’s the one issue that can unite and maybe even mobilize a nation so sick and tired of being lied to it doesn’t even bother to vomit anymore.

For Meacham, escaping the noise for a weekend was its own reward. Fellow Stormers told him the same thing, how they didn’t mind the spotty wi-fi connections, or being quarantined from the headlines, unable to hear how people who weren’t here  weighed in on what did or didn’t happen in the middle of nowhere.

“It’s a been a place to think and share ideas with people. Maybe you need to be cut off from the rest of the world for that to happen. Plus, it’s so peaceful out here at night.”

Or maybe we’ve reached a point where, with an event of this nature, we should celebrate for the sole reason that nobody got shot.

The post Some parting thoughts appeared first on De Void.

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