A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘Are you reelin’ in the years? Stowin’ away the time’

Fremont Street in Las Vegas is known as 'Glitter Gulch." Fremont Street in Las Vegas is known as 'Glitter Gulch." Garret K. Woodward photo

The cell phone erupted to life on the nightstand in the pitch-black bedroom. It was 9:30 a.m. in North Carolina. But, for my girlfriend, Sarah, and I, we were three hours behind in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Half-asleep, Sarah picked up the phone and said, “Oh, no.” I shuddered because I knew what that meant. It was her stepmother. And the only reason she’d be calling that early would be to inform Sarah that her sick father had either passed away or was close to. 

She was hesitant to answer the call and let it go to voicemail. I turned over and told her she had to call back immediately, “You have to know what the latest is.” 

With a big, deep sigh, Sarah returned the call and spoke her stepmother. Her beloved father was “still with us, but the nurse is saying he maybe has a week left at best.” A little while later, Sarah hung up and questioned her next move. We knew we weren’t going back to bed, so time for some coffee.

Sarah still had to call her little brother back in her hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina. I made sure to grab her Starbucks order of a grande oat milk latte (hot) with an extra shot of espresso and whip cream to boot.

Heading down the silent hallway and lonely elevator of the 12th floor of the Circus Circus hotel, I emerged on the ground level to the bright lights and absolute chaos of people, incessant noise and gambling at the heart of Sin City. 

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It was only the early morning hours and yet a multitude of faces were already stuffing money into gaming slots, foots tapping impatiently for the nearby frozen daiquiri booth to open to acquire the first adult drinks of the day in massive plastic cups — no open container laws within sight as one leaves the hotel and wanders down Las Vegas Boulevard and the greater Strip area.

Walk down the endless corridors of shops and restaurants. Up the escalator. Around the indoor theme park (with rollercoaster) to the Starbucks. Carefully place Sarah’s order. Cold brew for me. Return back around the theme park, down the escalator, down the endless corridors by the shops and restaurants.

At some point near the bagel shop and the stairs to the onsite wedding chapel, I could faintly hear the seminal 1972 rock hit “Reelin’ In the Years” by Steely Dan echoing out of the hotel sound system. My mind immediately went to that time, many years ago, when my late cousin, Nate, and I sat in his driveway and listened to this song until its completion on the radio.

It’s funny the moments you hold onto as you continue down the road of life, those slices of time and space that felt, perhaps, seemingly insignificant in real time. But, as time itself marches on, that exact instance become more precious and held tightly to the beating muscle in your chest.

Back then, probably around the summer of 2006 or so, I was home in Rouses Point, New York, from college in Connecticut. Nate was living in a quaint apartment in a small house a mile from the Canadian Border along Route 276. He and I went for some pizza in town and returned to his humble abode. Approaching his street, “Reelin’ In the Years” came over the radio on 106.7 FM.

The song was about halfway done when I put the truck into park. As I reached for the door handle, Nate goes, “Wait, leave the radio on — let’s listen to the rest of this.” I agreed. So, we sat in joyous silence, the yacht rock beauty of Steely Dan blaring out of the speakers, out the open windows of the vehicle and into the ether.

Nate passed away unexpectedly in June 2021 at 42 years young. As stated in previous columns, he was the older brother I never had. Our time together is deeply valued in my heart and soul, especially that moment in the driveway listening to “The Dan.” I think of him often, usually with a slight grin and head shake in awe of his larger-than-life personality and heart of gold whose love knew no bounds. 

Skip ahead some 17 years later and here I stand in a lobby of a hotel on the Vegas Strip, coffees and breakfast sandwiches to bring back to my girlfriend on the 12th floor. “Reelin’ In the Years” on the sound system. Me stopped in my tracks in the middle of the busy corridor. Thinking of a time and place thousands of miles away geographically, the distance that much more and vast emotionally.

Take the Starbucks order up to Room 1263. Hand the goods over to this smiling face of the opposite sex, of reciprocated love and respect in a world gone mad, either on the bustling Strip outside our window or merely the planet itself, this whirlwind of humanity in constant flux — the eternal quest of understanding the human condition in its most pure and honest form.

With the inevitable fate of Sarah’s father now entering its final days after a long illness, she remains steadfast and resilient. Through sporadic tears, she smiles when fondly rehashing some dusty memory of her, her father and little brother. That’s what’s left and it’s all you can really carry with you in the grand scheme of things.

Thus, it’s a somber holiday season of sorts, which, for many, including myself, seems to be par for the course as you get older and loved ones either drift away or disappear mysteriously into the cosmos. Christmas is right around the corner. Sarah is keeping her head up. And we’re aiming to make the most of it, together.

As with anything in one’s existence, the future is uncertain, somewhat out of focus. But, the present, the here and now, remains clear and persistent. Always be curious, kind and compassionate. Embrace gratitude. Be aware of moments occurring in real time. Remember who you were with and how you felt. Smile. Repeat.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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