Playing The Slots

My sister went to Las Vegas for her honeymoon, loves the place, and ever since, when she knows I’m going there, implores me to play one of the slot machines. “Just try it—once.”

On my first visit I wasn’t tempted—and I heard about it. Two years later, I was able to say I’d finally played—and won! “See, I told you!” Her enthusiasm was tempered, however, when I explained the particular machine I’d put a dollar into sold Coke—”But I did win! Twenty ounces!”

Naturally, on this recent stop in Vegas I heard nary a word from her about gambling—she’d given up on me. And so, of course, I played—and lost, naturally. But it wasn’t on a slot machine—I’d naively expected the old one-armed bandits to be stationed in rows, waiting for shiny nickels, but those have been usurped by garishly-lit consoles that resemble vidiot games, and paper tickets have replaced clunking change. What fun is that?

Instead, in the end I donated five bucks to a young lady who walks ten miles a day around the casino offering “Keno” in a monotonous voice, hit the same number of winners I normally do, and left town no wiser.

Several days afterwards I was again enticed to play the slots, just outside of Page, Arizona, and I willingly forked over my money—this time I knew a sure thing when I saw it.

And how can you lose when you’re at Antelope Canyon?

On that day Ulrich and I chose the Lower Canyon, less visited than the Upper, and invested nearly four hours between its narrow walls. If you have misgivings about confined spaces a slot canyon can be unnerving—at the Lower you step into a crack in the ground, which opens a bit wider as you slip down into the earth—and down the first of several sets of steps placed by the Navajo who operate the canyon, into a (gratefully) wide space where you may stand, as I did, simply trying to take in where you are, and what you can do there.

I stood, tripod in hand, for about fifteen minutes before I joined the small torrent of tourists moving farther down into the cool dimness. More steps, and rocks closing in, and—calm. Quiet. Peace. Sunlight edged over the canyon rim to seep over the polished rocks like semi-gloss paint.

Slowly, and surely, I found a natural flowing in the rocks, an aspect of sandstone often mentioned in photographers’ descriptions (The Wave, et cetera). The intense colors I’d seen in photographs were, I believe, the result of color balances and exposure—the rocks, to be truthful, don’t so much shout as suggest.

When it was time to leave I walked back with a young Navajo guide, and it seemed we’d barely begun our conversation before I was stepping into the Present, filled by a bright afternoon sky. Another few steps and the narrow crack in the earth, and time, disappeared.


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